Entries in the 'Washington, D.C.' Category

August 25, 2010

Ordinary Bars, Extraordinary Tiki Drinks

Filed under: Continental Europe,Drinks,Houston,London,Los Angeles,New York,Perfect Tiki Bar,Portland,Seattle,Tiki,Washington, D.C. — Humuhumu @ 2:23 pm

Bartender Michael Bertrand tends to his fire at Vessel in Seattle,
photo by Rocky Yeh

First, let’s get this out of the way: the outstanding bars on this list are not ordinary by any measure, but one… they are not tiki bars. These establishments are part of a new class of cocktailing, where constructing a beverage is paid the same attention as that given to preparing a meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

But they are not tiki bars.

You won’t find them in Critiki, and they may very well be off your radar. They may not even be able to make tiki drinks any time, any day, as the ingredients required are notoriously numerous and fussy. But each location on this list has at least one bartender on staff who shares your passion, and wants to make your Nui Nui dreams come true. Some have regular or periodic tiki nights, some even have dedicated tiki sections of their menu. When it comes to tiki drinks, frankly these places are going to deliver better than most any tiki bar out there. Encourage them, won’t you?

Drink – 348 Congress St., Boston, MA
Drink keeps a number of flavored syrups around just for making tiki drinks–prepared for them with love and care by none other than Randy Wong of Waitiki!

Death & Company – 433 East 6th St., Manhattan, New York, NY
Though Brian Miller, a driving force behind Death & Co.’s tiki drinks, has moved on, his imprint lingers. Tiki drinks, and tiki-leaning beverages, can still be found on the menu.

Please Don’t Tell (PDT) – 113 Saint Marks Pl., Manhattan, New York, NY
There are reports that you may be able to snag a high-quality tiki drink at the world’s worst-kept-secret bar.

Flatiron Lounge – 37 W 19th St., Manhattan, New York, NY
Joe Swifka: ask for him by name. He’s gotten to have a bit of a reputation as the go-to bartender for tiki drinks in New York. Tiki drinks make frequent appearances on Flatiron’s rotating menu.

Clover Club – 210 Smith St., Brooklyn, New York, NY
Clover Club has the same owner as Flatiron Lounge, Julie Reiner. Reiner grew up in Hawaii and plans to open a tropical (but not tiki) restaurant in Manhattan later this year. Clover Club is Victorian in style, but if you ask nicely, they may be able to hook you up with the good stuff.

Dram – 177 S 4th St, Brooklyn, New York, NY
Dram’s rotating menu often has tiki items on offer—at this writing, it’s a Jet Pilot.

Dutch Kills – 27-24 Jackson Ave., Long Island City, NY
Dutch Kills is from the same team that opened New York’s latest tiki savior, Painkiller.

Rum Bar – 2005 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA
Rum Bar is, well, all about rum. Most of the cocktail list is Caribbean-focused, but a few traditional tiki cocktails are also on offer.

Embury – 2216 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh, PA
Embury has a Tiki Tuesday event, and they’re game for tackling the complicated drinks.

Farmers & Fishers – 3000 K Street NW, Washington, D.C.
Zombies, Fog Cutters, Grogs… all part of their regular menu!

Anvil – Houston, TX
Anvil is perhaps most notable for their “100 drinks everyone should try at least once.” Naturally, tiki is part of the prescription, and Jeff Berry’s Grog Log is a heavily-thumbed reference behind their bar.

Vessel – 1312 5th Ave., Seattle, WA
Spur – 113 Blanchard St., Seattle, WA
Tavern Law – 1406 12th Ave., Seattle, WA
My hometown may be lacking in the tiki bar department, but I’m proud to say that when it comes to the drinks, it’s “ya sure, ya betcha.” All three of these establishments have the materials on-hand to whip up traditional tiki drinks, and each has periodic tiki nights. Vessel even serves some drinks out of tiki mugs.

Teardrop Cocktail Lounge – 1015 NW Everett St., Portland, OR
Teardrop hosts periodic Tiki Nights, typically with the involvement of local tikiphiles and cocktail obsessives Blair “Trader Tiki” Reynolds and Craig “Colonel Tiki” Hermann. The next one is on September 12.

Caña – 714 W Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA
Caña is dedicated to all things rum, so of course this means some tiki representation on the menu.

Lewers Lounge – Halekulani Hotel, Waikiki, HI
It’s tragically difficult to find a decent drink in Hawaii. You may have heard good things about the House Without a Key in the Halekulani Hotel, but the better bet is actually the Lewer’s Lounge in the same hotel.

Paparazzi – Laurinská 133/1, Bratislava, Slovakia
Paparazzi’s Stanislav Vadrna knows his way around a tiki drink… he’s even hosted a tiki drink seminar at his bar.

Cotton’s Rhum Shack – 55 Chalk Farm Rd, London, UK
Cotton’s Rhum Shack in Camden has a very long rum list, and a smattering of tiki cocktails to match. There is a sister location, Rhum Jungle in Islington, that may be worth trying, too.

The Merchant Hotel Bar – 16 Skipper Street, Belfast, Ireland
Crowned as the Best Bar In the World, the Merchant Hotel Bar’s menu is more of a book. The menu is exhaustively thorough, and tiki drinks do not get short shrift. On the contrary: Bar Manager Sean Muldoon takes tiki drinks so very seriously that he has the last remaining bottle of the true original Mai Tai rum: vintage 17 year Wray & Nephew. This is the only place in the world you can have a truly old-style Mai Tai—though it’ll cost you about $1,000.

Mahalo nui loa to the following for their assistance in compiling this list: Peter Andrijeski, Alice Berry, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Dan Budiac, Robert A. Burr, Nicole Desmond, Boris Hamilton, Liz Lang, Kiki Lenoue, Georgette Moger, Ben Wagner, Doug Winship

April 13, 2007

Baltimore Tiki History: the Hawaiian Room

Filed under: History,Tiki,Washington, D.C. — Humuhumu @ 11:27 am
Hawaiian Room swizzle, from the collection of Andy Johnson
Hawaiian Room swizzle, from the collection of Andy Johnson
Hawaiian Room mug, from the collection of kohalacharms
Hawaiian Room mug, from the
collection of kohalacharms

Johnny Dollar has a great roundup on the Hawaiian Room, including photos, collectibles, and a bit of the history. This piece of Baltimore tiki history operated in the Emerson Hotel in the 1960s, and had no relation to the Hawaiian Room in New York City.

My favorite part is a detail of a cocktail menu, which suggests that the diner “start a collection of Authentic Polynesian Mugs.” Y’know, just like the natives use. The Hawaiian Room actually does have one of the more unusual mugs, a grumpy Dr. Zaius look-alike. Tiki Centralite johntiki has been collecting items from and researching the Hawaiian Room for years, and he contributed images of his collection to Johnny’s post.

November 22, 2006

This Week at Arkiva Tropika

Filed under: Arkiva Tropika,History,Los Angeles,Midwest Canada,San Francisco,Tiki,Washington, D.C. — Humuhumu @ 4:16 pm

I’m a bit late with my weekly roundup of gaze-worthy items from Arkiva Tropika… but better late than never!

Postcard from the Beachcomber in Winnipeg, from Arkiva Tropika
Postcard from the Beachcomber in Winnipeg, from Arkiva Tropika

This postcard, from the Beachcomber in Winnipeg, Manitoba, gives a great view of a typical, middle-of-the-road Polynesian restaurant from the 1960s. This restaurant was no Trader Vic’s, or Kon-Tiki, or Kona Kai, or Mai Kai, or Kahiki, or any other of the famous, big-name restaurants. But, as was the case with virtually all Polynesian restaurants of the day, details were not skimped on — massive faux palm trees beneath a “star lit sky” create a full-fledged [i]scene[/i]. There are glass floats and other beachcomber lamps (including a lovely one covered in tapa), bamboo and matting envelop a dining alcove, and a decorative, open steak pit lets diners watch the master chefs at work. It’s hard to conceive, but this was simply a very typical Polynesian restaurant — this level of theming was every bit the norm, which is what makes these restaurants so fascinating. Mimi has more detailed views of this postcard on Arkiva Tropika.

Detail from 1952 cocktail menu from Lanai in San Mateo, from Arkiva Tropika
Detail from 1952 cocktail menu from Lanai in San Mateo, from Arkiva Tropika

This 1952 cocktail menu from the Lanai in San Mateo appeals to me for a number of reasons. First of all, I love the art style (I can’t help but wonder if the artist was inspired by an early Don the Beachcomber menu, as I was when I created the design for Humu Kon Tiki). Secondly, the Lanai was in our neck of the woods, and probably would be our watering hole of choice if it was still around today. Thirdly, the drinks on the menu are true classics, with drinks likely lifted (the names, if not the recipes) from those created by Don the Beachcomber. The Sidewinder’s Fang is served today at Forbidden Island, using the same recipe that was once served at the Lanai (I had one last night, they’re yummy).

Detail from '60s cocktail menu from Doc's Place in Toronto, from Arkiva Tropika
Detail from ’60s cocktail menu from Doc’s Place in Toronto, from Arkiva Tropika

My interest in this 1960s cocktail menu from Doc’s Place in Toronto has more to do with my love of lettering than my love of tiki. This menu is an excellent example of the difference real hand lettering makes over the over-used mock-hand lettering fonts of today. Look at the two places the word “Swizzle” is used — look at the “zz” in particular. Each “z” is different. There are a lot of “G”s on the page, too, and you can really see the difference there. This is where a font typically falls down. Sometimes a font will at least provide two variations of a letter, which helps a lot, but it still doesn’t really have the character and life that true hand lettering does. I’m a font fiend — I am crazy for a good font — but they have to be used with good judgement, and if this same menu was recreated with a hand-lettered font, it would look corporate and dull. I wish more people would just take the time to hand letter things — it’s a dying art. (Mea culpa — I’ve not done much hand lettering, as my attempts have been less than glorious — but that’s all the more reason to practice!)

Page from 1956 cocktail menu from the Luau in Beverly Hills, from Arkiva Tropika
Page from 1956 cocktail menu from the Luau in Beverly Hills, from Arkiva Tropika

This 1956 cocktail menu from the Luau in Beverly Hills is gorgeous — it’s not unusual to see neat illustrations of the drinks on cocktail menus, but a menu full of illustrations of this size and quality is rare. Not entirely surprising — the mugs from the Luau were also detailed, colorful affairs of high quality, designed by Gabe Florian, and are among the most highly-sought vintage mugs. Restauranteur Stephen Crane went on to create the popular Kon-Tiki chain of restaurants for Sheraton hotels.

Menu from an unknown Bali Hai, from Arkiva Tropika
Menu from an unknown Bali Hai, from Arkiva Tropika

Thanks to the popularity of the 1958 film South Pacific (based on the Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway musical, in turn based on the James Michener book), the name “Bali Hai” sprung up all over the place in the early ’60s, and naturally a number of Polynesian restaurants adopted the name. Like the mystical island from the film, this Bali Hai is extremely elusive — Mimi has both a dinner menu and a cocktail menu, and neither give any hint as to where it was located. The menu advertises a “Pit of Eternal Fire,” but odds are not good that it is actually still burning. Mimi has taken the time to type up some of the text from the menus; “florid” seems a tad insufficient, but it’s certainly apt.

Menu from Luau Hut in Washington, D.C., from Arkiva Tropika
Menu from Luau Hut in Washington, D.C., from Arkiva Tropika

As Mimi has noted on Arkiva Tropika, this menu from the Luau Hut in Washington, D.C. is a good example of something that was pretty common during the golden age of tiki — ripping off of menu imagery. The tiki on the cover of this menu was certainly lifted from a menu for the Kahiki in Columbus; this is the Kahiki’s famous signature fireplace. There are many examples of this sort of graphic “borrowing;” it rarely, if ever, created a legal issue, as the imagery was taken from far-flung restaurants, and the risk of getting caught was low. Today, the risk is much higher, and this sort of lifting doesn’t happen nearly as often.

We’re already halfway into a new week of great Arkiva Tropika posts — be sure to check them out yourself!

January 9, 2006

Washington Post Article on Barcelona Tiki Bars

Filed under: Continental Europe,Tiki,Washington, D.C. — Humuhumu @ 2:30 am

The Washingon Post ran a piece on the tiki bars in Barcelona in yesterday’s Travel section. While the article shows the typical signs of a tiki-related puff piece (“tacky” rears its head in the title: “Barcelona Puts the Tiki in Tacky,” and I’m pretty sure that Martin Denny was not famous for his voice), the author is certainly one-up on me, as I haven’t made it to the tiki bars in Europe myself, yet. And it certainly feels good to see Tiki Central get a mention in the Washington Post.

September 26, 2005

Honolulu Restaurant Lives On — Sort Of

Filed under: Shopping,Tiki,Washington, D.C. — Humuhumu @ 11:18 am
Honolulu 2 -- photo by ikitnrev
Honolulu 2, photo by ikitnrev

For more than 25 years, the Honolulu Restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia was a much-beloved Polynesian oasis for those in the Washington, D.C. area. Honolulu was owned by David and Anna Chan; David had been a bartender at the Washington, D.C. Trader Vic’s. Honolulu remained popular right to the end in April 2004, when its closure was forced by a highway development project. The Chans have moved on to their Internet-based business, Time2Tiki, where they sell bottled versions of the sauces and drink mixes that are missed by the Honolulu’s many regulars.

Ikitnrev was invited to the opening party of Honolulu II — this is not a re-opening of the Honolulu Restaurant, but rather a private space created by longtime customers who simply missed the Honolulu too much. These folks were able to acquire some pieces of the Honolulu, including murals, booths, and tiki decor (Tiki Centralites Ikitnrev and Sabina were also able to take in some artifacts from the Honolulu during its closing auction). In creating this private tribute to the Honolulu, the owners tried to stay as faithful to the original as possible, right down to mimicking the layout. Ikitnrev has posted pictures and a description of this unique hideaway on Tiki Central.


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Humuhumu is the creator of several tiki websites. She is a designer and programmer based out of San Francisco.

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