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