400 W 42nd St at 9th Ave, Midtown West
The Place: A swanky tiki bar in the Pod hotel. Imagine if Jack Sparrow had a yacht.
The Time: Friday February 22, 7pm. I’m seeing One Year Lease’s insane and genius show at the Tank, Eat the Devil, and with an hour to kill in a neighborhood I desperately try to avoid, I choose to hit up The Polynesian, which has been saved in my Google maps since it opened last year.
The Vibe: I’m surprised to find that I have to wait at the front, even though I explain to the two dudes working there that it’s just me for a drink at the bar. The host, in a pink Hawaiian shirt, goes through the big black curtains that hide the bar from the rest of the hotel to check on a seat for me. I’m left with the other guy, Jose, who, when I ask what his job is, says he’s the “supervisor,” which I think is just a nicer way to say bouncer. After I wait about 5-10 minutes, Pink Hawaiian comes to get me and leads me to the bar. It’s a huge winding space that feels like I’m on a v fancy pirate ship. Ahoy, matey! Everything is either the turquoise color of daytime talk show couches, or made of bamboo. There are fake plants everywhere, of course. Pink Hawaiian points me to my bar stool, which I have to wait another minute for because two men are hovering over it while paying their bill - but Pink Hawaiian assures me that once they leave, it’s all mine. I cannot imagine how long I would’ve had to wait if I was with people; another benefit of going to busy bars by myself. Once I’m seated, I get to stare at all the tiki bar accoutrement - bottle after bottle of rum, rows and rows of different decorated tiki mugs, big windows that look out onto an outdoor terrace for drinking in nicer weather. I can’t get a good sense of the clientele because the space is sprawling but it’s definitely a mix of tourists, after-work colleagues and maybe other people who are also seeking a hideout from the heinous streets of Midtown. Because of the extensive crowd control at the front, no one is hovering over me or pushing me out of the way to get a drink. I always appreciate this kind of no-standing bar policy when I’m drinking alone.
The Bartender: Several people all wearing, you guessed it, Hawaiian shirts. Ray is the one who takes care of me. He’s very nice, and has pretty impressive tattoo sleeves. I watch him cook up crazy concoctions, including one of their large format drinks, served in a treasure chest that I legit would use as storage. Ray tells me it’s a mai tai riff with apple brandy, so instead of jewels, it’s filled with a lot of booze and crushed ice. TBH, I’d take this booty over nice jewelry any day.
The Drank: The menu is illustrated so you can see what kind of glassware everything comes in, and since a big part of the appeal here is the insane, over-the-top, $17 (!) cocktails, I choose the Vaya Kon Tiki. It’s African redbush tea and coconut rums, cayenne coconut cream, ginger and cinnamon, in a very heavy tiki mug shaped like a skeleton head. Oh, and it’s topped with a lemon half filled with toasted coconut and Bacardi 151 and it’s literally on fire. (Pick a frat boy joke, any frat boy joke.) It is delicious though, very easy to drink, and I bet when I stand up, I will be three sheets to the wind.
Was I Hit On?: No but I am judged a little by the bartenders. When I first sit down, a woman comes up next to me to order drinks for her and her friend. Naturally, Ray thinks we’re together so he sets down a piña colada in front of me, and the other drink in front of the woman. He soon realizes his mistake, and we do the dance of “I’m sorry about that” “It’s totally ok!” Then he says, “I should’ve known you were a Vaya Kon Tiki girl” and one of the other bartenders chimes in with “she also looks like a Reggae Bus kind of girl.” I don’t exactly know what it means to be compared to one cocktail that’s in flames and one cocktail that looks like the Jamaican flag, but the Reggae Bus is the other drink I was considering, so maybe they know something about me that I don’t?
Should You Drink Here Alone?: Yeah. The Polynesian is objectively a very good bar. It’s sophisticated yet still fun; the cocktails are whimsical and delicious. It’s certainly a cool place to grab a drink with your out-of-town aunt before the theater, and if tiki bars are your thing, throw on your lei and say aloha.
*A Warning: The elevator in the Pod hotel is glass so you can see the world while you’re in it. Cool on the way up, totally disconcerting on the way down, if you’re drunk, which you probably will be when you leave.