Dreading the Holidays? You Need This Cranberry Sauce Margarita.
If you’re going to call your bar Archipelago, you better deliver the tropical goods. Thankfully, this U Street bar does so in spades. Founded by Owen Thomson -- a veteran of Cafe Saint-Ex, Bar Pilar, and Rose’s Luxury -- Archipelago goes all-in on island décor with bamboo walls, palm plants, and Tiki idols galore. As far as its alcoholic offerings, this place offers up "some classics, some new drinks, but always Tiki." On the classics side of the equation, you can expect unadulterated versions of the Mai Tai, piña colada, and banana daiquiri. The new drinks, meanwhile, span from single-serving sippers to multi-straw monstrosities that serve three to four. Bring a date and go for the Pineapple of Hospitality: served inside its titular fruit, the super-sized cocktail purports to be made from only rum and "secrets," and it’s delivered with a flaming lime.
Let’s be honest, a modestly sized bar located in an English basement just south of Adams Morgan does not scream "Tiki." I live in an English basement, and the closest thing to aquatic life in this place is the occasional silverfish. But since Bar Charley’s earliest days, its eclectic drink menu has had a space carved out for on-tap Tiki cocktails. That’s right: on-tap. That’s mean no extended wait times while a bartender carefully combines multiple liquors, syrups, and juices. (Nothing but love for the mixologists of the world! Keep up the good work!) The most popular option is Molokai Mule, which brings together light and dark rum, brandy, orgeat, orange juice, lime, and bitters inside of a kitschy ceramic hula woman glass. Head there on Monday nights for $5 Tiki Taps... and kiss your Tuesday productivity goodbye.
barmini’s cocktail menu comes bound in a shiny metallic case, thick and overwrought, like a 15th-century Bible. Contained within it are over 100 innovative, playful, and often deconstructed recipes… some of which happen to be for pretty swanky Tiki drinks. One’s a take on the classic Painkiller, a cousin of the piña colada made with spiced rum, pineapple, orange juice, and coconut cream. On the wilder side, there’s a tongue-twister called "Mohan Travels to Peru and Gets a Haircut," which features rum, pisco, chicha morada, lime, ginger syrup, walnut liqueur, and rosemary "mohawk." (When you see the Tiki idol glass, you’ll get it.) If a few Tiki options aren’t enough for you, this José Andrés joint hosts a Tiki Week during the month of July.
There are bars that dabble in Tiki, and then there’s Farmers Fishers Bakers. Beverage director Jon Arroyo has constructed such a Tiki-centric cocktail menu that I think he might own stock in rum and citrus. Most notably, the Georgetown property slings vivid interpretations of Zombie and Mai Tai recipes plucked from the Tiki heydays of the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘60s. There are also piña coladas, daiquiris, Caribbean swizzles, and "Throwback Tikis," and I caught a sugar high just typing all of that out. All in all, Farmers Fishers Bakers has over 25 different options from which to choose, and if you enjoy sipping from its signature Tiki mugs, hell, you can buy those, too. If you’re going to grab a drink on the Waterfront, you might as well do it right.
Dram & Grain may sound like the name of a Soulja Boy song, but it’s an intimate, leather-clad, and achingly hip speakeasy tucked in the basement of Jack Rose. It’s also one of DC’s very best bars. The current fall offerings of the Adams Morgan spot each draw inspiration from one country around the world, and none of them should be missed. But if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind Tiki cocktail, you can’t go wrong with “Off the Coast of Hanauma Bay.” For starters, the communal cocktail -- as in, you’ll need at least one partner -- comes served in a ceramic treasure chest. The booty inside consists of rum, toasted coconut orgeat, falernum, and bitters. And, of course, it’s delivered with a rum-and-absinthe-soaked lime that’s been set ablaze. Reservations for this place are a pain (you have to text a number, and you’d better do it far in advance), but it’s worth it. If you feel like having a Tiki drink on a whim, head to the top floor of Jack Rose and visit the outside Tiki Bar, though that’s only open seasonally.
H St Corridor
You may be picking up on a theme here: sometimes the best Tiki drinks are made at places where you can’t always get them. Or, at least, you have to know to ask for one. H St’s Copycat Co. sometimes does full-on Tiki nights, but regardless of when you’re at the cocktail bar, you should ask for the Zombie. Its version of the 1930s drink is renowned for its potency and beguiling "zombie mix."
The adult beverage list at Doi Moi traffics mostly in wine, but its few cocktails draw inspiration from the Tiki canon. Most notable: the refreshing spin on the Zombie, which brings together three types of rum, passion fruit, pineapple, lemon, lime, and Angostura bitters. More variations of Tiki drinks can often be found underneath the Southeast Asian restaurant, at one of bar director Adam Bernbach’s other libations projects, 2 Birds 1 Stone.
Washington D.C.'s first dedicated tiki bar is located on U Street, bringing a tropical attitude, strong drinks and garnishes like banana dolphins and miniature oil cans. Toss in a shrine to Tom Selleck, blowfish lamps, and vintage aloha tunes, and you know you’ve landed somewhere special. Archipelago also serves a tasty selection of tropical-tinged food, from ham and cheese sliders to a jerk chickens sandwich.
This Adams Morgan spot specializes in variations on cocktail classics, including 15 different Manhattan recipes. Many of the bar’s drinks cost $10 or less, including the rotating draft Tiki cocktails for under $8. While you wouldn't necessarily come here for the food, shareable bites like flatbreads and fries are worthy orders.
Barmini is the cocktail test lab for visionary chef José Andrés' restaurants. Barmini overlooks restaurant minibar and operates under the M.O. to use culinary caliber talent to craft incomparable cocktails. With over 100 seasonally rotating cocktail concoctions served in 1930s vintage barware, if you don't find a drink, well we judge you. But you could try one of the innovative bar snacks, which also happen to rotate frequently as the chefs test out new flavor combos.
Yes, you guessed it, there are farmers, fishers, and bakers involved in this Georgetown restaurant to bring you fresh seafood, sushi, steak, and baked goods (like beignets with raspberry coulis, hot fudge sauce, and bourbon caramel sauce). A true farm-to-table set up, Farmers Fishers Bakers has a partnership with the North Dakota Farmers Union to provide a seasonal menu of regional farm-sourced comfort food.
Dram & Grain is a badass underground whiskey den run by Trevor Frye and Nick Lowe of Jack Rose Dining Saloon (which just so happens to be on top of said whiskey den). If you can get the secret phone number via secret business card, you can text these guys on their burner phone (!) and get yourself into one of three seatings on Saturdays only. Expect creative cocktails (red-hot pokers, smoke-filled concoctions), whiskey on tap, and only one vodka drink called the Training Wheels.
From Barmini graduate Devin Gong, hip restaurant/bar Copycat Co. combines craft cocktails with Northern Chinese bites like pot stickers, skewers, and bao buns. In addition to a permanent cocktail menu loaded with the classics, bartenders rotate through weekly (hand-drawn!) specialty menus featuring toddys, daiquiris, juleps, and more. Copycat is spread out across two floors: the first is for a quick beer and bao, while the upstairs is a relaxed lounge where you can unwind for hours.
Doi Moi is bringing Vietnamese and Thai flavors and some serious heat, try cooling off with cocktails like a tamarind soda with peanut-infused bourbon. If you want to go big, get the whole fried fish, just share it so you have room for the also-fried coconut-battered bananas.