While drinking fruity, rum-based beverages only seems fitting during the summer, in New York, it can hardly be considered a seasonal thing. Because, despite a bit of ebbing and flowing over the last couple years, an unabashed affection for tiki has remained a reliable constant in the bar world — and although we’ve seen a number of high profile closures (PKNY & Lani Kai), even more Zombie-loving newcomers have opened in their stead.
In fact, just this summer alone, two of Manhattan’s buzziest debuts have been staunchly devoted to tiki, including Mother of Pearl in the East Village, from industry heavyweight, Ravi DeRossi. A sunny, Polynesian redo of his dim and moody Gin Palace — decked out with billowing white curtains, floral-upholstered banquettes, and chandeliers fashioned out of hanging ferns — cocktail options include the “Platino Dominicano,” with banana, ristretto and absinthe cream, and the plus-sized “Imperial Bulldog” made from raspberry, pineapple and aquavit; an upturned bottle of Underburg bitters nestled in the cap of crushed ice.
And over in the West Village, Jon Neidich and Jim Kearns have doubled down on tiki with The Happiest Hour, papered with palm trees and focused on “non-judgmental” drinks like Daiquiris and the “Sugar Shack,” with rum, salted maple syrup and soda. The bar sits atop their recently-opened subterranean cocktail den, Slowly Shirley — which, while not as in-your-face about it as Mother of Pearl (fond of pouring its tipples into toothy, open-mouthed sharks) — confirms its allegiance to tiki with a bright green throwback called the “Cleopatra,” made with banana-lime cordial, bison grass vodka, Brazilian cachaca, and vanilla-scented pandan.
And that’s just in Manhattan – Brooklyn’s an even bigger player when it comes to tiki, with spots like El Cortez. Stephen Tanner’s long-awaited follow-up to The Commodore, it’s a riot of totem-shaped glasses, filled with hyper-colored, sticky-sweet concoctions; from the Hurricane with amaretto, triple sec and grapefruit, to the knock you off your feet Zombie; a muddle of rums, lime, grenadine and bitters, with a 151 float. It joins Fort Defiance, which runs a “Sunken Harbor Club” pop-up every Thursday, featuring Mai Tai’s, Samoan Fog Cutters, and “Little Grass Kilts” poured into pineapples, and the tiki garden attached to The Woods in Williamsburg, serving Frozen Painkillers and Blue Hawaiians; stained with heavy doses of curacao.
Even Queens has gotten hip to tiki, with the star-studded End of the Century Bar, run by alums from Pegu Club, Maison Premiere and yes; PKNY. In addition to deceptively boozy concoctions like Planter’s Punch, the “Caribbean Maid” with rum, cucumber and mint, and the “Suffering Bastard” with gin, ginger and rye, the Forest Hills hotspot also offers three different, shareable Scorpion Bowls — pools of rum, orange, banana, cinnamon and orgeat, set giddily aflame. Because as opposed to wintery tumbler of Negronis, suitable for solo sipping in corners of darkened bars, the forever summer spirit of tiki drinks (even when it’s almost fall), necessitates whooping it up with friends.
Mother of Pearl
95 Avenue A., btwn. 6th and 7th Sts
The Happiest Hour/Slowly Shirley
121 W 10th St., 17th and 18th Sts.
17 Ingraham St., Bogart St and Morgan Ave.
365 Van Brunt St., Sullivan and Dikeman Sts.
48 S 4th St., Wythe and Kent Aves.
End of the Century Bar
10408 Metropolitan Ave., btwn. 71st Rd. and 71st Dr.