Cocktail Ranger: Trailer Happiness, London

Trailer Happiness has occupied an uncommonly large role in my imagination since I first heard about it a few years ago. I imagined it as a sort of crowded, campy kind of tiki bar with lots of elaborate tiki drinks overseen by Polynesian statues and cluttered with kitschy art. I was thinking, "thatch." And, of course, "rum."

Well, I finally got around to visiting last month… and it turned out to be not at all as I imagined. It had a much leaner, cleaner looker to it — more like a ca. 1972 rumpus room from the American suburbs, with paneled walls and a big sectional couch. (It is, in fact, located in a basement.) I would have known this had I taken the minute or so to visit their website — it claims “the e-z-boy feel of a low rent, mid-60s California valley bachelor pad,” which is pretty much spot on.

Trailer Happiness made me, in fact, quite happy. Not only for the mood the place set (and I was here one night before it was too crowded, which it assuredly will be if you come late), but for the drinks. I got the "rum" part right. The menu is split up into “House Favorites,” “Tiki Drinks,” “Caribbean Cruising,” and “Rum Drinks,” plus “Tiki Shots” — a great selection of around 50 rums by the shot. (There are also wines, but, really, does anyone drink wine?) Standard drinks are £6.50 (about $10) with prices escalating upwards of $300 for a shot of Appleton Estate 250th Anniversary rum. (Most drinks, blessedly, are anchored at the low end.)

The staff takes great care in the making of drinks, and they’re worth waiting for. I particularly liked the Sly Mule — a mix of Appleton, honey cream, elderflower liqueur, fresh lime juice and ginger beer. My favorite of the night, though, was a ginger and lychee caipirissima, with Appleton, Velvet Falernum, lime, ginger juice, sugar, and lychees. In my opinion cocktails tend to be either refreshing or complicated. This one somehow managed to be both.

Another nice touch — the cocktail menus are small works of art. The current version during my visit was bound with a glossy, wallpaperish exterior, printed on heavy stock with colorful illustrations, and was sized to fit perfectly into a jacket pocket. (The newer menu, which was just about to be released, has a more restrained chocolate-brown cover with a sort of mid-1970s bit of op-art adorning it). And you don’t have to be surreptitious to slip out with it — printed on each is this: “Please feel free to steal this menu; a little bit of happiness for everyone.”

Bottom line: worth resheduling travel plans and making a lengthy detour.

Trailer Happiness, 177 Portobello Rd., Notting Hill, London. Phone: 020 7727 2700. Tube route: take Circle line to Notting Hill Gate; head to Portobello Rd (ask a passerby) then walk about 10-15 minutes until you arrive. It's at a corner, down steps to a basement.