Ship off to a rum-drinker’s paradise

Swaylos Tiki, Longmont, CO

Swaylo’s Tiki is, first and foremost, an experience, an homage to a different era and a temple to all things tiki. It will take your eyes a moment to adjust to the dim lobby after the bright Colorado sun, making it easy to feel like you’ve shipped off for a Hollywood version of a Pacific Island vacation and not a few parking lots away from Buffalo Wild Wings.

Walking through the front doors, you’re instantly transported. The windows are covered and the interior is lit by faux gas lamps and buoy lights. Wooden walls are lined with nautical memorabilia, tchotchkes and other tiki-themed kitsch, while the walls themselves are designed to look like the interior of an old seafaring vessel.

The fourth restaurant from The Roost owners Sean and Rebecca Gafner has been a lengthy labor of love, according to Beverage Director Matt Grimes. Swaylo’s Tiki has been in the works since 2018, joining The Roost, Jefe’s Tacos & Tequila and the fast-casual lunch spot Smokin’ Bowls in Longmont.

“It’s a dream come true to be able to see this in front of us right now,” Grimes says. “The whole idea is escapism. There aren’t any TVs. We want you to completely be engulfed when you walk in. It’s its whole own world.”

But while setting the stage with decor and tiki trappings is one thing, a big part of American tiki culture’s draw is complex and flavorful rum drinks. Grimes estimates at least 115 different bottles of rum and variants from around 10 different countries, including local bottles from Dryland Distillers and Abbott & Wallace in Longmont.

The labor of love isn’t just for the seafood-focused menu or decor, it extends through the cocktail menu. From hurricanes and zombies to frozen pina coladas, the classics are well-represented on Swaylo’s menu. Grimes said his favorite on the menu is the mai tai, which went through more than a few iterations to reach its current recipe.

“For me, it’s how complex and deep they go. It’s really easy to think that tropical drinks are just pineapple juice and rum. The drinks are layered, complex and detailed,” Grimes says. “Our bartenders work really hard to make great, consistent cocktails with flavors you won’t find on other menus, like passionfruit and pimento dram.”

The cocktails are playful and bright, appealing to the eyes, served in funky ceramic tiki mugs. The unique qualities of the spirits, fruits and spices that go into each have been strongly considered. Cocktails like the Lilikoi whiskey sour play with expectations, blending in tropical flavors with Colorado whiskey to elevate an otherwise standard menu item.

The mindfulness and care that goes into developing the recipes also shows up in less obvious ways, like in the Saturn. Local gin from Spring 44 mixes with citrus and passion fruit, but the whole cocktail is lifted by the use of orgeat, a syrup of almonds and orange blossom. Rather than sourcing orgeat from a vendor or producer, Grimes and his staff produce the syrup in house a dozen gallons at a time. While practical from an expense standpoint, it also lends consistency to an ingredient present in several cocktails.

Frozen concoctions like blue Hawai’ians, lava flows and pina coladas also take the hassle out of ordering. Like the frozen margaritas at Swaylo’s sister restaurant Jefe’s, slushie machines turn with vibrant colors on the wall behind the bar. 

Forgoing the blender saves on mess and time for the bartenders, while sparing everyone else from the disruptive whirring of ice being pulverized. As an added bonus, the frozen mixtures are all non-alcoholic. Spirits are added on ordering, so adults who choose not to consume alcohol still have some fun options (and kids don’t feel left out).

It is worth mentioning that Swaylo’s offers two shareable cocktails—a citrus chai punch and Swaylo’s volcano. Served in bowls with long straws, the menu recommends splitting one of these between four-to-six people. Well worth the price as your server lights an alcoholic volcano on fire right at the table.

It is worth noting that the strength of the cocktails are not for the faint of heart or an empty stomach. Fortunately, the food menu at Swaylo’s is up to the challenge, but that’s a column for another writer. 

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