Austin seems tailor-made to support multiple tiki concepts — who doesn’t love an outlandishly garnished rum drink served to you in a parrot-shaped mug by a bartender in a bright Hawaiian shirt, after all? But, until recently, there had only been one dedicated tiki bar in town, that of the casual, patio-perfect Pool Burger.
Now, Last Straw has arrived on East Sixth Street to deliver more of the tropical vibes we’ve been lacking. The bar by a veteran of Vox Table and Nickel City has a launch menu that leans toward flavorful rum cocktails, although that’s far from all you’ll find here; there are frozen drinks, boilermakers, even shareable bowls of booze for 4 to 6 people.
And it’s all outfitted in a building that begs us to relax and live a little, with a long, multi-colored mural along one wall reminding us of the desert paradise where we could be with our frozen piña colada in hand. Or perhaps you’d prefer the Rose Lied About Never Letting Go (Hendricks Gin, Aperol, hibiscus, Earl Grey, red currant, lemon, grapefruit and rose water), which is listed on the menu with an image of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in "Titanic."
Once Ramen Tatsu-Ya’s Tiki Tatsu-Ya opens in the former Backbeat space on South Lamar Boulevard, Austin will really be set with a proper, fully decked-out tiki bar.
In the meantime, there are other places, besides Pool Burger and Last Straw, that might not be completely devoted to tiki but do have those kinds of tropical-leaning cocktails on the menu. Here’s where to go if you want a dose of the tropics without leaving town.
Nickel City, 1133 E. Eleventh St.
This cozy neighborhood bar recently debuted a new menu with a small section of tiki drinks — and you can bet co-owner Travis Tober made sure each one, poured into custom Nickel City tiki glassware, is the best it can be. He recommends the Pineapple Mai Tai (Plantation Pineapple Rum, Rhum J.M. Gold, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao, lime and orgeat), a balanced, layered delight that will have you rethinking this misunderstood classic. (No, the mai tai is not supposed to be sweet.)
"Tiki has always been a hobby of mine," Tober said. "The Mai Tai and Three Dots and a Dash (another tiki cocktail on the Nickel City menu) changed what I thought about cocktails."
Shangri-La has a small menu of "boat drinks" that you can order on weekends. Not pictured? The massive, rum-filled Scorpion Bowl.
Shangri-La, 1016 E. Sixth St.
How do you feel about drinking out of a coconut? Or having your bowl of booze be set on fire? The east side bar, turning 10 years old this fall, has introduced a Boat Drink program on weekends only. Every Friday and Saturday, head to the patio for fun, mostly rum-filled cocktails that are as much an experience as a drink. The Scorpion Bowl, by the way, is what gets sets on fire, and with rum, falernum and a housemade punch, it requires at least two people to drink it, sans flame.
Wu Chow, 500 W. Fifth St. #168
You might not expect a Chinese restaurant to specialize in tiki drinks, but they’re a perfect fit at this sophisticated eatery from the Chameleon Group that encourages you to tweak your ideas of what Chinese cuisine can entail. The cocktails are served in tall tiki mugs shaped like parrots, fish and panda bears; take yours with a side of state pride by ordering the Texas Tiki (gin, triple sec, muddled avocado, cucumber juice, jalapeño juice and simple syrup).
The Roosevelt Room, 307 W. Fifth St.
I like to think of this stately downtown cocktail bar as almost a historical society for booze, with its extensive menu of classic drinks divided by eras in cocktail culture. (Yes, Prohibition, despite its nationwide ban of alcohol, was a major time for tipples.) Tiki is featured in a big way, as a movement that took root in the 1930s. Order the Queen’s Park Swizzle, won’t you? Featuring dark rum, lime, sugar and Angostura bitters, it’s a beautiful, pebble ice-filled cocktail just begging to be on Instagram.
Craftsman, 2000 E. Cesar Chavez St.
Like Shangri-La, the East Austin bungalow bar has a weekends-only tiki cocktail program available in its backyard. Starting at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, find yourself transported to paradise with a Painkiller (Pussers Rum, pineapple, orange, coconut and nutmeg) served in an actual pineapple. You can feel tropical in more ways than one: Hawaiian soul food truck Alley Cat (from the chef behind nearby Mongers Market + Kitchen) is also located on-site, as the ultimate island pairing.
Hula Hut, 3825 Lake Austin Blvd.
Here, you can get tropical tipples with a view: Hula Hut is set on a pier over Lake Austin and goes all out to deliver the sense you’re actually looking out over the Caribbean, or maybe the Pacific Ocean, with its Polynesian decor (think bamboo walls, grass umbrellas and tiki torches). Those Hawaiian accents are also present in the mostly Tex-Mex dishes — and the drinks, course. Popular ones include the Blue Hawaiian (coconut rum, blue curaçao and pineapple juice).
And, of course, we can’t leave off Pool Burger, at 2315 Lake Austin Blvd. The casual, mostly outdoor spot boasting a tiki bar and burger stand has its own custom tiki glassware and a mix of both classic tiki offerings such as the mai tai and original tropical options like the Wild Hare (bonded bourbon, house carrot cordial, lemon, ginger beer and tiki tincture).
With tiki totems doubling as bar stools, a straw-thatched-like roof over the bar and cocktails decked out with fun garnishes including edible flowers, pineapple wedges and small umbrellas, Pool Burger is the sort of place that will leave you feeling like you took a tropical vacation, smack in the middle of Austin.
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