Tiki gets a bad rap. For years, chain restaurants and seaside shacks across America have passed off cups of syrupy blue slush as proper tropical cocktails. True tiki drinks, the kind that rely on secret rum blends and fresh fruit juice, fell out of favor in the 1970s. But thanks to a dedicated handful of obsessives, tiki is in the midst of a bona fide renaissance, with puffer-fish-decked bars popping up in spades.
Hidden Harbor is the latest place to take tiki seriously — or as seriously as you can take a drink adorned with a tiny umbrella. “Tiki is such a great medium,” says Pete Kurzweg, who co-owns both Hidden Harbor and the beer-focused Independent Brewing Company next door. “You can have a lot of fun with cocktails, but the quality doesn’t have to suffer.” That sense of fun fills the new Squirrel Hill bar. The signature cocktail is a bright-blue rum drink with a crushed-ice “wave” that rises from the glass. A painting of Bill Murray as Steve Zissou hangs in the men’s room. There’s even a slushie machine churning on the backbar.
The drink that comes out of that machine, however, is a heavy hitter. The concoction (dubbed Josie’s Faraway Vacation) has nearly a dozen ingredients including basil, chili, coconut and arrack, a funky rum from Indonesia. Elaborately garnished and served in a ridged glass called a Pearl Diver, the drink is everything tiki should be: beautiful, balanced and a little bit silly.
It’s clear that the team at Hidden Harbor respects the classic tiki playbook. But it isn’t afraid to add some notes in the margins. Rum is king, but there are also gin and bourbon drinks. For decor, the bar decided against floor-to-ceiling bamboo and instead let the bones of the space shine, accenting with striking palm carvings and nautical knick-knacks. Hidden Harbor proves that serious cocktails don’t require waxed moustaches and suspenders. Flowery prints work just fine.