Is it the drinks served in coconuts that get mouths watering? Or the island mentality that has people dropping everything to go to a tiki party?
John Fausz, general manager at Taste by Niche, thinks it's the original, strong cocktails that keep people thirsty for all things tiki, which is why Taste by Niche (4584 Laclede, 314) 361-1200) is hosting the first of three Tiki Takeovers this Sunday, June 28, from 2 to 9 p.m.
"We just wanted to do something different, break out of the mold," Fausz says. "We thought opening early for a tiki party would be just that."
And this tiki party won't be like that one you went to last summer in your neighbor's backyard. For one thing, the drinks won't be a sugary, syrupy mess dripping down your fingers like the victims of a snow cone massacre.
"Tiki cocktails can be misunderstood. With our list, almost all of the 11 tiki cocktails are before the 1950s, before it got completely overwashed by extremely sweet and syrupy concoctions," Fausz explains.
Customers can choose from a list of 11 handpicked and handmade cocktails that aim to tell the history of classic tiki cocktails, ranging in price from $6 to $16 (the latter is a drink meant for two).
Since tiki culture became too popular for its own good, people have forgotten the original tiki -- the tiki counterculture -- replacing it with sugar and fake grass skirts.
"During the process of cultural co-opting, the recipes became transposed. Later in the 1970s, the drinks became more juice and less rum, more sweet and less strong. We're focusing on the original stuff that's strong and kind of strange," Fausz says. "I don't think many people have had a real Mai Tai."
Almost all of the drinks offered have rum in them, but Taste strove to create a balanced menu. Drinks range from the classic Mai Tai (1944) to the more unfamiliar Navy Grog (1941).
"We wanted to focus on the early period; we cut out a lot that were overdone," Fausz says. "We wanted to have some name recognition and classics."
To complement the Tiki drinks, chef Heather Stone will create a special menu of a la carte dishes such as smoked pulled pork sandwiches, tropical popsicles and other traditional tiki-inspired dishes.
It's important to note that Taste is not using the word "takeover" lightly. The restaurant will be opening early and closing early, and only offering the Tiki menu options on Sunday.
But if you miss this Sunday's Tiki Takeover, two more will happen Sunday, July 26 and Sunday, August 30, with rumors of a pig-roasting for at least one of those dates.
The only coupon for the Tiki Takeover will be a valid Metro pass or transfer ticket, scoring you $3 off your first cocktail. How often does a bar pay you to drink? Sounds like a fair trade to us.
See below for a full list cocktails on offer, plus their ingredients.
LA FLORIDA COCKTAIL ca. 1930 Light Rum - Vermouth - Curacao - Grenadine - Lime - Creme de Cacao
ZOMBIE 1934 Puerto Rican Rum - Jamaican Rum - Overproof Demerara Rum - Angostura - Pernod - Lime - Don's Mix - Falernum - Grenadine
BEACHCOMBER'S GOLD 1937 Light Rum - Gold Jamaican Rum - Dark Jamaican Rum - Lime - Sugar - Pernod - Almond Extract
MISSIONARY'S DOWNFALL ca. 1940 Light Rum - Peach Liqueur - Honey - Lime - Fresh Mint - Pineapple
NAVY GROG 1941 Puerto Rican Rum - Jamaican Rum - Demerara Rum - Grapefruit - Lime - Soda - Honey
SUFFERING BASTARD 1942 Cognac - Gin - Angostura - Lime - Ginger Beer
TRADER VIC's MAI TAI 1944 Jamaican Rum - Martinican Rhum - Lime - Curacao - Orgeat - Sugar
MEXICAN EL DIABLO 1947 White Tequila - Cassis - Lime - Ginger Beer
PORT LIGHT ca. 1960 Bourbon - Grenadine - Passion Fruit - Grenadine - Lemon
TRADEWINDS ca. 1970 Light Rum - Dark Rum - Apricot Liqueur - Lemon - Coconut Cream
JUNGLE BIRD 1978 Dark Rum - Campari - Lime - Pineapple - Sugar