It all started with a rum collection and a tiki night. "I collect rum, and while I was bartending at Madison Street, I started bringing in my own rum collection, which then turned into a great tiki culture on Tuesday nights," says Matty Durgin, who, along with Wade Kirwan and Jay Dedrick, owner of Swing Thai, will open Adrift, a new tiki bar at 218 South Broadway. And after months of delays, that opening will come within the next month. "We can count it in weeks," Durgin says. "Things are moving very quickly."
And Adrift won't be your typical safari shack strewn with artificial palm trees and faux Tahitian coconut palms. Dedrick, who periodically travels to Thailand on buying trips, bedecked the space, which is nothing short of stunning, with walls of handcrafted, solid bamboo poles, hand-carved tikis from Indonesia and China, murals that originated from antiquated cruise-ship menu covers, espresso-hued wooden floors reclaimed from wood in tobacco factories, curved chartreuse and brothel red, faux-crocodile channel-back booths and suspended, conversation-piece light fixtures created from blowfish.
"A couple of years ago, I started getting into tiki and learning more about it -- and then I got obsessed with the design," explains Dedrick, adding that he's "enamored by the culture and history behind the tiki bar."
"This is a minimally theatrical, modern and clean take on a tiki bar," Durgin adds. "Brick by brick, piece by piece, we're paying homage to the tiki-bar tradition, balancing kitsch with art, and everything has been designed and pieced together by hand."
And Durgin has gone to great lengths to stay true to the history and culture of the cocktails, too, even down to the rum, the base for 32 libations. "The cocktail list is really intricate and esoteric -- some of the recipes have as many as twelve ingredients, and we're making sure to use the same rum that's in the traditional recipes," he says.
Kirwan, Adrift's executive chef, who spent several years as the exec chef at Vesta Dipping Grill before moving on to Solera, Crash 45 and, most recently, Encore, where he cooked alongside Paul Reilly, says his menu will pimp globe-trotting dishes that also steer clear of clichés. "When I started writing the menu, I realized it had Polynesian threads, but I can assure you that there's no theme-y teriyaki salmon or pineapple-glazed chicken skewers; this isn't the Rainforest Cafe," he deadpans. Instead, the "island-inspired" menu is composed of "fun, affordable, shareable small plates that reflect Asian, Latin and French influences," not to mention "extract flavors from rum appellations."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
When Adrift opens, Gina Selby, who's married to Vesta chef Matt Selby, will run the front of the house, while Ricki Leigh Jones, formerly of Mezcal, will join Durgin as assistant bar manager. "We have all the right people in place, and it's our mutual respect for one another, for the history of the tiki bar and for honoring the ingredients, that brought us all together," says Durgin.
Dedrick echoes those sentiments: "Our ultimate goal is to create a great team, stay in business and make money, but I get a kick out of people coming in and having a great experience with food and drinks and leaving feeling like they got a great value. We're a bar/restaurant on South Broadway -- nothing more, nothing less -- and our focus is on respecting everything inside of these four walls."
A version of this story originally appeared in Cafe Bites, our weekly newsletter devoted to Denver's food and drink scene, which arrives in e-mail boxes every Wednesday afternoon. Find out how to subscribe here.