Painkiller is not your usual Tiki Bar

Step down a few stairs off the street, which for generations held the poverty-filled dreams of immigrants. The faces have all changed, but their stories are the same.

These dark brooding streets, their hearts full of feverish dreams, hold deep secrets. Painkiller, at 49 Essex Street on the Lower East Side in Manhattan,  is a liquid-driven slice of these secrets via specific historical elements that hit at the moment one of their expertly-threaded cocktails meets your tongue.

The Lower East Side in NYC is trendy now. Painkiller is not your usual Tiki Bar, nor is Manhattan your usual island. The doorman is cordial, he’ll ask for your ID. It may be crowded, you might have to wait to get in.

The walk over to this part of old New York is punctuated by the singsong dialects of the street. Chinese, Spanish, Polish, Italian, it’s all here folks, the last true ghetto on Manhattan Island. Yes,  you’ve heard about it. The former Jewish ghetto of New York City, Eldridge Synagogue just around the corner is now restored. The area is sort of safe – but where is totally safe in NYC? The streets are full of ghosts, and I can sense them. They are thirsty too for cocktails.

This island has hosted many dreams over the years so it makes perfect sense for a Tiki Bar like Painkiller to be popular with lovers of strong drinks. They flock to this liquid paradise from all over the world.

Introducing myself as one of the Ministry of Rum judges brings a huge smile and the guarantee of even stronger drinks. With my smart phone in hand, I showed my photograph from the San Francisco 2010 tasting event to prove my provenance and the fog is cut in the form of a 1934 Zombie set in front of me.

I’m pretty sure that the drinks would have been strong even if I didn’t speak of the Ministry. But it didn’t hurt. Writing about spirits is my business and my passion. My joy is to share the lowbrow, the cool, the interesting. At least I hope you will find Painkiller interesting. The Lower East Side is the perfect place for a Tiki Bar. Painkiller shares its bounty of carefully-crafted drinks with the thirsty.

Walk to the back where comfortable seats in near darkness with throbbing dub music makes the drinks go down too easily. Take care to feel your way down to the oasis of another land. Polynesia, circa 1970s funky chicken wreck room with wild animal prints, lots of bamboo, the coolest bar you’ve ever seen, but the bar stools don’t move? They’re so very tall and bolted to the floor. Hmmm. There are seats in the back along the wall, plush booths to sit in and melt. The drinks are strong here. Did I tell you that? Maybe stronger than any place I’ve enjoyed in the Island of Manhattan. A drink this strong in my book should come from the Caribbean islands. Island Style drinks are a learned art. My stepbrother taught me about Island Style drinks on La Vonga. (Located off St. John in the US Virgin Islands) What was I doing on La Vonga, this historic island of ill repute and no running water or electricity? Ask my stepbrother that, if you can find him. The drinks at Painkiller are Island Style indeed and they do have running water and electricity.

An island drink is one that has ¾ liquor and ¼ mixer. Take a 16 ounce (almost half a liter) plastic cup for portability. Fill it with clean ice. Pour some over-proof rum into the cup. Keep pouring. Keep pouring. OK. Add a splash of OJ (to ward off scurvy) then add a splash of coconut water to “float” over the rum and the orange juice. A scraping of nutmeg is next. There! That’s it! Oh, the reason why they call it Island Style is because it’s 9 in the morning and your drink would light up a small city.


  • Painkiller, 49 Essex Street, New York; PKNY is located on the Lower East Side of the island of Manhattan
    49 Essex Street, New York NY
    Call: 212.777.TIKI  By subway: F, J, M, Z to Delancey.
  • The hours of relaxation, Sun – Thu: 6pm – 2am, Fri – Sat: 6pm – 4am
  • Read more about Warren’s adventures at Cocktail Whisperer  
  • You’ll find him on Twitter @warrenbobrow1
  • You’ll find Warren’s cocktail books HERE

10 thoughts on “Painkiller is not your usual Tiki Bar

  1. Looks like the perfect breakfast drink, and then where do we go from here? To the second round? The third round? At what stage do you stagger out into the streets of ghosts and begin shadowboxing?


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