Tiki cocktails are having a real moment in the sun right now. These sweet, tropical libations fell out of fashion for many years — to the point where many bartenders would roll their eyes in annoyance anytime someone dared to order a Zombie or a Rum Runner. Due in large part to their reputation as too sweet and too kitschy, these cocktails simply weren’t part of the larger craft cocktail renaissance that has spread across the country over the last 15 years, especially not here in Dallas.
Until now, that is. However slowly, tiki is finally making its way (back) to Dallas. Trader Vic’s, the original tiki chain founded in the 1940s, made a brief comeback in the mid 2000s with a location adjacent to Hotel Palomar (now The Highland), but it faded quietly into the night following a flooding incident in 2010. But now, bartenders like Rapscallion’s Eddie Eakin are eager to reintroduce a world of tiki drinks that many of today’s cocktail aficionados may have never tasted before.
When you first plop down at the bar at Rapscallion, the kitschy tiki mugs are one of the first things to catch the eye. A full-on tiki program is still in development, but Eakin has already peppered the menu with plenty of tiki-influenced elements: The toasted almond orgeat is made fresh in-house every day, and Eakin’s also mixing his own fassionola, a tropical fruit syrup. "We’re doing a lot of experimenting right now," he says, "but the goal is to eventually have a tiki day once a week, with an actual tiki menu."
In the meantime, you can order up the Hotel Nacional, a cocktail born behind the bar at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana. Made with Mount Gay rum and apricot eau de vie, the drink also includes freshly-pressed pineapple juice — an ingredient that bears little resemblance to the metallic-tasting stuff from a can. "You get this huge punch of pineapple, but it’s not sweet," Eakin says. "You have to balance [that sweetness] with a good amount of acidity and freshness." It doesn’t come served in one of those classic tiki statue mugs, but flavor-wise this cocktail is about as tiki as it gets.
Eakin’s take on a Three Dots & A Dash, another classic tiki drink, is a relatively traditional recipe. This cocktail blends rhum agricole and demerara rum, and features Eakin’s housemade falernum. If you’re not familiar with falernum, you should get to Rapscallion and acquaint yourself immediately. This syrup, which can be boozy or virgin, is made by flash-infusing piles of grated lime zest, ginger, and baking spices like clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg into overproof rum with a whipped cream charger. The resulting cocktail made with this falernum is complex, spicy, and yet, totally refreshing.
On the other end of the spectrum is Eakin’s bitter take on a traditional Mai Tai. If you’ve ever had a Mai Tai — especially the sour mix-laden variety served at chain restaurants — you know that it’s quite the sweet drink. But Eakin’s take is the polar opposite, mixed with a full ounce of Campari, Smith & Cross Navy Strength Rum, dry curacao, and a little lime juice. When you first sip the cocktail, the Campari washes over your tongue’s bitter taste receptors in an almost jarring fashion. If you’re into that flavor, you’re seriously going to love this drink. Otherwise, you might want to ask for a pour of regular, old-fashioned rum instead.
For a particularly summery sip that seems suited to the current sky-high temperatures, Eakin’s spin on a Painkiller is like a beach vacation in a glass. This cocktail, trademarked by Pusser’s Rum, is full of tropical flavor from the orange juice, pineapple, and cream of coconut that’s blended with the rum and pulverized ice in a shaker for a slushy consistency before being garnished with freshly grated nutmeg.
Outside of tiki traditionals, Eakin has also some more offbeat cocktails infused with his own style. There’s the Southern Shipwreck, a cocktail made with Knob Creek rye whiskey — a completely foreign component in the tiki world. Eakin mixes the rye with Smith & Cross rum, orgeat syrup, lime, brown sugar, and a dash of chocolate bitters. The rim of the glass is dipped in a mixture of toasted coconut, ground cacao nibs, cinnamon, and sugar. Unlike most other sugary rimmers, this nuanced mixture emphasizes the natural toasted coconut and caramelized sugar flavors inherent in the rum and whiskey. The result, while not explicitly tiki, is a damn fine cocktail.
At present, Eakin is still in the developmental stages of rolling out a full tiki program at Rapscallion. "When our owner and chef went to [tiki bar] Lei Low in Houston, they loved the drinks they had there, and all I needed was the go-ahead to start doing tiki [here]," says Eakin. "I’m really hooked on rum right now, so I started doing a lot of reading and my own research and development to figure out how to make it work here."
And that truly is no easy feat: Tiki cocktails frequently contain ten to twelve ingredients each, many of which have to be made in-house for optimum flavor and freshness. As such, Eakin plans to slowly roll out his tiki program over the course of the next few months, shooting for a weekly tiki night to launch in October.
Just don’t get too handsy with the admittedly awesome tiki head mugs. Much like the desirable copper mugs that Moscow mules are served in, they have a tendency to walk out the door with people emboldened by a couple cocktails. Rapscallion plans to add a note to their menu letting customers know they’re welcome to take the glass — for an additional $15 added to their tab.