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Celebrating classic and modern Polynesian Pop

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Name:Lani Kai
Type:bar
Street:525 Broome St, btw Thompson and Sullivan St
City:New York City (SoHo)
State:NY
Zip:10002
country:USA
Phone:646.596.8778
Status:Defunct

Description:
http://www.lanikainy.com

http://www.thrillist.com/eat/bars-nightlife/2010/10/08/lani-kai
from the article:

"Artists who toil in a classical mold sometimes find happiness by moving in a more exotic direction, like Picasso with Cubism, or, uh, Yo-Yo Ma with Bobby McFerrin? Proving cocktail artists have similar urges: Lani Kai.

From the mixologist behind the rigorously classic cocktailery Clover Club (and native hawaiian Julie Reiner), LK's a bi-level island-steez'd lounge naturally illuminated by floor to ceiling windows and a skylight, sprinkled with tropical flora, and boasting decor touches from a handmade sea shell chandelier, to a Hawaiian fire pit, which keeps the place alo-hot. Sorry. Riffs on tropical tipples are broken into categories, from florally-garnished "Spice and Tropical Tea" entries (the Hawaiian Iced Tea = Liliuokalani black tea-infused orange vodka, mint tea syrup, and lemon juice), and the fruit-heavy "Another Day in Paradise" group, which boasts a gin/ basil/ ginger/ simple syrup/ lime juice/ melon chunks concoction called the Lone Palm, odd, as avoiding that's the reason you're at a bar in the first place. They also cover "Old School" options from mai tais to swizzles; cachaca-heavy "Brainfreeze" frozen jobs; a grip of "Ohanu" specials designed by noted mixologist pals (sporting cred from Death & Co to Milk & Honey); family-sized "Liquid Luaus"; and "Boozy and Stirred" jobs like the Old Forrester 100/Black Strap/barrel-aged bitters/Demerara syrup "Black Pearl" -- drink too much and you'll get a total Geoffrey Rush to the head. Sooo not sorry.

Polynesian bites provide fortification, including mustard-sauced crab wontons, baby back ribs w/ macadamia nuts & scallions, and tempura-fried whole snapper, all ensuring the exotic direction you're headed is out...to buy much bigger pants."

[ Edited by: Bora Boris - Changed status. - 2012-09-21 07:57 ]

D

Just read this review. Something weird is happening with Tiki in New York. People are calling it Tiki or Polynesian, or at least borrowing from it, but they keep the kitsch, one of the most important parts, out of the equation. I haven't been to the Lani Kai yet, so maybe I should reserve judgment, but I did step into the Hurricane Club last night. All I can tell you from a general glance is that place belongs more on the line of a restaurant in the Waldorf-Astoria hotel or the Plaza Hotel. Major Trump-style glitz. The Mai Kai it ain't.

[ Edited by: donhonyc 2010-10-11 18:54 ]

T

I agree.

Gina and I enjoyed the food and the drinks at the Hurricane Club. They do throw the term "Tiki" around a bit, but the decor and music does not fit that theme at all.

Among my favorite pupus was the Peking duck mini sandwiches. To die for.

The drink and food menu rotates frequently apparently, so it's difficult to know what to expect. All we had was top quality though.

It's the first time I have seen rum bottle service.They offer a pretty large selection, including Lemon Hart, at sky high prices. It looks like they were doing something like 200% of bottle LIST prices, minimum.

-Jack

On 2010-10-11 09:49, donhonyc wrote:
Just read this review. Something weird is happening with Tiki in New York. People are calling it Tiki or Polynesian, or at least borrowing from it, but they keep the kitsch, one of the most important parts, out of the equation. I haven't been to the Lani Kai yet, so may be I should reserve judgment, but I did step into the Hurricane Club last night. All I can tell you from a general glance is that place belongs more on the line of a restaurant in the Waldorf-Astoria hotel of the Plaza Hotel. Major Trump-style glitz. The Mai Kai it ain't.

lani kai looks pretty boring from the picture.
i'll stop in & check it out if i am nearby, but i always go to otto's when i am in nyc

D

Went down to the Lani Kai tonight to check out the sicheeayshun, but they were closed for a press only event. The guy at the door told us they'd be open for biz tomorrow. The sign they had out front was a sort of cool retro/elegant Hawaiian thing, which gave some indication that this place would be a little more cashz than Hurricane Club. But when we looked in the window it was still that upscale snooty vibe that seems to be across the board incredibly popular these days, even with 20-somethings which I can't understand. Why do people in their 20s want Trump-style stuff, don't they want to be young and slum it for at least a little while? It's seems they want to express-lane it to Zsa Zsa Gabor world asap. I don't get it. But I digress. I'm willing to give any of these places a chance, at least based on their food and drinks. And who knows, the Lani Kai could be even cooler on the inside (you couldn't see the complete interior from the outside). Said it once, I'll say it 1000 times; Trader Vic's needs to reopen in NYC. Now is the time! If not a restaurant at least something along the lines of the lounge they have at the Beverly Hilton.

[ Edited by: donhonyc 2010-10-11 22:25 ]

Just a few thoughts before this thread goes into overdrive.

Definitely don't be looking for a tiki-kitsch factor at Lani Kai. That is not what they are about. This will not be the Trader Vic's replacement we're all wishing for...but then again they are not claiming to be.

Since day one they have gone out of their way to correct anyone who said the place was going to be a tiki bar. They have always referred to themselves as a "Polynesian" themed bar, meaning they are trying to create a low-key tropical atmosphere, as opposed to a kitchy-tiki place, which is more like what Painkiller has been trying to create and what some people associate with Otto's Shrunken Head.

Lani Kai is also taking a different approach than Hurricane Club, which did embrace the tiki bar designation early on and therefore should be judged as such (to their detriment in my opinion). HC is really beautifully decorated, but it is not tiki. I associate a "Trump-Lounge" with a bar that has a loungy-feel with modern design, sleek furniture, lots of mirrored walls and shiny surfaces, etc. and HC wasn't that to me.

Maybe I am in the minority here, but when I went into HC for the first time, I felt like I was walking into the Copa, the Cocoanut Grove or some other exotic supper club back in the day - really something where people would dress up and catch a great nightclub act like when you see people at the supper club in old movies. Again, exotic but no tiki...but....this is not back in the day and ultimately I think HC will not really be my kind of place, as I think HC will be the place where the beautiful people will eventually land.

Back to Lani Kai - I agree with the comments on their sign - it looks like an old matchbook cover and I believe they will have matchbooks with their logo.

Nicole and I were fortunate enough to visit Lani Kai on Friday for one of their trial nights and the drinks and food are fantastic. The food menu was not extensive, but had a good variety of pu-pu type items (awesome crab rangoons, anyone?) and a couple of "Luau Platters" which are HUGE plates of fish or beef to serve like 6 - 8 people. The drinks have fresh ingredients, homemade orgeat and other syrups and the cocktail menu has both plenty of classics and originals. And you will certainly not be limited to the drinks on the menu. You have Hawaiian native Julie Reiner (Flatiron Lounge, Clover Club) as the primary owner and Joe Swifka (of Elettaria Mahalo Monday fame) as Head Barman. This place will be anything but snooty. Julie has built her whole career on opening places that are accessible to all - no dress codes, secret passwords, hidden doors, 3-day-advance required reservations, bottle service or velvet ropes. This place will be the same.

While I don't see Lani Kai as a "20-somethings" place, I am sure those folks will flock here for a while until something else is the next big thing in town. That's just how it works - the kids were at Painkiller when it opened, they were at HC when it opened and they will come here. Let the place find a groove and I think it will be a very likable place. Ultimately, the beautiful people will go back to the douchey ultra-lounges in the Meatpacking District and like I said, if they want a tropical setting they will go back to the Hurricane Club with its bottle service and eventually the velvet ropes that will protect the to-be-opened "Tiki Disco" from all the unbeautiful/unworthy people.

I think the best way I can describe Lani Kai is that to me it felt like what a great hotel bar would be in an upscale Hawaiian resort, possibly back in the 70's or 60's, but it's only my impression. It is not a huge place, but it is very relaxed with subtle thatched design walls and unpainted wood furniture and custom designed bars having a tropical look, there are lots of orchids and other exotic plants, but no kitsch. A really great place, but it will not be the darling of TC - I do understand the "boring" comment and some may find it to be just that.

Actually, in writing this post I came to the conclusion that I really love that NYC has four places taking faux-Polynesian cocktails in different directions - we have Otto's for the low-brow high-kitsch factor, Painkiller for the high-end tiki mixology with tiki-theme, HC for the supper club/"ultra lounge" experience and now Lani Kai for the low-key tropical atmosphere.

Depending on who you ask, all of these places will have pluses and minuses - but that means they should each ultimately find their own crowds. I wouldn't want them to all be trying to do the same thing - except for making good drinks - but even that varies from place to place.

And by the way - I completely agree that even with all this recent tropical cocktailery going on, a Trader Vic's would be awesome and could totally slide in here nicely with a whole other groove.

OK, sorry - that was more than a few thoughts...


I'm not an alcoholic, I'm an enthusiast.

[ Edited by: leisure master 2010-10-12 13:11 ]

D

leisuremaster-

Thanks for all the details. Like I said I'm willing to give these places a try, and although their ambience might not be my cup-o-tea I'd be excited just to know that someone in NYC is finally making cocktails that are top shelf polynesian/tiki. From your description the Lani Kai sounds like a fun place even if they don't do kitsch. I can do the old-school Copa stuff too.

Just a few other thoughts; although Otto's is high on kitsch I don't really find myself going there often at all. It's definitely a cool place, but the last time I was there, probably a few years ago, they really didn't have any serious cocktails that would make me want to come back...and I live right in the neighborhood. Painkiller has some good stuff, but it's IMO way overpriced for a LES bar. I could see paying a little more to drink there but not as much as they actually charge. Sorry, but that place is definitely highway robbery.

What NYC needs is something very much like Tiki Ti in LA. That place to me is the ultimate in a neighborhood Tiki bar. Cool atmosphere, top shelf drinks, and not too expensive. Needless to say those guys definitely have their act together.

My hope is that maybe Trader Vic's will see what's going on in NYC right now with polynesian/fine dining and want a cut of the action. That would be insane!

That is a very level-headed description of this new cocktail bar, leisure master, thank you. I will check this place out for sure when in town this weekend.

thanks bigbro - not sure if your visit is business or pleasure, but if you're just wandering around let me know if you want any company. We have a few things going on this weekend, but if the timing works out maybe we can meet up with you for a drink somewhere.

Feel free to PM and we can work out any specifics - no worries though if your dance card is already full!

must go visit Joe -
thanks for the knowledge all!

I will definitely try out the place(s) when I am in town this weekend too. Sunday perhaps...

Just trying to include some pictures of some things that we had tonight at Lani Kai.

First some of the cocktails. This is a Pacific Swizzle and a La Tropicalia:

Pork bun:

Short rib slider:

Squash tempura:

poi doughnuts with caramel (these were really good):

Not photographed was the Joseph's Kick, the Tree House, and the Mi Changito cocktails.

M

NY Metromix posted an article about the menu and drinks with a nice photo gallery:

http://newyork.metromix.com/bars-and-clubs/essay_photo_gallery/menu-meaning-lani-kai/2241860/content

Well, I ended up getting a great tour of the local drinking dens by leisure master and -mistress. The food and cocktails at Lani Kai are exquisite, and, like all new cocktailian N.Y. places, not cheap. I mean you COULD just have one appetizer and one drink -but who does, that's no fun. Thanks l.m. for that fun, and for getting to experience the two extreme ends of the spectrum on two consecutive nights: The authentic-to-the wait-staff Chinese-Polynesian time-warp of Chan's Dragon Inn, and the contempo nouveaux Poly pop of Painkiller and Lani Kai.

I must say though that I do have a hard time to equate Lani Kai's all around blonde wood and "shabby chic" washed brick walls with Hawaii. Having grown up in Europe, I equate blonde wood with just one thing: IKEA. I am sure that they use it in Hawaii, too, but not in my personal fantasy Hawaii. It's all richly dark tropical woods and bamboo there... well, old school, I suppose.

Had my first visit to Lani Kai tonight. While I didn't bother to look the whole place over (we just sat upstairs), I will say this: BEST MAI TAI maybe not just in New York BUT IN THE WHOLE DAMN NORTHEASTERN UNITED STATES. Now mind you, I haven't had every Mai Tai in the Northeast, but it doesn't matter. The Mai Tais at Lani Kai are definitely on par with the best of them, and when I say the 'best of them' I'm talking Trader Vic's, Mai Kai, and Tiki Ti. I think NYC has FINALLY got itself a place that hands down makes a really good Tiki cocktail. Tikiphiles in this area will no longer have to daydream about their next trips to L.A. or Ft. Lauderdale to have a REAL drink. The interior may not be the Tiki experience we all want, but the drink quality easily makes this place an exception. The other cool part was that at $13 for a Mai Tai you didn't feel like you were being ripped. This is, I think, similar in price to all of the places I just mentioned. People...go to this place. I will be returning, with friends, and checking out the rest of the menu and interior...soon.

[ Edited by: donhonyc 2010-11-17 23:52 ]

The Tasting Table NY newsletter said that Lani Kai is now serving lunch, plus happy hour from 4 p.m.-7 p.m. with bar snacks under $5 and drinks for $8.

According to their Facebook page:

"After two wonderful and rewarding years we are deeply saddened to announce Lani Kai has been sold and is closed. Due to the demands of other existing business's and future projects we were not able to give Lani Kai the time and focus it, and our customers, deserve. We would like to thank a loyal and talented staff and everyone of you that came to enjoy our touch of paradise.

Aloha"

This is a shame. It was only a few blocks from my office so I used to meet people there for a drink quite often. Even last week, they made no mention of the closing. Anyone know the complete recipe of their "Bitter Wench"? It's an excellent drink. Here's how it was described in the menu:

the bitter wench
Bourbon, demerara rum, Elemakule Tiki Bitters and Angostura Bitters

PDF of the menu: http://www.lanikainy.com/pdfs/LaniKai_Cocktail_Menu.pdf

Yes, apparently it was a huge surprise for everyone, possibly including the employees. One of our own TC members reported that he went on the Monday before closing, and it was business as usual. It happened to be one of the fantastic "Tiki Mondays" hosted by Brian Miller, where he and a guest bartender from local bars would serve up original and classic tiki libations, with happy hour prices for some drinks for the first hour. Oftentimes a liquor sponsor would throw in a pupu platter for guests to knosh on.

The next day it was simply shut down and closed. Some digging around revealed that it to become a lesbian bar, possibly by members of a lesbian reality show. What associations the bar has with the show I'm not sure. I read that they were selling items the following Saturday. I peeked around and they were only selling plants and the teak chairs used in the dining area. I didn't have any heart to buy anything. We were told that the nice "Lani Kai" hanging sign was to be resurfaced and reused for the new bar.

In retrospect, I'm not sure if Lani Kai was ever doing booming business. I heard that Fridays and Saturdays were very busy, but I've been there on a Friday and it wasn't that busy. To me, Brian Miller's Tiki Monday was by far the busiest time they had.

I've met a lot of great bartenders there, and seen them come and go at Lani Kai. I was glad to take and meet up with local and out of town TC members here. We had a lot of great drinks there. Tiki Mondays will be sorely missed around here in New York.

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