Painkiller: Tahiti Meets Gritty

A familiar scene, made alien
A familiar scene, made alien

Our last tiki stop in New York was also our most highly anticipated: Painkiller, the new tiki bar on the Lower East Side. It’s only been open for a few months, and started racking up accolades right from the get-go.

The space is odd: the dimensions are essentially that of a long hallway. It’s more charming in person than in the pictures I’d seen… there was something about the overall feel that reminded me Bobby Green’s Bigfoot Lodge. The owners, Giuseppe Gonzales and Richard Boccato, wanted the place to reflect the Lower East Side neighborhood it’s in. The result is undeniably unique—graffiti murals spell out “mahalo” and “ohana”, and traditional black velvet and beachcomber imagery are recreated in bright-colored airbrushing.

The less-wacky seating
The less-wacky seating
A piña colada in a frozen pineapple
A piña colada in a frozen pineapple

The literal bar is, frankly, a bit uncomfortable. It’s a few inches too high, the fixed-to-the-floor stools are a few inches too tall and too close to the bar, and the upholstered tops are so soft it feels like trying to balance on a mushroom. But it didn’t feel like a minus, because the figurative bar is completely comfortable. We had fun joking about our stool balancing act with the fellow patrons, and the bar staff was doing so much to make us feel at home that it felt more like having a good-natured laugh about your uncle’s goofy armchairs. (The seating further back in the bar is quirk-free.)

We were already very happily settled in and enjoying our delicious cocktails when we got to meet Giuseppe Gonzales. He is one swell chap. Definitely the warmest (professional) hospitality we had in all of New York. He’s so excited about his bar, and about tiki drinks, and the enthusiasm would be infectious if I wasn’t already sick with the same disease myself. Recommended!

Many mahalos to all who made our visit to New York special: the folks who served us, the folks who cheered us on from afar, the locals who couldn’t make it but helped with lots of pointers, and mostly to our treasured companions: Elaine Trott; Margo, Bert, Hugo and Max Mukkulainen; Georgette Moger; Garo Yellin; Jack Fetterman and Gina Haase. I can’t wait to return the favor here in San Francisco!

See more pictures of Painkiller in Critiki.

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