6 Things To Know About Tiki Tatsu-Ya, South Lamar’s Cocktail Haven
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To really understand Tiki Tatsu-Ya, you’ll want to learn a bit of the fantastical backstory behind the bar.
As the story goes, two brothers — the Aikawa brothers — operate a small travel agency geared towards thrill seekers and surfers on an unnamed island. They stumble upon a cave, and in it they find relics of past visitors — first, the Japanese explorers that found the island in 1619, and later a rum distillery forced to leave abruptly. Naturally, the two brothers decide to turn it into a bar, initially stocking it with the rum that was left behind. As explained on an audio loop within the bar:
“The cave became a place to escape to, where one could enjoy a stiff drink, shut out the world, and escape for as long as they wanted.”
The story is a fictitious one, but the Aikawas —Tatsu Aikawa and Shion Aikawa — are real, as is their Ramen Tatsu-Ya Group, which is behind this new tropical venture. That said, the story paints a picture of what this tiki bar is really meant to be: an escape. It’s an immersive experience that will immediately make you forget that you’re actually just a few short steps away from a gas station. Tiki Tatsu-Ya showcases a melding of Hawaiian, Polynesian, and Japanese influences, but also shies away from tying itself to any particular place or time. You’ll learn the details of the island at various points throughout your visit — the full story plays on speakers in the bathroom (or on the website, for those that prefer to do their homework in advance). All of it helps you understand the thought and attention that goes into every detail — a commonality amongst all of their concepts, which each manage to bring new, wholly unique experiences to Austin.
“The Tatsu-Ya family puts their all into any concept they create,” says Tristan Pearman, director of brand and development for the restaurant group. “DipDipDip feels like this wooden jewel box that’s a complete shabu-shabu experience. Then you have Kemuri, which hearkens on that balance between Japanese, Texas and barbecue. The ramen shops are our classics. They’re a little grittier, the music’s a little louder – there’s some graffiti and there are murals on the walls. All of our concepts are special in their own way and completely different.”
Tiki Tatsu-Ya is a project that’s been years in the making, and it’s unlike any other experience in Austin. And we’ve put together a few tips to help you navigate your experience there.
1. This is not your average tiki bar.
This is a tiki bar that studied hard, did its homework, and finished the extra credit. This is Disney World for tiki aficionados. Sure, you’ll see excellent renditions of classic tiki drinks — like mai tais, painkillers, and zombies — but all with a slight twist. Expect to see ingredients like shiro-miso coconut cream adding some richness to that painkiller, or miso-almond orgeat adding a nutty depth to your mai tai. Make your way over to the food menu and you’ll see some very Tatsu-Ya takes on classic Hawaiian staples. This means teriyaki glazed foie gras musubi, spam on the half shell (served in a mango), and a pu pu platter impressive enough to draw the eyes of all tables in the vicinity.
2. You’ll need a few visits to work your way through the menu.
Working your way through a drink list as extensive as this one is going to take a few visits. Tiki drinks are notoriously strong — often blending a variety of rums, with just enough syrups and citrus to mask their true potency — and Tiki Tatsu-Ya is no exception.
The menu folds out like an old pop-up book, revealing just enough new options every time to make you second-guess the drink you’d finally settled on. Then there are the large-format options — the group drinks made to be shared with two, three, or even four people. These are the drinks that come with their very own show. The lights begin to flicker, the sound of thunder rolls in, and a thick plume of fog falls to the floor as your drink makes its way across the room. If you’ve ever ordered a skillet of sizzling fajitas at a Tex-Mex restaurant, you’ll recognize the longing glances from all over the room. These are the drinks to order when you’re celebrating a special occasion — like birthdays, promotions, or random Thursday afternoons.
3. Getting a table can be tough (but we can help)
By now you’ve probably tried to get a coveted Resy for your experience at Tiki Tatsu-Ya, and maybe you’ve even lucked out. But if you haven’t been able to grab that golden ticket — or you’re ready for round two — we have a few tips.
Reservations open up 30 days in advance, so you’ll need to plan ahead. Not seeing anything? New Resys open up at midnight — grab yourself a glass of wine, pop up that Netflix queue, and get ready to snag a spot when they go live.
Feeling a bit more spontaneous? They accept a limited number of walk-ins, but there’s a decent chance you’ll be competing with a few other folks for space. To stand a better chance, plan to show up early or late. Reservations start at 5 p.m., but the bar opens at 4 p.m. to walk-ins (just tell work you have an important meeting). The space also tends to clear up a bit later in the evenings — generally after about 10 p.m. You can also call ahead and ask what the walk-in situation is like, though you won’t be able to add yourself to the list over the phone. None of these are a guarantee — you’ll need a Resy for that — but these tips might help you stand a fighting chance of getting in.
4. There are two floors, each with a unique vibe
As the story goes, the two Aikawa brothers stumbled upon an a cave on an island that had been inhabited at various points since 1619, at one point even operating as a rum distillery, which the brothers then turned into a bar.
When you first enter Tiki Tatsu-Ya, you’ll find yourself in a stairwell. Upstairs, to the right, is the house that the brothers built to live in. Downstairs you’ll enter into the cave where they built the bar. The full menu is available on both floors, but as you might imagine, the vibes are slightly different. The cave feels more like, well, a cave. It’s a bit darker, with a little more energy. You’ll find semi-enclosed nooks and tables, with maps and miniature ships on display. Upstairs feels a little more calm, a bit reminiscent of a large beach house.
5. There are hidden details everywhere
Keep your eyes up when you’re navigating the space — easter eggs are everywhere. The items lining the walls are sourced from all over the place — local artisans, vintage shops, other famous tiki bars — pulling inspiration from cultures all over the world, though with heavy Polynesian and Japanese influence. There are even pieces of an old ship and a 7th century statue hiding in the mix somewhere. But while the items lining the shelves come from all over, most of the interior was designed and decorated by local artists, giving it a distinct feel. Want to learn more about the story behind it all? In the bathroom you’ll hear a recording over the speakers that tells the history of the island, though at 17 minutes long you might get some strange looks if you post up to hear the whole thing. Don’t worry, you can hear the whole story right on the website from the comfort of your own home — restroom or otherwise.
6. Getting there can be a bit tricky
The space has a bit of a speakeasy vibe, and that means finding the entrance can be a bit tricky. The side facing South Lamar is a fictitious storefront for Aikawa Tropical Tours, but the entrance is on the backside of the building, near the rear of the Ramen Tatsu-Ya on South Lamar. There’s no parking lot, and street parking can be a bit limited, so we’d recommend grabbing a rideshare if you’re showing up during peak hours. They also have bike racks right out front if you’re coming from nearby.
And if you were upset to find out that Aikawa Tropical Tours is just a fictitious agency, there’s a tenuous real-life connection: follow Aikawa Tropical Tours on Instagram to find out about special events, rum tastings, and merch releases (there are new mugs available every few months). You may even luck out and find some videos and photos of the brothers out surfing (we’re told this could happen in the near future).