New York City is not what you’d see if you googled the word, “summer.” What you would see is a bunch of sandy white beaches, coconut cocktails, and those flamingo pool floats that infiltrated Instagram a couple summers ago. And while it’s certainly true you won’t find any tropical islands or swaying palm trees in New York City, you can still island hop and sip tiki drinks all summer long. So to get you in the beachcomber spirit, I’ve rounded up some of the city’s best islands and tiki bars.
For as long as there have been boats, people have sought out islands as places to escape the pressures of daily life. Governors Island is no exception. Winding paths give way to breathtaking views of Lady Liberty and the New York Skyline, quintessential 19th century homes–many functioning as artist residencies and galleries–dot the grounds, and there’s a handful of places to kick back and admire the shimmering water, drink in hand. Some of our favorite spots include:
Governors Island Outlook Hill
This is by far one of the best places to soak up the majesty of the city and its cherished guardian, The Statue of Liberty. After a short climb to the top of this 70ft hill, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and beyond. You will definitely want to bring a camera.
An island without a hammock might as well just be a rock surrounded by water. Lucky for you, Governors Island has a whole grove of hammocks, each one as comfortable as the last. There’s usually an icecream truck nearby if you really want to fully relax as you sway to and fro with the summer breeze.
Gaze at the rippling water and Manhattan Skyline as you indulge in some tasty oysters at this tropical-themed bar on the shores of Governors Island. Located just a short walk from the ferry landing, it’s the perfect place to end your day.
Located smack dab in the middle of the East River, Roosevelt Island is home to beautiful waterfront parks, intriguing ruins of a bygone era, and its own 19th century stone lighthouse. Just hop on the The Roosevelt Island Tramway, the only one of its kind in the city, and in no time you’ll be high above the East River en route to your own island getaway. Must see places include:
The Louis Kahn–designed Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms
Possibly one of the most well designed parks in the city, this park offers visitors stunning wide angle views of the city. It’s not swamped with tourists so you can really get a sense of peace and quiet.
The ol’ Smallpox Hospital
In its earlier history (pre-1973), Roosevelt Island, then known as Welfare Island and Blackwell Island respectively, had gained the reputation as a hiding place for the sick, mentally unstable, and violent. Prisoners toiled the grounds plotting their escape across the river, patients endured horrific electro-therapy and mistreatment, and the contagious spent their last hours quarantined from the masses. The Smallpox Hospital, completed in 1856, is one of the few remaining ruins of this darker era. Abandoned since the 1950s, the structure, overgrown with ivy, is now a historical landmark and terrific example of Gothic Revival Architecture.
Situated on the northern tip of Roosevelt Island you’ll find a serene little park centered around a 50ft tall stone lighthouse built in 1872. It’s the perfect place to unwind and listen to the water lapping against the walls of the island. And if you’d like to make a day of it, you can bring some of your favorite meats and slap ’em down on one the BBQs clustered around the park. If you’d rather just bring a slice of pizza, you can pop in Bread and Butter Market in the center of town before walking the riverfront promenade to the lighthouse.
To learn more about the history of Roosevelt Island, I recommend listening to –Roosevelt Island: New York’s former ‘city of asylums’ – A podcast by the Bowery Boys
TIKI BARS OF NEW YORK
Shaka Shaka Tiki, Prospect Heights
Cafe by day, tiki bar by night, Shaka Shaka Tiki is the kind of bar you always hope to stumble upon but rarely do. Space is tight, but the atmosphere is one of pure relaxation. Sip on a pina colada or “juice and booze” and drift off into another realm as you bask in a green neon glow. A great option before catching a show at nearby Barclays Center.
Mother Of Pearl, East Village
This is definitely not your average tiki bar. After passing through the white sheer curtain entrance, you feel as if you’ve traveled back in time to a tacky-chic Miami lounge in the ’80s. As well as sipping tropical drinks, you can also munch on tasty vegan-friendly bites. You’d be making a mistake if you didn’t order the Shark’s Eye, an over-the-top tiki drink served in a shark-shaped vessel with blood, aka cherry red bitters running down its mouth.
Super Power, Crown Heights
Located in the heart of Crown Heights, Super Power has all that you could ask of a tiki bar. The atmosphere is laid-back, the drinks are well-mixed and strong, and the pulled pork nachos and backyard tack on some extra points in my book. If it’s escapism you seek, the frozen painkiller is sure to transport you to the white sands of a far-flung island, or at minimum make you forget about all that stuff you have to do at that time you don’t remember.
Fort Defiance, Red Hook (Thursday Night)
Every Thursday of the week, this popular Red Hook restaurant switches gears and morphs into the Sunken Harbor Club, a place to celebrate all things tiki. Swing by for a nightcap or stay and nibble on some noodles. Just take it easy because these drinks pack a punch and the water is just a little too close to risk it.
Zombie Hut, Cobble Hill
One of the first neuvo tiki bars to pop up in Brooklyn, Zombie Hut stands out for a couple of reasons. First, drinks aren’t $20 and served with an excess of herbs and shrubbery. Second, there’s a spacious backyard that’s perfect for summer chilling. Plus, in true tiki spirit, they offer up one of those comically large drinking vessels just in case you want to touch straws and get three sheets with your friends.
While you’re in the neighborhood – COBBLE HILL NEIGHBORHOOD GUIDE
Otto’s Shrunken Head, East Village
This is the diviest of tiki bars and that’s what makes it so good. At this point, it is a certified New York Institution and just one of those places you gotta knock off the bucket list. Yes, drinks are served in Kitschy mugs and yes, you can purchase one for personal use. I’m currently using a shark mug as a utensil holder in my apartment. You can’t go wrong with the Stormy Skull, a heavenly mix of rum, ginger and coconut.
If you’d like to learn more about the birth of tiki as an American pop phenomena, I recommend picking TASCHEN’S Tiki Style.
BY CORY KENY
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