Tiki Tango, which opened Feb. 15 to replace the three-story Midtown favorite Lava Lounge, missed the mark on saying “Aloha” to those looking for a hideaway oasis. Although the bar’s thoughtful decor included hand-carved masks made of palm, cedar and cherry wood, the boisterous, incoherent flow of counter-service is a telltale sign that the bar is still in the concept phase.
Located in Midtown, directly adjacent to Foxtrot Liquor Bar, the Tiki concept offers a narrow selection of six specialty cocktails served in Tiki-inspired mugs as well as standard mixed-drinks such as rum-and-coke and non-alcoholic favorites such as Shirley Temples.
Eager to check out the spot on opening weekend after reading a few positive reviews online, my friends and I sped over to Tiki Tango on Saturday night, one day after the grand opening bash which featured a world record-breaking 55-gallon Mai Tai cocktail. The bar curates slightly different experiences on each of the three party decks: Tango Room located in the basement, Main Deck on street-level and Flamingo Room on the top floor.
Upon entering the first of three levels, Main Deck, we were greeted by obnoxiously loud, generic music blaring from the DJ booth. All the tables were taken, but most of the crowd appeared to be up and about, mainly blocking the path to the staircase and concealing my view of a larger-than-life tiki mask.
We threaded our way through drunk strangers to reach the Tango Room, only to learn that it had been cordoned off. Slightly dejected, I turned my attention to the Flamingo Room, which boasts positive reception online. While one of my friends reserved a small table, surrounded by patio-furniture, I was immediately drawn to a large ceramic-tiled mural of pink flamingos. At last, I sensed some color and emotions in a rather dull, uninteresting environment. I wandered around to check out any other attractions that I may have missed. A few Tiki engravings hung from the ceiling, but the lack of light made it difficult to appreciate the artistic details.
I met my friends at the bar counter, where they waited on a bartender to place their orders. One of my friends took the advice of a woman at the bar and ordered the Island Retreat, a chilled rum and peach concoction garnished with tamarind, a sprig of mint and a slice of lime. Though light in alcohol, it turned out to be the best drink of the night. My other friend ordered the Beachcomber (light rums, hibiscus, clove and lime), which she described as too sweet for her taste.
As a newcomer to the Tiki scene, I went on a limb by ordering a the bar’s self-titled original concoction (rum, passion-fruit, coconut, pineapple, lime and tea), expecting a mature spin on the classic pina colada. Though I expected sweetness from the pineapple-coconut combo, my first and only sip carried the sharp bitterness of dark rum. I was left wondering how I dropped $17 on a drink, of which I could not stand the taste.
The bartender offered another drink after hearing my disappointment with the Tiki Tango. Though the bar lacked peach liqueur for an Island Retreat — another red flag of an unprepared bar — the bartender reluctantly prepared a Mai Tai (rums, orgeat, lime, dry orange curacao and rock candy syrup).
For the first time of the night, I was impressed with the bartender’s sophisticated composition of the drink’s tropical ingredients. As he skillfully muddled the aromatic flavors together with an appropriate splash of amber rum, I was ready to give Tiki Tango an opportunity to redeem itself.
The sweetness of the orgeat (a sweet sugar syrup made from almonds and rose water) and the acidity of the dry curacao (a naturally flavored rum with orange peels) might have hit the spot had the bartender not topped the drink off with too many ice cubes, diluting the liquor and muting the drink’s colorful aromas to the point of ruin.
In truth, Tiki Tango does little to compete with the likes of The S.O.S. Tiki Bar in Decatur, which has long proved itself a worthy late night hangout. Tiki Tango was neither tropical in design nor reminiscent of any beach vacation that I’ve ever taken. Aside from the custom-designed Tiki carvings and beach-themed drinks, Tiki Tango is highly reminiscent of its past iteration: a nightclub focused loosely on experience and heavily on revenue.
The preparation and flavors of the drinks, though arguably the most relevant factors of a counter-service bar, were huge disappointments. Although the bartenders seemed skilled in mixing liquors with complex flavors, the prices broke my wallet, and the bartender refused to provide price details prior to ordering.
By the end of the evening, we were ready to leave — and never return to — the wannabe tropical paradise.
Rating: 1.5/5 Stars