An introduction to tiki history, what makes a tiki cocktail, and the essential ingredients you'll need for your home tiki bar.
'tiki' on Serious Eats
We're going to drink our way to a tropical place, where the sun beats down, the cocktails have umbrellas, and the pineapples are sweet. Care to join us?
Using bitters as a base instead of an accent goes back awhile—look at the 1939 recipe for Charles H. Baker's Angostura Fizz and you'll also find bitters being measured out to a full ounce. In this take on a gin-based tiki drink, the spicy flavors of Angostura are right at home.
In this tiki-inspired cocktail, a full ounce of bitters plays the starring role.
The Jungle Bird, a classic tiki drink, gets a sparkling makeover with Prosecco and tropical fruit-infused rum. Roasting the pineapple first adds rich, concentrated flavor to the infusion.
Guests enter Three Dots through a back alley, climb down a dark staircase (with a wall full of skulls staring creepily) and into the tropical basement bar. Half of the menu is made up of classic tiki cocktails, the rest are the creations of Paul McGee, formerly of The Whistler.
A tiki bar is probably not the first thing you think of when imagining Paris drinking destinations, but then again, where would faux-Polynesian seem like the logical theme for a watering hole? The Dirty Dick opened this February, replacing a "hostess bar" (read: brothel) in Pigalle, a neighborhood in transition from red-light district to trendy cocktailing destination.
When most people think tiki, they probably don't think of grey and rainy Portland, OR. But they should! Tiki is, at its core, escapist. It's also retro and surreal-bordering-on-strange. Portland folks need a little escape, and they welcome with open arms all things vintage and especially all things peculiar. And now, young champions of all things mai tai have brought together craft cocktail methods and the dreamlike world of the tiki bar, most successfully at southeast Portland cocktail paradise, the Rum Club, and northeast's totally-tiki Hale Pele.
When you enter Smuggler's Cove on Gough Street in San Francisco, it's as if you're inside a ship, decked out with ropes and fishing buoys, lanterns and ancient bottles of rum. But when you're done gawking, there's a decision to be made—what to drink? There are 75 different cocktails on the menu, so we reached out to bartender Steven Liles for a little help.
Head just two doors down from The Passenger in Washington, DC, and you'll be greeted by the giant face of Bill Murray's Steve Zissou. Step inside, pay your respects to Zombie Elvis on your immediate left, and you'll find the new rum bar by the brothers Tom and Derek Brown (of The Passenger). Hogo is your opportunity to explore the Caribbean vicariously through Tom's ever-growing collection of more than 80 different rums and a bevy of Caribbean inspired cocktails.
"We ended up with a perfect compromise between the dryness of the sherry and the richness of the rum," he says. "Toss a little nutmeg on top for garnish and you have winter Tiki. Boom!"
Don's Mix is the perfect project for the passing of the seasons. The smell of sugar and cinnamon bubbling on the stove will make you feel ready for all things autumnal. Grapefruit, a perfect citrus for summer by the sea, will also remind you that the day will come, mid-December, when, if you are lucky, you'll look down and find a box of seasonal citrus on your door.
We love new, creative cocktails, but sometimes you just want one of the classics. In this video, we learn how to make the grandfather of all tiki drinks: the Mai Tai.
Falernum is indispensable in Tiki drinks, brightening the sour notes of citrus and adding a hint of rich spice. But it also plays well with slightly bitter flavors. If you're at all interested in Tiki cocktails, this stuff is a must-have for your home bar. It can be a little tricky to track down commercially, but it turns out that it's super-easy to make at home.
When King Yum opened almost 60 years ago, Americans were in the midst of an affair with all things Polynesian. King Yum was deeply of the moment, a casually elegant destination restaurant, like a Queens version of Mad Men (Mad Mensch?). The menu has evolved some since then, and adults no longer dress for dinner in quite the same way, but the vibe feels essentially unchanged. In here, dinner is an event, white tablecloths are a matter of course, and too much familiarity with actual Chinese cooking would seem vaguely suspicious. Purists may sneer at the pu pu platter and General Tao's chicken, but dinner at King Yum is an authentically American experience.
Cocktail geeks have been going nuts for orgeat (pronounced "or-zsa," like Zsa Zsa Gabor) for ages, but there's a reason you don't see it in many home bars: the good stuff is hard to find. But making your own high-quality orgeat with all-natural ingredients takes 15 minutes work and costs about $6.
Orgeat (pronounced "or-zsa," like Zsa Zsa Gabor) is like liquid marzipan. While it's best known as a part of a good Mai Tai, this almond syrup is also an exotic substitute for simple syrup or grenadine in mixed drinks or a fun addition to pie fillings, milk shakes, and even coffee.
You'll have to ask someone to share this one with you—it's definitely big enough for two people. As silly as it looks, served in a pineapple with bendy straws, this cocktail from Jbird in New York is a serious drink, refreshing but spicy and complex.
First things first: this is not a Painkiller. This may resemble that drink that originated some 40 years ago at the Soggy Dollar Bar in the British Virgin Islands, but the Painkiller was adopted as the mascot drink by Pusser's Rum around a decade after its birth (the drink's birth, that is.)
The Louanalao uses a tiki-style formula, incorporating white rum, bitter Campari, and allspice dram with the flavors of sweet strawberry and tart lime. The result is a bright pink, sweet-tart harbinger of spring that is far from the expected flavor profile of a fruit-infused rum cocktail.