The weather outside is frightful, but the straw huts and tropical drinks are delightful. At least that's the case with the Shameful Tiki Room, an oasis of sunniness and a surprising new bar in Toronto's Parkdale neighborhood.
Parkdale in Toronto still has a rough edge that makes you think about the moment before the comic book character swoops in and saves the day. Yet instead of Spiderman, turns out this neighborhood just needed a business with a sense of humor.
Shameful Tiki Room is a getaway within a bar – the place you take a date that you aren't quite ready to commit to a full vacation with.
Shed those Canada Goose jackets — Photo courtesy of Rod Moore
As you walk in, the red lights and the muted tones immediately make you look in between your toes for traces of sand. The hostess may be Alana Noguda, a renowned Toronto bartender, clad in a Hawaiian shirt and a smile (and pants, lest you think this is another kind of bar).
If you come with a group, likely you'll be escorted to the back area, where booths and rooms resembling tiki huts await you. Sliding in, quotes such as, "If you can't get to paradise, I'll bring paradise to you" sway you away from your smartphone. It's the perfect remedy for the winter woes.
The cocktail menu, laminated and illustrated, is substantially larger than the food menu. There is a legend that helps you to decipher if the drink is weak or strong (or in their terminology, mild to yowza!).
Drinks range from the classic daiquiri, with fresh squeezed lime juice and a giant round of citrus floating on top, to the Beachcomber's recipe for the Rum Barrel with the closed-lipped recipe of rums, "multiple" juices and "secret spices." Alana makes you believe that every choice is a fantastic choice, as if you were the only one clever enough to imagine ordering it.
Strange to believe that this is in Toronto — Photo courtesy of Rod Moore
Turns out there is more than one possible drink for patrons who like the element of mystery. The mystery bowl comes for two or more, and again has juices, rums and spices. A display of fresh ice and colourful straws that rival the length of pole vaults come to your table with pomp and circumstance.
We're pretty sure this is the "shameful" part as tribal music, fireworks and Gregorian chants collide to form an embarrassing spectacle on par with having restaurant staff sing you "Happy Birthday." There's also the volcano bowl for four or more, which we viewed as the popular centerpiece for double dates. It has a song too.
The food is a fried and spam feast. The waitress described the rice ball as adventurous so our table puffed up our chests and went for it.
The first attempt could be characterized as "interesting." It certainly was: spam and serrano and cilantro and pineapple aren't things that are normally put together. Even broccoli, marked as vegan, comes teriyaki fried, dredged in rice and corn flour.
Chicken wings come in threes, which is a pretty unlikely number for splitting. However, they are delicious, pineapple sticky and impressively moist.
The one time you may be able to call yourself an artist — Photo courtesy of Rod Moore
The menu extends to tacos, sliders and quinoa pilaf. The rum drinks and bowls do a good job of filling the belly for many patrons, who just seem to get used to the gongs and tribal music. Torontonians are nothing if not adaptable.
The one dessert is a tower of pineapple rings, swimming in a coconut sauce which has – guess what? – more rum in it. They are also fried, which in retrospect may be for the best to make sure that you don't rum yourself into a state of oblivion.
A Vancouver transplanted tiki room in tiki-free Toronto – perhaps we needed this spam and rum-filled fest, because Toronto is seeing a surge in Polynesian influenced bar culture. Put that umbrella in your drink and get on board.