I’ve never been to Hawaii. Several years ago after drunkenly watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall I planned to move to Hawaii, but that’s as close as I got. At least in my current income bracket, the Grass Skirt Tiki Room is the closest that I’m going to get. And I am 100% fine with that.
We arrived at the Grass Skirt at 6p.m. Saturday evening. Well, we arrived at 5:47 and admired the outdoor landscaping for 13 minutes before the bar opened. The landscaping surrounding the building is truly beautiful. Bromeliads (one of my faves) fill much of the garden while other large, beautiful plants fill out the space to briefly whisk you away from the urban jungle that is the corner of Grant and Long. Across the street is a CCAD building with various flags and enthusiasm, and next to the Grass Skirt is the window-covered new The Hills market—there’s certainly a lot happening right around these parts. For now it’s an up-and-coming neighborhood where this beautiful garden of goodies provides a much-needed urban oasis.
At 6 o’clock on the dot the heavy burgundy doors bearing large wooden utensils were opened by a host wearing a lei and a Hawaiian shirt who happily asked, “Are you guys thirsty?” and welcomed the four of us into the freshly opened tiki bar. We admired another world as we walked into the Grass Skirt. The host stand features a bowl of leis with a chalkboard “Aloha” greeting. The wall directly to the left is a work of art that seems to be a mix of a water reflection and a lava wall, and the atmosphere in general is incredibly welcoming. We were seated and immediately greeted by a friendly server offering us water while she suggested we peruse the drink menu.
We searched through the menu trying to decide among an intriguing list of cocktails while we appreciated the sounds of Dick Dale and various surf rock. We sat on a comfortable and roomy bench covered in large floral print while admiring the woven walls and bamboo-covered interior. Behind the bar is a pleasant thatched roof overhang covering the liquor bottles, which included enough Myers Dark Rum to drunk up the entire Caribbean. The wavy bar features just over a dozen wicker barstools that looked crazy inviting, and faux torches near the liquor bottles add a great element. The lights above the creative wavy bar are inverted tiki torches, and tiki culture prevails anywhere that the space allows. My favorites are the pufferfish lights. Bright orange and blue lights shaped as pufferfish created by CCAD students pepper the entire bar to add to the surreal atmosphere. Some pufferfish lights are surrounded by handblown glass and held up by netted rope while others float in the air independently. The fish add a wonderful glow and orange warmth to the room along with the red “restaurant candles” at each table. Bamboo and Kahuna masks cover the interior, and right next to our table was a coiled snake that lunges toward any form of movement. We appreciated this tremendously after a couple of the delicious cocktails along with the glowing “coal” eyes of the large Kahuna mask behind us.
While we were impressed and overwhelmed by the atmosphere, we managed to pick drinks. And holy cow were they amazing. The cocktail menu is about a dozen drinks long, but each cocktail is interesting and worth drinking, which I know because after three rounds our group of four had worked our way through the entire menu. The drink menu offers a great list of refreshing and unique, and I loved that at one point when I looked over our table it was like a garden. The drinks were bright blue and pink and featured pineapple, huge sprigs of mint, lime boats and every other wonderful accoutrement that makes you appreciate a drink. My husband opted for the tiki mug for his Coco-naut, and the heavy ceramic mug with a delightful Kahuna design certainly made him appreciate his creamy, rummy, nutty drink even that much more.
If you’re not in the mood for something new or something blue, a handful of drafts, bottles and canned beers are offered as well as a few boxes of wine and a couple of liquors. I would recommend sticking with the cocktails, though, as the beer list is limited and the cocktails are mind-blowing.
The food menu is still a bit short, but everyone was happy with their choices. I stuck with a vegan-friendly option, the Teriyaki Mushroom Lettuce Wraps. I had no regrets going with the healthy route as the medley of shitake mushrooms, green onions, sesame seeds and crispy rice noodles in a cute little lettuce boat pleased my palette greatly. My husband went with the Shitake and Red Pepper sandwiches and was in love. Teriyaki, melted Swiss and caramelized green onions were stuffed into grilled King’s Hawaiian sweet rolls to create a perfectly adorable and delicious little slider. We shared the sweet potato wedges with spicy teriyaki aioli, and they were just wonderful. The wedges were thick, which can sometimes make it challenging for a restaurant to cook them just right. These wedges were done perfectly with crispy, tasty exteriors and a warm, squishy middle. Although it may be a short list of small sandwiches and small plates, the Grass Skirt does it right. And for those spam fans, there is of course mini spam musabi on the menu.
We were in awe of the atmosphere, satiated by the food and obsessed with the cocktails, but a real standout for us was the service. Our server was friendly, funny, attentive and incredibly nice. She kept our water glasses full the entire meal, checked on drinks frequently, and answered my increasingly inane questions about the bar and the menu. For about 10 minutes she was busy with the packed room and we had several other servers check in on us. For such a new place it’s impressive to see what seems to be a cohesive and apt team of servers working so well together. As we were preparing to pack up our party and get back to the real world our server offered to wash the take-home tiki mug. To be honest we weren’t even sure that we’d be allowed to take it home since it was only $2 and seemingly expensive-feeling, but her offer to wash it was a huge added bonus. Now my new favorite cocktail glass reminds me of our mini-vacation to the Grass Skirt weekly.
I am crazy impressed with the Grass Skirt Tiki Room on all counts. The prices were fair, the drinks were splendid and the service was great. My friends claimed it reminded them of Frankie’s Tiki Bar in Vegas, which to them was the highest of compliments. A good mix of young couples and large families filled the bar within 15 minutes of its opening, and the Hawaiian-shirt clad servers and bartenders kept the crowd pleased. After a few drinks one member of our group began plotting to live in the bathroom so she never had to leave her own personal heaven. With little reminders of the outside world in the middle of this Hawaiian escape, it would have been easy to just lounge and relax in the orange glow of the pufferfish forever.