In downtown Buffalo, craft cocktail bar Angelica Tea Room has metamorphosed into the exotic, cocktail-focused Angelica Tiki Room.
The summer-spanning pop-up has one of Buffalo’s premier posh drinking destinations donning big, wooden tiki masks and luaus and slinging fruity, boozy Mai Tais and Puka-Puka Punch.
If you’re looking to turn your next happy hour or date night into a mini-vacation, throw on your campiest Hawaiian button-down or kitschiest beachy sundress, saunter in off Washington Street, push past the bamboo curtain at the entrance and escape into a paradoxical Polynesia-inspired paradise.
The well-executed, classic-cool, Polynesian pop theme of Angelica Tiki Room beckons to the 1950s and ‘60s — a reminiscently romantic period when America discovered and fell in love with all things exotica: exotic beach vacations, surfing and “rum rhapsody” cocktails.
The seamless pop-up transition is helped by the fact that the original Angelica Tea Room’s atmosphere pays tribute to a similar time but a different place: European tea rooms of decades past. For example, the Lenny Kravitz-designed tropical jungle FEROZ wallpaper, inspired by 1960s Brazil, provides the perfect backdrop for Angelica Tiki Room.
Dainty and dimly lit, ATR’s relaxed, high-brow mood brings a big-city concept to Buffalo. On the playlist, buzzy baroque pop and surf rock —Foxygen, TV Girl, Wavves — float hazy, vintage, vivacious-yet-chill vibes.
The drink menu, featuring 14 exotica cocktails ($8 to $17) and two boozy bowls ($40/$50) serving six, includes a one-to-three-skull cocktail-strength guide, ranging from “smooth sailing” to “storm’s brewin” to “abandon all hope ye who enter.”
If pricey drinks induce consternation, consider that you’re paying for the experience. Cocktail construction, which involves everything from skewering fresh fruit, singing cinnamon sticks on candles, triple-fist pouring bottles of rum and vigorous shaker shaking, is a mesmerizing show.
On a recent Thursday happy hour drop-in with two friends, Vinny Klie, the principal bartender, asked me how sweet I like my cocktails. In the “not too” range, he expertly advised, is Jungle Boogie ($13), a triple-rum (Trinidadian, Jamaican and Barbadian) concoction with Campari, pineapple, lime and honey.
The foamy, orange-pink drink arrived garishly garnished with parasol-stuck pineapple and cherries and mint. I guzzled it down in several gulps. For me, a person who drinks quickly, craft cocktails are typically a costly and intoxicating endeavor. It doesn’t help when — as was the case here — the drink is delicious.
From the happy hour (5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday) menu, a friend ordered the rum Old Fashioned. Having recently struggled through an abhorrent tequila Old Fashioned which convinced me this drink is meant to be made exclusively with whiskey, I was incredulous but the slightly too-sweet but otherwise very enjoyable drink forced me to reconsider.
Also on the $6-across-the-board (a bargain) happy hour is a Caribbean beer-and-shot (Red Stripe and dark rum) combo and classic daiquiris.
Hot sauce and blue cheese; peanut butter and jelly; clear liquor, citrus, and sugar. These simple flavor combinations stand above far more complex culinary/cocktail concoctions. This is especially true of ATR’s daiquiri. With a well-balanced faint liquor burn, citrusy pucker and sugary punch, it’s a spot-on rendition of the perfect, no-nonsense beach drink.
At one point, I got to chatting with an architect from Hamilton, Ont., who was here for a convention and was recommended ATR when he asked someone where he could get a good cocktail. He ordered a Singapore Sling because it was the only cocktail he was familiar with.
The drink, clearly more than he expected, came adorned with a small tropical fruit bouquet. Unsure how to navigate his profligate gin-, cherry brandy- and apple jack-packed punch, he told the bartender it should come with a treasure map.
He was a character, as is Vinny, the mustachioed, tropical shirt-clad bartender. His tattoos — including a dark red cocktail and a pineapple skull — and his wealth of exotica cocktail knowledge convinced me no one is better suited for their job. Vinny described the flavor profiles and cultivation processes of various regional rums and detailed the influence of legendary tiki bars Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s.
As I stepped out into the gray cityscape of downtown Buffalo, I was almost inspired to book a beach vacation — or, as a next-best option, turn right back around for another Mai Tai.
Angelica Tiki Room
Address: 517 Washington St. (259-9025)
Hours: 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Atmosphere: A tiki-inspired summer pop-up taking over Angelica Tea room through at least sometime in August.
Food: A light fare menu, which transformed along with the exotica drink menu, features toasted spam & cheese ($5), crab rangoons (3 for $5) and Hawaiian pulled pork sliders (2 for $7).
Parking: Street only.
Don’t forget to: Use Uber or Lyft or have a designated driver. These drinks are deadly.