A New Tiki Bar Has Opened on Palm Avenue
Bar Hana quietly opened this week on Palm Avenue in downtown Sarasota. The tiki-inspired bar is the newest concept from Hi Hospitality Group, which oversees other area favorites like Kojo and Speaks Clam Bar.
“We wanted to fill a void in the downtown Sarasota scene,” says culinary director, Hart Lowry. “A late-night bar with tropical drinks—but food available all day. We have an elevated bar menu with small plates and lots of finger food. But we jacked up the flavors so everything is salty, spicy, creamy and crunchy, the kind of food that complements our drinks.”
Lowry, who consulted for Kojo before moving to Sarasota permanently, has drawn inspiration from his travels around the world to create a fusion food menu to accompany reimagined tiki drinks.
“I’ve traveled extensively through Asia including China, Japan and India. When you’re a chef and you travel, you taste, smell and see new ingredients. It has a permanent effect that is endlessly inspiring,” he says.
As Lowry recounts his travels, he weaves in the history of tiki, an Americanized movement that's inspired by Polynesian, Melanesian and Micronesian cultures. Tiki is also the Māori name for the first human.
“Tiki, at its core, is fusion," Lowry says. "There is a Pacific Rim influence, but done in a fusion manner. It’s really a kaleidoscopic Americanization of different cultures and cuisines,” he says. “We looked at the flavors of Southeast Asia, East Asia and Hawaii, but I stray from the word ‘authentic.’”
For example, the tropical citrus salad draws its inspiration from a Thai pomelo salad called yam som-o. His team tosses crunchy vegetables, like jicama and cabbage, with a vegan lemongrass vinaigrette and finishes the salad with toasted coconut and peanuts. Hearts of palm are also added, which Lowry tells me aren’t common in this particular dish.
The space has a hip feel, with a sleek, black-tiled bar contrasted by natural tones from rattan-lined walls. Flowers and greenery hang from the ceiling above, creating an intimate environment.
The drink menu, which was crafted by beverage director David Roth, features traditional tiki flavors with a modern twist. Most of the drinks are fruit-forward and familiar, but still balanced.
Lowry tells me his favorite is the Miami Vice, a combination of a frozen strawberry daiquiri and piña colada. At Bar Hana, it comes from a frozen drink machine behind the bar.
I order the La Sirena—sirena is the Italian word for "mermaid"—which is made with coconut rum, orange curaçao and falernum (a Caribbean liqueur). It is delivered in a tiki mug adorned with a mermaid, and as I peek behind the bar, I see a collection of other creative vessels awaiting their turn to be served to the next adventurous drinker.
As far as the La Sirena, the drink is not as coconut-forward as I anticipate. The falernum takes over, contributing a gingery-lime flavor to the accompanying spirits, which could make this cocktail go down very easily.
To soak up my boozy beverage, I opt for shrimp toast and ceviche. The ceviche, Lowry’s favorite, is made with fresh Florida snapper soaked in a coconut-milk base with plenty of citrus and habaneros, accompanied by fried plantain and taro chips. The fish is not fully cured, as is often the case with traditional ceviche. It maintains a bit of slip, so the texture is sushi-esque but packed with bright acidity cut by rich coconut and diced avocados. Despite visible pieces of habanero, it isn’t as spicy as I thought it would be—although someone with a sensitive palate may disagree.
The shrimp toast is made with a shokupan (Japanese milk bread) base, topped with shrimp mousse and then fried. The result is crispy and springy, and the addition of kabakyaki, a sweetened soy sauce, and mayonnaise adds more richness. The dish is small, but the flavors are mighty.
And while I don’t have the time or appetite to eat and drink through the whole menu, I’m tempted to make an excuse for lingering. I'm planning to come back, and next time brings friends so I can try one of the deadly sounding, large-format cocktails made for sharing.
Bar Hana is open 11 a.m.-12 a.m. on Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. It is located at 1289 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota. For more information call (941) 536-9717 or click here.