Monday, November 19, 2007

East Village Tikis

One of the most high profile (and only) tiki drink places in Manhattan is a small space called Waikiki Wally's on E. 1st Street near First Avenue in the East Village. Learning that tiki expert Jeff "Beachbum" Berry was coming to town, I made a date for us to check out the place. Alas, scheduling did not allow our paths to cross. But I still had a curiosity about Wally's. So, a couple nights afterwards, being in the area with an hour to spare, I stopped by.

Having been to the superior Forbidden Island in Alameda, California, just last month, I was in a spoiled frame of mind, I admit. So the decor inside Wally's seemed a little cheap. The thatch roof about the bar was a bit rote, the waterfall too kitschy. But, overall, it was a pleasing enough attempt at tropical design.

I sat at the bar. The bartender admitted to being a newbie, having only worked a handful of shifts and not yet used to the menu. But he was friendly and companionable. I scanned the menu. There were "Frozen Grogs" and "Maui Martikis," a couple of which called for vodka. I didn't approve of this at all. When I go to a tiki joint, I want rum. I ordered a Blue Hawaii, which, according to the menu, contained dark rum, coconut rum (specific brands were not named), blue curacao, pineapple juice, peach juice and peach schnapps. (This diverges notably from Berry's recipe in "Surfin' Safari," which asks for sweet & sour and vodka and has no peach juice or schnapps or coconut rum.) It was served in a simple tumbler, the kind you might get your tap water in, with a wedge of pineapple. It was perfectly pleasant, if not exactly exciting, and the coconut rum dominated too much.

From there I went to a Hibiscus Heaven, which is a signature drink for Wally's. It contains vanilla rum, creme di cassis, red passion Alize, mango juice and peach juice. Same glass, same pineapple wedge. It began to feel like musical cocktails. I remembered how distinctive each drink at Forbidden Island had been, each in its own glass with its own garnish, each possessed of a singular look. This was another placidly pleasant drink, but devoid of zip.

I was sort of glad I hadn't dragged Berry there, though I would have loved to have heard his opinions on the drinks. Perhaps I'll take him to Otto's Shrunken Head on 14th Street.

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