The tiki comeback is real. It almost seems like Mai Tais are pouring forth from every park fountain across the country. Over the course of the past year, fantastic new tiki bars have sprung up everywhere, with dedicated bartenders really focusing on the art of these fanciful, happy-making, delicious drinks. Mother of Pearl in NYC’s East Village has become an Instagram phenom for its Shark Bite cocktails, served in fantastic porcelain shark glasses, complete with bitters blood. Tiki’s foremost historian Jeff Beachbum Berry opened his own bar, Latitude 29, in New Orleans this year. Paul McGee’s new Lost Lake serves its drinks with banana dolphins under a thatched roof. And later this year, Owen Thomson (of Rose’s Luxury, Bar Pilar and Café Saint-Ex fame) will give Washington, DC its own rum haunt, Archipelago.
These drinks have been around since the ’30s and ’40s—why such the resurgence now? Jeff Beachbum Berry thinks the impetus is threefold: “The tiki comeback couldn’t have happened without the craft cocktail renaissance," he says. “The craft people discovered that these were the first culinary, farm-to-glass craft cocktails made after Prohibition. In the ’30s, Trader Vic was making cocktails with fresh juices, housemade syrups and liqueurs 70 years before those terms existed. And the craft cocktail movement rediscovered that.”
Once these brave mixologists came to see that tiki drink culture placed the same importance on ingredients, they’ve been able to settle in and give over to the genre without overthinking it. The cocktails are really meant to imbue a sense of pleasure.
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“I think the tide has turned in cocktails from being reverent and academic about cocktails. People were taking cocktails very seriously, and I think eventually too seriously, and what you have with tiki with the elaborate glassware and theatrical garnishes and large, generous serves, all that kind of stuff puts the fun back in drinking,” he says. “You’re going to a bar to enjoy yourself; you’re not going to church for some sort of hardline historical thing about how cocktails used to be.”