Chris Lewellen was traveling in Chicago when he discovered a tropical oasis in a windowless basement bar.
The bar, called Three Dots and a Dash, had more rum than a pirate’s ship and a menu overflowing with fruity rum cocktails served in kitschy ceramic mugs shaped like skulls and seashells.
It’s one of many new bars reviving the tiki trend popularized in the 1930s by Trader Vic’s in Oakland, Calif., and Don the Beachcomber in Los Angeles. Other more contemporary takes on tiki include Porco Lounge and Tiki Room in Cleveland, Lucky Joe’s Tiki Room in Milwaukee and El Camino in Louisville.
When Lewellen returned home to Kansas City, he decided to bring the tiki trend to his own bar. The Well, 7421 Broadway in Waldo, recently introduced a tropical cocktail menu and Tiki Tuesdays, a weekly event that features live island-style music from 7 to 10 p.m. on the bar’s torch-lined rooftop patio.
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A signature sipper on the Well’s new menu is the Cane Bay Cooler ($8), a mix of light rum, elderflower liqueur, pineapple juice and mint-lime syrup served over ice in a hollowed-out pineapple. The drink tastes a bit like a mojito and, with its colorful paper umbrella, is definitely Instagram-worthy.
Piña colada lovers might prefer the Beachbum Colada ($12), a spicy twist on the classic drink made with Captain Morgan rum, ancho chili liqueur, coconut milk, lime juice and brown sugar. The creamy drink comes in a freshly carved coconut.
“I just like the idea of drinking out of a coconut in Kansas City,” Lewellen says. “I brought a little bit of the Caribbean to Waldo.”
Other Kansas City bars are also taking a dip in tiki-inspired rum drinks. Manifesto, 1924 Main St. in the Crossroads Arts District, serves a pineapple-infused dark rum cocktail in a ceramic tiki mug. Caught in the Rain ($12) packs sunny flavors of coconut, lime, vanilla and toasted almond.
Bo Ling’s, which has locations in Kansas City, Overland Park and Lenexa, serves rum-spiked fruit punch in a ceramic bowl with Hawaiian hula dancers and a flaming volcano in the middle. The Shanghai Scorpion Bowl ($15) is large enough for two to share. The volcano is fueled by Bacardi 151 rum and emits blue flames for about 10 minutes.
At Drunken Fish, the drinks aren’t on fire, but they can be dangerous. The sushi restaurant with locations in the Power & Light District and Leawood serves 64-ounce mai tais in round glasses that look like fishbowls. If you like Curaçao liqueur and you have a thirsty friend in tow, split a Mr. Miyagi ($25). The 64-ounce cocktail kicks up the bright blue liqueur with vodka, melon liqueur, amaretto, pineapple juice and a splash of sour.
On the other end of the color spectrum is the Mad Mojito at Jax Fish House, 4814 Roanoke Parkway on the Country Club Plaza. The vivid pink drink made with mint-infused rum and lime juice gets its color from blackberry syrup. It costs $7, or $5 during happy hour (4 to 6 p.m. daily).
A thin slice of lime is the only garnish on the daiquiri ($9) at Cocobolos, 5621 W. 135th St., No. 2610, in Overland Park. The pleasantly tart drink consists of three ingredients — rum, lime juice and sugar — shaken with ice.
Lawrence is in on the tiki trend, too: The summer cocktail menu at 715, 715 Massachusetts St., features Tiki-esque ($12), a paper umbrella-topped drink made with Ron Zacapa aged rum, hibiscus, orange juice and Gran Classico, an Italian apertif made with bitter orange and rhubarb. A bit of Greek yogurt lends silky smoothness.
The Sandbar, 17 E. Eighth St. in Lawrence, takes tropical kitsch to another level with its Shark Attack ($5, or $2.50 during happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday), a vodka and Curaçao concoction garnished with a toy shark. The shark is filled with blood-red grenadine syrup — tip it over and the slushy blue drink turns deep purple.
If the sight of (fake) blood makes you squeamish, go with the Pink Flamingo ($5, or $2.50 during happy hour). The vodka, Fresca and pink lemonade drink is presented in true over-the-top tiki style, in an inflated pink flamingo with plastic beads dangling from the straw.