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Tiki Tatsu-Ya, open in October, will be the most surreal restaurant and bar in Austin

Matthew Odam
Austin 360
Large format drinks and the Banzai!! Boat loaded with shot glasses arrive at tables at Tiki Tatsu-Ya in dramatic fashion.

“I’m not building a restaurant-bar this time,” Ramen Tatsu-Ya co-founder Tatsu Aikawa said of his latest project. “I’m building Disneyland.”

Is he ever. 

After getting a glimpse and a few early tastes of Tatsu and brother Shion Aikawa’s new spot on South Lamar Boulevard, I’m comfortable saying that Tiki Tatsu-Ya will be the most transportive and surreal food and beverage destination to ever open in Austin. The public will get its first glimpse when Tiki Tatsu-Ya opens Oct. 4. 

The wildly imaginative Tatsu and his team pulled inspiration from Tiki bars like the legendary Trader Vic’s in California, along with iconography from Tatsu’s native Japan and the melting pot of Asian cultures in Hawaii, to create a fantastical restaurant buoyed by its own elaborate fictional backstory

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Blue Genie Art Industries fabricated  shadow box tables, murals, dioramas and more at Tiki Tatsu-Ya .

“Through our travels and explorations into Tiki, we learned about the rich Japanese roots in Hawaiian and Tiki culture that came about through centuries of immigration and wanted to explore that further," Tatsu Aikawa said.

The wood-shingled back entrance looks relatively unassuming, though the Japanese bus stop-themed waiting area will give guests an initial hint that this is not a typical bar. But once the doors open, the real show begins. 

A dark, downward-sloping corridor lined with fake boulders leads guests into the main cave-themed dining room and bar. To ape Stefon from “Saturday Night Live,” Austin’s hottest new nightlife spot is Tiki Tatsu-Ya, and it has everything. You'll find elaborate shadow boxes designed by Blue Genie Art Industries; antique Tiki masks; a massive shisa dragon water feature; choreographed light and sound effects to accompany large-format cocktails; a bathroom soundtrack narrated by a Sam Elliott impersonator telling the history of the fictional island founded on a voyage more than 400 years ago; and sunset-lit windows upstairs that make you feel like it’s eternally happy hour on the beach.

It’s an absolute trip. 

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Diners can reserve specific tables when they make reservations online.

“We want people to totally escape for two hours and forget where they are and escape the COVID madness,” said Tristan Pearman, the restaurant group’s director of brand and development, an Australian with Maori roots who worked all over the world before coming to Austin. 

Tatsu Aikawa helped introduce many Austinites to craft ramen when he and his partners opened Ramen Tatsu-Ya in North Austin in 2010. (There are now three locations in Austin and one in Houston.) His unique creativity was on display when the group opened the Tarantino fever dream that is Texan-Japanese roadhouse-smokehouse Kemuri Tatsu-Ya in 2017 and upscale shabu shabu restaurant DipDipDip Tatsu-Ya in 2019. Those evocative space were designed in conjunction with Austin-based McCray & Co., which also partnered for the elaborate build out of Tiki Tatsu-Ya. 

The food menu at Tiki Tatsu-Ya will feature some Hawaiian-inspired dishes like lomi lomi salmon with tomato kosho, shiso pesto, sea beans and macadamia nut oil.

Tiki Tatsu-Ya will be a feast for much more than the eyes. Tatsu Aikawa has deftly crafted Hawaiian and Japanese-inspired dishes that deliver complexity and robust flavor and pair nicely with bright, rum-based cocktails. This is not standard fried food fare found at some Tiki bars. 

We’re talking lomi lomi salmon, the salted pearls of fish and skinned tomatoes set in tomato kosho, with sea beans and macadamia oil balancing salinity and nuttiness. The kitchen creates its own Spam-style meat, which has the texture of head cheese, and serves the supple bites with mango, the sweetness of which is matched by the bitterness of dandelion. Even the brawnier dishes have thoughtful touches, like the passion fruit barbecue sauce on the pork ribs and the mapo spices and Japanese mustard on the chicken wings that arrive as part of a massive pupu platter.

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Tiki Tatsu-Ya carries more than 200 bottles of rum.

The bar, helmed by beverage manager Cory Starr, who spent years at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai in Hawaii and more recently at the celebrated Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago, brings the same consideration as the kitchen. Nut milks are made in house, and the bar juices its own fruit for complex and powerful cocktails, like a mai tai that relies on a five-rum blend for complexity, and the gin-shochu-brandy based Slurping Bastard, a ginger-topped riff on a cocktail called the Suffering Bastard that was created in 1942 at the Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo. 

The unassuming back entrance to Tiki Tatsu-Ya gives diners no clue of the fantastical nature of the inside of the restaurant-bar.

The bar features more than 200 rums, some of which guests will find in shooters made with shochu, passionfruit, guava and lemon. The eight shots arrive to the table in what Tiki Tatsu-Ya calls a Banzai!! Boat, with light and smoke emanating from the handcrafted ship. It’s just one of countless touches that will thrill guests when Tatsu Aikawa and company finally open the restaurant-bar that its founders have been dreaming of creating for a decade.

“I wanna see some butts in seats and trip people out,” Tatsu Aikawa said about his long-awaited opening.