Summer is over, but tiki drinks are still hot. Tiki culture has gone through several waves of popularity since its inception in the mid-20th century, and we’re currently sitting upon a crest laden with colorful drink umbrellas. The juicy, boozy, spicy, and often eye-catching cocktails can be found at most bars, but some drinking holes specialize in them. The following bars may even put some mermaids or sharks in your glass as well. Take a trip through the tropics without ever leaving your barstool at these tiki-friendly bars.
Tiki wasn’t always in style. It first came about when Ernest Gantt opened Don the Beachcomber bar and restaurant in Los Angeles in 1933. He decorated his Asian/Polynesian bar with bobbles and treasures that he had acquired from trips through the tropics in previous years. Eventually, Ernest was deployed during World War II, and his wife took over the bar’s operations, expanding it to over a dozen locations. When Ernest came back home, he divorced his wife, but he allowed her to keep the bar chain. He legally changed his name to Donn Beach, moved to Waikiki, Hawaii, and opened up a new bar that had faux rainfall and a myna bird that was trained to say, “Give me a beer, stupid.” Donn Beach’s legendary bars became synonymous with the birth of tiki.
Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar & Restaurant in the Warehouse District has a full menu of tropical adult beverages, some of which come with little plastic mermaids or squeaky shark toys. Lucy’s Shark Attack is a powerhouse drink with vodka, gin, rum, and sour mix. Da’ Killer Blue Whale is made with Malibu rum, blueberry-flavored vodka, lemonade, and 190-proof liquor. A Drink Called Wanda is a traditional piña colada mixed with crème de noyaux. All the ladies love the Basic Beach, concocted from Cruzan coconut rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, cranberry juice, and grenadine. In addition to several frozen drinks and margaritas that you can also choose from, you can take a shot with a scorpion and worm in it to truly test your mettle.
Just above Felipe’s Taqueria in the French Quarter, you’ll find the little tropical oasis called Tiki Tolteca. Their menu consists entirely of traditional and unconventional tiki drinks, some of which come flaming. The Rum Julep is a mix of aged rums with spiced honey and citrus. Get into a groove with a Doctor Funk rum cocktail mixed with Herbsaint and citrus. Dawn on the Day of the Dead is a zombified drink with rum and rice milk. Fans of the film The Fifth Element flock to the LeeLoo Loves Dallas, a blend of tropical rums, island liqueurs, citrus, and seltzer. If you can get a group of friends together, you can order one of their giant communal drinks, like The Scorpion Bowl, Fog Cutter, or Zombie. You definitely don’t want to tackle one of these on your own!
You won’t believe the extensive drink selection at the colorful Flamingo A-Go-Go restaurant in the Warehouse District. In addition to all of their wines and beers, they’ve got several unique, sweet cocktail concoctions that you need a lifetime to try. Six cocktails come on tap, including the Vegas Bomb, the Dark Side, and the Blue Lightning, which is served in a fishbowl. I want to try the Super Good Advice with Bacardi Pineapple, fresh chunks of pineapple, mint, and habanero pepper. You may enjoy the Feather Plucker with Montelobos Mezcal, grapefruit juice, and grapefruit bitters.
Port of Call on the edge of the French Quarter is known more for their burgers than their beverages, but this nautical restaurant definitely has a few tropical drinks that need to be mentioned. The most popular cocktail on the menu is the aptly titled Port of Call, but you may not have heard of the equally delicious Goombay Punch, a Bahamian-style drink. They’ve also got a tequila-based Red Turtle cocktail and the strong Neptune’s Monsoon.
The Velvet Cactus in Lakeview has a plethora of margaritas, but their tropical choices are crowd-pleasers, too. Their Painkiller is made with Pusser’s rum, cream of coconut, pineapple juice, and orange juice. The Rum Punch has a delightful and buzz-inducing blend of Sugar Island Spiced Rum, Sugar Island Coconut rum, banana liqueur, and orange and pineapple juices. You may need something to cool you off after imbibing The Velvet Heat with Sauza Blue tequila, pomegranate juice, triple sec, and habanero syrup.
Portside Lounge has taken over Black Label BBQ, and they’ve turned it into a tiki haven. Planter’s Punches, Mai Tais, and Rum Old Fashioneds are available at incredible prices, and you may just catch a punk rock show while you’re there. Just a few blocks away, Hot Tin at The Pontchartrain Hotel offers the Naked Jungle with rum, green chili, lime juice, vanilla, and elderflower. They’ve also got a traditional Mai Tai with light and dark rums, lime, orgeat, and curacao.
Palace Café prides itself on its rare and top-shelf rum menu, and their tiki drinks are some of the most exclusive in town. The Palace Planters Punch uses Old New Orleans Amber rum, cardamom, orgeat, vanilla brandy, orange, and lemon. Things get more tropical with drinks like Cool Runnings, made with Ron Zacapa 23 rum, Velvet Falernum, lime juice, and coco real. Papa’s Pilar 24-Year Rum is the star of the Misguided cocktail with chardonnay, apricot liqueur, falernum, and hopped grapefruit bitters. All the locals love the Nash Roberts with Flor de Cana 7-Year rum, passionfruit, and citrus.
Cane & Table in the French Quarter has almost 20 signature and classic tiki cocktails. You can’t drink them all in one night, but there’s a few you should definitely try first. The Banana Manhattan is a new twist on a Rum Manhattan with El Dorado rum, vermouth, absinthe, and French banana liqueur. You probably never thought of whiskey mixing with tropical flavors, but the Scotch and Coconut cocktail will change your thinking. This drink has Scotch whisky with frozen coconut water. Count yourself lucky with the Luck I’ve Had. It’s like a Sazerac, but it’s made with mezcal, white Armagnac, habanero shrub, and grapefruit juice.
As you can probably infer, The Rum House has plenty of spicy and sweet tropical offerings. You can choose from $5 rum punches, mojitos, and margaritas and $6 Three Hour Tours and Painkillers during Island Time Happy Hour from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. on weekdays.
There’s nowhere in the city more tiki-fied than Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 in the French Quarter. Jeff “Beachbum” Berry has traversed the tropics, finding the ultimate tiki drinks and compiling the recipes into his famous cocktail books. You can try them all, including the South Seas Sinner with Japanese whisky, pistachio and orchard cherry liqueurs, toasted coconut rum, and Li Hing tincture. The Navy Grog was Frank Sinatra’s favorite tiki drink, and it combines Jamaican and Demerara rums, allspice, lime, and grapefruit. The Pontchartrain Pearl Diver (pictured left) is a local favorite rum cocktail with honey butter spice mix, passionfruit juice, and lime. Latitude 29 is also a great place for communal drinks like the Aquadesiac, Snake Versus Mongoose, and the mega-drink, Plantocracy Punch.
Even in the dead of winter, your spirits will be revived by one of these tropical cocktails!
Photos by Randy Schmidt