You don’t expect to find a slice of tiki life among a strip of used car dealerships in Arlington. But on a recent Friday night at 4 Kahunas Tiki Lounge, surf rock played overhead, the scent of orange and cloves wafted through the air, and everyone had a bright, colorful drink in hand. I grabbed a menu and, within minutes, found at least 20 cocktails I wanted to try. I knew I was in for a long night.
The space is compact, low-lit, and decorated with tiki culture staples: wooden masks, ukuleles, strings of seashells, and a glass case of mysterious objects that included what may have been a shrunken head. The Hawaiian-shirt-clad bartender pointed to four tiki carvings behind the bar and explained that each represented one of the 4 Kahunas founders (Chris Powell, J.P. Hunter, Randy Shepherd, and Scott Smith).
“Now for the best part of a tiki bar,” he said, lighting the top of a Tiki Torch cocktail. “We set things on fire!”
Behind him, a bright screen showcased footage of waterfalls and tropical forests. A group nearby debated ordering one of the shareable “search party” cocktails. Two women talked beneath a hanging mermaid figurehead.
“What’s in the Zombie?” a tall, thin guy asked the bartender.
“Deliciousness,” the bartender said, starting on the drink. “Trust me, you want this.”
As the night wore on, I watched the bartenders whip up more vibrant concoctions than I could keep track of. (Brad Bowden, who designed the tiki drinks at Lounge Here, created the menu.) There were classic tiki cocktails like Trader Vic’s original Mai Tai; there were inspired libations made with ingredients like sherry and absinthe. A man in a patterned shirt sipped the whiskey-based Yellow Rose from a ceramic yellow mug. A little pirate flag poked out from a rum-and-brandy drink called Blackbeard’s Ghost. Fresh fruit and house-made syrups abounded. Lemon and orange peels were curled to resemble butterflies and snakes.
Cute gimmicks aside, these drinks were the real deal. My only regret was that I couldn’t try them all. But that’s what the next visit is for.