It’s not every Manhattan bar that scores a national write-up months before it opens, but The Polynesian, a large Tiki-themed spot that opened Memorial Day weekend, received just that sort of treatment. The elegant, South Pacific-influenced bar from Major Food Group (ZZ’s Clam Bar, Parm, Pool) and NYC bar veteran Brian Miller, is a departure from the city’s traditional Tiki scene. Want to know why else this bar matters?
Here are ten reasons.
It’s Big, Excellent and Near Times Square
Finding (actual) good food and drink in or near Times Square has always been a hassle and the few “insider” spots tend to be small (meaning it’s harder to get in, especially before Broadway shows). This indoor/outdoor space—on the third floor of a new Pod Hotel flagship —seats 200. While that may seem small compared to an Applebees, it’s practically a Viking meeting hall in NYC (and you don’t have to worry about a toddler getting riblet sauce on you when they go rogue).
It’s also well placed for easy access from Hell’s Kitchen, the new Hudson Yards complex, and the northern end of the Highline elevated walking path. No longer do you have to wrack your brain thinking where you (or friends who trust your advice) should head before a play or a visit to the M&M store.
It’s Helmed by a Pirate
Brian Miller, a bartender who helped launch Death and Company, one of NYC’s original (and still top-notch) craft cocktail spots, dove deep into Tiki cocktail culture about 15 years ago, spending time in Hawaii and elsewhere learning the craft and history of juice, rum and orgeat tropical cocktails. Along the way he hosted a popular series of pop-up events dubbed Tiki Mondays, featuring original drinks, guest bartenders, and envelope-pushing concepts (“I was like, cool—you think Tiki is syrupy, sticky drinks,” he recalls. “I’m going to make it with whiskey and make you love it”).
Along the way he evolved into a pirate: He grew comfortable wearing bandanas, face paint, and sarongs, as one does.
“How lucky am I that I get to do this?” says Miller. “People are like ‘Oh, you dressed up for this?’ I’m like, ‘No. this is pretty much how I dress every day.’ I did a Tiki Monday at a bar called Slowly Shirley, and one of the servers was like, ‘Do I get to wear a sarong?’ The owner was like, ‘When you make your career out of wearing a sarong, then you can wear a sarong.’”
It’s a Beautiful Space and Also: Tiki
If your experience with Tiki bars is largely cluttered, darkened hideaways packed with cartoonish idols and grass-skirted hula statuettes (or a Royal frat party), think again. The Polynesian is far removed from such kitsch. Instead you get get soothing, trendy mid-century modern with soaring beams, greenery and (sustainable) teak doors, from designer Vanessa Guilford. It feels more like you’re in a Hawaiian super-villain’s mansion or a Trader Vic’s if Frank Lloyd Wright got his hands on one.
And the Tiki is legit. Miller is known for expanding the repertoire of the category, introducing unusual ingredients like mezcal and sherry while staying true to the heart of its complex cocktail history. “You don’t use the name ‘Polynesian’ lightly,” he insists. “It’s about honoring, not just Hawaii, but the entire Pacific region. It’s a large family.”
NYC Deserves a Great Tiki Place
“For a long time the U.K. was killing us,” says Miller. “Tiki was an American thing, but for a long time it was as if England had chosen to adopt the Blues, then made them better. Once Martin Cate opened Smuggler’s Cove, it really planted the flag here. There are a lot of great spots in New York, and I’m not competing with anyone, but many are tiptoeing around Tiki. We’re full-on Tiki.”
The Drinks (and Food) are On Point
Balanced, pleasing, and full of flavor, the drinks compete with any of the best in the city. And the food… if you don’t order the crab puffs or sliders, you’ve done yourself a disservice. Among the highlights: The Reggae Bus (rum, chartreuse, saffron and fresh juice); Jungle Booby (tequila, mezcal, orgeat, bitters, absinthe and fresh juices); and the Gone Rumming (an elevated rum and Coke).
They’re Also Crazy ‘Grammable
Since we got home from our Honeymoon it's been non-stop for us! What I wouldn't do to be sitting out in the sun drinking extremely strong rum cocktails at Trader Sam's🍹💀 However I'm sitting here watching Phantom of the Opera (Gerald Butler though unf) while working on products, branding and marketing. If you've ever heard/thought running a business (or multiple) is easy…well, you're incorrect. 😧
There’s drink on fire inside a skull. A skull. There’s a sharable-for-six large-format cocktail nestled inside a giant clam shell filled with smoking dry ice (the Exotica Bowl has coriander-infused rum, makrut lime, ginger, coconut, and fresh juices). But Miller is quick to point out the chill vibe that he hopes encourages what old-timers used to call “face-to-face conversation.”
Nerds and Newbies Will Love It
“Tiki is for everybody,” insists Miller. “I’ve said for years that a great cocktail should be a right, not be a privilege.” If you’ve never had a tropical drink, hate rum, or had a gooey Mai Tai poolside at a resort, there’s something here for you. Miller suggests tentative drinkers start with the Piña Colada, a small, potent slushy take on the classic. Then ask about the other drinks, many of which like the Gantt’s Tomb and the Double Barreled Winchester, Miller created years ago and has become known for. “The whole menu is personal,” says Miller.
At the same time, though the menu highlights signature drinks, experienced Tiki fans needn’t worry. If you crave a Dr. Funk, Zombie or classic Mai Tai, the staff should be able to accommodate you.
The Staff Can Pronounce Hawaii’s State Fish
It’s “Humuhumunukunukuapua’a.” Here, it’s the name of a cocktail. Say that three times drunk.
It’s a Great Date Night Spot
Seriously. Between the great drinks, the small bites, comfortable seating, friendly staff and island yacht rock, you’re going to get major points taking a date here. Or a parent. Or a new business pitch.
There’s an Outdoor Terrace
With its own bar. ’Nuff said.