Iniki in Hawaiian means ‘strong and piercing wind,’ which is why it was an appropriate name for the hurricane that ravaged the island of Kauai in 1992. Shortly after the storm, a different kind of hurricane arrived. Rocker Todd Rundgren and his wife Michelle moved to Kauai. Sadly, one thing was missing in paradise: an awesome tiki bar. Michele changed that when Tiki Iniki opened in 2013 drawing inspiration from the hurricane that defined her arrival.
A giant, menacing, wood-carved tiki god greets guests at the entrance. The inside is loaded with an incredible collection of collectables gathered by the Rundgrens over the years. Posters, statues and bamboo cover the walls. The highlight of this collection is the giant wall of tiki glasses above the bar. Tiki Iniki is more than just tiki kitsch. The bar prides itself on crafting fine, classic cocktails with Hawaiian flare executed by Bar Manager Carlos Burris. The cocktails were created by master mixologist Julie Reiner.
The bar’s most popular cocktail is the Trader Vic’s Mai Tai made with Appleton V/X, J. M. Rhum 80, fresh squeezed lime, orange curacao and toasted almond syrup. While paying homage to the traditional Mai Tai, Burris likes to tweak things a bit. He says he makes Old School drinks with fresh ingredients and new school mixology techniques. The Mai Tai is so popular, he says the bar makes a few hundred a week. The cocktail, upon first taste comes on a bit strong, but Burris suggest pushing the garnish of mint, cherry, lime and orange into the glass and giving it a bit of a muddle. The sweetness of the fruit will then temper the rum making for a perfectly balanced cocktail, which is what Burris wants.
“We like to create a balance between sweet and sour, spice and tang,” says Burris. “We’re trying to hit all flavors.” Burris also says that many of the fruit juices and garnishes come from Michelle’s own garden, so these are truly authentic Kauai beverages.
The Flaming Zombie, another popular drink, is made with five different kinds of rum – Coruba, Lemon Hart 151, Appleton, Bacardi 8 and Wray & Nephew - bitters, grapefruit and lime. Guests can also order it as a bowl which serves two to six people. As the name suggests, Burris sets it on fire. He puts a single sugar cube on top of a fruit garnish and adds a large green pineapple leaf in the middle to protect the straw. He then soaks the sugar cube in rum and lights it on fire. The flames char the fruit and melt the sugar. After it flames out patrons put the charred fruit down into the drink to give it an extra smoky, fruity flavor. A mix of tastes, spice from the rum and the sweet of the fruit, comes through. The Flaming Zombie also has a creaminess, which elevates it above what most people consider an “umbrella” drink.
Another signature cocktail, The Iniki, also strays from the umbrella drink mold. Made with El Dorado 3- and 5-year rum and fresh sweet and sour juice, the cocktail is finished with a not-so-tiki Prosecco float. For fun, Burris bends back the little paper umbrella to symbolize the hurricane.
These three cocktails are served in their own souvenir tiki glasses, each with its own color. The Mai Tai comes in a teal glass, the Iniki in red and the Zombie in brown. The glasses are $20 on their own or purchase a cocktail and keep the glass for an additional $15.
For those looking for a “lighter” drink, try the Lovely Lini. Served in a champagne coupette, this cocktail can be made with either gin or vodka and is mixed with Prosecco, pineapple puree and fresh lemon juice. Burris calls it Kauai champagne. With a lower alcohol content, guests can drink more than one during a lingering evening. The Big Kahuna is as tropical as it gets with passion fruit simple syrup and Madagascar vanilla. However, the main spirit is tequila, which blends nicely. Burris hopes to add a whiskey cocktail soon.
The food at Tiki Iniki is just as fresh and flavorful as the cocktails. Michelle insists they use as many locally sourced items as possible and all the items, from flatbread pizzas to salads, have a Hawaiian twist. The house specialty, the half pound Iniki Burger, is made with a Hawaiian delicacy, SPAM. The Iniki Burger also has spicy mayo, pickled jalapeños and provolone cheese. The visible chunks of spam in the patty give the burger an extra salty, savory taste.
Happy hour here is from 4 to 5:30 PM, and there is a late night happy hour from 9:30 to 11 PM. Service industry night for hotel and restaurant employees is Sundays with a 15% discount. Manic Mondays feature $9 Mai Tais and $7.50 Moscow Mules. Wednesday patrons can really cut loose with Whiskey, Wine and Wigs night. Along with whiskey and wine specials, anyone who comes in wearing a wig gets a 10% discount.
Tiki Iniki is Michelle Rundgren’s labor of love, and guests can see it in the service and taste it in the cocktails and food. It’s a place where locals can relax and visitors can find the essence of the island. Tiki Iniki is located in the Princeville Center on the northern side of Kauai, just off Highway 56.
Tiki Iniki; 5-4280 Kuhio Hwy.; 808-431-4242
Photos by Carrie Dow
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