Mixed Feelings About Mahiki – London

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Mahiki was one of the first in a new breed of tiki bar—it’s really more of an exclusive lounge/nightclub with a tiki theme. (It’s a concept that’s already been cloned in a London a few times, and made its way across the pond with Riff Raff’s in NYC.)

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Nightlife entrepreneurs Nick House and Piers Adam opened Mahiki in 2006 and it quickly became a hotspot thanks to frequent appearances by celebrities and Princes William and Harry (their friend Guy Pelly handled promotions). The brand has since expanded with launches of signature rum, limited-edition swimwear, and pop-up events, plus a second Mahiki location to open in Dubai, and a huge space to be converted into Mahiki East for the London Olympics.

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An enjoyable, low-key time can be had at the Mahiki, but you have to follow these two rules: 1) Dress up. (No jeans or sneaks) 2) Arrive early. At 9 p.m. a velvet rope goes up out front, cover charges might apply (£15), tables are reserved for bottle service (though they’ll stay empty for a few hours until those folks actually show up) and the cocktail prices shoot up when the “moonlight menu” replaces the “sunset menu.”

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Once inside, you head down a staircase—fitting as Mahiki is named for the path to the underworld in Polynesian mythology. The owners wisely brought in CheekyTiki to do the decor and they went all out. The lounge is filled with tons of bamboo, lauhala matting, shell lamps, rattan chairs and tikis. I especially loved this Hawaiian Chief seat of honor.

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Another level below that is the nightclub, which seems to downplay the theme a bit in comparison, though there is a glassed-in tiki garden in amongst the big round booths and dance floor. Somewhere about is the “No-Tell Motel,” a retro-trashy styled private party space which from their photos has karaoke in a shower, disco balls galore, a bed and a stripper pole.

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The modelesque hostesses wear tropical printed dresses and headsets, flitting about like secret agents out of “Hawaii 5-O.” At our service was a jolly fellow in full sailor suit, complete with a cap and faux American accent, who rolled around one of those Old World-style globe bars. Quite a juxtaposition between the serious and silly attitudes.

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Food-wise there’s a short menu of “light bites” like calamari, mozzarella sticks and lobster nachos. The Sliders (£12), mini burgers on brioche buns, were juicy and flavorful, while the truffle and wild mushroom arancini (£7.50) couldn’t have been more perfect: light and crispy with rich, creamy risotto inside. I was swooning with every bite…

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The beautifully designed cocktail menu offers about three dozen selections, including some classics like the Zombie, but mostly original creations by Soul Shakers. Mr. Hockey was a fan of the tart and bubbly Mahiki (£8), comprising Bacardi Gold, Sailor Jerry, pear and strawberry purée, lemon, crème de fraise and Champagne. Meanwhile, my favorite of the night was the off-menu Paradise Club made with Mahiki Coconut, coconut creme, lime and guava juice.

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Round two kicked off with the Honolulu Honey (£7.50), an interesting concoction of Bacardi Gold, honey cream, mango, pineapple and lime. The Good Time Girl, however, was just an OK time. Rumored to be a favorite of Kate Middleton, it’s a bland blend of Finlandia vodka, mango and passion fruit purée, and vanilla ice cream. Mahiki has custom mugs made for them by Cheekytiki, including some neat designs by TikiRacer, but they’re not really for sale as souvenirs. (Apparently people just take the liberty of pocketing them instead.)

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For £10, you can spin the Wheel of Fortune (a bit reminiscent of the Tiki-Ti) and land on a cocktail or possibly tap water, or be ordered to run around naked, or hit the jackpot! When we were there, two different parties were lucky enough to win the legendary Mahiki Treasure Chest (£135), rum punch topped off with a bottle of Moet & Chandon that does indeed arrive in a treasure chest and serves 8 people. (It’s just one of their creatively presented large-format drinks.)

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Mahiki definitely does some things right, like the decor and the drinks, but they seem to give a cold shoulder to anyone that’s not a socialite or bigspender. There are numerous reviews online about people being rejected at the door for flimsy reasons (or being told there’s no guest list when there actually is), so proceed with caution. And if they give you any trouble, Trader Vic’s London is less than a kilometer away.

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Mahiki
1 Dover St.
London, W1S 4LD, United Kingdom
020-7493-9529

Mahiki on Urbanspoon

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