On the occasion of a certain green-hued, ethnically dubious drinking holiday, I expected to be safe from the craziness in the bamboo-walled space of Adrift, Denver's only true tiki bar. But the popularity of this South Broadway misfit at happy hour is a sign that Adrift isn't just a goofy novelty.
I had already seen how Adrift had melded the self-aware cheesiness of the "Polynesian" watering holes of yesteryear with the know-it-all mixology of today. Even through the specialty drinks here have tons of ingredients, skyscraping garnishes and eye-popping presentations (like a fishbowl of booze), the bar approaches each with real craftsmanship and flair. That makes the happy hour discounts, offered from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4 and 7 p.m. on Friday, all the more attractive.
Seated beneath a drop-down screen playing Tora! Tora! Tora! (Really, guys? Lost your copy of Endless Summer?), I scanned through the list of classic tiki drinks on special, wading in with a mai tai ($5), which Adrift has based on the immortal Trader Vic's recipe, but given a modern touch with Dancing Pines cask rum from Loveland. Tempting layers of citrus, mild rum and a touch of sweet made for a drink worthy of its surroundings — though the big hit here appears to be the creamy, coconutty Macadamia Nut Chi-Chi ($5).
It may not get as much attention as the bar, but Adrift's kitchen can bring out a pretty robust menu of Eastern-influenced bar food. Just don't be fooled by the happy hour menu — there aren't any edible discounts here, just appetizers like calamari and egg rolls from sister restaurant Swing Thai. Adrift also hosts Taco Tuesdays with carnitas, fish or Spam tacos for $2, and I had to get a dose of the islands with a bit of processed meat product. The Spam tacos are given a simple treatment — just a toss in the pan and some lettuce and tomato — but they're tuned perfectly to Adrift's vibe. The rest of the menu is a bit scattershot: crispy fried plantain gave the mufongo chips ($5) the right snap but were dragged down by a cloying coconut rum reduction, while a bowl of edamame just didn't have enough snap or salt to complement the spice dusting.
Call it idol worship if you like, but Adrift's tiki paradise is still drawing crowds nearly three years after its opening. Happy hour here is like a miniature umbrella: fun, but practically superfluous.
Perfect for: If anyone remembers Trader Vic's or Don The Beachcomber, both of which operated downtown during the golden age of tiki bars, a visit to Adrift would be a real trip.
Don't miss: if Adrift has a signature drink, it's the Planters Punch ($44). A giant bowl of fruit juice and rum set aflame, four or more thirsty thrillseekers suck it down with foot-long straws. Please guzzle responsibly.