Unless you’re fresh out of college, it’s likely been a while since you plunged straw-first into a scorpion bowl with five of your closest friends. But we’ve seen a return to the large-format cocktail at bars across the country recently. It seems like bartenders are having a ton of fun bringing back the comical classic. And while our coed days may be behind us, we have ambitious intentions of enjoying these gaudy giants at every available opportunity.
Maybe it’s the tower of garnishes that threaten to topple at any moment, maybe it’s the exciting combinations of classic and completely unexpected ingredients. Does the idea of slurping a drink the size of your head make you cringe? “Steer into the skid and embrace it,” says Owen Thomson, owner of D.C. bar Archipelago. “Ninety-nine percent of the time people will look at your drink with jealousy. People usually see someone’s flashy bowl on fire and say, ‘I don’t even need the menu—just give me that.’”
We love Archipelago for slinging monstrous cocktails like their Dr. Moreau’s Vacation Retreat, named for the sci-fi film The Island of Dr. Moreau, which blends white and spiced rums with Chinese orange, honey, and fassionola (a traditional tiki cocktail syrup with bright notes of pineapple and hibiscus).
Just up the coast in New York City, bartender Brian Miller of The Polynesian offers a group-sized Exotica Bowl for six to eight people. The giant punch bowl is filled with lime juice, green curry and coriander-infused rum, and swirls of lemon and lime juice, lemongrass and ginger syrups, and coconut cream. But if the sound of it isn’t enough, the presentation more than makes up for it. The drink is served on a two-foot-long clam shell with smoke from dry ice pouring over the edges. Exhibit A:
“All of my bartenders have to tell people not to touch or drink the dry ice, which seems like common sense, but we still have to say it,” says Miller. “To paraphrase the Jeff Goldblum character in Jurassic Park, ‘Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.’”
The bartenders at The Polynesian aren’t the only ones shelling out (sorry) whimsical serving vessels. In Detroit, Mutiny Bar serves their drinks in large glasses shaped like owls. At Navy Strength in Seattle, one drink that serves seven to nine people is presented in a massive conch shell sprouting straws and edible flowers. Exhibit B:
But bartenders often offer an important piece of advice: The glasses may be fun, but the drinks are seriously spiked. “Ask about ABV (alcohol by volume) when ordering,” says Chris Elford of Navy Strength. “Some people are trying to get their swerve on; some just want to enjoy the night.”
There’s an infectious glee that comes from leaning into the ridiculous, embracing the kitsch, and ordering the cartoonish cocktail. So throw on some sunnies and fire up the group chat, because you’re gonna need backup.