If 2020 had an official cocktail, Jeremy Ross thinks it would be the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot — or WTF — from Tiki Thai, which opened Monday, December 21, in Reston, Virginia.
The beverage director and general manager, part of the team that’s expanding from well-regarded Sense of Thai St. in Ashburn, says he dreamed up the drink over the course of the past 18 months, when construction delays at the new restaurant led into concerns about opening during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year has been a lot, and it’s a drink that sort of has a lot in it too,” Ross says. “We split a base of rye whiskey and bourbon and mix it with grapefruit, lime, vanilla, pomegranate, and Angostura and Peychaud bitters.”
Along with co-owners Porntipa “Pat” Pattanamekar and Parasak “Sing” Chokesatean, Ross wants to offer some temporary relief from the anxiety, stress, and heartache that have cast a pall over 2020 with Thai food and cocktails full of bright and bold flavors. Ross’s creations, like a pad thai lemonade, and Pattanamekar’s pan-regional cooking have put Sense of Thai St. on the short list of the top Asian restaurants in the region, according to Northern Virginia Magazine.
At Tiki Thai (12100 Sunset Hills Road, Suite 1070), the group is giving even more attention to cocktails, diving deep into tiki and rum-based drinks, with some added flair. There are fiery garnishes for drinks, and staff and customers are encouraged to wear Hawaiian shirts.
“We want people to walk in the door and feel like the weight of this year was lifted off their shoulders,” Ross says. “The experience here is meant to be fun, and it’s a true reflection of Thai cuisine and hospitality. The bar program is also an extension of that — good drinks, inspired by tiki classics, but also some originals of my own.”
All of Ross’s drinks are available for curbside pickup or delivery, along with dishes like som tum: cold, shredded papaya salad in a spicy lime-chile dressing that’s popular in the Northeast region of Thailand. Chumphon pad Thai, named after a Southern province, is a noodle dish served with tiger prawns in a curry paste and coconut milk sauce. There are also sections of the menu devoted roti pastry tacos — full of grilled flank steak, chicken larb, or fried shrimp — along with fried rice dishes, stir-fries, curries, noodle dishes, and a few bowls of ramen filled with Thai ingredients.
Tiki Thai’s full drink menu is available for curbside pickup or delivery. For the first several months, the restaurant will limit capacity to 50 percent indoors. Outside, there’s a heated patio. Lunch and dinner are available to start, and in the coming weeks Tiki Thai will add happy hour specials and a weekend brunch.
Ross says a trip to the restaurant should convey the experience of a mini-vacation to Bangkok or another tropical destination where frozen drinks flow. There are multiple versions of Mai Tais that come served with flaming garnishes and footnotes citing Trader Vic and Donn the Beachcomber. Ross, who previously tended bar at Second State, the Oval Room, and 701, got more creative with drinks cocktails such as a “Long Thaisland” that mixes reposado tequila with ginger, hibiscus, lime, allspice dram, and Thai basil.
Like many traditional tiki bars, Tiki Thai has its very own mug: a ceramic, barrel-shaped container. Like much of the decor, the logo takes inspiration from Thai culture.
“It’s what’s called a yaksha, known as a yak, and it’s a good-natured spirit that guards Buddhist temples,” Ross explains. “We put a lot of time and effort into the vibe. A lot of the furniture and art is imported, including the wall art and wood panels.”
Another eye-catching detail is a golden owl mug that houses a drink known as the Take Care. The drink combines Applejack, Aquavit, and Cynar with a fruity-citrus mix of lime, pomegranate, and elderflower.
“It’s a drink that embodies some of the best elements of Thai food,” Ross says. “It plays a balancing act between sweet, citrus, and refreshing flavors.”