Even if you don’t have a closet full of Hawaiian shirts or a bar full of rum, you probably have noticed that tiki is all the rage in the bar world. What you probably didn’t realize is that not all tiki bars, or tiki drinks, are the same. There are bars and bartenders responsible for elevating tiki cocktails to a new level, bringing a subculture of cocktails once considered kitch to the level of craft mixology. Here, ten bartenders who are currently revolutionizing tiki cocktails.
Anu and Chris Elford
Navy Strength, Anu and Chris Elford’s new tiki bar in Seattle, Washington, is one of the best new bars in the country
. The second bar in the last 16 months from the husband and wife duo—their first joint bar was the beer-focused No Anchor Bar
—was Seattle’s first “modern” tiki bar. “Tiki [as a whole] is fascinating,” says Chris. “It makes people happy as hell, and when done right it’s more than just tasty. It’s like the soul food of drinks.”
At Navy Strength, the menu is divided into three distinctly different sections: “tropical,” which features ur-tiki drinks from the early 1900s, “tiki,” which features renditions of Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber’s staples, and “travel,” which focuses on the flavors and traditional ingredients of a different country every six months, proving that tiki drinks aren’t limited to Polynesia.
For their first travel menu, the Elfords explored the flavors of India, Anu’s home country. Drinks included a variation on the Swizzle made with cashew nut and kokum, a dried fruit from the mangosteen family that was sourced from the farm where Anu’s father grew up. There was also a chai-spiced Old Fashioned and a variation on a Tom Collins with garam masala and coconut soda instead of seltzer. “I think it would be arrogant and flat out incorrect of me to say any particular drinks I’m working on are going to change anyone’s life,” says Chris. “But I can tell you about my favorite drink on our current Philippines travel menu: the Butuan City Soundtrack. It's a blend of bourbon, calamansi [which is like a really funky lime from Southeast Asia], mango, pandan leaf and toasty rice, which is made from the rice left over in the bottom of the rice cooker. We deep fry the rice, pat it dry, and blitz it into a syrup. The whole drink is served on crushed ice, topped with [Chinese] five-spice, and then lit ablaze. It’s the only drink more popular than our Mai Tai, and the one word I’d use to describe it is craveable.”