You know what is hot these days, but also icy cold? Tiki. Since the country’s first Tiki bar—Don the Beachcomber, opened in the 1930s, which served up rum-based drinks with fruits and syrups—Tiki has come a long way, especially the last couple of years in New York. Bartenders are no longer concocting drinks that remind you of Tiki in the 90s, i.e., too sweet, cheap, and not that delicious. Instead, an increasing number of bars in Brooklyn have dedicated Tiki nights, or entire bars that are whole-hog Tiki-themed, whose recipes riff on the spirt of Tiki (that which is fun, mostly based in rum and fruit, and include a preponderance of miniature umbrellas), but leave a lot of leeway for improvisation—different base spirits (vodka!), surprising bitters (Underberg!), and gorgeous Tiki mugs decked out with over-the-top ornaments (think birds, here, everyone, and sour candies).
So get to know Brooklyn’s excellent Tiki bars in 2016 because they serve delicious drinks, and also remind you that, beyond making precise, well-balanced and mouth-watering recipes, drinking should achieve one thing above all: a fun time. The Tiki drink, and spirit will help you do that. So get to work: plan your weekend around visiting as many of these fantastic Tiki bars as possible.
Dromedary Bar: At this 2016 newcomer, Michael Lombardozzi had a simple goal. “I wanted to make a bar that was inviting, but not pretentious, and for the drinks to be the same way.” With the outlandish (in presentation) “Mt. Kilauea Colada” (pictured), which looks like an icy pool of melted crayons—and several other Tiki drinks that improvise on the spirt of Tiki, rather than toe the Tiki line—that is exactly what you get. Better? You get to drink these things in a space that feels kind of like a shack on a beach, though its large open-sided side looks onto the streets of Bushwick instead of the ocean. But similar to an actual shack on the beach, be prepared to stay a long time: Lombardozzi serves up a hell of a (family award winning) burger: “The 2nd Lombardozzi Burger Contest Winner,” plus incredible deviled eggs, and an over the top and delicious pu pu platter.
266 Irving Ave., Bushwick
El Cortez: You like The Commodore, right? Of course you do, because its proprietors have done an excellent job of delivering a certain undeniable aesthetic (your parents’ basement in the 70’s) and incredible drinks (I go to bed at night dreaming of that frozen colada). And, last year, the same proprietors delivered the same attractive package—only this time Mexican-themed, and with drinks that lean heavily Tiki. El Cortez combines the best of our neighbor to the south (tortas, enchiladas, chimichangas) with the best of Polynesia/Hawaii/the Caribbean (Rum punch, a Zombie), on two separate levels, plus an outdoor patio.
17 Ingraham St., Bushwick
Surf Bar: Ok, we agree: it is slightly strange—especially in a large cosmopolitan center—to walk into a business completely covered in sand. Like, Surf Bar’s floors are more or less a goddamn beach. But also: props, Surf Bar. You had an idea, and you went for it, you went all-out. So, yes, when you walk into Surf Bar, try to avoid wearing shoes that take in a bunch of sand and then stay there while you eat and drink. Try the very juicy Fogcutter (dark rum, brandy, pineapple, OJ, amaretto, fresh lime juice) or the smooth and slushy painkiller (a real winner: rum, pineapple, OJ, coconut cream, and nutmeg). Then take the little umbrella out of the plastic cup, shade yourself as you sit on the front sunny porch, sink your feet in the sand, and watch the waves—I mean, Williamsburg—pass by.
139 N. Sixth St., Wiliamsburg
Fort Defiance: Red Hook. Aaaah, Red Hook. A Brooklyn neighborhood that, to visit it, is a vacation in itself, so secluded and on the waterfront as it is. So why not go all out and make it more of a vacation still by visiting Fort Defiance on one of its long-standing Tiki nights: the “award-winning” Sunken Harbor Club, held every Thursday because, as Fort Defiance reminds us, “the world needs more Tiki.” And how. A recent Sunken Harbor Club menu included The Cool Jerk (Jamaican rum, Serrano pepper, lime, bitters and rosemary), and the Mos Eisley—basically a Mai Tai, and one of the best in the city, according to Time Out New York (Aquavit, Jamaican rum, pineapple, orgeat, and angostura “sand.” Hmmm.). To balance all that tasty rum, Tiki snacks are provided too, in the form of crispy wontons, deviled eggs, or a caesar salad. This is one weekly, delicious Tiki party, with a peaceful seaside backdrop, that you will not want to miss.
365 Van Brunt St., Red Hook
Alameda: Alameda, hands down, once served me the best Mai Tai—and one of the best mixed drinks, period—I’ve ever drunk: the Bitter Mai Tai. So much so that I wrote an entire blog post about it. It was mildly sweet yet, per the name, also cut with a nice amount of Campari to make it bitter (to quote myself, sorry) “like a drink who really knew herself.” I could drink Alameda’s bitter Mai Tai for the rest of my life. If you go there now, you will not find it on the menu, though they may still make it for you, if you ask nicely. If you find Tiki replacement is provided in its stead, The French Mai Tai, which uses the French aperitif Salers, and the Shiso Painkiller: a traditional painkiller with the addition of the eponymous Japanese herb. Go drink them both, and request that you drink them out of one of their gorgeous tiki mugs, while sitting at one of the most gorgeous bars in Brooklyn.
195 Franklin St., Brooklyn
Butter & Scotch: I know what you’re thinking: “Butter & Scotch is not a Tiki bar! It is a dessert paradise that serves alcohol.” And, I’m here to tell you that you’re not wrong. However, the fine women behind Butter & Scotch, Keavy Landreth and Allison Kave—clearly—have a knack for knowing what the people want. And, these days, the people want Tiki, so they’ve provided that for us with a few standouts on their current menu. But the one you should absolutely go for is the Tiki AF, because, as stated, it is Tiki AF: Roasted pineapple-infused Gran Centenary Reposed Tequila (try saying that three times fast), Coconut, Tarragon, lemon, and Peychaud’s Bitters, served frozen. Suck that down while savoring some house-made Key Lime pie, and you’ve got yourself an entire after-dinner hour that is Tiki AF.
818 Franklin Ave., Crown Heights
Glady’s: Glady’s is Caribbean food and drink at it’s best, and that means delicious rummy Tiki drinks to boot. In this open-floor plan, you will feel like you have happened upon a raucous and well-DJed party and Glady’s has all the festive Tiki-style drinks you want to keep that party going. This includes (but is not limited to): A fantastic Dark ‘N Slushie, their version of a Mai Tai with absinthe, and my personal favorite, Glady’s Painkiller. It comes with Pusser’s rum, Coconut cream, pineapple, and nutmeg, plus healthy slices of pineapple and orange on top. It’s tangy and creamy-smooth at once, so you must be careful not to drink it too quickly. It is alcoholic, after all, but you’ll want to drink it like its the most refreshing liquid you could imagine on a hot Caribbean night.
Super Power: If a bar were ever aptly named, it is this one. Because, as Super Power co-owner Justin Olsen reminds us, when you drink at Super Power—especially one of their bowling ball-sized and weighted Jonn the Beachcomber tiki vats—you will feel like you possess one of them, namely, a super power. This bar is nothing short of delightful. It looks gorgeous, feels like a tropical oasis with palm-tree heavy wallpaper, neon signage, and real fronds and flowers stuck in vases throughout, and serves, in addition to a fun, cheap (only $10) and creative tiki menu (that delightful German bitter, Underberg, makes an appearance), they also serve outstanding hot dogs, from Brooklyn Hot Dog, made Tiki-like and even more delicious with pickled vegetables, jalapeños, and aioli. So, go, get you some of that—try several of their 100 rums in stock, too—and feel very strong.
722 Nostrand Ave, Crown Heights
The Shipwreck Lounge: This place is so fun because it almost doesn’t exist. But also, it does. The Shipwreck Lounge is a full-on Tiki bar that is also full-on part of an interactive theatrical production called The Grand Paradise. So, during the production, guests get to look at it and see thespians interacting with it, and after the production, you get to just reap the benefits of it being there, and drink cold Tiki drinks. Go for The Hustler—”aka a smokey dark and stormy”—made of scotch, dark rum, fernet, ginger beer, and smoked see salt (this one will really wake up the senses, plus, it’s served slushy), or the The Dunes, a spiced coconut rum punch. As you drink, walk around and look at all the cool maritime decor, and pretty maps on the wall, which will either give you an itch to really travel to the Caribbean, or just pretend you are already there, by attending the play. Hours are limited, and attached to performance hours, both during and after: Thursday and Sunday 10pm – 2am, and Friday and Saturday, 12am – 4am.
383 Troutman St., Bushwick
Zombie Hut: In an age where Carroll Gardens, and Smith Street in particular, has gone in a directions some (most) are not pleased with, Zombie Hut is a call back to a time with Smith Street, as we know it today, was just getting started. It was a reliable and relaxed standout then, and it has become almost a Tiki classic now—plus, it’s cheap. You can get all the Tiki deliciousness you want out of it—Mai Tai’s, punches, the famous and flaming frozen Zombie (careful, there’s rocket-fuel like Bacardi 151 in this puppy, which is literally lit on fire, right in front of you), or go for a group drink with the Scorpion Bowl—a great happy hour and a very relaxed indoor space and quiet backyard in which to enjoy it all. A visit to Zombie Hut will give you several of life’s pleasures all in the space of a drinking hour: a bygone Carroll Gardens, cheap alcohol, and Tiki. A vacation for the mind and spirit, if you will. And everyone can use some of that.
273 Smith St., Carroll Gardens