When you walk into Super Power on Nostrand Avenue in Crown Heights, a few things will strike you: tropical hues of blue and green; wallpaper covered in fronds; palm tree shaped neon attached to the wall; and nearly 100 varieties of rum, stacked neatly behind the bar. Sitting on a cushy aquamarine stool at the L-shaped bar, you might order a vat of lime and pineapple juices mixed with three kinds of rum, which fill a vase-sized glass. This is the Jonn the Beachcomber, a riff on Don the Beachcomber, the man who invented tiki. And as you and your friend simultaneously stick your faces over the top of that rummy-pool to suck down an icy gulp of it using one of two provided straws, you’ll expect something stiff, given all that rum. But instead, your mouth will be surprised with something only mildly sweet, lightly tart, and finished with a refreshing float of selzter.
“We seek balance in all things,” confirms Justin Olsen, co-owner of Super Power, by way of explaining how this absurdly sized cocktail decked out with a fake bird belies almost quiet flavors.
“Balance” might not be the word you’d choose to describe this unabashedly tiki-themed bar that serves a drink that weighs as much as a bowling ball; and yet, if balance means the ability to bend the rules when it feels right—to, for example, make a traditional Tiki drink using vodka rather than rum; to combine the traditional German bitter, Underberg, with the traditional Tiki syrup, Orgeat; or to put a picture of Tom Selleck on the wall just because Tom Selleck in the 80s looked fantastic—you might reconsider; that is the kind of balance we can get behind.
But another word could describe this place, too, and that word is “fun.”
“One major thing that should exist in every bar is that it should be a fun place to be,” Olsen told me, standing behind a long countertop decked out with tiki-drink toppers. “We wanted to create a bar that was a nod toward tiki, not the thatched roof tiki, but more like sexier tiki, fun.”
By “we” Olsen is referring to himself and his three partners Hunter Fradkin, Keith Ward, and Patrick Britton. All had worked together at Gowanus Yact Club in Carroll Gardens. Then, all but Ward opened the fantastic neighborhood bar Bearded Lady in Prospect Heights. “Over there we had so much fun making lots of tropical drinks that we wanted to maybe focus on that more [here], and embrace tiki.”
Olsen placed a Beach Vibes in front of me—made of Vodka, Galiano, seltzer, pineapple juice and vinegar. It was the color of swimming pool and described as a “Blue Hawai’i by way of Nostrand Ave!” When I tasted it I wondered: was there mint in there? There wasn’t, but that pineapple vinegar had given it a odd but pleasing kind of “heat,” as Olsen described it. “A lot of tiki menus you read might have 30 drinks on them, and variations on a lot of rums, but I think there is lots of overlap [with other spirits],” said Olsen. “I just wanna keep it fun.”
Olsen and his partners do that, in part, by using Bearded Lady, which is a bit more spacious, as a cocktail mixing lab. There, Bearded Lady manager Piper Kristensen worked especially closely with Olsen to develop Super Power’s debut drink menu. They experimented with spirits and spices in strange combinations before bringing the winning recipes over to Super Power. It could be argued that Olsen’s favorite drink on their current menu of nine cocktails is hardly tiki at all. The Sranan Song is Bonded Rye, lemon juice, Underberg bitters, and almond orgeat. Only the latter reminds you that it is a riff on tiki at all. Miraculously, it tastes a little like a liquid Creamsicle, mixed with alcohol. “I try not to drink too much here,” says Olsen. “But this one I just like,” he mimics tipping one back in one fell gulp. He’s a goner for it.
Olsen also presents us with a Slow Reveal—rum, amaro, cashew orgeat, lime juice, and an orchid—served in a metal pineapple whose top is slowly removed and placed underneath it as a stand (no hands required for this one!). We slurp a Pain Killer, too, an almost ice-cream like frozen drink made of rum, coconut, piña, and O.J., also developed and still served at Bearded lady (though “it tastes better here” Olsen jokes). I note the prices on them all: only ten dollars. A bargain in New York City’s $14 cocktail landscape.
“We’re able to stay cheap with rum,” says Olsen, who explains that it is a much less expensive spirit than almost all others, “and we do a lot of front end work with labor, and the time it takes to make a drink. We don’t want to limit ourselves, but we do want repeat business. We don’t want to be the place where you spend the paycheck.”
Already, they’ve seen a steady customer base. “We’ve had really strong weekday numbers, and on weekends people bring friends, and come to discover the neighborhood,” says Olsen. “We’re on a busy street. It’s been excellent. I’m really ecstatic with the response.”
Things are likely to pick up even more when the back yard opens in a month. Olsen hopes to turn it into a shade-filled oasis. Right now it’s more of a concrete box. But given the faux leafy refuge they’ve created on the inside, I trust they’ll get there. They’ve got a substantial snack menu, too, to draw in a light dinner crowd: a pulled pork sandwich with pineapple mango salsa, a banh mi dog, beef or veggie (the beef version is from the fantastic Brooklyn Hot Dog) with pickled vegetables, jalapeño, and aioli; nachos with cheese and queso; and Rusty’s Island chips—“$4 well-spent.”
“I think everyone has upped their game in terms of food in bars,” Olsen tells me. “A lot of people now consider going to a bar to eat. It doesn’t have to be a restaurant.” About three tiki drinks into my own stay, I understood why it would be attractive to go nowhere at all, and to have dogs for dinner instead. I did and no regrets followed.
And from whence did the name Super Power come?
“You know, we kicked around lots of names, and had some obscure cultural references,” Olsen began. “But Super Power is a fun name, that has the comic book thing, and the energy of a volcano, or it’s the way it makes you feel,” he suggests. He’s explaining this to me after we’re about two-thirds into our bathtub of Jonn the Beachcomber. Andy Williams is serenading me with Blue River, and I’m in the middle of enjoying an incredible banh mi dog. This thing that I feel may not be a Super Power, but in the least case, it feels quite good.
722 Nostrand Ave, Crown Heights
Photos by Sasha Turrentine.