Don't get us wrong, the island-style fare at Tai Tiki Polynesian Bar Grill and Sushi is just fine-savory tuna poke, fried shrimp tossed with sweet chunks of pineapple and the like. But it's the boozy drinks laced with sweet fresh juices (translation: tiki cocktails) that keep us regulars.

Don't get us wrong, the island-style fare at Tai Tiki Polynesian Bar Grill and Sushi is just fine-savory tuna poke, fried shrimp tossed with sweet chunks of pineapple and the like. But it's the boozy drinks laced with sweet fresh juices (translation: tiki cocktails) that keep us regulars.

General manager Dean Keith isn't surprised. He says we're not the only ones who come for the food, but stick around for the brightly hued drinks, many served in ceramic mugs with glowering faces. The lengthy list boasts tropical, rum-centric riffs on classic cocktails, like the Rhum Diaries ($10) that subs an old-fashioned's bourbon base for Diplomatico rum. But there are also classic tiki renditions made with original recipes from the storied Kahiki, a former Columbus Polynesian restaurant that closed in 2000.

Tai Tiki owners Tai and Gail Lieu, former employees of the Whitehall restaurant, have the Kahiki's written cocktail recipes and pulled 13 favorites to recreate at their Short North restaurant, Keith says. "[The Lieus] enjoyed the atmosphere and drinks," he adds. "They still feel strong ties to the Kahiki. They wanted some semblance of the fun drinks and that fun type of atmosphere."

Perhaps the best example of that playful approach is the Volcano Drink ($18), an ode to the Kahiki's Mystery Drink. Meant to share, the Volcano is served in a huge hula-dancer-bedazzled bowl filled with three kinds of rum, citrusy juices and simple syrups, then set ablaze.

Imbibers who want a more individual experience should start with the Mai Tai ($8)-a perfect example of the simple beauty of island drinks. Before a heavy-hand of rum can shock your palate, it's soothed by syrupy citrus liqueur and then enlivened by lime.

"Our drinks are boozy. Our drinks pack a punch, but it's masked really well," Keith says, adding the trick is finding the right balance between boozy and sweet. So, fresh juices and simple syrups are added to every cocktail. "We make sure the sweet pops through and accentuates the alcohol."

If it's touristy novelty you're after, try the Smoking Eruption, served bubbling (thanks to dry ice) with dark rum, brandy and fresh citrus. Or venture for a tropical escape in the Head Hunter ($8), a rum-based concoction sweetened by guava juice.

And, in winter, if a cold beverage doesn't sound right, Keith says diners will find hot tiki drinks here, too, like a Kona coffee Grog set ablaze and hot buttered rum.taitiki.com