The tiki trend never quite exploded the way people thought it would, but its influence is nevertheless all over New York’s bars. To wit: It is now relatively simple to find a first-rate mai tai — classically a combination of multiple rums, orange curaçao, lime, the almond syrup known as orgeat, and mint … and the ultimate expression of tiki-ness — even in bars that aren’t decorated with torches and palm thatches. At a time when everyone’s taking a more laid-back approach to cocktails, it’s a drink worth knowing — these are where it’s at its best.
The Absolute Best
1. Suffolk Arms
269 E. Houston St., at Suffolk St.; 212-475-0400
The influences at Giuseppe González’s Lower East Side tavern is devoid of any tiki touches, but the mai tais turned out by his bar staff are impeccable. Served in a sturdy rocks glass with a couple of huge ice cubes, the drink is dynamic enough to inspire fantasies of cruise ships, even on dark winter nights. The mai tai here is sweet, and fruity enough to recall a gourmet Hawaiian punch, but an aggressive sour kick from the citrus keeps it in check. In a lot of ways, this is a mai tai where all the attributes are cranked as hard as they can go, including the extra-potent floater of Bacardi 151 (mai tais are supposed to be fun, guys) and base of Hamilton Navy Strength, and an overproof blend of Guyanese Demerara rum and spicy Jamaican rum, which lends the drink its coup de grâce of sugar-cane funk.