As you drop down the stairs into Hula Tiki Lounge you plunge into another world. You’re launched ten thousand miles away, across the oceans to some distant, remote tropical island paradise. Far, far away from the dark, cold, wet nights of early autumnal Manchester. Immediately you’re confronted with a colossal fish tank, full of a vast array of tropical fish and assorted paraphernalia. The bar itself resembles a beach hut from some Caribbeantravel brochure. Bamboo pillars holding up a palm leaf roof, while bartenders in loud Hawaiian shirts vigorously shake cocktail mixers while free pouring generous portions of rum into oversized pint glasses. The seating area is made of wicker furniture, while the walls are covered in palm tree murals, movie posters of pacific classics, and album covers of Harry Belafonte. The light shades are made from the stretched skins of spiked blowfish, providing the perfect mood lighting.
But the hearty crowds don’t go there for the novel light shades or exotic fish. Over the James Brown can be heard the unmistakable sound of blowtorches. Firing up once every thirty seconds or so. If you are after beer then this is not the place to come. The business of Hula Tiki Lounge is cocktails. Large, flamboyant, on-fire cocktails. The bar queues are long and the drinks expensive, £9 for a Zombie, but it’s worth it in the end.
The barmen, as flamboyant and loud as heir Hawaiian shirts, toss rum around as if it were free. For a Zombie it’s free-poured into pint glasses with reckless abandon, topped up with a dash of fruit juice, and garnished with pineapple leaves and hollowed out limes filled with liquor. Then come the blowtorches. The pint glass is pelted with a high burst of orange flame. The drink ignites sending flames toward the palm leaf roof, before it settles down to leave the hollowed lime burning with a bright blue flame. The drink is the sprinkled with a magic dust that sends another stream of fire high into the air. It doesn’t take many f these to make you leave on your back. But the Zombie doesn’t come close to the theatrics of the bar’s most celebrated drink, The Powder Keg.
From beneath the bar comes a large wooden keg, which could well have been used by an old privateer ship in theCaribbean. A gargantuan amount of rum and other assorted goodness is emptied into the 3 litre barrel. The barman fills his mouth with spirits before lighting the blowtorch. The bar lights are dimmed. The music seems to stop. Like he fire breather the spirit is launched from his mouth, into the flame, creating and enormous stream of fire. The powder keg ignites, sending flames high into the air, setting the palm leaf roof on fire. The burning fluid spills from the keg, leaving a trail of ignited alcohol across the bar, leaving bright blue flames dancing across the surface. And then it subsides, to rapturous applause. The lights go up, and then the fun begins.