NOHO TIKI BAR OFFERS ‘GREAT ESCAPE’
When I think of all things Tiki, a few things come to mind. First, fun, come on, how can you not have a good time sucking down some potent, sweet Polynesian concoctions? Two, hangover, come on, the mix of lots of cheap booze and too much sugar spells trouble. And three, designated driver—it’s better to play it safe when downing these savory, yet sneaky drinks.
And North Hollywood’s Tiki No proudly carries the tiki torch that bars like Trader Vic’s and Tiki Ti used to set the tiki standard ablaze. And thanks to the Tiki No powers that be that, which include cocktail consultants Jason Bran and Damian Windsor and visionary restaurateur and events powerhouse Jeffrey Best, who earned a reputation for throwing some of this town’s best premiere after parties, comes a fun tiki bar that serves quality booze in its tasty drinks.
“I’ve been a tiki culture aficionado for a long time and I love the look of the bars, love the noir quality of them, but I wasn’t in touch with the cocktails,” explains Best. “Most of the time it was some form of a high-fructose corn syrup juice added to alcohol to make this cheap drink, and that wasn’t inspiring to me. Growing up, I remember going to the true tiki-inspired restaurants and if I was lucky my parents would hand me the garnish – which was so well crafted, I was happy with just that. The guys working behind the bars of those places, like Trader Vic’s, took pride in their craft and when you drank their drinks, you felt transported. You went somewhere else and it was cinematic. To me, Jason and Damian look at drinks that way.”
Working with Jeffrey is giving us the opportunity to do something truly innovative, where we can be creative and change the way people look at cocktails,” Jason Bran says. “Tiki is awesome, and we really enjoy tiki cocktails. This was a great opportunity to put new life into a beautiful space that looks tiki, feels tiki and hits all the marks of a really good tiki bar.”
Tiki No’s new drink menu pays homage to tiki-era cocktails by delivering classic drinks the way they were originally intended. Using top shelf spirits and liqueurs, not to mention fresh juices, these Tiki drinks are as good as they get.
During our recent visit to Tiki No, we took the metro to the Universal City station (the bar is located on Lankershim between the Universal and North Hollywood stations—I think it’s a tad closer to Universal if you’re going to walk from the station) and then huffed to the bar on foot. After bellying up at the bar where the affable bar manager Rhino took good care of us, we opted for Uber car service to get home.
The Tiki No cocktail menu sets the mood and stage for its drinks but doesn’t actually include any ingredients, which is really no help at all, but the idea is that you’ll strike up a conversation with the bartender and after learning what you like, they can make the appropriate recommendation for your tasty beverage.
We started with the Dark & Stormy, which is described as “Bermuda perfection!” It’s very nice and a great way to start an evening.
The classic Mai Tai, which in Tahitian means out of this world, gets the job done right. If you’re new to Tiki drinks, this one is a must as it’s a tried and true favorite.
Looking a little deeper in to the Tiki cocktail menu, the Jungle Bird is a curiously balanced blend of sweet, bitter and sour. It’s very nice and distinct. This one utilizes Campari, which Rhino calls the “Negroni of Tiki drinks,” and Black Strap Rum, “real pirate rum.”
I thought the Navy Grog was OK, and the Chief Lapu Lapu, made with Caruba dark and white rum, orange juice, lemon juice, simple syrup, and a red passion fruit syrup, was also refreshing.
If you want to go off book (or order off the menu), the bar does have an impressive selections of quality rums, including several of my new favorite Plantation Rum. Any of those fantastic rums will delight and hit the bull’s-eye.
Going back to the stellar Tiki drink menu, which includes a baker’s dozen of tropical fun, the Suffering Bastard, made with cognac and gin is a winner. The story goes its original bartender was short on spirits and mixers, but not on demanding sailors.
Another feature at Tiki No, which sits in a wide space with plenty of room, including an outdoor patio, unlike the tiny and claustrophobic neighboring Tonga Hut, a local Tiki institution, are ready made slushy cocktails. I was a little apprehensive about trying these, thinking back to nights at Chillers followed by hangovers in the morning, but their Piña Colada and Apple Tikitini are quite delicious. These frozen drinks use fresh ingredients, including cocoanut water in the Piña Colada, which helps create a freshness to the cocktail.
While most people have one, maybe two Tiki drinks before calling it a night or moving on elsewhere, we made a total Tiki night out of (hence the Uber ride home). Most people would be fading but we soldiered on and went with the Rum Pet, a wonderful blend of 10 Cane Rum, fresh lemon and honey, and the Eastern Sour, which any bourbon fan will appreciate, especially surrounded by sweet and savory Tiki drinks.
Like the Mai Tai, the Zombie is another must-have, classic Tiki drink The strongest of the Tiki libations, it probably would have been smarter to start with this potent potion earlier in the night. Made with four rums and fresh squeezed red grapefruit instead of grapefruit juice for a slight kicky tang, if you’re not careful you may end up feeling like a the walking dead.
And last, but not least, we went with Toasted Marshmallow Swizzle—described as marshmallow, spice and fire! Let me tell you, it is f’ing Baskin Robbins in a glass. A lot of people think I hate sweet drinks but when they’re properly balanced they do so hit the spot. While I probably couldn’t drink a ton of these in a night, it’s definitely a new favorite of mine and a great nightcap.
Unfortunately there’s no food served at Tiki No so do eat before if you’re planning to do a lot of drinking, or come on Thursday when food trucks line up in front.
Drink prices vary from $6 to $10, which is the average, and at Happy Hour—be prepared to be really happy as the Dark and Stormy, Chief Lapu Lapu and Lychee Luau go for only $6, The Piña Colada is always $6, and the Tiki Appletiniis $8, all day, every day.
There’s no way you won’t have fun drinking at Tiki No. Plan ahead and come full to help fight off an early buzz, have a game plan to get home safe and sound, and slowly and surely work your way down their sensational menu and become a Tiki master yourself. Hawaiian t-shirts are optional, a fun disposition and love for killer cocktails are a must!
Tiki No is located at 4657 Lankershim Blvd in North Hollywood. Open daily 5pm to 2am. Call 818-766-0116.