If you've ever had the pleasure of visiting Hawaii, chances are you're familiar with the concept of ohana, the Hawaiian word for "family." Generally used to describe any group of people with a close bond, ohana suggests that the key to happiness is a sense of belonging. Luckily, a buzzy entrant to New York's bar scene is making it easy for us to find what that common bond might be: ridiculous, over-the-top tiki drinks.
That's what you'll find at The Polynesian, the ambitious new mecca to all things tiki, located on the third floor of the Pod Hotel Times Square in the heart of Manhattan. The concept comes from Major Food Group, the same crew behind New York classics like Carbone and Dirty French. And as a tropical oasis with gorgeous teakwood floors, bamboo ceilings and a festive terrace that boasts a full-size bar to fully take advantage of summer, The Polynesian is poised to follow suit.
Much of that also has to do with Brian Miller, the man leading The Polynesian's bar program. A self-described pirate, Miller’s vision of giving NYC a world-class tiki bar isn’t one he takes lightly. As a matter of fact, Miller has long been a fixture in the tiki bar revival scene, and The Polynesian represents a culmination of a longtime fascination with Polynesian culture.
"I've been in love with Polynesia since I was a kid in the 80s taking family vacations to the Hawaiian islands," Miller says. "My interest in the drinks came when I moved to Maui in 2004." From there, Miller went on to be a part of the legendary Pegu Club’s opening bar team, and later the head bartender at Death & Company, where he refined his bartending skills. But it wasn’t until 2008 when he got his first and only consulting job with Lynnette Marrero designing a tiki program at a short-lived restaurant that he knew he wanted to open a tiki bar.
Miller’s passion for tiki and Polynesia comes to life in his impressive, if not laborious, range of tiki cocktails, many of which are served, naturally, in custom vessels. All in, Miller offers 19 cocktails, plus four large-format shared drinks, including the Exotica Bowl, which features rum infused with kaffir lime, curry leaf and coriander, lime and lemon juices, lemongrass and ginger syrups, coconut cream, and bitters. The drink, which is served in a comically large snifter nestled in a huge clamshell with dry ice, pays homage to the iconic Mystery Bowl from Florida's famous Mai-Kai Restaurant. If you are looking for something to enjoy yourself, The Derelict contains four rums, bourbon, absinthe, lime and grapefruit juices, lilikoi purée, house-blended banana liqueur, and bitters. Beware, it may taste like juice, but this tiki packs a mean punch.
These drinks are nothing short of tiki perfection, but that can mostly be credited to Miller’s passion for the drink style, "The Polynesian is the culmination of all my passion for tiki poured into every drink and every inch of this space," Miller says. "My mission is to continue to preach the gospel of tiki, shining a light on its glorious history and perhaps making the world of tiki just a little bit bigger.”
Miller doesn’t do this only through his impressive tiki cocktails, but also through his embrace of the concept of ohana, which he instills in his staff to make all feel welcome. “Family has always been important to me," Miller says. "And now with The Polynesian, I have a whole new one.”
Though there's no doubting the quality of the cocktail program, it's Miller's dedication to embodying authentic Polynesian culture and hospitality that truly sets this tiki concept apart. “I want The Polynesian to be a home for rum and for tiki," Miller says. "I want it to be an escape from the outside world. I want it to be paradise for all that enter, and it starts with hard work and finishes with simply being kind to people.”
Whether you are searching for classic tiki cocktails or one of Miller’s brilliant, occasionally flaming, creations, you will find both and a warm, Polynesian welcome from Miller and his crew at this tiki haven.
Tyler is a freelance lifestyle writer with a passion for cocktails and spirits. He loves mixing cocktails and drinking mescal and whiskey neat. Follow him on Instagram at @bon_vivantito.
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