Pu pu platters are flaming hot—ba dum sha. No really, tiki is back, taking Minnesota by storm this summer, from high octane zombie drinks to full throttle pu pu platters. Eat Street Social is even doing an internal pop-up tiki bar set to open in the next couple weeks. (The earlier planned patio one isn’t going to happen, due to logistical delays, and then the summer got away from them.)
What is tiki? Basically it was an idea for American drinking, born in California in the 1930’s in places like Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s, where they took a South Sea fantasy of fruit and cute girls in grass skirts, fused that idea onto newly invented drinks like the Mai Tai, the Scorpion, and the Zombie, and served them next to flaming pu pu platters of Cantonese ribs and fried shrimp. The restaurants featured décor of huts and parrots, and the drinks came in souvenir mugs to take home. That’s really about the whole of tiki, unless you want to get all postmodern and brainy and start talking the construct of Orientalism as the imaginative necessity of new racially constricted/constructed frontiers which followed the settlement of the American west, which we’re not going to do here, because we have not yet drunk enough Zombies to make it fun. Anywho, after tiki was born, then it died, and then it started to be revived, locally at places like full fledged tiki village Psycho Suzi’s, and in other burgs such as New York City which have artisanal tiki bars—yes, this is a thing—like PKNY (Pain Killer New York) and The Hurricane Club.
So what are the top tiki experiences to be had in the Twin Cities, if you want to party like it’s 1938/2013?
1) Psycho Suzi’s How can you dispute Psycho Suzi’s spectacular view, cruise ship-plus size, and campy kitschy wonder? You can’t! Layer upon layer of patio, waterfalls to gaze upon, souvenirs for miles. A key destination for any tiki fanatic, and also, the cheese curds. Because never forget the math, fried cheese + rum = summer. 2519 NE Marshall St., Mpls., 612-788-9069; psychosuzis.com
2) Chino Latino Thirty-nine bucks buys a hell of a lot of pu pu platter at Chino Latino these days: For that price you get a table-serving portion of shrimp rumaki, five-spice ribs, calamari, dumplings, wings—the works. Beside your pu pu: Do you need a drink served in a fresh pineapple? Who doesn’t? El Orgazmo, for you. Or perhaps you need a festive ceramic vessel the size of a goldfish bowl filled with a whole lot of tequila and passion fruit juice, served with two arm-sized straws, and a live orchid garnish? 2916 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls., 612-824-7878, chinolatino.com
3) Red Dragon Old school, run-down dive tiki? Oh yeah. Dive tiki. Get a pu pu platter for four, a Wondrous Punch, and a Fog Cutter (or two). Now just see if you don’t wake up tomorrow in someone else’s grass skirt. 2116 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-874-8877, reddragonmpls.com
4) Smalley’s Pirate Bar What part of tiki do pirates comprise? Eh, who knows, it's all made up. That said, Smalley’s has the largest array of carefully made Caribbean cocktails in the region, and warm island oceans are warm island oceans, right? Look, if you don’t like my logic here just substitute Kokomo's Island Café at the Mall of America and go drink a pina colada while your kid eats French fries. But basically, if you’re thinking: Party with tropical good taste, go to Smalley’s! Tastes like summer, and fun too. 423 Main St. Stillwater, 651-439-5375
5) New Tiki Bar at Fitger’s in Duluth! What, you didn’t know there was a tiki bar overlooking Lake Superior? Yes, yes there is. It opened on July 4th, and it’s out on the patio of Fitger’s on the lake. Bring your own parrot on your shoulder, but they’ve got the rest—a menu of rum drinks, daiquiris, mojitos, and so forth for your glass, and coconut shrimp and calamari to nibble while you pretend that some coconuts are going to wash up on the Lake Superior shore. Best of all, every Tuesday from 5–8 p.m. they have a dog-friendly night, so you can finally show Fido what you love most about the South Seas, without those pesky flights in an unheated airplane belly. 600 E. Superior St., Duluth, 218-727-4880
Outstanding Tiki Issue: Eat Street Social
As of today, Nick Kosevich tells me, the new plan for the from-scratch Tiki Bar at Eat Street Social is for a late August opening, and it will take over the whole private party room on the east side of the restaurant, the one they have used for private events, or for overflow seating when things get busy. What will an artisanal zombie taste like? Perhaps we will find out before the autumn leaves float down into our pu pu flames.