49 Essex Street
New York, NY 10002
(212) 777-8454

Usually, you crave warm weather cocktails (mai-tais, diaquiris, pina coladas, etc.) in the summer, or maybe when you're on vacation someplace where the summer never goes away, like the Caribbean. But sometimes, you want the illusion of summer. The illusion of a vacation. Lina and I decided to go see The Rum Diaries, a movie about a guy in the 1960s drinking booze like it was water and breathing cigarette smoke like it was the fresh country air, all in the Caribbean. Painkiller, a tiki bar with a classic tropical cocktail menu, seemed appropriate. And, in hindsight, it was far, far better than the movie, which was pretty awful.

The cocktails at Painkiller hearken to that pre and post-WWII era when Hawaiian shirts weren't just for pensioners on a golf course. The interior is wrapped in bamboo like a Tahitian hut and the walls are covered in tiki masks (and inner-city graffiti?). The soundtrack is all either oldies or the kind of reggae white people like (Bob Marley, Chaka Demus, etc.). The first time I tried to go here was a year ago and it was like trying to squeeze into a sardine can, but this time, it was calm. We got a table right away and it never really crowded up. Clearly, winter's the time to go.

I got to Painkiller slightly ahead of Lina so I nursed a Missionary's Downfall in a small booth. Rum, pineapple juice, lime juice, mint, honey, peach, and topped off with a garnish so thick you need a machete just to get your straw in. The drink was so physically tall that I needed to take it off the table and stick it in my lap just to drink it. It was effectively a mojito with pineapple juice. By the time Lina arrived, I was left with a big glass filled with what had become green ice. While I thought about my next cocktail, Lina ordered a Dying Bastard. Painkiller has a few cocktails that they consider signatures of the establishment, each with a wacky history described on the menu. It also has a few pages with a huge range of daiquiris, punches, frozen drinks, fizzes, and "strong" drinks (they'll only give you one per sitting) that have names, but no ingredient list that I can regurgitate for you. The Dying Bastard was a fizz that was very ginger heavy. I ended up with the 1934 Zombie Punch, the drink you see below served in Charlie Chan's head. This is Painkiller's signature strong drink. Three different rums, lime juice, grapefruit juice, grenadine, falernum, and absinthe. And damn was it strong. I didn't notice it at first, but then, about a half hour later, I suddenly realized I had gotten loud and thought I was way funnier than I normally do. It was probably a good thing I stopped there. I hate looking back and realizing that I was "that guy" on the subway. Okay okay. It just about knocked me on my ass.

Drinks here average about $14 each except for the higher octane ones, which will run you $16.

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