Rum lovers, it’s your time. Rum bars, heavy on the balanced (not too sweet) cocktails and expert rum selections, are proliferating around the country. Tiki bars have been shining a welcome light on cane spirits for years, but there are plenty of non-Tiki bars serving fantastic rum drinks, some even specializing in Tiki drinks but in understated settings. Here are a few of the greats.
A pioneer in the Upper King Street renaissance opening at the end of 2012, The Ordinary is a lofty seafood and oyster bar in a historic Charleston bank. Bar manager Justin Coleman and his crew turn out refined rum cocktails, even served in the occasional Tiki mug, that sing when paired with seafood and impeccable crudo dishes.
Drink this: Though the bar makes a mean Milk Punch with rhum agricole, don’t miss the bracing and beautifully balanced Mai Tai featuring a house blend of rums that closely recalls the 17-year Jamaican rum used in the original Mai Tai created at Trader Vic’s.
No, it’s not a rum bar, but Isaac Shumway (formerly of Tosca Café, and Bourbon and Branch) has crafted drinks you’ve dreamed of drinking at the movies but never really thought would be an option—some of the greats featuring rum. At the new Alamo Drafthouse bar Bear Vs. Bull, you can drink these cocktails in state-of-the-art theaters with comfy seating showing quirky second-run films alongside first-run movies or just enter the doorway through the fighting bull and bear to one cool bar with a ’70s-meets-old-movie-house vibe.
Drink this: It’s hard to resist the decadent frozen and blended section, especially when El Dorado 12-year rum is decadently used in the Banana Cow, blended to order with banana milk, grenadine, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur and fresh lime.
Open in Santa Monica in the spring of 2015, Santa Monica Yacht Club is a sleek, popular seafood restaurant outfitted in warm woods and classy blues and whites. In addition to killer, creative seafood dishes, its cocktails and welcoming service are alone worth a visit. A range of spirits are represented but they have a fine selection of rums, domestic and international — and know what to do with it.
Drink this: The proper Trader Vic’s Mai Tai plays with a house blend of rums, house curaçao and orgeat, served in playful Tiki mugs. If you’re lucky, the bar might have the ingredients to make its lush, off-menu hot buttered rum topped with chai crème.
Just opened summer 2015 in the cool Lower Greenville neighborhood, Rapscallion is one of Dallas’ more fun restaurants, serving glorified versions of Nashville hot chicken alongside boozy floats. But barman Eddie Eakin knows what he’s doing with rum, crafting rum and Tiki cocktails—nicely paired with spicy Southern food—that make the neutral space feel like vacation.
Drink this: The house version of a rum Negroni is aptly called the Rapscallion, combining Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, cacao nib-infused Campari and a house rum blend dubbed Rap 5 R(h)um (with an “h” because it includes a rhum agricole, mixed with other molasses and cane-juice-based rums).
From the sleek bar downstairs to the airy upstairs dining room flanked by a sunny rooftop patio and views of the San Diego Bay, Kettner Exchange is one of SD’s top restaurants, but it’s also a great bar, heavy on the rum. Bar manager Steven Tuttle plays with a range of spirits, but Tiki drinks and rum dominate, including one of the better Piña Coladas and Scorpion Bowls out there.
Drink this: The Tiki Cross is the award-winning house drink, combining three rums—Jamaican, white and añejo—in a refreshing, boozy form with velvet falernum, orange curaçao, pineapple, lime, orgeat and black walnut bitters.
Cienfuegos (New York City)
East Village rum bar Cienfuegos feels like Havana’s glory days fell down Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole, with an enchanting space hidden upstairs, marked by cool greens, whites, pinks, tans and drippy candles. And there are Cuban dishes and punch bowls to share.
Drink this: There’s a rum cocktail to suit about every stripe from the extensive rum-centric cocktail menu, but the Funky Old Man from Martinique may just win best name, showcasing rhum agricole with lime, mint, cane syrup and a splash of sparkling wine.
With teal blue seats and pineapples lining the bar, blessedly colorful Rumba feels festive without the Tiki. With more than 400 sugar cane spirits, it is the rum bar of choice in Seattle, exhibiting a Caribbean island vibe and flights themed around the likes of rhum agricole to rich “Cigar Not Included” rums.
Drink this: Cocktails are heavy on the classics, whether multiple variations on a classic Daiquiri or a Swizzle. But there are house cocktails, too, like the Eye of the Storm, enlivening Smith & Cross rum and a house rum blend with Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, ginger beer and Lucille IPA beer.