The Volcano Bowl is among the offerings at 4 Kahunas, a new tiki bar in Arlington that embraces tiki culture in a way not seen since the passing of Trader Vic's.

The Volcano Bowl is among the offerings at 4 Kahunas, a new tiki bar in Arlington that embraces tiki culture in a way not seen since the passing of Trader Vic's.

Lawrence Jenkins/special contributor/GuideLive

Step past the industrial park-like façade of 4 Kahunas in Arlington and you'll find yourself at a bar the Dallas-Fort Worth area hasn't had in some time: a real live tiki joint.

"I never thought I'd work in a place where patrons were battling with little pirate ships and shark mouths," said bar manager Brad Bowden of one evening's crowd. "They were like little kids."

With a four-page tiki drink menu backed by a thatched-roof bar, island-inspired wall art and a soundtrack infused with surf and exotica, 4 Kahunas embraces the tiki aesthetic with a fervor not seen in D-FW since the days of Trader Vic's.

It shows a mini tiki revival is building, since there's also a tiki bar coming to the back patio at new East Dallas hangout Local Traveler.

Tikiphiles know its culture extends far beyond cocktails, but ever since Trader Vic's sailed off into the horizon, those who've carried a torch for tiki have only marginally seen their daiquiri dreams fulfilled, from Proper's ongoing three-month "tiki pop-up" in Fort Worth to, in Dallas, a short-lived tiki reboot of Sunset Lounge in 2013 and the confused clubbiness of Pilikia.

Otherwise, tiki has been relegated to a random once-a-week or off-menu exercise, with its fruity coconut libations periodically surfacing at places like Lower Greenville's Rapscallion, Denton's Paschall Bar, East Dallas' Lounge Here and The People's Last Stand in Mockingbird Station.

Now, in a budding commercial complex behind a stretch of Division Street car dealerships in Arlington, new bar 4 Kahunas has planted its tiki flag, with a modest but lovingly appointed space with a half-dozen or so stools at the bar, a couple of high-tops and several large booths.

"I've had more people ask for more Singapore Slings here in Arlington than I ever did in Dallas," Bowden says -- and the tiki classic isn't even on the menu. "I had no idea there was so much interest in the Mid Cities."

The bar's grand opening on Saturday featured the Tiki Torches.

The bar's grand opening on Saturday featured the Tiki Torches.

Lawrence Jenkins/special contributor/GuideLive

Among the drink's fans is Marc Davis, a Hawaiian-born Filipino/Pacific-Islander who runs a local food truck called Smoke and Pickle. Having stumbled onto 4 Kahunas while seeking a parking spot at Arlington's 4thof July celebration, he was suddenly gripped by memories of his island upbringing and his dad's love for Singapore Slings and Marlboros.

"I like the low-key vibe," he says.

Tiki's laid-back Polynesian flavor flourished in the 1930s and 1940s, with Trader Vic's and its Zombies and Mai Tais leading the way. Though the trend fizzled within a few decades, the ongoing re-emergence of craft cocktails revived interest in tropical tipples, with places like Smuggler's Cove in San Francisco and PKNY in New York among the first to resuscitate its rummy riches.

Several years ago, on a visit to Las Vegas, 4 Kahunas co-owners J.P. Hunter and Chris Powell visited the venerable Frankie's Tiki Room, and it was enough to revive Hunter's California childhood memories: the L.A. beaches and those plastic monkey cocktail garnishes his mom would give him from her drinks.

Hunter, a University of Texas-Arlington grad nearing retirement in the construction business in Houston, was already eyeing a third act. Why not do something he really enjoyed? He and Powell recruited two other college friends as investors, and their four caricatured faces are now represented by large, carved wooden tiki heads behind the bar.

"Our only missing link was a bar manager," Hunter says. "And lo and behold, there's Brad."

Bowden, already spinning tiki classics and variations at Lounge Here in East Dallas, was more than ready to crank out Painkillers and Headhunters -- as well as my personal tiki favorite, the flaming-lime-boat-topped Jet Pilot. With Bowden on board, 4 Kahunas quietly opened on June 9, but quickly, word spread among fanatical tikiphiles, never mind the out-of-the-way location.

"We've already had people coming in from Chicago, Atlanta, Florida," Hunter says.

It's a decidedly unchain-y place in a bar-and-grill-leaning city that Hunter says finally has greater ambitions. Affordable Arlington represented a chance to be part of a scene that's just starting to grow. Says Hunter: "The train is just leaving the station."

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