Tuesdays are for tiki
By Fritz Hahn
Friday, Jul 22, 2011
Mai tais. Fog Cutters. Chief Lapu Lapus. Whether friends have been visiting New York, London or Los Angeles recently, they've all come back raving about drinks they enjoyed at a tiki bar.
Although the trend hasn't kicked in entirely in Washington, it's not as if area residents have lacked places to get a decent Zombie: Two years ago, the Gibson hosted a Sunday-night party of boozy rum drinks on its back patio. Last June, the Majestic unveiled a seasonal menu with exotic offerings.
In 2011, it's the Passenger that's primarily filling the Polynesian void during its Tiki Tuesday parties. You'll know you're in the right place: Festively lit palm trees fill the lounge. Grass skirts hang from railings. The chalkboard drink menu starts
with "Bahia" and ends with "Suffering Bastard," all of which are poured into ceramic mugs before being garnished with gorgeous Peruvian lilies, mums and other colorful blooms - most of which find their way into visitors' hair by the end of the night.
"At happy hour, D.C. bars do the usual stuff. But no one does it like the Passenger. They go all out on Tiki Tuesday," says Adam Kahn, who works in advertising and is hanging out with a group of friends at the end of the bar. He's wearing a lei, which a bartender handed him earlier.
Next to him, Jessica Eley, who works for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, is sipping a drink called an Inglorious Bastard - West Indies rhum agricole, Brazilian cachaca and lime juice, topped with ginger beer and extra-strong 151-proof rum - from a mug shaped like a tiki god. "It's really good. It's not fruity [like a lot of tiki drinks]. It's gingery and spicy."
Then the group decides to order a Tiki Bowl - a giant communal bowl filled with rum, absinthe and fruit juices. "There's no better tiki drink," Eley says. Orange slices pierced with flowers float on the surface, and the potent concoction is capped with a flaming shot of overproof rum. "It brings people together," Kahn says, as the group leans in closer to the flaming ceramic bowl, clutching absurdly long straws. "And it's not for wimps," Eley adds.
That's true of most of the drinks at the Passenger. The best sneak up on you: In the creamy Bahia, light rum hides underneath rich, creamy coconut and pineapple juice; similarly, the smooth Painkiller has lots of dark rum under creme de coconut and orange juice, with (the killer touch) freshly grated nutmeg on top.
Not everything comes out of a dusty Trader Vic's manual though. The Queen's Royale, reminiscent of a dry, less sugary Dark and Stormy, was created by bartender Julia Hurst after one of her colleagues challenged her to come up with a tiki drink using champagne. She added aged dark rum, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, lime juice and house-made honey syrup, and voila.
The featured cocktails change every week - check the chalkboard by the bar - but bartenders can whip up old classics from memory if you're dying for a Zombie.
The tunes are flowing, spirits are high, and Tiki Tuesday is one of the most affordable cocktail parties in the city. Almost all drinks are $9; for an extra $5, bartenders will pour your beverage into a hollowed-out pineapple for extra island cred. Tiki Bowls and Scorpion Bowls cost $30, but they're big enough for four people. Everyone knows a luau is more fun with friends.
-- Fritz Hahn (July 22, 2011)