Tiki Underground (Hudson, OH)

Our vacation in Minnesota and Michigan involved crossing New York, Eric County Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin en route. To break up the drive, after having a late lunch at Schwabl’s in Buffalo (an Offbeat Eats favorite), we pushed on to northern Ohio. On most trips where we take the US route, we’d stop in the Cleveland area, but this time we decided to take a slightly more southern route through Ohio, stopping for the night in Stow, Ohio. Why? So we could finally check out Tiki Underground in nearby Hudson, OH.

Tiki Underground opened in Hudson (just north of Akron) back in 2017, and was a nice addition to Ohio’s Tiki Bar scene. “Tiki” has always had interesting history: starting in the early 20th century in California and Hawaii (e.g. Trader Vic’s and Don the Beachcomber), the the Polynesian-inspired (let’s be honest, like Americanized Chinese Food, it bears only a casual relationship with it’s initial inspirations) cocktail and food craze spread across the country in the 1940s through 1960s, and outside of Hawai, California, and a bit of Florida, the main hub of “modern Tiki culture” was… Ohio. Starting in the 1960s, a lot of Tiki-style bars, restaurants, and supper clubs showed up across Ohio, with the grand-daddy of them being the Kahiki Supper Club. But then as the 20th century closed, most of these places closed, and the movement started to die out, aside from the occasional colorful drink menu at the occasional Chinese restaurant. But in the early 21st century, Tiki revivalism became a thing, and several new Tiki bars started appearing in Ohio. Porco open in Cleveland, and was quite successful, and several other Tiki revival bars started re-appearing across Ohio. In 2017, Tiki Underground opened, and has been flourishing ever since.

Compared to some of the other Tiki bars I’ve been to (like the now-shuttered TikiCat in Kansas City, UnderTow in Phoenix, or Snowbird in Montreal), the decor at Tiki Underground is still a bit nascent: they’ve got a lot of palm leaves and bamboo, and a rather nicely done bar, but the overall ambiance is still a bit more “Tiki-themed function room” than a full-fledged Tiki bar, but it’s obviously a work-in-progress. When it comes to the cocktail menu, however, Tiki Underground brings their A-game. They’ve got over 40 cocktails on their menu, including classic Tiki drinks, Caribbean drinks, modern riffs on themes, and more than a dozen house specialties. There’s really a lot going on whether looking for a classic cocktail, or a modern variation.

I don’t generally review cocktails here at Offbeat Eats, but I really did enjoy my various cocktails at Tiki Underground. One of my standards, the classic Mai Tai, was quite successful; this wasn’t some random shaken assortment of rum and fruit juice garnished with a mint sprig, but a nicely composed Mai Tai based on the original 1944 Trader Vic’s recipe: dark Jamaican rum, fresh lime, a quality orgeat syrup, and Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao. Classic, not overly sweet (the sweetness should come from the orgeat, and not directly sugar: a good orgeat isn’t too cloying). I was quite happy.

Honestly, the focus at Tiki Underground is the cocktails and not the food: the food menu itself is generally a bit limited: wings, fries, sliders, and a handful of your typical Chinese and Polynesian appetizers. But if there’s anything aside from cocktails that marks modern Tiki culture, it’s the Pu Pu platter, that assortment of fried appetizers, meat skewers, and seafood served up, most importantly, with a small hibachi grill for cooking or reheating the food. Tiki Underground’s version is quite satisfying; to start with, it’s a generous selection including spring rolls, chicken wings, beef skewers, shrimp skewers, pineapple skewers, and some potstickers, so basically all of the “Polynesian” appetizers are well-represented. Then, unlike the majority of the modern Pu Pu Platters I’ve had where the hibachi is mostly for show, at Tiki Underground the skewers are served up raw and ready to actually grill (not always a great thing, too many Pu Pu Platters at once, and the air picked up a distinct smell of burnt bamboo skewers and scorched teriyaki), but hey, it added some enjoyment. Add in a nice selection of dipping sauces (Thai chili, soy ginger, Korean BBQ, and Teriyaki), and this is one of the more enjoyable Pu Pu platters I’ve had.

On the Saturday night we visited, Tiki Underground also had a burger special, with charcoal-grilled burger and fries for $5. This wasn’t a fancy burger, just a basic burger patty that had been freshly grilled on the charcoal grill outside on a slightly toasted bun, except for a twist. Since we had finished up the pupu platter, with it’s copious selection of dipping sauces, we zhuzhed up our burgers with the leftover teriyaki and soy-ginger sauces from the platter, making for a budget variation of a Teriyaki burger, and was quite tasty. Similarly, the fries made for the perfect vehicle for using up the remaining dipping sauces. For $5? This was quite a nice little dinner.

Overall, I really enjoyed our little stop at Tiki Underground. The people are friendly, the ambiance nice, the cocktails spot-on… and the food menu, while limited, was quite nicely done. They’ve got a nice little Tiki bar going, and hope they continue to grow.

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