Tyler Barrera is prepping for his second grand opening in less than a year. The 26-year-old bartender turned bar owner just opened Kanaloa, at 311 Travis, the latest craft cocktail bar and first tiki bar in the trendy two block radius around Market Square Park. After a two month-long soft opening he and his partners will officially host a grand opening on November 15th.
Kanaloa is Houston's newest tiki bar and the first of its kind in the post-midtown explosion that is north downtown. It is the second venture for Barrera and his partners, Roland Keller and Keith Doyle. The trio opened the popular neighborhood hangout, Wicklow Heights, just last year to quick success. Their bungalow turned sprawling patio bar has become a fast favorite among greater heights residents. Now the group has their sights set on the rapidly growing tiki bar revival movement.
Evoking early and mid-century rum classics like the Mai Tai and the immortal Hurricane, along with a handful of flamboyant tiki creations of their own, Kanaloa is part hipster chic, part American nostalgia. "The focus is on the classic recipes," says Barrera, "what Don the Beachcomber was using back then." The Don he's referring to is none other than Don Beach (born Earnest Gannt), a Texas native generally considered to be the creator of the tiki bar in Hollywood during the 1930s.
Kanaloa's menu features 15 signature cocktails, most of which pay close homage to their original recipes. The bar also serves tropical recreations of some American classics, and one especially interesting remix of a classic tiki recipe with a more regional flare. The Oaxaca Swizzle is a reimagining of the standard tiki drink, the Bermuda Rum Swizzle, with Caribbean rum substituted for Oaxacan mezcal. Among the eye-catching house creations are also the Rum Old Fashioned and the Pineapple Manhattan, two tikified takes on old school whiskey drinks.
For their food menu, Barrera and his partners opted for the increasingly popular option of outsourcing their fare to an established third party. In this case, local food truck stars, Oh My Gogi. Houston's favorite Korean taco truck launched their third brick and mortar location behind the Kanaloa bar and are now slinging their spicy Asian tacos to hungry tiki heads six days a week.
Tiki Tuesdays is the moniker given to the Kanaloa happy hour, a weekly showcase of their latest drink special and an opportunity for customers to try a different signature drink each week. The happy hour will also feature discounts on the bar's "shareable" drinks — a menu addition that Barrera hopes will encourage group outings (bachelorette parties are in this bar's future).
One thing cannot be overstated, the folks at Kanaloa are committed to the tiki vibe. From a looping playlist of exotica instrumentals, to the larger than life tiki heads painted on the wall, to the handheld tiki head mugs they serve drinks in, this isn't the place for a quiet whiskey nightcap and a stogie. It's an Insta-perfect getaway bar that is soon to takeover your social media feed.
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