Otto’s Shrunken Head
As the story goes, a small group of native New Yorkers got together in early 2002 and decided that New York City did not have a decent Tiki Bar since the demise of Hawaii Kai in Times Square and the destruction of Trader Vic’s at the Plaza Hotel. They approached their friend and fellow Tiki afficianado/Club Owner Deb Parker (owner of Beauty Bar & Barmacy) about buying Barmacy and transforming it into New York City’s own little Tiki oasis. Thus with her blessing and the blessings of all the South Sea Gods, Otto’s Shrunken Head opened in the summer of 2002. The goal was to bring the laid back island vibe of the South Pacific to New York City. Manhattan is after all, an island.
While they claim to be a new interpretation of the Tiki Bar, from the moment you walk in, you think you were stepping back in time to an era when the Polynesian themed bars were preserved perfectly in time. It has all the kitsch you need, the carved wooden idols, puffer fish and red Chinese lanterns, the palms, and my favorite part of the decor are the vintage advertising depicting women dominating and objectifying men. Of course there is plenty of artwork of scantly clad, topless and/or mostly naked women, but that is all part of the feel of yesteryear circa 1950s and 1960s when tiki pop culture was at its height of popularity.
The best part is that you get to keep the mug at a reasonable price if you wish. The cocktails are not cheap, they are about $14, but keep in mind that one drink is at least double in volume. It is a good thing we did not stay for a second round. Speaking of which, there is no food here, so remember rule number one of drinking, always eat first and never drink on an empty stomach. These are real potent drinks just as you would have found if it was 1971. In fact, upon first sip, it immediately took me back. I won’t say it was the 1970s because I was too young to drink, but certainly I had tasted a drink that I had not experienced since the early 1980s before all the electric melon ball type cocktails ruined what was then left of tiki.
I clipped this image from their website, and much like tiki bar menus of the past, the descriptions are pretty vague, probably on purpose so they are not copied by competitors.
Of course I got their signature drink, the Shrunken Head. My wife wanted the Shrunken Skirt but they were out of that particular mug, which is a shame because that would have been a great collectible for me since I have a modest tiki mug collection. Instead she got Otto’s Octane which was potent, but delicious. It has their own pineapple infused rum, Lolita’s Coffee liqueur, and some banana liquor along with orange juice as well. While it might not sound very good, trust me, this was far better than their signature drink.
Zofia was our mixologist, or bartendress in lack of another term, but she was knowledgeable about the tiki scene. A native Manhattanite, she was generous with her knowledge of the new and old Polynesian digs in Manhattan, especially those that served food since she knew we were hungry. In fact, she happens to be the bartender of the month and has her own creative cocktail concoction called the Cucumber Chalice.
Otto’s is all the way over on the East Side of 14th Street. They have live bands, DJs, burlesque, comedy and other special events. If you want a really authentic tiki experience this would be it, it would be difficult to find anything nearly as authentic given the scarcity of the tiki themed bars.
538 East 14th Street New York NY 10009
ottosshrunkenhead.com / 212-228-2240
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