Adams Morgan’s Tiki on 18th is well equipped to weather springtime demand for laid-back tropical drinks. Following a quick winter renovation, the year-round slice of paradise now has a sit-down bar to properly enjoy its potent Polynesian cocktails brimming with backstories.
Filipino chef Jo-Jo Valenzuela opened Tiki on 18th above his acclaimed Game Sports Pub in summer 2019, just months before the pandemic shut down its nightlife strip and the rest of the city. Nevertheless, Tiki on 18th has managed to amass a following for its thoughtful interpretations of historical classics, sipped in funky glassware across a slim, leafy interior, neon yellow back patio, and sturdy streatery out front. But a small, seat-less bar always kept the establishment from being its true tiki self (2411 18th Street NW).
“When this was just a service bar it was a whole different world,” manager and vet D.C. mixologist Rico Wisner tells Eater.
Framed in woven stools, the bright new bar buildout carves out room to showcase more Caribbean rums and rows of animated drinking vessels (glossy mermaids, unicorns, and lei-wearing pigs), matched like an outfit to each cocktail. Upon reopening, Wisner had to immediately order more large-format ceramic bowls to catch up with a sudden spike in scorpion sales — suggesting the sport of communal drinking is back.
“We’d average one every two to three days — now we’re getting 10 to 15 daily. I can’t wrap my head around it,” says Wisner.
The menu description of a “Blood of the Kapu Tiki” bowl gives props to famous tiki sculptor Bosky Hrnjak (rum, lime, grapefruit, orange, grenadine, angostura bitters). A fresh stream of spring cocktails also pay respect to tiki drink pioneers of past and present, like Don the Beachcomber and Seattle’s Diller Room bartender Justin Wojslaw.
“Our idea is to do something reference-able in a way. Modern or classic tiki — taking tropical drinks and make them our own,” he says.
An absinthe-spiked Zombie nods to Trader Vic’s legendary tiki chain and can also be served as a sample-sized shot ($5). Since the “Painkiller” name is trademarked by Pusser’s Rum, his spin on the British Virgin Islands favorite comes with Denizen Vatted Dark Rum; it’s called a “Pain Murderer.”
Wisner, a big believer in curacao, says he’s on mission to “make cocktails blue again” (so says a motto on a hat he owns). Rum maker Todd Thrasher is also a fan at his Tiki TnT bar on the Wharf. Tiki on 18th works the electric blue liqueur into four cocktails, including a Vicious Virgin #2 — a citrusy cross between a margarita and Mai Tai.
The Game’s shaved ice machine helps build both halo-halo Filipino desserts and volcanic-like cones for some tiki cocktails.
The renovation also included new tropical flower wallpaper across the bathrooms and adding a dedicated DJ booth in the bay area window. Tiki is open daily, starting at 4 p.m. on weekdays and weekends for brunch; on Fridays and Saturdays, DJs spin until 3 a.m.
Wisner engages a draft line to create a creamy “Rico’s Nitro Rum Barrel” cocktail, comprised of rum, citrus, orgeat, honey, angostura, and bitters. A “Royal Hawaiian” is named after Waikiki’s legendary “Pink Palace.” Unlike a luxury resort, however, the gin-and-pineapple juice cocktail and others cost $8 during a new weekday happy hour (4 p.m. to 7 p.m.).
The island oasis also introduces happy hour bites ($5-$8) like fried spam and cheese dip; fried tofu in a spicy mumbo sauce; pinoy barbecue sliders with atchara (pickled green papaya slaw) on Hawaiian rolls; and crispy chicken skins.
Valenzuela continues to send up his popular pansit and expanded list of lumpia spring rolls to go along with new Filipino dish drops (below). A bowl of jo mee features spicy fatty beef brisket, pork belly, soy-ginger beef broth, fish sauce, hard boiled egg, and flat egg noodles.