Tiki bars such as Trader Vic's and Don the Beachcomber enjoyed a long run in Denver from the '60s into the '80s, but except for a few sputters like Tiki Boyd's in the Ramada Inn on Colfax and the Tiki Torch in Edgewater, this city's tiki action was largely extinguished years ago.
But the tiki torch will be relit when the 2,200-square-foot Mauka Tiki opens at 218 South Broadway, with a revised target date of Christmas. The new spot is billing itself as not just Denver's only tiki bar, but also the world's highest-elevation tiki bar. And it's taking its name from the Hawaiian word that means "mountainside," or "toward the mountain."
"We want it to be old-school and timeless," says Jay Dedrick, one of the partners in Mauka and also the owner of Denver's Swing Thai restaurants. "It's a step out of Denver and a step back in time. We just wanted to create a release for people from the day-to-day craziness of life and jobs. We're going to try to provide a nice, pleasant environment, and provide good-quality drinks."
Co-owner Brent Kimball says the key to a great tiki drink is the right mix of flavors. "It's not just a happenstance 'that sounds good,'" he explains. "It's a lot of experimentation. We're going to be drawing on the old, and working on some of the trends to come up with others. It's the freshness of the ingredients, the right mixture of syrups and the juices and the actual condiments that go with them. It's very unlike what most people have experienced with cocktails. It's hard to summarize in words. Many of these are going to have to be experiments. They're going to be coming from rum, gin, tequilas, mescal and vodka."
To help keep Mauka Tiki cocktail-centric, Kimball, Dedrick and partner Joseph Granda recruited award-winning tiki mixologist Martin Cate, who owns Smuggler's Cove in San Francisco, to help out with the drink menu. And for inspiration, they all looked to the source of tiki: Polynesia.
"Tiki itself came from the Polynesian era and the Polynesian people," Kimball says. "It was their verbal schools that were looking back at their ancestors. Sometimes they came off as godlike, and that's where you have these tiki images. And sometimes they came off as just an example and a generation of what your ancestors were all about. So that's throughout a lot of the South Pacific, and that is Polynesian culture, and it's uniform from island to island to island in that they give homage to their ancestors.
"So we're doing the same," he continues. "We're giving homage to the original cocktails, and we're going to be very cocktail-forward. That's where a lot of that comes from, and that's where we expect to go — but we're doing that with a look back."
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Although there's been a resurgence in tiki culture across the country over the last few years, it has more of a community feel than a competitive one. "With the tours we've done of all the tiki bars, we've been surprised with just how generous everybody is, how everybody realizes that the synergy just keeps percolating from one place to the next place and lifts everybody up," Kimball says. "It's exciting to see that many people putting that much energy into our space."
All in an effort to preserve the tiki tradition. "We're not trying to re-create something that somebody else has done or copy something else," he concludes. "We're really looking to preserve what has been out there before."
Club scout: While the folks at the Grizzly Rose were hoping to have its new sister rock club, Grizzly Rock (at 5255 West Sixth Avenue in Lakewood), opened by Thanksgiving, it's now slated to open around the second or third week in December. By then, Fluff should finally be up and curling on Wazee Street.