How can a tiki bar in the Midwest come off as authentic? The genre usually delivers a certain degree of painted-on paradise. It’s where sub-par drinks hide under paper umbrellas or in the bowels of a foaming ceramic volcano. This is Minnesota — “tiki” is always going to feel out of place here, right?
The Torpedo Room is now open to challenge these assumptions. The newly christened Polynesian annex of Eat Street Social is confronting the novelty of tiki drinks head-on, by interpreting what the style means in the context of South Minneapolis.
Barman Nick Kosevich (above, right) designed the drinks with Bittercube partner Ira Koplowitz and the Eat Street staff, including Marco Zappia (above, left). “It’s exciting for us, to reopen this world of cocktails to Bittercube and Eat Street, the idea of making them our way,” he says. “We are about rustic and classic cocktails, we want to be rustic in tiki as well.”
The concept was slated to debut on their patio earlier this summer, but instead fills the existing barroom on the restaurant’s right flank. They’re saving the patio, perhaps to institute a different concept next summer (we hear a boozy malt shop and soda fountain is on the potential short list).
The Torpedo Room’s tiki atmosphere is understated, to great effect. Just a few high-backed rattan chairs, a marlin on the wall, and a grass roof over the bar is enough to relate the idea of tiki without laying it on too thick. Overall, they’ve avoided the stereotypical trappings of tiki, except for six Sno-Cones ($4) that wear kitsch with confidence.
The best of the bunch is the Julep — a drink usually made with finely crushed ice, so a natural fit for a sno-cone. The two other standouts contained cream, adding richness against Cognac and almond syrup in the Nectar and swirled with orange liqueur in the Dreamsicle. The sno-cones can also be made non-alcoholic ($3, keiki-style).
They call the rest of their new cocktail list “Minnesota exotic” — riffs on classic tiki drinks that pay homage to the Midwest. We expected the Torpedo Room’s drinks to showcase Bittercube’s usual aplomb, but to make sure, we decided to drink everything on the menu, because we’re nothing if not thorough. Hypothesis: confirmed. These are complex, thoughtful drinks that hit all the right tiki notes but ascend past one-dimensional fruitiness.
It’s evident in the Royal Hawaiian Number Pine ($13), a drink that came together when Zappia misread Kosevich’s notes, mistaking pineapple juice for pine liqueur. “And it was amazing,” says Kosevich. “This is a classic gin tiki drink, The Royal Hawaiian, but we’ve added Zirbenz pine liqueur to it.” The pine and citrus are an uplifting presence with the gin’s botanicals, a distinct touch on a smart cocktail.
A similar reinvention is the Corn Tiki ($12), the magnum opus of the program according to Kosevich. It’s a variation on the Painkiller cocktail, swapping the coconut cream for a sweet corn cream, and mulled apple cider instead of pineapple and orange juice.
The sight of the Corn Tiki, served in a massive jug of ice topped with a navy grog cone, made our tasting group howl, one of whom termed the drink “stupid awesome.” It’s as satisfying to drink as it is ridiculous to look at, with a luscious sweet corn flavor — creamy but not thick — and shaved spices adding some nice warmth to the aftertaste.
For the drinks a little closer to what you’d consider classic tiki, start with the Daily Grog ($6): a delightful demitasse of their punch du jour. We got one with rum, kaffir lime, orgeat syrup, blackstrap bitters, and garnished with a filthy black cherry.
Then move on to The Sun Had A Name ($12). Whiskey isn’t prevalent in the tiki world, but it makes such a natural ally with pineapple juice (ever had an Algonquin cocktail?). Here they meld into a bright, fruity pair one of our tasters said gave off a “Long Island Iced Tea vibe”.
“I fell in love with daiquiris, and rhum agricole, which is 100% crushed sugar cane juice, how funky it was, ripe and beautiful,” says Zappia, on the Pleasure Hunter ($11). “I wanted to separate all the ingredients to keep the mouthfeel different.” Here, the rum and citrus mingle on the bottom, while an Americano foam rests on top. On the palate, the spirit’s sting trickles into the creamy foam like a wolf donning a wool jacket.
The best drinks for something more spirit-driven feature White Lion Arrack from Sri Lanka. “We love this product, there’s no other product like it in the state of Minnesota,” says Kosevich. “It’s a great rum substitute, it’s a great conversation piece.”
It gives the Bamboo Banga ($10) quite a kick. “There aren’t many stirred-spirit drinks in tiki,” says Kosevich, “so the idea for the Bamboo Banga was, we’re going to take this unique spirit and we’re going to make basically our tiki Old Fashioned.” And like the Old Fashioned at the main bar, it’s batched and portioned to individual bottles for uniform, efficient service.
The arrack gets finished with the smokiness of a reposado mescal. It’s pungent and assertive — it’s the tiki drink for the peat-heavy Scotch drinker. The Corn n’ Oil ($11) is similarly husky, featuring Gamle Ode Holiday Aquavit, house made falernum, lime, bitters, and a float of Gosling’s rum. It’s a biting, fiery drink, seen coming together in this wonderful .gif.
A Polynesian menu has debuted alongside the tiki drinks (we showed up too early to get a look at it). The Torpedo room is another strong effort by Eat Street and Bittercube. We worry about how inviting it will seem once the snow starts falling, but it’s great to know the fine cocktails in the tiki oeuvre aren’t going unexplored here any longer.
The Torpedo Room at Eat Street Social
A tiki bar refined for the Midwest.
18 W 26th St
Minneapolis, MN 55404
OWNERS: Sam Bonin and Joe Wagner