Photo: Courtesy of Archipelago
Photo: Courtesy of Archipelago

Summertime is Tiki Time in DC

While I’d strenuously argue that there’s never a bad time for Tiki, summertime is undoubtedly Tiki time in the nation’s capital. Tiki has never been hotter than it is right now, and here’s where you can take part.

“It was time for DC to get [a Tiki bar],” says Owen Thomson of Archipelago, which opened last spring and filled the void in the city where Tiki always should have been.

After the closure of Hogo, the city had been lacking a true year-round Tiki haven. In came a team of bartending buddies, Thomson included, to open Archipelago, and the problem was solved. Since then, the sky-high Tiki trajectory has only become more prominent, as well as more diverse.

“There are just as many styles for this new interpretation of Tiki as there are regular bars,” says Thomson. “We skewed more toward the laidback neighborhood style.”

They serve multiple, highly popular large format drinks meant for between two and four people, as well as their own takes on classics like the piña colada and mai tai, and a range of additional inventive house creations.

In Alexandria, Captain Gregory’s – tucked away inside Sugar Shack Donuts – has held a number of Tiki Night events spurred on by assistant beverage director Rachel Crossno.

“Reviving Tiki was the natural next step when people wanted to look past pre-Prohibition drinks,” she says of the category’s emerging prominence. “Tiki cocktails held sway in the U.S. for half a century, and for good reason. At their core, Tiki drinks are social and escapist, and when done correctly, they are highly complex and delicious.”

Her go-to favorite Tiki drink is one you likely haven’t heard of – the Roman Twist.

“[It’s] a lovely concoction of bourbon, coffee liqueur, orgeat and citrus created by Joe Scialom in 1963,” explains Crossno. “Not only does it showcase the fact that Tiki drinks are not exclusively reliant on rum, but the interplay of the roasted coffee and toasted almond notes really sets the drink apart from its peers.”

Once you start dabbling in Tiki, you’ll see that alongside its chilled-out, come-as-you-are vibes, it’s a world filled with such time-honored traditions as Tiki mugs, and elaborate and ornate garnishes and decor. So when Crossno has a Roman Twist, she’ll probably sip it from her personal favorite Tiki mug, the Moko Moai from Tiki Farm, a replica of a Tiki sculpted by Ben “Benzart” Davis.

Back to the city, at the newly opened Truxton Inn, Brian Nixon is debuting a new two-month Tiki menu starting July 1. His previous menu already had a Tiki diversion or two, such as the JFK on Vacay, a supercharged daiquiri riff made with Maui Pineapple rum, rhum agricole, passion fruit, lime and mulled simple syrup.

“I’m always thinking Tiki,” he says. “It’s fun and whimsical. And that’s part of why I like bartending.”

He relishes those ideals himself, while equally enjoying people’s reactions as he helps them to partake as well.

Jack Rose’s annual rooftop Tiki bar is back for the season as well. It’s open Thursdays through Saturdays, including a special Tiki Thursday happy hour, a weekly four-hour bash where everything is half-priced. Expect seven original Tiki cocktails plus a lineup of Tiki classics.

Even the booming DC distillery scene couldn’t keep away from Tiki time. Enter Cotton & Reed’s Allspice Dram, their take on the popular Tiki cocktail staple. Pick up a bottle for some at-home Tiki experimentation, or head to Cotton & Reed to try one of local cocktail wiz Lukas B. Smith’s latest creations.

And speaking of Hogo, it’s back. After a three-year hiatus, Tom Brown has transformed the top floor of The Passenger into a Hogo revival. It’s expected to last through the summer, but could end up sticking around even longer than that.

Still thirsty? Across the street at La Jambe, their springtime Tiki cocktail menu has been replaced, but they retain a “La Surprise” cocktail on their menu where you can request something, or have the bartender get creative. You may want to call back to one of their previous libations – try the Ana’s Ananas, with pineapple-allspice shrub, ginger, jalapeno and a blend of agricole rhums.


Find Your Tiki

Check out these local spots for the most creative tiki drinks in and around the city.

Archipelago: 1201 U St. NW, DC; www.archipelagobardc.com
Captain Gregory’s: 804 N. Henry St. Alexandria, VA; www.captaingregorys.com
Cotton & Reed: 1330 5th St. NE, DC; www.cottonandreed.com           
Hogo (At The Passenger): 1539 7th St. NW, DC; www.passengerdc.com
Jack Rose Dining Saloon: 2007 18th St. NW, DC; www.jackrosediningsaloon.com
La Jambe: 1550 7th St. NW, DC; www.lajambedc.com
Truxton Inn: 251 Florida Ave. NW, DC; www.truxtoninndc.com

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Jake Emen

Jake Emen is a freelance writer focused on food and drink, as well as travel and lifestyle. Currently based outside of Washington, D.C., he has been published in a wide range of print and online outlets, including Whisky Advocate, Eater, Vice Munchies, Liquor.com, Tales of the Cocktail, Washington Post Express, Distiller, Roads & Kingdoms, Time Out, Tasting Table, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, and a range of others. He also runs his own site, ManTalkFood.com, and can be followed on Twitter, @ManTalkFood.