The group that owns Little Man Ice Cream bought Adrift, located at 218 South Broadway, earlier this summer. Partners Paul Tamburello and Loren Martinez were both fans of the original bar.
"A big reason I was such a regular before we took over is there is nothing like it in Denver," says Martinez. While Tamburello and Martinez both enjoy tiki pop and the history of the trend in the U.S., they were ultimately drawn to the spirituality and mystery of Polynesian culture.
Although his real-estate firm has helped develop some of Denver's hottest restaurants, this is Tamburello’s first attempt at owning one. When he and Martinez found themselves with the opportunity to purchase Adrift, they were intrigued by the possibility of designing an immersive experience.
Creating that kind of experience can be tricky. There is a delicate balance between authentic tiki and tiki tacky, and Tamburello and Martinez want Adrift to be more than just a place to get an umbrella cocktail. They want the revamped space to also showcase Polynesian culture.
"People expect the kitsch, and the kitsch is still going to be there, but I think we're bringing some authenticity, too," says Martinez.
The center wall that used to divide the dining room was removed to open up the space, but otherwise the tweaks to the interior were minor. The dining room will still feature blowfish lighting along with bamboo walls and tiki totems interspersed throughout the space. The back patio won't change much for now, but Tamburello and Martinez have some fun plans to update it in the spring. And although the Marlon Brando image came down with the old dividing wall, fans of the former Adrift can take comfort in the fact that Brando might come back.
The biggest changes were to the food and cocktail program. The partners brought in consulting chef Shaun Motata to design the new menu, which will include small plates like Kona coffee pork sliders, tuna poke and guava barbecue baby back ribs. (Motata, a Hawaiian native, and fellow consulting chef Tim Dotson previously worked for Troy Guard.)
As for the cocktail menu, guests can expect lots of authentic, original recipes from the 1940s and 1950s, like the Gold Cup and Satan's Whiskers. There will still be Scorpion Bowls and Macadamia Nut Chi-Chis, as well as a new addition to the menu: the Coconga, which will be served in a coconut.
And customers can now do a good deed while they swill tiki drinks. Along with the updated space comes the Mana Immersion Fund, which will help finance humanitarian projects. "Mana," a Polynesian word that means power, refers to spiritual energy and potential. A percentage of each sale made at Adrift will go toward medical, dental, construction and hunger relief efforts, with the Polynesian islands a likely area of focus.
"Adrift was and still is an amazing space,” says Tamburello. He and Martinez can't wait to see how Denver reacts to its reimagined tiki bar.
Adrift will open Saturday from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., with regular dinner hours going forward.