Hot Spot: A Look at Lani Kai

In New York's Soho neighborhood, this "Un-Tiki” Tiki Bar offers delicious rum-based cocktails nightly.

“Experience a little Aloha,” is the theme of cocktail impresario and Hawaiian native Julie Reiner’s new Polynesian-themed cocktail emporium, Lani Kai, dubbed “tiki lite.”

But you’ll have to look elsewhere for Zombies and Scorpion Bowls, and over-the-top kitch. Instead, the décor leans toward chic and spare, and the drinks menu tilts toward tropical (think Mai Tais, Ti Punches and an ocean of other rum-fueled drinks) rather than full-on tiki madness.

Named for a beach in Oahu, the Polynesian-themed bar-restaurant opened in 2010 in the former Tailor space in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood. Run by mixology impresario Reiner and Susan Federoff, who together also run Brooklyn’s Clover Club, Lani Kai has been a top spot in the cocktail scene since its opening.

The décor is relatively Spartan and contemporary, compared to the typically overwrought tiki-inspired space. Bamboo-print wallpaper on the lower bar level brings some greenery into the otherwise industrial space, while the upper level is spruced up with some palm fronds and orchids.

The food, described as Pacific Rim, is overseen by Chef Craig Rivard, of Clover Club. Offerings include a whole tempura’d fish served with an array of Asian condiments, pork sliders, small plates of duck potstickers and crab wontons, and of course, a pupu platter. A section of the menu is devoted to succulent sliders; the pork-bun slider with Japanese pickled cucumbers was a particular highlight.

Though the food is very good, let’s be clear: Lani Kai is all about the drinks. In addition to mandatory rum drinks, the cocktail menu includes gin and Tequila, freshened with tropical fruits, Hawaiian teas and house-made spice syrups. Cocktails like 8 Days A Week (three kinds of rum, toasted coconut milk, demerara sugar, vanilla syrup and spiced bitters) large-format punches meant for sharing will keep the luau going all night long.

Lani Kai: 525 Broome Street, New York, NY; 646.596.8778

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