Kevin Alexander at Thrillist has written an uncommonly good article on the state of the craft cocktail world, “The Craft Cocktail Revolution Is Over. Now What?” This article is a helpful reflection on what’s going on with tiki drinks right now. The task of improving the state of drinking had some low-hanging fruit early on, but now that cocktails have “won” it’s becoming harder to differentiate.
Enter tiki. Some bartenders, seeking a path for putting their stamp on the cocktail world, see tiki as an infinite playground for creation. We’re now at a place where bars playing with tiki drinks are a dime a dozen, and not particularly special. (hooray! hooray?)
(Further reading: What Is a Tiki Drink?)
Often these are bartenders wanting to do tiki, but they don’t own the bar they’re in, and understandably have little or no influence on the decor—like weeds breaking through the pavement, you can’t help but root for them, though it’s a loooooong ways away from the beautiful garden that tiki is all about.
Then you have bar owners knowing that temporary themes and pop-ups are the new hotness, and maybe they dip their toes into tiki. It’s a start, but without a permanent installation and commitment, it’s pretty tricky to nail the immersive storytelling of tiki.
There are still other places that seem to have learned about the tiki drink concept but have somehow checked their intellectual curiosity at the door and reinvented what tiki is all about, betraying the spirit of the early craft cocktail revolution and missing the rich history that’s already there. That is a particular sadness.
Themed environments and concepts, and especially Polynesian themed spaces, have been around for many decades, and likely will last beyond all of this. In my eyes, the world of tiki bars and Polynesian restaurants exist somewhat separate from all this excitement, though of course it will leave its stamp on our world. It’s hard to predict the future, but I view this as a temporary explosion of creativity. Some will stick, most will move on to the next thing… and hopefully some will be bitten by the bug enough to settle down some deep roots and really do great tiki bars.
In the meanwhile, enjoy the odd expressions out there, celebrate the explorations, and maybe don’t be terribly surprised when I don’t commit these ephemeral experiences into actual Critiki listings.