Lately, it seems Phoenix’s craft cocktail spots have been racing to fold as much tiki influence into their menus as possible. Because, while a few traditional renderings of the nearly 100-year-old subculture do exist around town — Hula’s Modern Tiki may be as close as things get or the lo-fi experience at the Bikini Lounge, which touts itself as “The Valley’s last original tiki bar” — the city's bartenders have only recently begun to filter tiki flavors through the craft cocktail lens.
And for now, it appears The Ostrich has won the tiki race. Beverage Manager Brandon Casey is calling every Tuesday night Tiki Tuesday from here on out, and the Chandler bar's five-to-six drink menu is filled top to bottom with rich rum, good spices, and ungodly amounts of fresh juice.
"Tiki enthusiasts expect a certain level of ambiance as well,” Casey says. "Turning our haunted basement into a tropical setting requires some help from our tiki-loving friends. They bring in all sorts of decor: statues carved out of palm trees, their own tiki mugs, leis, and flower shirts."
About a dozen borrowed, hand-carved tiki statues pepper the space for the night, and the stereo gets stuck anywhere from surf rock to congas, bongos, and gongs.
"The idea for a tiki night came about because Brandon knew about, and visited a bar that I ran in New Orleans called Tiki Tolteca,” bartender Maxton Kennedy says. "He let me contribute a few cocktails on our menu at The Ostrich that captured the essence of tiki. We had been talking about extending the hours for The Ostrich, and he offered me a night where I could kind of go wild and do my tiki thing.”
While the regular bar menu contains both the Trader Vic’s Mai Tai and the Zombie, two tiki stalwarts, others like the Hurricane (dark rum, light rum, lemon juice, passion fruit), lesser-knowns like the Lady of Singapore (Cruzan rum, lime juice, coconut cream, pineapple juice, grenadine), or the Ostrich-born Charred Pineapple Daiquiri (Cruzan rum, lime juice, charred pineapple syrup) highlight the menu. As far as grub goes, there's a Spicy Pig Roast Pizza (spicy pizza sauce, ham, crispy pancetta, pineapple, mozzarella, roasted poblano peppers) from the Crust kitchen above.
Kennedy thinks that the post-Prohibition tiki theme fits right in with pre and peak-Prohibition stylings of the Ostrich’s bar menu and plans to continue his own spin on the traditional bastions of the tiki genre.
"I have always been on a mission to show people that you can play with other spirits in tiki drinks," he says. "Many tiki classics contain gin. I also like to play with mezcal, pisco, cognac, and even vodka — yes, I said it, vodka — for tiki drinks."
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