Become a Tiki Time Traveler at Hidden Harbor
Visit the new Squirrel Hill bar on Tuesdays for a great-tasting (and great-sounding) tiki education.
PHOTOS BY SEAN COLLIER
Those among us who are not cocktail experts may have a difficult time determining what they prefer to drink. We can identify ourselves as beer people or wine people, and we can probably gravitate towards a specific liquor — I like rum drinks, I don’t like tequila drinks, that sort of thing.
But without the benefit of unlimited time and funds (and a very patient designated driver), it can be difficult to familiarize oneself with a wide range of different drinks, particularly within a certain style. Sure, you might want to sample a variety of modern bourbon-based recipes, but you can probably manage about two a night at best. And where to begin?
With the tiki resurgence in full swing, Hidden Harbor has instituted a delicious tiki history lesson. In the course of four or five Tuesdays, they’ll guide you on a tour of flavorful creations popular throughout the 20th century. You’ll try a broad range of drinks (crafted from fresh ingredients — you won’t find dark-days-of-tiki era syrupy concoctions here), get some history and be able to call yourself a tiki aficionado — at least compared to most people — in a month or so.
And the experience will taste great. (It’ll sound great, too; more on that later.)
They’re calling this delicious education the Tiki Time Machine. Each Tuesday night, a special menu of ten tiki drinks is offered; most are not on the regular menu. They’re sorted by decade, beginning in the 1930s with the Nui Nui and ending in the ’70s with Don’s Special Daiquiri and the Painkiller. A passport will be provided by your bartender; they’ll mark off each drink you try (and keep your passport from week to week).
Should you complete the journey, they’ll mix you an extra-special, off-menu creation — we’re told it contains one of if not the rarest rums in the house — and serve it in a special glass, which is yours to keep.
For those (like myself) who like their cocktails refreshing and flavorful, it’s an essential guide to a booming subculture. And my first selections were fantastic. The aforementioned Nui Nui is a surprisingly complex cocktail, with cinnamon, allspice and bitters mingling with vanilla, orange and lime. And the Missionary’s Downfall — a frozen drink featuring lime, pineapple, honey, peach, mint and Maggie's Farm Rum — was truly outstanding. I want another one now.
Should you embark on this cocktail journey, you’ll also be treated to a DJ set by Matthew Buchholz, best known as the man behind Alternate Histories. His weekly “Hypnotique” set mixes space-age pop, lounge jazz, tiki music (yes, that’s a thing) and other mellow, soulful tunes — in short, exactly what you’d want to hear at an inviting tiki bar.
Even if your Tuesdays must go tiki-free, I can’t say enough about the still-new bar itself. Head bartender Max Stein is a master and happy to discuss his creations, and co-owners Adam Henry and Peter Kurzweg have created a welcoming, distinctive getaway of an establishment that instantly ranks among my favorites (and may quickly become your Squirrel Hill go-to). The small food menu, too, is a fine complement to the drinks, with small bites such as pork sliders (delicious) and veggie tacos; the next time I stop by with more of an appetite, I’m going to opt for the tempting chicken and bacon meatballs.
Even for those without much inherent interest in these drinks, I’d recommend trying a few. You won’t find too many better examples of the style around, and you’re in the hands of experts. A drink such as the Missionary’s Downfall will convert any skeptics.