New Dallas tiki restaurant Swizzle offers escapism as well as an education on island cultures

The bare, narrow space on bottom Greenville Avenue that used to house the Dallas Beer Kitchen and Rocko’s Lounge has recently been turned into a tropical getaway called Swizzle, an extensive tiki lounge that serves Polynesian-inspired dishes with Hawaiian and Filipino tastings and options also served for vegans.

After five years in clubs and bars like the Green Door Public House, the Nines, and Parker Barrow’s, service industry veterans Marty and Jen Reyes opened the doors to their dreamy restaurant retreat on November 4th.

Aside from the Pilikia tiki bar, which was closed two years ago by the city of Dallas for zoning violations, Dallas has had no place for the tiki culture since Trader Vic’s shutdown in 2010.

Jen Reyes came to Dallas shortly after the iconic Tiki chain closed to continue a relationship with Marty, whom she met by chance while visiting from California for business related to her pin-up modeling career.

After moving to Dallas, Jen waited for a Trader Vic to replace it until she and Marty decided to take the tiki torch into their own hands in 2015. When they started the Swizzle Luau Lounge with pop-ups around town, the Reyeses quickly realized that they weren’t the only ones in Dallas who were “Tiki-starved,” as Jen calls it.

Jen Reyes at the age of 5Jen Reyes at the age of 5(Courtesy Jen Reyes)

Jen Reyes’ fascination with Tiki art and Hawaiian culture began when she was a child in the Bay Area, where she regularly visited Luaus with her mother, a professional hula dancer. She frequented Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room, her favorite spot in the park, and began ordering mugs from the Tiki Farm in high school as a result of her very first online keyword search – “Tiki”. Jen’s grandfather, Johnie Adviento, was a mechanic who moved to Oahu from the Philippines in 1929, and he helped American troops attack Pearl Harbor, she says. Their consideration for island culture is not just a passing fetish.

While Jens’ hook on Tiki is the art, Marty’s main interest is food. In addition to the Lumpia recipe, which came from Jen’s mother, Marty, a 30-year-old Dallas service industry expert, developed much of Swizzle’s original menu from the COVID era.

The menu will be expanded to include items like a proper pu-pu platter in the future, but for now it’s edamame dip with taro chips, sweet spam stir-fries, and smoky kalua pork pusher on King’s Hawaiian rolls. The main menu also features a Lok Moco with beef and pork and a Moco with Tofu Lok – a rice, hamburger, fried egg, and sauce dish allegedly made for teenagers in 1949 at the Lincoln Grill in Hilo, Hawaii, who want a filling but which is cheap meal.

The dark meat shoyu chicken with above-average macaroni salad is also classically Hawaiian and appetizing. It’s perfect for offsetting drinks like the QB Cooler, a tribute to its creator and founding father of tiki culture, Donn Beach, born in Waco, Texas as Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt. Its blend of rum and fruit juices is believed to be Mai Tai’s original recipe, but an out-of-court settlement gave Victor Bergeron (aka Trader Vic) the naming rights. In keeping with the history of the drink and the Reyeses’ desire to be a friendly neighborhood, the QB Cooler has a two drink limit, the same rule Beach put in its Don the Beachcomber restaurants.

The 19 drinks on Swizzle’s cocktail menu have a strength indicated by a series of Swizzle sticks, which were originally small branches of the West Indian Quararibea turbinata tree that was used to stir rum. A one swizzle drink says, “Welcome aboard!” A drink with three splashes reads: “Rough seas ahead. Don’t text your ex. “And a drink with four spritzes means you have to have your Lyft app ready.

“Our drinks are strong,” says Marty, “so we wanted to balance it out with good food.”

For kids who are allowed, nondrinkers, or for those preparing for a dry January, fruity and sour mocktails are options to keep everyone feeling included.

The dessert for now is the frozen Dole Whip, which comes from Disneyland’s Tiki Bar. Whether you choose a pineapple juice or a rum, it is an irresistible treat.

RIP to Off-Site Kitchen, the burger joint in the Trinity Groves complex in West Dallas that never opened again after the coronavirus pandemic outbreak.Swizzle is a new tiki restaurant and bar on Greenville Avenue.Swizzle is a new tiki restaurant and bar on Greenville Avenue.(Lindz Photography)

Out of concern for their employees and their families, the Reyeses take the precautions for COVID-19 seriously. Reservations are required after 6 p.m., and Swizzle is one of the few restaurants in Dallas that does temperature checks on the door with a wrist thermometer. Guests are requested to wear clothing or surgical face masks, not bandanas. Disposable surgical face masks are available at the host booth for those in need.

Jen says she and Marty had doubts about opening a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic, but on the first day of the restaurant a patron stepped in and immediately exclaimed, “That’s exactly what we needed!” The couple holds on to the belief that their restaurant has a bigger purpose at this point, because after all, Tiki is about “escapism,” Jen says.

It is true that Tiki was created to find an oasis in difficult times. When Donn Beach and Trader Vic started the movement in California, it was during the Great Depression. Tiki later saw a resurgence during the 2008 financial crisis when tiki bars sprang up across the country. This was found in an article recently published in the New York Times entitled “Reclaiming the Tiki Bar”.

The article also addresses Tiki’s troubled, exploitative past, citing current beverage industry professionals who “shed light on the history of the genre of racial inequality and cultural appropriation that has long been ignored because it clashes with carefree aesthetics”. And in the Los Angeles Times article from 2019, “Tiki bars are built on cultural appropriation and colonial nostalgia. Where is the billing? “John Birdsall writes that Tiki” certainly did not contain votes from Pacific islanders. “

Jen says she was closely following the conversation that continued this summer following an article in online magazine Punch. As a result, she carefully examined Swizzle’s decor. Ships and shipwreck jewelry suggestive of colonialism were avoided to focus on an artist-powered interior. The inverted Papasan chairs hanging lamps were made by Dallas Tiki lamp maker Jesse Magers. Dallas Morning News’ editorial cartoonist William “Bubba” Flint hangs on bamboo-covered walls in the entrance area. Jens Swizzle stick collection, which she started at the age of 8, is also on display.

In addition, the Reyeses are giving back cultures represented in Tiki. Money historically made through pop-ups has been donated to nonprofits working to protect women in Papua New Guinea, hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, and Hawaiians displaced by the recent Big Island volcanic eruption. Part of Swizzle’s long-term plan is to continue this non-profit support and offer educational courses on island anthropology and the history of rum. “We plan on telling the good and bad stories,” Jen says.

When the annual Dallas Tiki Week returns in late 2021 or 2022, the Reyeses plan to include all of the current voices in Tiki – both those who question them and those who want to preserve them, whether for a love of retro kitsch- Decor, island art, rum, Disney, oceanic culture or just escape.

“Dallas has become a national cooking and libation center,” says Jen. “We use this creativity in the service industry. We want to offer an escape to a tropical world where our guests can be transported without having to go anywhere. “

Chef Anastacia Quinones-Pittman prepares guacamole with onions, salt, lime juice, coriander and serrano peppers in the Jose restaurant on Wednesday, December 23, 2020.Swizzle is a new tiki restaurant and bar on Greenville Avenue.Swizzle is a new tiki restaurant and bar on Greenville Avenue.(Lindz Photography)

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