Sunken Harbor Club – Best Almost Tiki Bar Experience in New York City

New York City has a notorious reputation for not being able to support true tiki bars, but there is hope that Brooklyn’s Sunken Harbor Club can combine most of the elements we seek at tiki bars while forging a distinct and slightly different path.

Located above restaurant Gage and Tollner, Sunken Harbor Club doesn’t have any totems but is otherwise everything you’d want in a tiki bar. It’s an intimate and immersive experience featuring nautical decor, exotica/surf/lounge music, and cocktails from the tiki tradition. Along with an innovative approach to the extensive cocktail list, small bites are also available. We loved the Miso Butterscotch Pudding with toasted coconut.

Aside from the fantastic Mai Tai we highlighted a few days ago, we were impressed by the cocktails. Thanks to Garret Richard and team, the cocktails use high quality ingredients and modern techniques to deliver superb cocktails. I really dug the Special Daiquiri No. 1 featuring Jamaican rum, passion fruit, honey, and falernum. Meanwhile Mrs. Mai Tai had the Yellow Tang with vodka, banana, pineapple, and passion fruit. This was from the “In the Shallows” section of the menu that features lighter cocktails, but was a little too light for what she wanted. She had better luck with the Ango Colada and the Bridge of Sighs, a complex blend of aperitivo, coffee, ginger, and rum.

The experience at Sunken Harbor Club was exquisite. Our bartender Dan Olivo was super friendly and engaging and watching him prepare the cocktails was like watching a mad scientist working with precision to prepare the cocktail and the garnishes. Dan also led the fire displays when customers ordered flaming cocktails such as off-menu Jet Pilots. Those are always a big hit with audiences and all the staff including Clayton (on shift this evening) and Garret and Adam truly have hospitality in mind when promoting the venue.

If you like tiki bars you’ll probably be having too much fun to notice totems aren’t there. It was very easy for us to take the Subway from Midtown to the Jay St./Metrotech station right across the street, so any tourist in the city should prioritize a visit.

Book of the Year: Modern Caribbean Rum

The year’s best spirits book has arrived! Modern Caribbean Rum is an in-depth look at the production, business, and myriad rum distilleries based in the Caribbean region. The book from WonkPress comes from Cocktail Wonk/Rum Wonk Matt Pietrek and Carrie Smith, authors of the essential 2019 cocktail book Minimalist Tiki (which as a book is only “minimal” compared to this new gigantic new tome).

This book is huuuuuge. Over 800 pages and weighs more than some actual coffee tables. But you’ll be so impressed by the historical details and current status of some of our favorite rum distilleries. There are easy to read tables and pages and pages of informational but gorgeous photos.

This is really an incredible achievement for understanding and appreciating rum, our favorite distilled spirit (and should be yours!).

Modern Caribbean Rum is available from WonkPress.com and ain’t cheap until you consider the shipping costs and the value provided by such an extensive resource. And best of all, the money goes to the authors who are self-publishing and doesn’t line the pockets of corporations or billionaires.

Happy 5th Instagramiversary to Me

The Search for the Ultimate Mai Tai was relaunched on Instagram on this day in 2017. 1949 posts and counting, chronicling experiences with cocktails, connections with people in the community, and world’s leading feed of Mai Tai minutiae.

We had some great adventures in the last 12 months. A few are chronicled in the photos including some travels with Mrs Mai Tai to far off places such as Seattle, Scottsdale, and Honolulu and various locations in California including San Diego, Disneyland, Napa, and Los Angeles. I attended Arizona Tiki Oasis, and presented at Tiki Kon and at Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Day. 

42 different tiki bars – some new to me and finally a great tiki bar in San Jose.  I was interviewed on the Tiki with Ray show and my research article on the Evolution of the Hawaiian Mai Tai was published in Exotica Moderne magazine. I completed another rum list at Forbidden Island. My Ultimate Mai Tai was reviewed on several YouTube channels including Steve the Bartender and is heading to the cocktail list at Tiki Tom’s.

So, thanks to so many fellow Mai Tai fans I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with over the last year. I appreciate your follows, likes, and comments here and in real-life, including the discussion of very important topics such as whether pineapple juice belongs in a Mai Tai or not or if the Ultimate Mai Tai Rum Blend really is… or isn’t.

Cheers!

The Rum House in Times Square

The Rum House a small bar located off the lobby of the Edison Hotel including a street entrance. We tried the other night but it was standing room only, but the next we came in just as another couple left so we swooped onto their seats.

Indeed there are a number of excellent rums here, including a Caroni for only $70 a pour. Plus an extensive cocktail menu.

Trader Nic’s Mai Tai, named after the head bartender, features Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still Black and unaged Rhum JM, plus a tiny float of OFTD. Both rums play well together in the base. Simply fantastic!

Meanwhile, Mrs Mai Tai tried the Star F**cker with Dark rum, Mr Black, Apricot Liqueur, Grapefruit, and egg white. Also, very good.

Our bartender Troy held court, teaching some rum newbies about Overproof Jamaican rum and posing for photos with patrons. But he kept on top of our order and was totally friendly and welcoming. @1.800.troy

We really enjoyed the visit to Rum House, located on 47th right off Times Square. Check it out.

Sunken Harbor Club Mai Tai

Everything they say is true! The famed Mai Tai created by Garret Richard for Sunken Harbor Club in Brooklyn is indeed a top-notch Mai Tai.

There are a couple unusual adjustments to the preparation of this cocktail. Firstly, a few drops of saline solution are added to bring out the flavors of the ingredients. Next, a lime wedge is placed in the glass and combined with the the shaken cocktail. In addition to a gigantic bouquet of mint, a lime peel is expressed and then wrapped around the straw. The fragrance of lime and mint really add a lot to the cocktail, not unlike the little squeeze of lime I’ve had with previous Mai Tais at Trader Vic’s. The lime in the glass adds a little bit more tartness as you finish the drink, however.

The blend of rums is quite delightful and the Mai Tai is fantastic. Thanks to Dan @wolfsbanecocktails for making such a fantastic cocktail.

Sippin Santa at 55 South in San Jose

The annual holiday pop-up with a tiki theme is back at 55 South in San Jose. This craft cocktail bar and restaurant did the decor even more elaborately this year, and staff was ready to serve us at opening on Sunday. Music was peppy and got everyone in the mood.

Sippin Santa comes from the our favorite cocktail historian, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, in partnership with Cocktail Kingdom that also runs the Miracle pop-ups (including two downtown San Jose locations within a 5 minute walk of 55 South, Paper Plane and Miniboss).

This year the Mersanta mug is available for sale after the cocktail debuted on the menu last year. Such a cute mug, and the cocktail with tequila, applejack, and maple-cranberry syrup is quite a delight. I went with the classic Sippin’ Santa cocktail that has Demerara rum, amaro, and gingerbread mix. Really great, and prices for both the cocktails and merch are pretty reasonable.

Sippin’ Santa Cocktail

A new drink this year is Island of Misfit Toys, featuring Jamaican Rum, Chai Tea, cream, cinnamon, and pumpkin puree. If you like Pina Coladas and Pumpkin Spice, this will be your new all-time favorite. I like both, as does Mrs. Mai Tai, so this cocktail is right up there with Sippin Santa’s Kris Kringle Colada as something to go out of your way to try.

55 South has a pretty decent food menu. I enjoyed the Shrimp Roll and we all looooved the Cream Cheese Bread, a small loaf of Olive bread covered with cream cheese. Probably the best thing in the entire building.

Appleton Hearts 1995 and 1999 Jamaica Rum

I had picked up the Appleton Hearts 1995 early this year and found it to be amazing, aged 25 years in Jamaica and 100% pot still with 1400 g/100 LAA congeners. Simply fantastic, but all the bottles have long since been sold out locally.

I went on the hunt and found a 1999 still for sale online. I’d heard it was lighter than the ’95 and it certainly is so, though 855 g/100 LAA congeners is still far higher than most rums. I’m glad I picked it up, as it does impart a little more of the traditional Appleton flavor than ’95’s flavor bomb.

But, needless to say those 585 extra congeners are put to good use in the ’95, which remains one of my favorite rums ever.

And the story ends with a bit of a surprise. I was scanning local retailers for former “daily drinker” pick Appleton 12 (impossible to believe it is in short supply, but here we are in 2022). And while searching for “Appleton” at local chain K&L Wine Merchants I found a bottle of Appleton Hearts 1995 for sale! And for a price lower than when these were new last year. So, I could not resist snapping it up. These vintage pot still Appleton rums aren’t coming back.

Dealer’s Choice Mai Tai by Adrian Castañeda at The Kon-Tiki Room

Had a fab time over at Oakland’s Kon-Tiki Room at Palmetto to send best wishes to local raconteur Adrian Castañeda who is moving to Barcelona in a few weeks. We’ve bumped into Adrian in all sort of places, including tiki bars where he’s worked such as Zombie Village, helping Doc Parks at Mai Tai Day 2021, and once even ran into him at the Midway Antique Emporium in Sacramento.

Last night he was doing a shift behind the bar at The Kon-Tiki Room and made a Zombie variant from the ZV days called the Sparkle and Froth. A very nice pineapple-forward cocktail that was super tasty.

I also asked Adrian for a “Dealer’s Choice Mai Tai” using the rums available at The Kon-Tiki Room. It was great to see a rum expert scan the shelves and pull down three bottles to work with, and to use them in just the right ratios. For the Mai Tai, Adrian used 1 oz of Worthy Park Kon-Tiki Single Barrel (aged 5 yrs), along with ½ oz each of Worthy Park 109 and Uruapan Charandra Anejo. This was a fantastic Mai Tai! So rich with flavors, where the aged Jamaican rum really paired well with the molasses and sugar cane juice-based Charandra from Mexico.

This unique blend was so great it is currently on my top 10 list of best Mai Tais for 2022. Mahalo Adrian and best wishes.

The Kon-Tiki Room now has a subtly placed TV for their regular Thursday Star Trek Nights, and last night was playing a vintage 1960s beach movie. Which then allowed them to play some traditional lounge and Hawaiian music, which was totally fantastic. This place is a lot better when there’s escapist tropical music.

Dinner and Cocktails at Tiki Tom’s

Had a really good experience at Tiki Tom’s the other night, where Mrs. Mai Tai and I went over for dinner and drinks. We both tried the butterfly-shaped Bao Buns, hers with Tofu and mine with Kalua Pork. Though this format was a little messy to eat it was only great on the palette. There’s a really good tangy sauce on these, though note that the peppers are a little spicy. I also tried the fried Tiki Spamsubi, very filling with tempura, rice, and spam. Mrs. Mai Tai had the Chicken Katsu as a fried tofu option and declared it great.

Mrs Mai Tai still loves the Ohana Punch that includes little chunks of green apples and walnuts. It is delicious but the servers always ask if you’ve had it before just to prepare you. Don’t skip past this as a pina colada clone, it’s really great.

We also both enjoyed the Carmen Miranda cocktail, featuring an over-the-top garnish and a side of Dole Whip soft serve. The creamy cocktail with mango and cachaca leans sweet – but not too far. And as noted yesterday, we also got to try the Ultimate Mai Tai, coming soon to the new cocktail menu.

We’ve heard from folks that they’ve had mixed experiences here, though we had no complaints on our visit. Everything came out great. Prices are still a tad higher than average, but we do find the quality of the interior decor, ambient music, and service to be in line with that pricing.

Coming Soon: The Ultimate Mai Tai at Tiki Tom’s

Since Tiki Tom’s let the cat out of the bag on their Instagram Story, we can confirm it is true. Our “Ultimate Mai Tai” recipe is going to be used as a premium Mai Tai on the forthcoming new cocktail menu at Tiki Tom’s in Walnut Creek.

We get a kick anytime someone makes a Mai Tai with our Ultimate Mai Tai Rum Blend, a boozy combination of four heavy rums mostly from Jamaica. So it is our honor and pleasure that Tiki Tom’s is interested in trying this for their new menu. And it is not without some significant challenges most notably the limited availability of Appleton 12 rum.

There are some other interesting things coming to the new cocktail menu so be sure to stay tuned to their social media for updates.

Ultimate Mai Tai by Kevin Crossman
1 oz Lime Juice
½ oz Orgeat (Latitude 29)
¼ oz Demerara Syrup (BG Reynolds)
½ oz Orange Curacao (Ferrand Dry Curacao)
½ oz Appleton 12 Jamaica Rum
½ oz Smith & Cross Jamaica Rum
½ oz Plantation OFTD Rum
½ oz Plantation Xaymaca Jamaican Rum
Garnish with Mint Sprig and spent Lime shell