A look at Nashville's Tropical Lounge.
To be clear, Pearl Diver (1008 Gallatin Ave., Nashville, TN) is not a Tiki bar. Mostly because they don't have any Tikis. And they don't serve in or sell any Tiki mugs. However, they make some damn fine drinks that I would classify as Tiki Revival. While they do have a few standards on the menu and will make most of the standards (off menu) that you might want, they seem much more interested in creating than recreating. So if it's not a Tiki bar, what is it? I'd call it a Tropical Lounge with a rotating menu of well thought out drinks created with the kind of care we expect from Tiki bartenders. I'd also call it good.
It's been about 6 months since my last visit to Pearl Diver and I was surprised to see an entirely new menu. While their initial menu divided drinks by age and style, their current menu cuts to the chase by dividing drinks by liquor. Essentially they have Sugarcane (rum/cachaça), Agave (tequila/mezcal), and Grain (everything else). Following a staff trip to Tulum, Mexico, there is an increased emphasis on tequila and mezcal in the new menu along with more beer/cider/hard seltzer options than I recall seeing last time around.
I had the good fortune of arriving early so my fellow imbiber (Mike) and I started with the "Lucky Sevens" happy hour menu. These are all classic tropical drinks that we all know and love. We ordered a Hotel Nacional and a Paloma. Both were excellent and although the Paloma is admittedly an easy drink to get right, it was good enough that we ordered another before happy hour ended. The Hotel Nacional was also well done and much more inviting a presentation than I expected off of a happy hour menu.
We were feeling a might peckish and thankfully Pearl Diver has a kitchen. We ordered a Cuban sandwich and some steamed pork dumplings. Both were excellent. I'm talking waaay above bar food standards. As with everything I enjoy, it was the little things that put the food over the top. Things like the light searing on the steamed dumplings and the choice of pickles on the Cuban. Better than they had to be and more appreciated for it. Successfully revived we dove back into the drink menu.
Mike went back to the Agave menu for an "Agent Orange" an interesting mix of tequila, mezcal, carrot, lime, & papaya juices along with Jerk spices. Shaken and served on the rocks in a salt-rimmed margarita glass, the drink is an excellent addition to the "tequila based but tastes nothing like a margarita" canon.
I went back to my sugarcane based tendencies and chose the "Smoke Signal". I could not have chosen better. The "Smoke" in Smoke Signal comes from an infusion of Palo Santo smoke (another trick picked up in Tulum). Essentially, they set a stick of Palo Santo on fire and then cover it with the larger metal end of a Boston shaker which smothers the flames while collecting the smoke. The drink is then mixed using a combination of cachaça, jackfruit, caraway, lemon juice and coconut. Add cracked ice and shake using the smoke filled Boston shaker. This is one of those drinks that you taste and someone says, "What does it taste like?" and no other drink comes to mind. I will definitely be trying to recreate this one at home. As I watched this drink being made I couldn't help but notice that most of the bottles used were homemade syrups. My guess is that it's a coconut cream syrup and either a caraway seed infused syrup, bitter, or rum. I've no idea how the jackfruit is getting in there. You can muddle it and then strain but my (admittedly hazy) recollections do not contain any memories of muddling. So, perhaps it's another infusion? At any rate, I love drinks like this that are not too sweet, belie comparison and have a very neutral finish. Rest assured, I'll either figure it out and get a recipe up here or bribe a bartender or (probably) both!
So, next time you're in Nashville be sure to check out Pearl Diver; it's well worth your time.