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.
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).
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.”
49 Essex St.
New York, NY 10002