Monday, February 22, 2010

A Painless Painkiller

Here's an update on the upcoming New York tiki bar Painkiller, written for the New York Times' Diner's Journal blog a few days ago.

An Island Cocktail Lounge, Manhattan Island
If you like piña coladas, free hot dogs and a live-and-let-live approach to life, Painkiller, a tiki bar due to open on the Lower East Side this spring, may be your cup of rum.
Richard Boccato, the veteran bartender and bar owner who will run Painkiller with his Dutch Kills colleague Giuseppe Gonzalez, said he hoped to kick off a new era in tiki culture with the bar.
“We’re not trying to do a classic tiki bar,” Mr. Boccato said. “We’re not going to build our father’s or grandfather’s tiki bar. We want to foster the inception of a New York tiki culture. We’re not taking you off the island of Manhattan onto the island of Oahu. We’re staying right here.”
Patrons should expect some “thatch and some bamboo,” as they would at any tiki bar, he said. “But you should also expect some graffiti and some subway tiles and things that are more reminiscent of the Bowery circa 1978. We’re trying to do an amalgamation of that.”
In preparation, Mr. Boccato and Mr. Gonzalez went on a multinational research trip, visiting acmes of tiki culture in California; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Puerto Rico; and London. Among the more than 20 bars they inspected on the whirlwind 10-day tour were Martin Cate’s Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco and Mark Peel and Jay Perrin’s Tar Pit in Los Angeles, where, until recently, Audrey Saunders of Pegu Club was a partner. Along their travels, they hit upon some themes that may prove novel in New York’s sometimes doctrinaire cocktail world. Standing at the bar — anathema at some of the more exclusive Manhattan cocktail bars — will be allowed. There will be free hot dogs, a la Rudy’s, the celebrated Eighth Avenue dive. And there will be a place on the menu for the piña colada, a drink that has never been celebrated by the cocktail elite.
“We took a look at the different piña colada situations that are going on” in Puerto Rico, Mr. Boccato said. “We thought about things in a different way. We pretty much do what we do behind the bar with our shakers and ingredients. But there’s really something to be said about the machine thatblends it all together and keeps it cold. It was eye-opening.”
The opening menu will feature 15 to 20 drinks, including some classics by tiki trailblazers like Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s, as well as some original creations, and a “Scorpion Bowl” menu. There will a half dozen booths and an equal amount of stools, but nobody need feel pressured to sit.
“We’re not going to restrict standing,” Mr. Boccato said. “We don’t want to have anything less than a convivial, festive environment. If there are people standing, so be it. If there are people cursing, so be it. This is not Tiki Chic. This is not Sleepy Tiki. This is New York City Tiki.”
Above all, Mr. Boccato wants Painkiller to be a painless experience for the customer. “This is almost a natural progression into something that’s no less historically valid but a little bit more lighthearted, more relaxed,” Mr. Boccato told me recently. He said that what the rum expert Jeff Berry “and other tiki-philes will tell you is that to them the essence of tiki is really an escape, it’s almost a retreat, coming into a bar and feeling you’re somewhat removed from your life. That’s the reason people go to dive bars. So why not have a beautiful Polynesian setting to help you along the way?”
Mr. Boccato expects Painkiller to be open “between the Ides of March and April Fool’s Day.”

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