Why didn’t the city's nouveau Tiki palaces stick around longer? Like most New York stories, it all comes down to real estate.
PKNY had its share of bitter times behind the scenes, including a ridiculous lawsuit from Pusser’s Rum asserting that it had trademarked the recipe for a Painkiller cocktail in 1989, which resulted in a name change from Painkiller to PKNY. In the end, though, it was simple: the lease at the Essex Street space was not renewed.
“Had it been, we would have gone on for another 10 years,” former owner Richie Boccato vows, “but perhaps in a different direction.”
Across town at Lani Kai, it was more of the same.
“In hindsight, we should have done a different location and a smaller space,” Reiner laments. Though the bar was popular and the cocktails received glowing press, Lani Kai never gained the necessary traction as a dining destination to make the space work.
In the end, almost everyone I spoke with for this article concluded that Tiki’s second wave ended due to purely circumstantial reasons -- primarily rent and other real estate issues -- rather than a lack of demand or enthusiasm for Tiki cocktails and culture. (The one exception: Boccato, who surmised that New Yorkers may be “too uptight” to give over to the joys of true Tiki escapism.)
In the end, perhaps “no bar can afford to be so narrowly focused in NYC,” says the Rhum Rhum Room’s Desmond. “Sky-high rents, significant pre-opening costs, and extraordinarily stiff competition make opening any type of high-end bar a very risky proposition in NYC.” And a specialization like Tiki is “difficult to sustain for any extended period of time.”