Rumba, the terrific new rum bar that's the subject of this week's review, serves a quartet of punches, each one of which sounds like the foundation for a boisterous group celebration. So I was surprised when the punch I ordered was daintily prepared in a single-serving glass.
As Wayne Curtis writes in his definitive rum history, And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails, "before the melting pot, America had the punch bowl." Wealthy estate owners and scruffy pirates alike participated in the festive ritual of filling a silver, glass or ceramic bowl with "one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak." At Rumba, that preparation takes the form of lime juice, rum, sugar and coconut water when patrons order a "Barbados Punch" (I didn't, fearing the coconut water would be overly reminiscent of yoga class. But since I was never disappointed by a drink at Rumba, I probably should have discounted my biases and pressed ahead.)
While Rumba's recipe would be recognizable to any eighteenth-century tavern goer, its presentation owes more to contemporary liquor laws than spirited traditions. As the bartender explained, shared punch bowls are illegal in Washington state.
State Liquor Control Board spokesman Brian Smith clarifies the law doesn't specifically forbid punch: "If you are talking about a punch bowl with different liquor poured in randomly, I don't think we have anything preventing mixing and then serving, as long as the patron knows what they are getting," Smith says.
What's problematic is a punch bowl delivered to a table, since spirits license holders are restricted to serving individual drinks. But so long as the bowl stays behind the bar, it's analogous to Jell-O shots, which are permissible. Bartenders only need to keep the bowl free from contamination, in accordance with Department of Health standards.
I'm confident that you'll have so much fun at Rumba that you'll never miss the flowing bowl. For more about the bar's many pleasures, check out my full review here. And for pictures of individually-mixed punches and other drinks, have a crack at Kevin Casey's accompanying slideshow.