To prove our point, here are 10 drinks from 10 bars where bartenders are shaking up modern mai tais, taming jungle birds, and reviving zombies. Batten down the hatches. We’re going sailing.
Almost Always Bad News at The Clever Koi
Polynesian flair and flavor are crammed into every nook and cranny of the Almost Always Bad News, Clever Koi owner and barman Joshua James’s resurrection of the zombie cocktail, a tiki stalwart. If Don the Beachcomber created the zombie, then James gave it back its soul. His personalized zombie mix get swirled with molasses-tinted Skipper Demerara and fiery 151 Hamilton rums. And he gives it some style, too, in the form of a tall tiki mug full of crumbly ice and decadent decoration. You may even find a tiny plastic mermaid has found a slice of lime to call home.
Jungle Bird at Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour
We can't be sure, but there’s a pretty good chance your bartender's favorite tiki drink has, at some point, been the jungle bird. It’s frustratingly simple and relies heavily on Campari, best known for its role in the negroni. Some consider it the "Coca-Cola of amaro" due to its heavy-handed marketing, signature red color, and pervasive nature on bar shelves. However, in the jungle bird it does the two things Campari does best: adds orange-rind bitterness and colors the drink crimson. And a bitter note is exactly what's needed to counteract the pineapple juice, lime juice, simple syrup, and rum in this drink.
Caribbean Spirit at Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails
The hottest cocktail ingredient to hit the Phoenix market since Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur is Plantation Pineapple Rum Stiggin’s Fancy, a pineapple-flavored spirit that does wonders in whichever drink it lands. At Blue Hound Kitchen, bartenders combine the spirit with grapefruit liqueur, a ginger and almond liqueur called falernum, and lemon juice. Though head bartender Noah Momyer says that some “tiki purists may not approve,” it's really too bad for them, because we’re all aboard.
Tahitian Rum Punch at Jade Bar
The Tahitian Rum Punch has 10 ingredients, and every single one of them matters when you’re honoring the Don the Beachcomber, the legendary Prohibition-era smuggler-turned-restaurateur who invented some of the world’s first tiki drinks. Among them was the Tahitian Rum Punch, which combines several fruit juices, rums, and fruit liqueurs so well that even a century later, guys like Jade Bar’s Eddie Garcia — a devoted fan of tiki — take great pride in doing the classic well. Served in a proper tiki mug, the big drink has spiciness, funkiness, fruitiness, booziness, and more.
Voice Among Trees at Market Street Kitchen
It looks like a julep in its frosty metal cup, buried under ice, garnished with a fistful of aromatic mint. But it isn’t a julep — not even close. And it doesn’t contain rum, either, which might surprise anyone who assumes the sugarcane spirit is required in the tiki genre. Well, Market Street Kitchen is getting experimental, swizzling up a take on Smuggler’s Cove's Chartreuse Swizzle, which pushes the boundaries of tiki drinks. It relies on boozy and wildly herbaceous green chartreuse, mixing in mint, pineapple, falernum, and fresh lime juice. Dashed with spicy, red angostura bitters, you’ll find tiki has fewer boundaries than you thought.
Hurricane at Okra
Hurricanes can wreak havoc on the unassuming drinker. And as one of the tiki drinks you’re most likely to find at a chain restaurant, they are anything but consistent. However, the excellent bartenders at Okra in uptown Phoenix shake up a Hurricane that makes it easy to see how this drink became a classic. Owner Micah Olson found the perfect passion fruit juice to swim in synchronized fashion with his rum blend. The result is bright orange and beautiful.
Piña Colada at Rum Bar
The piña colada needs no introduction, except that you’ll need to start considering some don’t get poured out of a blender. Not that blended piña coladas aren’t delicious, but one of the best in town resides at the blender-less Rum Bar (for a great blended version, see Bitter & Twisted up the road). And it is far from too sweet. It's controlled and complex in comparison to most versions, since the bartenders here go to the lengths to create their own coconut liqueur in-house. It's creamy, pure in flavor, and rich like butterscotch — making it perfect with fresh pineapple juice and Rum Bar’s painstakingly picked rum.
Painkiller at Hula’s Modern Tiki
A painkiller by any other name would be as delicious, but the bottom line is it ain’t a proper painkiller unless it has Pusser’s-brand rum. The spirit company trademarked the name and has a history of taking legal action against bars that don’t abide. Many places work around it by using a similar style of rum and, of course, another name. At Hula’s, real-deal painkillers flow liberally into coconut-shaped mugs — and an additional shot of rum, floated over the top, comes highly recommended. Being the cousin of the piña colada, the drink has a coconut cream base that works nicely with the bitter tang of orange juice and plenty of rum. A healthy sprinkle of spice over the rim makes each painkiller exactly what the doctor ordered.
Tiki Ali at The Parlor Pizzeria
For inspiration, bartenders love to reach back to their childhoods. All over the Valley, bartenders have been doing it with spiked root beer drinks and boozy, frozen orange Juliuses. The Parlor is an Italian restaurant and bar, but Riley Jones dipped his toe into tiki with the Tiki Ali, inspired by sun-bleached summers and family vacations. “It’s like that strawberry lemonade drink you’d order at resorts as a kid,” Jones says. Of course, yours better not have had booze in it — let alone the boatload Jones has a knack for hiding deftly in his.
Mai Tai at The Ostrich
Mai tais get a bad rap. As the poster child of tiki drinks, it's been simplified, reduced, and substituted since the very beginning. It’s frustrating to know that the rum originally used, 17-year Wray & Nephew, isn't available anymore, but Tiki Tuesday-host The Ostrich in downtown Chandler still gives the classic cocktail its very best shot — tangy, nutty, and a touch sweet, all the ingredients work in harmony to show off a good hit of rum.