I walked into Archipelago, a new tiki bar on U Street, expecting spring break 2.0.
But instead, I witnessed an identity crisis. The bar juxtaposed the Polynesian islands with city life, but it was a strange fusion of cultures that left me confused rather than delighted.
Archipelago, which opened this month, is an over-the-top effort to transform a classic D.C. space, complete with cement floors and exposed brick, into a tropical paradise. Wicker, bamboo and tiki idols were scattered throughout, and a thatched roof covered up exposed ceiling pipes.
On the second floor, beach-goers frolicked across a projected screen – a uniquely modern touch. The brick wall on the first floor had a classic tropical mural painted on top of sunset colors.
But despite the themed decor, Archipelago left me feeling confused. Was I in D.C. or on an island? Did they serve Pacific Islander-inspired cuisine, Chinese food or an all-American plate?
The one aspect of Archipelago that felt like a classic tiki bar was its cocktail menu: 13 different rum-based drinks mixed with fruit juices. Tiki mugs are also available for purchase for $12 a pop if you want to take the tropical home with you.
For the sweet tooths, the $12 Captain Cody (Navy-strength rum, aged rum, coconut, orange and pineapple) or the $12 Chafed Paradigm (aged rum, St. Germain, coconut, citrus, culantro) is recommended. For those who really want to assimilate with the tropical, the classic $14 Mai Tai (Jamaican black strap rum, Navy-strength rum, curacao, lime, orgeat) is served in a pineapple and is a crowd favorite.
Since I came just in time to take advantage of the “bite” menu, which was slightly cheaper than the regular one, I tried two of the rather odd-sounding appetizers: ham & cheese sliders on King Hawaiian rolls ($8) and the Chinese BBQ pork nachos ($14).
The three ham & cheese sliders were just slices of ham and cheese on bread, although the sauce on top – a melting brown butter and black sesame seed creation – almost made it worth the $8 price tag. Almost.
The Chinese pork nachos were huge in comparison to the three small sliders: I was served a heaping plate of tortilla chips piled high with pork – it tasted like oyster sauce – cooked red peppers, nacho cheese, jalapeño and white sauce. Needless to say, the oyster sauce and nacho cheese was not the best combination.
All in all, my Archipelago experience was less “tiki bar” and more fusion – although a fusion of what cultures exactly remains to be seen.