Tiki is back, in all its kitschy, floral-print glory. The Polynesian-inspired aesthetic, which first sprung to life as a sort of postwar escapism in the mid-century, is in the throes of a modern resurgence—and few Atlantans know it as thoroughly as Paul Senft. “One of the reasons I think tiki’s been making a comeback is that the world needs a bit of escapism, the same way they did back then,” says Senft, a Georgia Tech administrator by day and self-described tiki historian by night. (He’s a proud member of the Fraternal Order of Moai, a national tiki enthusiasts’ social club.) Here’s where Senft likes to drink in Atlanta.
It’s not technically a tiki bar, but Bon Ton offers a Painted Snipe, a riff on the classic Jungle Bird, which is a favorite of Senft’s. The Jungle Bird originated in Kuala Lumpur in the ’70s; its standard recipe includes the usual tiki suspects (rum, pineapple, lime) along with the bitter addition of Campari. Bon Ton adds umami funk with Batavia Arrack, an Indonesian rum made with fermented rice. 674 Myrtle Street, 404-996-6177
At its zenith in the ’70s, this tiki chain had 26 locations across the country. Atlanta is lucky to still have ours, one of two frozen-in-amber dens of etched wood carvings and faux pufferfish left in the United States. Senft’s drink? The oft-overlooked Navy Grog, a mix of rum, grapefruit juice, and club soda. (He advises asking for Pusser’s Rum instead of the generic house variety.) 255 Courtland Street, 404-221-6339
Where Trader Vic’s is a time capsule, SOS is a peek at how tiki is being modernized. “SOS focuses on the cocktails, with minimalistic tropical decor,” says Senft. He ventures off-menu to find his favorite classic: the Queen’s Park Swizzle, a Trinidadian drink with rum, lime, mint, golden-hued demerara syrup, and several generous dashes of Angostura bitters. 340 Church Street, Decatur, 404-377-9308
This article appears in our June 2018 issue.