Now that the snow is melted and we're left with cold, gray days for a few more weeks, we're in the mood for something tropical. Thankfully we don't even need a boarding pass, since the trend of tiki drinks has arrived in earnest in Baltimore.
Tiki drinks, which take inspiration from Polynesian culture, rose to prominence during the '40s and '50s and have seen a recent resurgence in cocktail-conscious cities around the country. Recently the rum-based drinks, usually made with exotic syrups and tropical juices, have begun to pop up on local menus and have inspired theme nights and parties at area bars.
"Cocktails can get stuffy sometimes and with tiki drinks, it's impossible to be stuffy," says Pen & Quill bar manager Naomi Kline. "You can sit out on Charles Street and pretend you're in the islands. People enjoy being transported."
Pen & Quill hosts Tiki Tuesdays every week with a speciality menu of tropical cocktails, like a Singapore Sling and the whiskey twist of a Rye Tai, and snacks like crab wontons and vegetable spring rolls. Le Garage in Hampden was doing tiki nights for a while. The theme has also crept into events, like a Forgotten Cocktail Club night and Bookmakers Cocktail Club's one-year anniversary party in the fall.
"We always have a rotating tiki cocktail on our menu," says Bookmakers' bar manger Ryan Sparks. "Now that the price of whiskey has gone up with demand, bartenders are looking to use rum in more fun ways."
Bookmakers often uses ingredients like tiki bitters, Velvet Falernum from Barbados, and fresh guava juice for their rotating cocktail (which is dubbed "Tiki as Buck" on the current menu).
The tropical trend is also on display at The Food Market's Restaurant Week concept, La Food Marketa, which includes a menu of tiki drinks all served in traditional ceramic vessels and topped with paper umbrellas. In fact, the garnish on tiki drinks is really half the fun. Many of the drinks on Pen & Quill's themed menu are embellished with grilled pineapples or limes in the shape of sharks.
"Whatever we can fit in there, we try," laughs Kline. "We try to make it as ridiculous and whimsical as possible. You know you've done good when you sit it down in front of a person and they gasp."
For more on over-the-top cocktail garnishes at bars and restaurants around town, pick up our upcoming April issue.