Ballard, with its maritime heritage and preponderance of craft cocktails, might be the missing link between Seattle and tiki. National revival aside, tiki’s escapism remains a weird sell in a town that celebrates the stuff we grow, pick, and distill close to home. The sort of drinker who might geek out about the movement’s vintage glassware and obscure bitters usually prefers the resulting libation more dry, dark, or bitter than exuberantly tropical. And sipping anything from a hollowed-out coconut becomes an act of unintentional irony when the rain sheets down outside.
No matter. Seattle’s bartenders harbor a fondness for resurrecting the Polynesian-styled drinks made with good rum and fresh juice that signified ultimate glamor in the 1930s…before it all devolved into an indignity of sugary mai tais and thatched-hut kitsch after World War II. In Ballard, some of the guys behind Ocho and Hazlewood have opened Hotel Albatross, where Edison bulbs dangle over bartenders affixing tiny umbrellas on orders of pineappley puka punch. A white-tiled bar serves daiquiris up front; beyond awaits the classiest rec room you’ve ever seen, complete with gold-swirled wallpaper, paintings of steamships, two turntables, and faux paneling behind shelf after shelf of rum bottles. The vibe is part Canon, part Cast Away; the only clue this used to be an Azteca is the ample amount of seating. Bar food hops from puffy tacos to Vietnamese banh xeo and even a rare sighting of Burmese-style fermented tea leaf salad—any country with a tradewind and a spice profile is fair game. Original rum creations and drinks from early tiki days are resurrected with perfect balance: For all the pineapple and coconut, nothing is cloyingly sweet. Not the classic Painkiller (which does indeed arrive in a peeled, hollowed-out coconut) and not the Missionary’s Downfall, where fresh mint turns a slushy drink into something bordering on sophisticated. If you’re still not sold on tiki, $5 buys you a well shot and a can of Montucky beer—an entirely different form of escapism.