Aku Aku Press
Orlando’s 13 Essential Cocktail Bars
The must-try cocktails throughout the City Beautiful
by Faiyaz Kara Mar 14, 2019, 9:30am EDT
The city’s craft cocktail revival of yore has given way to a period of heightened imagination and innovation. A creative quaff can now be had in every corner of the city, from speakeasies manned by mustachioed mixologists, to bars playing up postmodern experimentation to, yes, Applebee’s.
Indeed these are heady times for Orlando’s spirited tipplers and this list presents the very best haunts in which to procure a proper cocktail.
Even those with a love/hate relationship with tiki culture will find it hard to find fault with this nostalgia-filled bar – it’s got enough South Pacific kitsch and rum to keep Richard Rodgers and Captain Morgan amused. Rattan furniture, grass skirts and over-the-top cocktail vessels aside, there are some stiff drinks to be had, most notable of which is the signature, and rum-less, “Tiger Fucker” – a fuschia-hued drink of 44° North potato vodka, jalapeno-blackberry syrup, lemon juice and passion fruit juice in an ice-filled schooner glass. It’s then garnished with a flaming sugar cube sitting atop a lemon slice. Needless to say, it’s lit.
Roberts & June
POSTED ON JUL 31, 2017
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.
Best bars and clubs in Orlando 2015
By Tod Caviness; published Friday, July 31st, 2015
there's one thing that a night at the bar inspires, it's a strong opinion. What better way to use that muse than with a good old-fashioned Bar Brawl? During the last few months, readers voted for their favorite bars in a variety of categories, from glittering nightclubs to colorful dives.
Their task — and ours — wasn't easy. With the greater Orlando area in the midst of a night-life renaissance, the number and quality of bars has shot up drastically in recent years. After months of polling, the results are right here along with our own personal picks. The winners have been decided — now let the debates begin.
Central Florida Drink
The signature drink at Aku Aku
431 E. Central Blvd., Orlando
The readers' favorite cocktail has such a scandalous name we can't print it here, but we applaud the choice. Just head to the cool and kitschy Aku Aku for the drink with "tiger" in the name, and trust us: This sweet-and-spicy vodka potion packs a punch to match its moniker. The Courtesy's meticulously constructed drinks may not have quite as much tropical flair, but this is the bar that turned Orlando's flirtation with craft-cocktail culture into an obsession. If you're new to the party, start with one of The Courtesy's seasonal variations on a whiskey classic.
The Global Barfly’s Companion #17: Aku Aku
The Drunken Odyssey
By John King; published Monday, July 20th, 2015
While Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto may be a boozy, whimsical pocket of tropical goodness in the theme park meccas twenty or so miles west of Orlando, the city beautiful’s best tiki bar is Aku Aku.
Located off Lake Eola and Thornton Parks, Aku Aku is far enough from the epicenter of mob alcoholism downtown to foster a sense of calm, letting those who are serious about their drinking to focus on the task at hand.
Once again, I brought my brother with me as my drinking proxy (doctor’s orders).
Now the term “tiki bar” is often a misnomer, especially in Florida where a thatched roof, Jimmy Buffet music, and Coronas seem all the requirements needed for the term. A true tiki bar is devoted to the touristy sense of the exotic that Hawaii held in the American imagination in the 1950s and early 1960s. Aku Aku is a true tiki bar that will make tikiphiles dreamy.
This modestly sized establishment is lined with dark bamboo, and features abundance of oversized Hawaiian images, not the least of which is a giant version of the drink menu.
An Easter Island idol looms dourly at the door. (Aku Aku was the name of the archeologist Thor Heyerdal’s startling book about the history and culture of Easter Island, first published in 1958.) There are hula girl lamps and sculptures. There are glowingly ethereal puffer fish lanterns. And the cool darkness and the retro music of the place seem to banish the crush of downtown from one’s senses.
Behind the bar is a matrix of asymmetric shelves covered with sculpted mugs, outré tchotchkes, and bizarre artifacts such as Robert Mitchum’s calypso album. Also among the shelves is over 70 different rums.
According to our bartender, Eric Soloman, their most popular rum is the Tiger Fucker, but they were out of vodka, which my brother wouldn’t have allowed to pass his lips anyway. James started with a mai tai (a recipe based on Trader Vic’s), and found it “Sweet and cool, from palate to gullet.” It was less minty than the Hippopota-mai-tai at Trader Sam’s, but equal in caliber.
Next my brother tried the signature drink, the Aku Aku, which was even better than the mai tai. When I tried a sip, the sensation was gently sweet, like falling onto a giant, satin pillow. I get the feeling one could sip those through an afternoon or evening without the sugar getting too weird in one’s system.
Eric is quite the mixologist. The bar was piled with oranges and pineapples that would later be juiced, and Eric proudly told us that Aku Aku makes its own simple syrup and grenadine. Such attention to fresh detail is a delight, and is discernible in the drinks themselves.
Like most tiki bars, there was a whiff of heady sweetness in the very air. While Louis Armstrong sang, “Ma Vie En Rose,” Eric helped my brother sample some sipping rums, and even concocted something with pineapple, rum, and peanut butter powder—a drink that as yet has no name, but was miraculously delicious, according to my brother.
Aku Aku is the sister bar to the wonderful Stardust Lounge, which resides at the bottom of the stairs just a few feet from Aku Aku’s entrance. This is a deep inside joke. The Stardust Casino has a Polynesian restaurant and tiki bar from 1960 to 1980, and it was called Aku Aku. Todd Ulmer, the owner of both bars, knows how to create an immersive theme that imagines so much more than a place to yammer while watching sports while imbibing predictable drinks.
But Stardust Lounge will have to wait another day.
Raising the bar: Five Orlando watering holes where form is just as important as function
By Erin Sullivan; published Wednesday, July 1st, 2015
First things first: Not all tiki bars are created equal. “Tiki-philes are very particular about certain things,” says Todd Ulmer, operating partner of Aku Aku Tiki Bar. You can’t just put some bamboo and longboards in your bar and call it a tiki bar, he says – you have to do your research.
And clearly, Ulmer and his partners have done theirs. When you walk into Aku Aku, which opened almost a year and a half ago in the space that used to be XL Gallery, it’s clear that no detail has been overlooked. From the vintage bamboo barstools, to the carved tiki god sculptures, to the vintage beach films playing on the TVs, to the tiki tchotchkes lining the shelves and walls, the entire tiny space is an homage to a 1950s or ’60s Hawaiian beach bar. Ulmer, who is also a partner in Mucho Tacos and Tequila (the design of which he says was inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s epic vampire bank robbery flick From Dusk Till Dawn) and Stardust Lounge (a dark, vintage Vegas-themed lounge located just downstairs from Aku), says that all of the artwork is authentic, “made by artists who specialize in tiki art.” He has a tiki sculpture gifted to the bar by Jeff Chouinard, limited edition tiki prints by Brad Parker and signed and numbered prints by legendary California artist Shag.
“I had one artist fly in from Hawaii for a surf expo,” Ulmer says, “and he wanted to do a signing at Aku. Afterward, he emailed me and said, ‘I will give you the best deal I can on my artwork, but I want my art in your bar.’”
Ulmer says he had originally considered doing a more traditional craft cocktail bar, but there were already so many in downtown Orlando. Instead, he put a twist on the concept and went tiki-craft. “Tiki drinks are not just sugar-filled garbage cocktails,” he says. “Our drinks are balanced cocktails, which is what tiki cocktails originally were. Mass-market mixes ruined it, but now it’s really coming back.”
And so far, he says, Orlando has embraced Aku Aku and customers seem to appreciate the fact that the bar isn’t just a tiki-themed venue – it’s a real-deal tiki bar.
“We try to stay traditional,” Ulmer says. “Tiki music, the island music, and everybody seems to really enjoy the cocktails. I love that people are really getting into it and enjoying not just the interior but the whole experience.”
Dive Bars to Disney World: Toasting Orlando's Best Dens of the Drink
USA TRAVEL 10 BEST
By A.D. Thompson; published , 2015
Ask 10 people for their idea of a great bar and odds are decent you'll get 10 different answers. Maybe more. Especially if you add the mood of the moment into the mix. Is this a first date or a night out with friends? Do you want to dress to impress, relax in your favorite, old T-shirt or don your best mouse ears? Are you leaning toward a crisp, craft-brewed cider, a peppery Cabernet with notes of vanilla or a cutting-edge craft cocktail flavored with house-made syrup? And of course, if you're planning on pairing drinks with eats or perhaps live music, that might figure into the mix, as well. Just a few questions make the possibilities seem infinite. We whittled the Orlando options down for you with a "bar salad" of sorts, a sampling of top haunts comprised of venerable old dives a la Wally's, chic hotel jazz lounges like the Grand Bohemian Orlando's Bosendorfer Lounge, intimate downtown speakeasies like Hanson's Shoe Repair and even theme-park offerings in the form of EPCOT's La Cava del Tequila, with a roster of top-shelf offerings that could put any Mexican fine-dining venue to shame. Belly up, friends, and prepare to sample some of the city's very best.
Get ready for a time warp to Hawaiian and South Seas kitsch (and that's before you even sample the powerful punch of their rum cocktails)! Aku Aku brings tiki culture front and center in downtown Orlando with art and decor that hearkens back to its heyday of the 1940s and '50s. Potent rum punches served in delightfully themed glasses, tiki heads, coconuts and the like, might even make the drinks taste better. Not that they need any help. Festive is the order of the evening here. Bring friends for a fun night out, pull a date into one of the cozier nooks and share bowl-sized cocktails. In here, every night feels like you're on vacation. (407-839-0080)
How local bartenders incorporate the kitchen into their cocktails
by Jessica Bryce Young, May 06, 2015
Cocktails almost always contain something edible – if you're willing to gnaw on a lemon wedge, that is. Or you could be that "dirty martini with 12 olives, please" girl. But we're not talking about the obvious territory of the garnish here. The boundaries between mixology and mise en place have blurred as local bartenders mix kitchen-crafted ingredients into the cocktails they serve, or even fuse savory flavors with spirits.
Farm-to-table goes farm-to-glass with the addition of fruit-based syrups, shrubs, jams and marmalades, or even vegetable juices and purees. Cask & Larder's Lady Marmalade incorporates lemon-dill marmalade with rum, port and a cardamom amaro, and Aku Aku Tiki Bar uses a house-made blackberry-habañero syrup in their popular Tigerfucker cocktail. (Hey, we didn't name it.) The drinking vinegars known as shrubs haven't been this popular since Colonial days, though they likely weren't being paired with craft-distilled gins and whiskeys back then. Most craft cocktail bars around Orlando have at least one shrub-based cocktail, ranging from traditional tastes like strawberry to further-afield flavors like rosemary-pineapple, lavender-blueberry, or even beets, carrots or celery.
And speaking of vegetables, a few bars are placing them front and center in their drinks, not relegating them to a supporting role: Try the celery coulis-based Stalker at Artisan's Table, or the Beet Not-feratu at the Pharmacy in Dr. Phillips. It looks like a glass of Tru Blood (hence the Nosferatu pun), but is actually a sweet, earthy cocktail that would be brunch-perfect as an unusual alternative to the mimosa.
The Pharmacy is leading the way in belief-straining savory cocktails locally – besides their roasted beet concoction, they offer a punch that includes clarified milk (a traditional punch ingredient, but still, one that sounds odd until you taste it) and a tincture of prosciutto di Parma. Chef Tyler Brassil is even working on a foie gras-based drink, for those who want a little iron in their spirits. As far as meaty drinks go, a can't-miss is the Ravenous Pig's bacon Old-Fashioned, built with bacon-infused Old Forester bourbon. It doesn't get much more savory than that.
On the sweeter side, Soco offers a summer sipper of watermelon-infused vodka, heated up with ginger and dusted with crushed pink peppercorns (pictured here). And Capa at the Four Seasons serves a foamy, fruity pink drink called the Get Her to the Greek – because Greek yogurt is key to the rich texture.
If you'd like try your hand at creating a culinary cocktail of your own, pick upSavory Cocktails: Sour Spicy Herbal Umami Bitter Smoky Rich Strong by Greg Henry, a pick in our 2013 cookbook gift guide that has held up well. There's no reason your gastronomic prowess should be confined to the kitchen.
Out-of-the-Ordinaire Orlando: Much More than Disney
By Mike Walker; published , 2015
Of course, Orlando has ample bars—it’s a major convention destination, vacation destination, and has a young and outgoing resident population. But some bars really stand out and would do so anywhere. Aku Aku, 431 East Central Boulevard, is a new Tiki bar in central Orlando just steps from Lake Eola—a beautiful lake and park and a constant attraction for locals. Tiki bars, for anyone who missed the 1950’s and ’60’s (which would include me, of course, but I’ve done my homework) were the invention of pioneering gents like Victor Bergeron of Trader Vic’s and Don “the beachcomber,” who took the exotic flavors of Polynesian cuisines servicemen encountered in the Pacific Theatre of World War II and devised original, not always fully authentic, but always tasty foods based loosely off these Asian-Pacific concepts. Thus the crab rangoon and rumaki were born. The centerpiece of Tiki menus, however, was not the food but the cocktail: the Mai Tai, the Blue Hawaii, the Navy Grog, and, of course, the Zombie. Tiki bars disappeared over the years, but now they’re making a strong comeback, and there’s none finer than Aku Aku. Tucked away in a small space and furnished with the finest in retro-fab decorations, super-dim lighting, and with period music (think James Bond movie soundtracks and jazz exotica) on the sound-system, it’s already become a local favorite. Drinks are served in classic maoi-inspired Tiki tumblers just like Don or Vic would have done and it’s fun times all around.
AKU AKU BRINGS TIKI CHIC TO DOWNTOWN ORLANDO
Island style abounds in this fun and retro rum hut
By A.D. Thompson; published Friday, May 2nd, 2014
Many Orlando residents opine that the only thing the city’s missing is a beach. But what it lacks in sparkling South Pacific swells can be made up for with potent Planter’s Punch (and your tackiest tropical togs) amid the delicious retro/fun atmosphere of downtown’s newest rum hut: Aku Aku.
Tucked neatly into cozy confines just above Stardust Lounge (and perched conveniently on the edge of Lake Eola Park, ideal for a pre- or post-punch stroll), Aku Aku reanimates America’s fascination with tropical pop culture, a trend that peaked in the 1940s and ‘50s. Those who have been to Fort Lauderdale’s Mai-Kai (still going strong with its island dinner shows – it opened in 1956!) will get the gist.
Though Aku Aku is a lounge, not a supper club, its theme is fully immersive. Tiki art and whimsical, wonderful barware set the stage for seriously exotic, seriously strong drinks, the likes of which you may have only read about on Chinese restaurant placemats back in the ‘70s.
Rum figures prominently, natch; in many of the drinks, it’s poured in threes or fours. Some libations are limited to two per patron, so mind your consumption. Groups of up to four – yes, you read that right – will enjoy the festive and fiery nature of Aku Aku’s Volcano Bowls. With six different rums and a fruit-juicy amalgam that does quick work of masking the potency, it’s topped with 151 and set aflame to set that sultry, South Pacific vibe swinging.
Such potent drinks can come with a slightly higher price tag, but one sip will tell you it’s going to take fewer of them to get you to Bali Hai. Even so, Aku Aku’s already offering specials to take the sting out of its Scorpions, so to speak.
On Mondays, specialty cocktails are half off, and Tuesday brings $5 Fu Manchus (a gingery concoction featuring Sailor Jerry rum), and those aforementioned Volcano Bowls are $10 off on Thursday nights. Island Time Wednesdays offer additional specials and reggae tunes. For you work-minded weekday teetotalers, Sunday’s happy hour lasts all day long. Word on the web says that Aku Aku’s first annual luau is already in the works, and summertime is nearly upon us. Why not get in the mood? Hit a vintage shop for something era-appropriate, or just don a grass skirt and tuck an orchid behind your ear. Aku Aku understands the longstanding principle that tourism professionals have counted on since the industry’s heyday: everything, from body parts to rum cocktails, is more festive in a coconut
Don’t lose your foodie street cred! 7 restaurants now open in Orlando
Jacki Mick February 18th, 2014
If you’d rather skip the eating and get straight to the drinking, Aku Aku is for you. With more than 50 different types of rum and super-campy tiki-inspired barware, it’s a fun place to meet up with your peeps after a long day at work.
Aku Aku, Dubliner reviews: From 'aloha' to 'slainte'
Tod Cavinesss March 5th, 2014
Meanwhile, a very different kind of theme joint has already found its feet. On Central Boulevard, Aku Aku is technically still in its second month of soft opening but surfing along just fine in the space last occupied by XL Gallery.The theme here is Polynesian tiki bar, and Aku Aku embraces the inherent cheesiness of that concept with all the shamelessness of a coconut bra. How cheesy? The smallish bar packs a veritable volcano of kitsch into the space of a large living room, including a gigantic Easter Island head, leering masks and garish surf art. Your drink hasn't been spiked: The hips of the hula girl on the red-light bar lamps are actually swaying.Not that there's any need to spike the drinks. Aku Aku's signature potions are as high-test as you'll find downtown, and very dedicated. It's all about the rum at this bar, where the cocktails are served in large tiki heads or coconuts, loaded with garnish. My favorite: The Fu Manchu ($8.50), a breezy blend of Sailor Jerry rum, ginger beer, orange juice and what seemed like an entire forest of fresh mint leaves.Aku Aku is owned by its neighbors at Stardust Lounge, and their over-the-top island vibe is a perfect complement to Stardust's "Mad Men" class. Owners say they are looking at April for a grand opening, but do yourself a favor and drop by soon. When the locals get a load of this place, the bar will be as crowded as Hawaii in surf season.
Stardust Lounge gives a peek (a-boo) at new neighbor Aku Aku
Tod Cavinesss January 10th, 2014
If you haven't been drinking on Central Boulevard near Lake Eola in downtown Orlando, you may not have noticed that XL Gallery has been adding a lot of tiki decor lately. It's all a part of their slow transformation into retro lounge Aku Aku, and the place is finally ready to show off its island flair this Tuesday - plus a lot more.Aku Aku's neighbors at the downstairs Stardust Lounge will offer a sneak peek at the new bar with a special tiki-themed edition of the Peek-a-Boo Lounge, the long-running burlesque showcase featuring Baby Blue and her scantily-costumed cronies. If coconut bras and coconut drinks are your thing, make a reservation for "Tiki Peeki Boo" by calling 407-839-0080. Admission is $7, and you'll be able to take a look at Aku Aku in its vestigal stages.
Aku Aku Tiki Bar Opens in Thornton Park
Matt Broffman February 6th, 2014
The owners of Extra Large Gallery have transformed their bar from an art gallery into a wonderfully themed tiki bar.The new bar called Aku Aku (Facebook) is located at 431 E Central Blvd [GMap].When you walk in you will immediately notice the Polynesian/tiki theme of the bar.The name Aku Aku comes from the Polynesian restaurant and bar at the former Stardust Casino in Las Vegas (the namesake of their sister bar, which in the basement of the same building).The tiki bar is also the designed to be in the same era as Stardust.“It’s an homage to a great time,” owner Todd Ulmer told Bungalower.Ulmer says their goal is to stay true to the tiki culture.That holds true in not only the decor but also the music and the drinks.Their drink menu features traditional tiki drinks but Ulmer promises that the drinks are “not the drink you get at the Disney pool bar.”He admits that there’s a little campiness in the drink ware but “the cocktail is legit.”Behind the bar you’ll also find over 50 different types of rums and that collection is growing.The art on the walls is also authentic featuring tiki culture art by artists like Doug Horne, Shagand some local artists.