Review: Taha'a Twisted Tiki in St. Louis
I was five sips into a Hemingway Daiquiri on the back patio at Taha’a Twisted Tiki when a young woman from a bachelorette party on the rooftop deck stumbled down the stairs and announced that she needed a random guy to pose for a photo with the bride-to-be in a pantomime of his favorite carnal position. If I was a drink or two deeper, and if my wife wasn’t sitting right next to me, my hand might’ve gone up. Instead it went back to my glass. The best place for it, I decided.
This is an all-too-familiar scene at Taha’a Twisted Tiki, a laid-back, booze-fueled joint with a highly enjoyable Polynesian island vibe in the epicenter of the thriving Grove neighborhood. On a hot Friday night, the double-decker party patio at Taha’a is the place to be with a tall, quirky, tiki guy mug in hand. Outfitted with a fire pit and seating area adjacent to an outside bar – which is free of blaring flat-screen TVs unlike the inside bar – the back patio also has a great little secluded upstairs deck with about a half-dozen tables for additional seating and open-air mingling. Light, alternative rock and random pop hits are interspersed with some Beach Boys. Inside, the main bar is a dimly lit, leather-chaired throwback to a 1960s Polynesian drinking den. The tiki-campy decor flirts with being over-the-top, but ends up being kitschy-cool. Translation: It’s so bad it’s good.
There’s a crew of boozy neighborhood regulars who cling to the back bar, bending the ears of the bartenders. Then there is the younger crowd – rowdy groups of friends huddled over straws floating in massive shared drinks, date-night couples and random singles in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
Taha’a has a substantial, multi-page list of classic tiki cocktails, oversized shared-bowl drinks and tiki shots. At their best – The Zombie – these are heavy on rum. At their worst – Dead Man’s Chest – these are heavy on sugar and random syrups. The quirky plastic menus even have little skull-and-crossbones ratings next to each drink to signify their potency. Scoring high on that meter is The Zombie, a tangy and tasteful battleground of flavors where Puerto Rican and Jamaican rums duke it out with high-proof Bacardi 151 rum and absinthe, along with fruit juices, bitters and cinnamon syrup for good measure. A winner among vintage warm-weather drinks is the Hemingway Daiquiri. A white rum-based cocktail swimming with maraschino liqueur, lime and grapefruit, it’s strong enough to spark fantasies of being on a Key West patio fanning yourself and shooing stray cats. Options on a nominal beer list range from Red Stripe to easy-sipping Urban Chestnut Apotheosis Saison, fresh from the UCBC brewery down the street.
To go with your adult beverage, Taha’a offers the kind of poolside bar food that’s heavy on the deep-fried action. One that exceeded expectations was a no-frills plate of plump, butterflied coconut shrimp served with sweet and sour dipping sauce. The promise of a serving of these wonderfully crisp crustaceans paired with a cold lager would be enough to tempt me back to Taha’a in about two-point-five seconds. The Taha’a Rangoon – steaming hot fried dumplings with sweet chile dipping sauce – was also perfectly satisfying.
The service is friendly and down-to-earth, though a little scattered. Over a few hours, we put orders in through three servers. The staff can be a great help when it comes to navigating the plethora of rum drinks, which can look pretty much the same. Though knowledgeable about the signature drinks, the staff is less helpful if you want to go off script with cocktails.
At Taha’a, enjoying stiff rum drinks in a great back patio setting equals good times at this neighborhood bar. Lively but not too nuts, spacious but still a bit cozy, Taha’a is an ideal gathering spot for groups, as well as date-night couples aiming for outside the norm and off the wall.
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