It might seem ironic to pull into the snow-covered parking lot of Pau Hana, a Hawaiian restaurant in Savage, and see the LED sign flash "IT'S MAI TAI TIME."
But order one of those expertly crafted Kona mai tais, and pretty soon you'll feel like you're somewhere far sunnier than this suburban former Perkins.
Even if you aren't getting on a plane for spring break, Twin Cities bars are doing the heavy lifting this season to make it feel like you've taken off for a warmer destination. Sipping a Caribbean rum-tropical fruit-crushed ice concoction might have you convinced you're lounging oceanside. Just don't look out the window.
"We want to remind people of vacation," says Pau Hana beverage director Bryan Gooding. "But be better than that."
Indeed, pool-bar drinks at all-inclusive hotels have given rum punches and other tropical cocktails a bad rap. Locally, bartenders and self-avowed "rum nerds" are reclaiming classic drinks from the blender, getting back to their origins and amplifying flavors with intricately prepared ingredients.
Gooding says that there's a stigma to mai tais — a lot of places just do grenadine and canned juices. "A majority of mai tais are like margaritas, where they're all mixes," he says.
But Pau Hana's mai tai is made Kona style, meaning Hawaiian flavors such as pineapple and passion fruit get top billing. The bar here juices about seven pineapples a day and goes through half a case of limes in as much time. The orgeat, or almond syrup, is made in house, too. There's nothing easy or minimalist about the most transporting cocktails.
You'll find long ingredient lists on the menu at Rum Row in Shakopee, too. There, beverage director Ralena Young has categorized cocktails into those dating back to the prohibition era, midcentury "rhum rhapsodies," and ever-evocative "boat drinks." Think: coconut cream, blue Curacao, housemade pomegranate grenadine, blended and aged rums and banana liqueur.
Don't think you need all of that to feel like you're on an island getaway. Both Rum Row and Pau Hana stock an exceptional number of rums, any of which can be made into a cocktail or served neat.
But there's something about a 13-ingredient mai tai that really sends your mind on vacation.
"I think it's because when you order one," says Gooding, "you're going there already."
Three to try
Kona Mai Tai
$11, Pau Hana, 14435 Hwy. 13, Savage, pauhanamn.com
Pineapple, passion fruit, lime, macadamia and honey amp up this Hawaiian version of the classic tiki drink.
I Believe I Ordered a Blue Drink
$13, Rum Row Basement Tiki Bar, 1583 1st Av. E., Shakopee, rumrowtiki.com
Inspired by a Blue Hawaiian, this vacation-ready cocktail mixes up rum, gin, coconut liqueur, white crème de cacao and blue Curacao.
The False Eyedoll
$12, Apostle Supper Club, 253 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, apostlesupperclub.com
The namesake of this thatch-roofed tiki bar inside Apostle Supper Club blends rum with flavors of lychee, peach, pineapple, lime and mango.