Tiki culture is once again on the rise…
New bars are popping up with excited young mixologists at the helm. And really, isn’t this the right place for them anyway? What, with the average tiki drink typically taking a half hour to make and involving no less than 24 ingredients, half of which are various fruit juices and the other half various types of alcohol, I’d rather a waxed moustached, suspender wearing, self-important hipster making me a Zombie than slapping the side of my empty highball with sprigs of mint leaves. So I say bring ’em on. Come Juan, Come Al, to the intoxicating party in the little straw hut. Never mind the barnacles on the bar and please pocket that polaroid-payphone-map gadget, jukebox thing. Stop looking around uncomfortably for a tv. Settle into these exotic sounds and relax.
This trend isn’t fresh like the juices in your cocktail better be. I’m not trying to make a cutting edge observation here. This has been going on for a little while. A good number of new tiki bars have opened in recent years and others have already written about them, tiki history, the cocktails, the food, and speculated on the reason for the resurgence. Chicago’s Three Dots and a Dash, North Hollywood’s Tiki No, Bootlegger Tiki in Palm Springs, Tiki Ko in Bakersfield?, The Saturn Room in Omaha and the list goes on. And there are still more bars in the planning and construction phase.
I think a big driver in this movement, if not the main driver of, would these mixologists and their passion for crafting complex drinks. After all, these new establishments are part of the craft cocktail movement following on and even overlapping the speakeasy trend where so much of the movement was hiding out for so long. False Idol, number 3 on Critiki’s list of top 10 Tiki Bars in 2017 is tiki bar and a speak easy. Loosely playing on the speak easy theme are new comers to the scene Hidden Idol inside the the Beetle Bar in Denver and Paradise Seas upstairs in Clifton’s Cafeteria in Los Angeles.
Staple tiki drinks such as the Mai Tai, Painkiller or Hurricane have been lounging around mixologists menus for years. Some of those mixologist have gone on to open tiki bars of their own. I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Whatever the cause is, we’re all better for it; we have better drinks and more places to escape to, for now. I’m just sad it couldn’t arrive sooner to save the likes of Bahooka and so many others we lost to history. Most of these places will likely not be around in another 5-10 years either. They’ll slowly fade away like jello molds and tiki drinks will recede into the thatch. So enjoy it while it lasts.
But while it’s here, to those of you that own or are opening one, can I make one request? Make your tiki bars authentic. I get that your focus is the drinks. Great. You won’t get a single complaint from me on that front. But I’ve seen some painfully contrived and insincere decor in some of these new bars. Items are carefully arranged, evenly spread out, shiny, new and “plastic”. Don’t get me started on your choice of tunes either, but I’m sure Tupac doesn’t want to be there. (I’m looking at you places I won’t name because I’m nice). From upscale restaurants, to simpler “beachside hut” bar, feels like a Tiki Bar-in-a-Box kit from Pier 1 or Walmart. I’m well aware I’m talking about the “authenticity” of a style created from elements of multiple cultures but some of these new bars are the Applebee’s of tiki bars. Do us all a favor. Spend some time in some of the classic tiki bars, not the Oriental Trader and other catalogs. Observe the degrees of clutter and the individual artifacts. Take it in and pay attention to the “flavor notes” that hit your senses. Pretend it’s an amaro tasting and really try to understand the essence of tiki. Pop into some of the new success and see what works. It is possible to be more than a trend.
What constitutes a good tiki bar? or How do you like your thatch? Leave your thoughts in the comments!