It’s Perfectly Acceptable to Order Shots at This Tiki Bar
“This isn’t a classic tiki menu,” says Mother of Pearl's Jane Danger, who is careful not to piss off tiki purists with her reinventions of cocktail classics.
All photos by the author.
Manhattan's Mother of Pearl may have a glowing neon "tiki bar" sign on its window, but beverage director Jane Danger is hesitant to put that label on her drinks.
"It's not a classic tiki den in a basement—this isn't a classic tiki menu," Danger said. "There are a lot of tiki purists. It's a thing. You have to be careful about that line."
She added: "I play with the flavors and I still go to the classic tiki bars and the events, but that's their thing. They have the books and they're really into it, they put in the time. That's great, they're inspirational."
The tiki-adjacent, plant-based concept in New York City's East Village has settled into a new genre, calling itself a post-modern Polynesian restaurant and cocktail bar. It has all of the whimsical aesthetic elements people love about tiki, like parrot-shaped lights and palm frond wallpaper, but less of the standard grog.
"We usually only have two or three rum cocktails on the menu [of] which you would think tiki," Danger said. "We do all of the other spirits."
The menu is evidence of this. In addition to tiki staples, there's mezcal and Branca Menta. The Jørn Utzon, a tiki-twist on a gimlet, brings together an aquavit from Portland, apple brandy, and dehydrated beet.
While Mother of Pearl's ornately presented cocktails tend to get the most attention—the Shark Eye is served in a bloody-mouthed ceramic shark—there's a selection of shots that are standouts in their own right.
"That's kind of my dive bar background," Danger said of the shot lineup. "They're little room-temperature cocktails you can sip on or shoot them. People are always asking for shots, but we don't really do shots."
Most of the pre-batched shots are split bases with amaros, like the Ferrari with Fernet Branca and Campari, great for sipping slowly. The Chevy is Danger's homemade Fireball, with mole and tiki bitters, Angostura, cinnamon, and bourbon. The Jäg-oire is two-thirds Jägermeister and one-third Poire Williams, a pear brandy. There's nothing fratty about it.
"Jägermeister is making a comeback," Danger said. "I didn't go to college, so I don't have bad experiences with Jägermeister. I didn't really drink it until I was of age."
Less of a shooter and more of a tiny sip is the Baby Zombie, making its debut on the Mother of Pearl menu later this month. It's literally just a tiny Zombie cocktail prepared with a lot of the same care as the titanic tiki classic.
Danger's tiki experiences go way back. Her expertly balanced and artfully executed drinks are not just a product of her time working at New York cocktail institutions like PDT and The NoMad Hotel.
"In Minneapolis, I've always liked Psycho Suzi's because that's where I'm from. I used to go there when I wasn't old enough to go to bars, so that's always a solid memory," Danger said.
Her tiki-esque creations at Mother of Pearl, and even those at Cienfuegos, a rum bar she also helms, show that tiki doesn't have to be confined to the proper dens of tiki purists.
"I feel like most of these outstanding cocktail bars we have in the city all have great tiki offerings," she said. "It was just part of the experience. If you were a good cocktail bar, you had a tiki offering because it's just a really important part of our cocktail history."