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THE TIKI WAVE CONTINUES

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Friday, April 1st, 2016

A growing number of craft bartenders are shedding their speakeasy-style suspenders and spats and donning a new uniform — the flamboyant Hawaiian shirt of the Tiki bar master.

The rise of Tiki drinks, a fast-growing subplot in contemporary mixology, marks the revival of a colorful and fun cocktail culture that restaurateurs Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic Bergeron pioneered in the 1930s and 1940s. It peaked in the 1970s before sliding into obscurity. It marks an epochal shift from the Prohibition-era cocktails and manners that many of the better bars have adopted in recent years.

The focal points of the Tiki revival are colorful, eye-catching cocktails, typically built with rum and layered with such tropical flavors as passion fruit, pineapple, ginger, coconut and pomegranate. Specially flavored syrups also can used to add a touch of the tropics to Tiki drinks. Such potions are served up in quasi-Polynesian, island-style glassware in forms ranging from a shrunken head to an angry Tiki idol, and are festooned with fruit skewers, parasols, hunks of sugar cane, pineapple flags, orchids and what have you.

One of the key selling points of Tiki is a more relaxed and welcoming atmosphere than one may find in some craft cocktail bars these days.

“When the resurgence of classic cocktails started about 15 years ago, it was all about speakeasies and here’s a list of rules,” says Paul McGee, mixologist and partner of Three Dots and a Dash, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’ Tiki lounge in Chicago. “Now, with Tiki drinks, you are talking about having fun and sharing your drink. The reason it is taking off so well now is because it’s the fun craft cocktail experience.”