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The Friki Tiki

There’s a trendy tropical paradise in Hell’s Kitchen — if you know where to look. Step through an unmarked door just steps from the chaos of 9th Avenue and down several flights of stairs and you’ll find yourself at The Friki Tiki, a hot new hangout whose beachy beverages, nightly live concerts and funky, irreverent decor is already popular with the Broadway set and in-the-know West Siders. The W44th Street space, previously Reunion Bar, is a semi-speakeasy — friendly door staff are stationed near the entry to help patrons make their way to paradise — but still exudes a hidden-gem quality once you’ve entered the disco-meets-South-Florida lounge that feels not entirely unlike an upscale nightlife version of Midtown’s famous Ripley-Grier rehearsal studios. Featuring vacation-worthy cocktails like the Aloha-Rita and hearty pre- or post-theater bites like Hawaiian sweet bun turkey Cubano sliders and sweet-and-savory candied mango-accented guacamole, Friki Tiki also puts on a nightly piano concert on its spectacularly-marqueed stage, with everything from jazz and rock nights to a weekly show tunes sing-along. Friki Tiki’s quirky-yet-inviting underground space is the work of Broadway producer and hospitality veteran Greg Nobile, designer Eamon Roche and Hell’s Kitchen restaurateur Robert Guarino, who previously ran Reunion Bar in addition to the nearby Marseille and 5 Napkin Burger. The three partners told W42ST that serendipity led them to each other and the Friki Tiki. Greg and Eamon, both from Branford, Connecticut, met through mutual friends and eventually worked together to build barbecue restaurant The Stand and The Friki Tiki's first iteration in their hometown. “We were always interested in potentially moving Friki Tiki to the city, ” said Eamon. In June of 2022, “I fielded Greg’s tri-annual request to go for a walk around the city and look for locations, ” he added. “We looked at a venue that was just horrible, ” he said, “And after we left and were walking down 9th Avenue, we saw this space. We’d been to Reunion before and loved it, and within a week we met the owners and had a handshake deal. ” Robert said the timing couldn’t have been better. “Reunion was the only one of our businesses on the block that we hadn’t reopened since COVID, and we’d been thinking about it and waiting to see what we should do, ” he said. “We had such a great run with Reunion — it was our after-work happy hour bar and we had been waiting to see if we should try to reopen or work up a new concept. Right at that moment we were approached by these two fellas and that hit it off. ” “It’s so funny, when we were about to open last week, my friend sent me a photo of us from years ago at Reunion, it seems full circle to be here now, ” said Greg. Adding to the synchronicity of the transition, “The square footage in Hell’s Kitchen is almost exactly the same as our first space, ” said Eamon. Many design touches — from the cheeky beer can ceiling in the entryway to the tarot card art, mirror wall, furniture and stuffed cockatiel that adorn the bar — have been reimagined for Hell’s Kitchen from their first location. “Everything here basically has been upcycled or recycled, ” said Eamon, pointing to the lounge’s tropical thatch, sourced from a set “rejected by Disney parks. ” Another easy decision was putting The Friki Tiki in the heart of the Theater District. Nobile, whose Broadway producing credits include, appropriately, Escape to Maragaritaville, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Side Show, Moulin Rouge, Slave Play, Funny Girl, POTUS, Mike Birbiglia’s The Old Man and the Pool and the upcoming revival of Parade, knew that the Broadway community and Hell’s Kitchen were ready for another after-show meetup spot. “Having been in the business for 10 years, I know all the tried-and-true go-to hangs for the industry, but I felt like there was space in this world for something new — something a little bit younger and where you could fuse live entertainment, which none of the other spaces like that have, ” he said. “We wanted to cater to both the community and the fans, starting with the cast and crews — it was an obvious thing for us from the jump. ” The bar has already seen Broadway notables like Parade's Micaela Diamond and producer Rachel Sussman stop by, and some have even hopped on the mic for an impromptu song or two, including Tovah Feldshuh and Jackie Hoffman, Nick Fradiani and Alex Newell — a treat that Greg predicts will be a regular occurrence at The Friki Tiki. They plan to premiere exclusive performances from upcoming Broadway shows. “The Broadway community is amazing, and we’ve seen a lot of support early on, ” he said. “They love a stage and a microphone, and it’s not that hard to get anyone up there, which is great! ” He also hopes to bring the energy of the ever-popular Marie’s Crisis from the Village to the bar’s weekly Wednesday singalong. “It’s a wonderful place, but we think there can be more like it, especially uptown, ” said Greg. More than anything, they want the Friki Tiki to feel like a departure from the typical bar experience. “It’s a bit of escapism, which I think in today’s world is really important, ” said Eamon. And as they move forward with Friki Tiki 2. 0, Greg said that they were “excited to learn from the neighborhood and the community that develops around here — it’s always going to evolve. ” He added, “We want everything about this place to feel unexpected. You’re coming down these weird stairs and you think you’re in the wrong place, until you’re not. And then everything that happens down here is a little bit of a surprise! ” This story originally appeared in W42ST. nyc in February 2023 as The Friki Tiki Bar is Hell’s Kitchen’s Hot New Broadway and Staycation Hangout