Tiki: "Where Escapism, Irony, and Kitsch Overlap"

Tiki drinks are showing up on Seattle cocktail menus.

August 25, 2010

“He’e Mauli,” according to Canlis bartender James MacWilliams, “gets its name from the Hawaiian word for Hawaiian Day Octopus.”

I love this quote about tiki drinks from Jason Wilson of the Washington Post:

“Tiki drinks occupy a space somewhere in the Venn diagram of the American psyche where escapism, irony, and kitsch overlap, cutting across so many cultural divides. Hipsters with badly drawn Chinese-character tattoos love tiki. Shoppers at Urban Outfitters love tiki. Suburban cougars on the prowl love tiki. Guys in Tommy Bahama shirts who listen to ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise’ love tiki. Marlene Dietrich loved tiki. Richard Nixon loved tiki.”

I, too, love tiki. Which is why I’m happy to see tiki drinks popping up around town. The word tiki tends to make people think immediately of a mai tai, a storied cocktail indeed. The forefathers of Tiki bars—Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber—were famously locked in a feud over who invented the mai tai. (Are you at a really good bar right now? Are you at Sun Liquor, say? Ask the bartender to make you both versions and test them side by side. Fun.)

Here are two new tiki menus to try out:

At Canlis, bartender James MacWilliams has three new tiki-inspired drinks on the menu, and they’re kind of crazy. Consider the He’e Mauli: Appleton VX*, Lemon Hart**, Tia Maria coffee liqueur, POM***, Coco Lopez cream of coconut, brown sugar syrup, and lime, garnished with an orange octopus.****

Over at Naga Lounge in Bellevue, bar manager Evan Martin has created a new tiki menu that includes his original drink, Death in the South Pacific, which was the official cocktail of Tales of the Cocktail this year. There are six other drinks on the menu and you can order any of them in a 48-ounce bowl if you want to share. Or get wasted.

Oh and if you like mai tais (shameless self-promotion alert!), sign up for the Seattle Met event on September 29 at the HerbanFeast space in SoDo. There’s going to be a Mai Tai competition in which some (not all, but some) of the best bartenders around town will compete. And it’s only $20. There are also related happy hour events, check out all the details here.

*A Jamaican rum company that’s poised to become a lot more well known around here. Look out for it.

**A Demerera rum at 80 and 151 proof.

***That super-expensive pomegranate juice that comes in the zaftig glass bottle.

****An octopus carved out of orange peel, (as opposed to an orange-colored octopus).

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