Where You Should Be Drinking in Orlando: Aku Aku Tiki Bar + Tigerfucker Cocktail Recipe
I’ve been to Downtown Disney a few times–not bad at all for being a park entrance and gift shop. I have to admit that I wasn’t even aware that there is also an actual downtown Orlando. I was in Orlando last week at a conference, and finding myself with a few spare minutes between the conference and the flight, I of course did a search for a good cocktail. I was directed downtown–the Orlando one.
Sheets of pouring rain dissuaded me from exploring downtown very much, but what I saw through the windshield looked quaint and friendly. I ducked out of the rain into the most inviting of bars. Aku Aku is a small tiki bar, with space for perhaps 20 guests at the bar and the few sections of rattan furniture. It’s perfectly decorated in exactly the way you’d expect: with surfboards, bamboo, palm fronds, nautical bric a brac, hula skirts, and 50s nostalgia. Jeff, the bartender of the evening, was relaxed and friendly, familiar but not overly so. The bar was populated by a few regulars, and a few strangers who were treated like regulars.
Aku Aku used to be an art bar with rotating local installations, but on a trip to Las Vegas the owner was inspired to make a change. His other bar, downstairs from Aku Aku, is the Stardust, named after the iconic Las Vegas resort and casino. Inside the Las Vegas’ Stardust, during tiki’s heyday, you could find Aku Aku, a famous Polynesian restaurant and tiki bar. He decided to make his Orlando bars a double homage to the two iconic Las Vegas spots.
They’ve fully embraced the tiki aesthetic, and it seems to have welcomed them in return. They’re having their own custom tiki mug designed for them, a tiger-striped model in honor of their signature drink.
What We Ordered
Zombie: ‘a potent blend of 3 different Bacardi rums. It’s strong and evil so BE CAREFUL. This one will sneak up on you’
Tiger Fucker: ‘This cocktail created by Aku Aku’s Eric Solomon is becoming famous! Made with 44* North Huckleberry Vodka and House made Jalapeno blackberry syrup’
What We Thought
The drink menu is listed on a wall-sized replica of a gloriously kitschy ‘Polynesian’ restaurant menu. Apart from Aku Aku’s signature drink, it consists entirely of rum-based tiki classics. Finding myself somewhat resistant to a vodka-based tiki drink, I thought I’d warm up with–and frankly feel them out with–one of the classics. My Zombie came, as each of their drinks do, in its own, custom-selected tiki mug; the Zombie glass looked more like an alien to me than a zombie, but I appreciated the effort. More importantly, the drink itself was just the potent but pleasant mix of rums, spices, and juices that you expect a Zombie to be.
Reassured and fortified, I ordered the Tiger Fucker. I couldn’t very well leave without trying the drink that was chosen Orlando’s Best Cocktail of the Year, could I? The drink is bright magenta, and garnished with a flaming sugar cube floating on a freeze-dried lemon slice. It doesn’t come quietly. It’s a surprise, therefore, what a simple, well-balanced cocktail it is, with the heat of the jalapeno, the sweet of the juices, and the punch of the vodka all playing their part without dominating.
So Should I Go?
Skip the Enchanted Tiki Room, walk right through Downtown Disney, make your way to downtown Orlando instead, and give yourself a genuine (if that can ever be the right word for tiki) tiki experience instead.
The Tiger Fucker Cocktail Recipe
Created by Eric Solomon. My bartender Jeff was kind enough to share the proportions.
- 2 oz vodka
- 1 oz passion fruit juice
- 1 oz jalapeno-blackberry syrup–make your own using the ‘Slightly Less Simple’ method
- Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker.
- Add ice to above the level of the liquid.
- Shake for 20 seconds.
- Strain into an ice-filled glass.