Otto’s Shrunken Head – New York, NY

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Things haven’t really worked out well for the New York tiki bars (Lani Kai and PKNY) that I’ve visited and blogged about, but I guess I’ll tempt fate by finally writing about Otto’s Shrunken Head. The former were newcomers to the scene but Otto’s has been around for more than a decade. It’s located in the East Village (quite close to Obscura, the curiosity shop from the “Oddities” TV show that was also on our tourist itinerary).

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Otto’s Shrunken Head opened in 2002 and has stuck around even through the years when tiki bars weren’t as hip as they have come around to be again. (Though some may argue it’s more of a punk rock bar with a tiki theme.) Before you step inside, be sure to take a look at the window display full of tiki mugs, hula girl figures and other tchotchkes.

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Flanking the door on the other side are these big tikis from Mai Tiki, the company started by the late, great artist Wayne Coombs. The middle one was designed to blow smoke out of its nostrils!

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The front room is long and narrow, with round red vinyl booths and a thatch-covered bar trimmed with bamboo and lit by green and orange pufferfish lanterns. Through the doors is the back room where bands set up later in the evening.

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In the middle of a weekday afternoon, the crowd consisted of us, another small group of tourists and a few regulars and friends of the bartender who were bummed when the bar ran out of PBR on tap.

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It was quiet at that time of day, but there’s something going on here every night of the week, from stand-up comedy to go-go revues to live music and DJs spinning all sorts of styles (rhythm and blues, classic punk, reggae, rockabilly, etc.).

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The menu of 15-plus cocktails has a few classics but mostly originals along with several frozen concoctions (piña colada, daiquiri, etc.). They’re all priced at $10 each, plus a $5 deposit for the Dynasty tiki mugs (in case you steal it…er, keep it).

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I had my sights set on the signature shrunken head mug from Tiki Farm, which costs $20 and includes the drink. (It almost made my roundup of spooky tiki mugs.) Described as “dark and sweet with a little bite,” the cocktail definitely had a kick to it. (FYI, this mug now comes in a matte black finish — also available on their web site along with a limited edition 10th anniversary version $40 of Tiki Farm’s The Trophy in a green glaze.) Meanwhile, the Shrunken Skirt with mango rum was much more fruity and sweet.

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When we visited, there were also Otto’s Shrunken Head T-shirts ($20) and “hot pants” ($15) tacked up behind the bar for purchase.

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Mr. Hockey can only sit in a tiki bar for so long before he gets bored so it was nice that they had a Big Buck Hunter arcade game to keep him entertained.

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There’s also an old-school photo booth from the early ’60s that prints four black and white photos. To use it you have to first go to the bar and buy a token for $5.

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Sadly, the happy hour specials don’t apply to the tiki drinks. Instead, it’s 2 for 1 Bud and well and $1 off everything except tiki from 2 p.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Fri., and $5 Bloody Marys and margaritas on Sundays from 4 p.m.-8 p.m. The bar is cash only but there’s an ATM by the photo booth.

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The drinks may not be craft cocktail quality, but Otto’s Shrunken Head is an interesting establishment on this urban island otherwise lacking in tiki bars. (It’s also endorsed by Anthony Bourdain, who visited for the “No Reservations” 2010 holiday special. Skip to 33:30 for that segment.) Check the online calendar to see what’s on the agenda at Otto’s for the evening. The third Wednesday of the month is “Primativa in Hi-Fi” featuring exotica tunes spun by Jack Fetterman and Gina of the Jungle.

Otto’s Shrunken Head
538 E. 14th St.
New York, NY 10009
212-228-2240

Related Posts:
Tiki Bars in New York
Tiki Photo Booth at Psycho Suzi’s

Otto's Shrunken Head on Urbanspoon

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PKNY (Painkiller) – New York, NY

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The craft cocktail craze of the last several years has spawned a slew of new tiki bars seeking to carry on the traditions of mixology masters like Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic. Last summer we visited a few newcomers in New York, including PKNY and the now-shuttered Lani Kai.

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Opened in May 2010, PKNY is a project from Giuseppe Gonzalez and Richard Boccato of Dutch Kills bar in Queens. It was originally named Painkiller but they were soon faced with a lawsuit from Pusser’s Rum, who trademarked the cocktail of the same name (which they did not even invent).

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There’s no official sign, so look out for the blue door declaring “Tiki Bar” in bamboo letters. Then you’ll descend a few steps into the bar area. Beyond that, there are leopard-print booths (seating two, four or more) lining both sides of the long, narrow space. (It’s normally quite dark so you wouldn’t take as much notice of the cheap tiki masks on the bamboo-covered walls.)

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The decor merges tiki’s romanticized vision of the South Seas with the owners’ nostalgia for the grit of New York’s Lower East Side in the 1970s — hence you have this graffiti art take on the sailors and Polynesian beauties from the cover of the menus at Trader Vic’s. My boyfriend got a kick out of the signed headshot (boobshot?) of porn star Marilyn Chambers on the wall. Meanwhile, the tiki tunes ranged from exotica (Les Baxter) to surf (The Ventures) to Andy Williams “House of Bamboo.” Good stuff.

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I was admittedly overwhelmed trying to socialize while browsing the menu of 100-plus cocktails, including swizzles, frozen drinks and several variations each of the Mai Tai, Planter’s Punch, Zombie and more. (The menu is now on their web site so you can study up beforehand.) There are original creations as well as classic tiki cocktails based on the recipes uncovered by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, who heartily endorsed PKNY’s versions. Housemade coconut cream helps elevate poolside libations like the Lava Flow ($16), a strawberry banana pina colada our server said was a staff favorite. We also sampled the signature “PK” ($12) aka Painkiller ($14 with Pusser’s) made with Virgin Islands rum, coconut cream, fresh pineapple and orange juices, and nutmeg. It was good, of course, but it was gone in a couple sips because of the copious amount of crushed ice.

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For round two I went for one of the Scorpion Bowls (available in three sizes: for one, two or four). The Pahoehoe ($16) was a tart, puckerface-inducing concoction of silver rum, passion fruit, lime and housemade grenadine.

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It was recently rumored that PKNY may move in July to the East Village with a new name and perhaps a food menu, so now’s your chance to check out its current incarnation. Every night there’s the Pau Hana happy hour from 6 p.m.-9 p.m. with half a dozen $9 drinks and a $39 Trader Vic’s 1946 Scorpion Bowl. And on Tuesdays, DJs Jack Fetterman and Gina of the Jungle present “Primativa in Hi-Fi.”

UPDATE: PKNY closed in July 2013.

PKNY
49 Essex St.
New York, NY 10002

Related Posts:
Tiki Bars in New York
Lamenting the Short-Lived Lani Kai

Painkiller on Urbanspoon

Lamenting the Short-Lived Lani Kai in New York

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Sadly, 2012 saw the closing of several tiki bars, including the Royal Hawaiian in Laguna Beach, Hong Kong Inn in Ventura, Okolemaluna Tiki Lounge in Hawaii, Trader Vic’s Palo Alto, and Lani Kai in New York. I visited the latter before it closed in September, so here’s a tribute to one of the Polynesian-style places we lost last year.

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Julie Reiner (Flatiron Lounge, Clover Club) opened Lani Kai in October 2010, naming it after an Oahu beach she frequented while growing up in Hawaii. On the bar’s web site, she stated: “My favorite drinks are the Manhattan and the Mai Tai, and I have always wanted to create a destination that blends the two places I call home.”

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In interviews she made sure to clarify that Lani Kai was not a tiki bar but a “modern tropical” cocktail lounge with more minimalist décor — and indeed there were no tikis, thatch or bamboo to be found. Rather, the dimly lit dining area featured whitewashed brick walls with boxes of tropical plants and orchids, a bar in the back with a wooden trellis above, and an impressive capiz shell chandelier suspended over the stairwell.

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Downstairs was the lounge area with red banquettes, simple wooden tables and chairs, bamboo wallpaper, hanging ferns and a stone fireplace, plus another bar.

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The menu was pretty brief and seemed to offer mostly small plates. We composed our own pupu platter with awesome bacon-wrapped shrimp and crab rangoon, along with huli huli yakitori (chicken skewers), char siu baby back ribs, and chicken wings with basil dipping sauce.

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We also put away a few of the pork belly buns (though not enough, apparently, to spare me from a hangover the next day after we continued the evening at PKNY).

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I wanted to try a straightforward tiki drink so I opted for the Kamehameha Rum Punch ($13, Nicaraguan and dark Jamaican rums, lemon, fresh pineapple juice, grenadine and crème de mure), based on a 1960s recipe from the Hotel King Kamehameha, while Mr. Baseball’s drink was made with whisky and absinthe. Both were perfectly balanced and exactly what I’d expect from a high-quality establishment, though in hindsight I wish I’d gone for one of the creative concoctions made with tea-infused spirits, lemongrass, lychee or jalapeno syrups.

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So this brings me to another resolution we all should make for 2013 — support your local (and not so local) tiki bars!