Tiki-philia is a real thing, just ask Buddy Newby and Melissa and Tyler Williams, the owners of Midtown’s new tiki bar, The Jungle Bird. Their new spot is an ode to their all-out obsession with the wonderfully tropical, boozy world of tiki.
Newby became extremely enthusiastic about tiki after he visited the Forbidden Island tiki bar in Alameda about eight years ago. “That day we had to have been there for six hours just getting hammered. We walked outside of the bar and we were so disoriented, but in a good way. Tiki transports you. You forget about what’s outside, and you are super in that moment.”
At that time, Buddy was slinging more traditional drinks from the bar at Chicago Fire. He said he became obsessed with researching tropical drinks and would experiment every chance he got. A few years later, Melissa and Tyler opened Tank House, and he started working the bar there. Soon after, Buddy talked the owners of Tank House into letting him start “Tiki Tuesdays,” which ended up being wildly successful.
Through all of this, Melissa and Tyler started becoming obsessed with tiki themselves. They all began visiting tiki bars across the country, collecting stuff nearly everywhere they went. “Our garage was insane,” Melissa said. “It was just stuffed with all of this bamboo and birds and tropical decor. When people would come over, I had to show them my tiki collection.”
An enormous tiki collection had to be displayed and an outlet for an obsession was needed, so naturally, when Kru relocated to East Sacramento, the three swooped on the building and bought a liquor license right away; The Jungle Bird was born.
The Jungle bird is a tropical escapist’s dream. It instantly transports you from busy J Street to a lush, makeshift, Tongan-inspired world. The blacked-out windows make it so that no one can see in, and you can barely see out: the world outside does not exist.
The bar literally serves to display the tiki collection that once occupied Tyler and Melissa’s garage. Tropical birds hang from the ceiling, and custom-carved tiki poles adorn corners of the seating area. It is cluttered and busy in the best way, and there are plenty of things to keep your eyes entertained. I adored the floral wallpaper and the puffer fish lighting fixture. Also, there is an amazing portrait of Jesus holding a tiki mug overseeing the bar, giving his blessing to all who booze there.
The seating is plentiful, and the staff plans to keep it as unchaotic as possible. Tyler says that they intend to keep a comfortable capacity, and never overwhelm the place with a crowd. There are tables for dining, a back patio for smoking and bar stools that are nice and comfy for those of us with a little more of a hump in the hula skirt—a very appreciated luxury.
The Jungle Bird has a really awesome glassware collection. Almost every drink has its own unique drinking vessel. You can get a “Jungle Bird” in a parrot, or a “Macadamia Nut Chi Chi for Two” in a bronze pineapple. But their most prized drinking chalice is definitely an enormous bronze flamingo that they fill with enough rum and vodka to get four to six people nice and toasty.
The Jungle Bird has more than 105 rums in its collection ranging from the average well to the rare. Their most prized rum is the British Royal Navy Imperial Rum, a super rare, nearly extinct liquor that was commissioned by the British Ministry of Defense for the Royal Navy. This goes for $100 a shot, and once it’s gone it is likely gone forever. In a few weeks, the bar even hopes to roll out a rum club, offering an opportunity for people to learn about rum and earn notoriety for drinking every rum on their shelf (over a steady course of time, of course).
The drink list is about 60 percent traditional tiki drinks and 40 percent are originals invented by the bar staff. The menu displays pictures of each drink with a description which makes ordering and drink recognition a breeze, all praise the bar gods of Jungle Bird. The drinks are ornately garnished, served over crushed ice and most are rum-heavy. I was raised by a grandma who knew how to get down on some good rum and lime concoctions, so the “Don Zombie” was my jam. It felt like something straight from the Grandma Cruz files: two types of rum accentuated by the perfect dash of mixers and lime. These guys really know how to accentuate, not overpower the rum.
I also tried an owner-favorite, the “JB Planter’s Punch.” The punch had Angostura rum, lemon juice, berry cordial and tiki bitters. It was tangy, not too sweet at all and super refreshing. Some key flavors from the drink menu include coconut in every form, tropical nectars, banana, citrus and warm spices like cinnamon. The drinks take time here and are labor-intensive. So in the proper tiki spirit, just chill and embrace the natural flow of it all. This spot isn’t about taking some cheap shots and bouncing; it’s all about the experience and allowing yourself to get whisked away in the ambiance.
The Jungle Bird also has a food menu curated by chef Matt Brown.
“He was able to take Polynesian food and know that it means anything from Hawaii to Papua New Guinea. There are just a ton of different styles and flavors that he utilized. He really made his dishes indescribable in that it is truly a menagerie of flavors,” said Tyler.
The menu isn’t overwhelming or extensive. It’s bar food and then it isn’t. You can get small plates to snack on like skewers or egg rolls, or even bigger entrees, like the mochi-fried chicken and Kalbi-style beef ribs.
The small plates are perfectly priced, and I wanted to try them all. In this case, I ordered the Pu Pu platter, a sampler of five small plates served on a revolving dish. It was some seriously satisfying snacking and had a great melange of flavors. The platter is only $20 for two people or $35 for four people, and definitely worth it. My favorite parts of the platter was the masterfully crusted coconut shrimp and the pork sisig tacos. The grilled/smokey characteristics partnered so well with all of the subtle sweet and spicy flavors.
There is nothing like The Jungle Bird in Sacramento right now. It is unique and just plain fun. Literally everything in this bar has been crafted to stimulate the senses and transport you to a mentally elevated, tropical state. While shooting pics for this piece, Newby, Melissa and Tyler were sipping drinks and basking in the world they have created for customers; the photographer said something along the lines of us not wanting to make them look like complete boozers. The three owners looked at each other, laughed and proudly proclaimed, “But that’s what we are!!!,” followed by a jubilant bumping of the mugs. They like to have fun, and they have crafted a world for you to do the same at The Jungle Bird.
The Jungle Bird is located at 2516 J Street in Sacramento. Check out Facebook.com/junglebird916 for more info.