Tiki drinks were made popular more than 80 years ago by Don the Beachcomber. Since then many places have tried to replicate those original recipes that were inspired by the tropics and tiki culture. In Houston, we have two full-fledged tiki bars, Lei Low Rum & Tiki Lounge and Howie's Tiki.
There are, however, several Houston bars and restaurants that serve tiki-style drinks. Tiki drinks are characterized by several key elements and are almost always rum-based. A well-crafted tiki cocktail includes rum, fresh juice, layered flavors such as bitters or other liqueurs, and spices.
Bamboo on the Bayou took place in Houston last week and included a Tiki crawl to 11 Houston-area bars. Each day one of five classic tiki cocktails was featured at each location, including the mai tai, the jungle bird, the planter's punch, the zombie and the daiquiri. The Houston Press decided to do a tiki crawl of its own to see which drinks swept us away to sandy shores and tropical waves.
Anvil, 1424 Westheimer
Anvil is famous for its 100-cocktail menu, which happens to include a "Tropical & Tiki" section of nine classic drinks, the most popular of which is the zombie. The zombie combines three different rums, Angostura bitters, lemon, lime, pineapple and passion fruit juices. Shaken vigorously to blend all the ingredients thoroughly, this very approachable zombie is fruity and well-balanced. ($12/$6 during happy hour)
The mention of the word daiquiri might conjure up images of a frozen strawberry concoction topped with whipped cream, but a classic daiquiri is nothing of the sort. Four simple ingredients are used to make this elegant cocktail — rum, lime, sugar and bitters. At Captain Foxheart's you have the option of having it made with the bar's own plantation-style rum, which is aged in French oak and then finished off in wine barrels. The subtle sweetness from the rum's aging process helps make this classy drink simply delicious. ($9/$5 during happy hour)
Howie's Tiki, 4334 FM 2920
The shark bite at Howie's Tiki is a spin on the classic 1956 Don the Beachcomber drink. Mount Gay Eclipse is blended with Clément Sirop de Canne (a spiced sugarcane syrup), cinnamon, pineapple and lime juice. It is served in a martini glass with a quirky ice shell and a shot of Appleton Estates 12-Year rum on the side. The rum shot can be floated on top to add depth to the drink, or enjoyed by itself. ($11)
Lei Low, 6412 North Main
The planter's punch is quite possibly the oldest known rum cocktail. Dating all the way back to 18th-century Jamaica, this iconic drink even has its own recipe song, "One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak." Although many variations of this drink exist, the rhyme basically translates to lime, sugar, rum and water. At Lei Low, the planter's punch consists of Barbados and Jamaican rums, Falernum (a spiced simple syrup), lime juice, bitters and a splash of Topo Chico. The result is a great drink that's complex and full of character. ($6 during happy hour)
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Tommy Bahama, 9595 Six Pines
Let's face it, sometimes day drinking is a necessity. Fortunately, Tommy Bahama opens at 11 a.m. seven days a week. The mai tai is the quintessential tiki drink. At Tommy Bahama the bartenders mix rum, orgeat (an almond syrup with a hint of orange), orange curaçao, lemon, lime and pineapple juice and then top it with a dark rum float. This beautiful and tasty drink will take all your cares away. ($11/$6 during happy hour)