Gaudy garnish, fresh fruit juice, exotic spices and a whole lot of booze make tiki cocktails flavorful, in-your-face little works of art that smell and taste just as good as they look. Although tiki fever originally swept the nation in the '40s and '50s, drinks like the Mai Tai, Zombie and the Singapore Sling have made their way back into the bar mainstream, offering complex canvases to begin incorporating unique twists. Nowadays, you'll be hard-pressed to find a bar in town that doesn't serve something in the tiki category, and, with enough tropical flavors to take you away and enough ABV to make you forget about the oppressive heat outside, that's good news for summer imbibers looking to explore without ever leaving the Old Pueblo.
Three Dots and a Dash ($10)
139 S. Eastbourne Ave.
Bartender Erick Bornmann of Sidecar quickly offers that this tiki classic is his favorite. With three rums as the base, including one of the trouble-making 151 variety, Bornmann builds intense flavors to this Don the Beachcomber cocktail with orange juice, allspice dram, lime, pineapple gomme syrup and two kinds of bitters. However, he also has a secret weapon. Subbing out the typically nutty falernum for one of his own making, this cocktail goes from classic to one of a kind. The housemade banana falernum blends sweet banana, spicy clove and more to add depth to the drink. Best of all, Bornmann uses half a lime, doused in rum, to light a small fire atop each one, serving up a drink and a show just like a good tiki drink should.
Curried Daiquiri ($9)
100 S. Ave. del Convento #150
Tiki isn't all about theatrics. Really, if you have the base blend of elements—booze, more booze, juice and spice—you're on your way to tiki town. That's why Ciaran Wiese of Agustin Kitchen's Curried Daiquiri might not look like much, especially side-by-side with fearsome tiki mugs topped with half of an herb garden, but looks can be deceiving. With just five ingredients, this drink manages to get a lot of complexity out of less. While on the outside the drink looks like a pretty standard daiquiri, served up in a coupe with a lime wheel garnish, the addition of arrack, curry and rose water adds a whole new, almost savory, dimension to the drink. The curry flavor is present, but not overpowering and will keep you interested sip after sip.
Silk Road ($12)
5655 W. Valencia Road
Now when I say tiki cocktails are full of the hard stuff, I meant it as a warning. That warning extends, in the most cheesy way I possibly can, down to the Casino del Sol Resort, where bartender Aaron Defeo crafts a tiki drink with such a punch that I have to tell you that you should limit two per visit. See, Defeo knows how to mix liquor first and foremost, expertly blending boozes together to uncover a world of tasting notes that you may have never noticed before. In the Silk Road, Jamaican rum, VSOP cognac, Junmai sake and yellow Chartreuse form the bulk of the drink, each building the other up into something more. The rum offers a boozy backbone, while the Chartreuse adds sweet herbaceous notes and the sake and cognac add enough fruity flavor that you'd swear the drink had more than just lime juice in it. Served in a sturdy tiki mug and topped with mint, lotus root and sugar cane, the drink is everything tiki should be and maybe just a little bit more.
Scorpion Bowl (Price varies with size)
4625 E. Broadway Blvd.
Of course, no list of tiki drinks in Tucson would be even remotely complete without a Kon Tiki Scorpion Bowl. You can choose a single, topped with cherries and a slice of fresh pineapple, or share a much larger glass with some friends in a bowl outfitted with super long straws. Sure, this is no craft tiki cocktail, but Kon Tiki is the real deal when it comes to tiki bars of the original wave. You can see it in the kitsch décor, adding a genuinely fun and festive vibe that only a dedicated tiki bar could deliver. With over 50 years in business, the bar has been pumping out the classics since before many in the industry now were even born. So, show some respect, grab a big long straw and start sipping on a piece of Tucson and tiki history. This place is a gem.