It's opening night at Sun Liquor, and people are drinking mai tais like they're going out of style. Possibly it's because the drink is pimped in alluring gilt script on the window—along with "Polynesian cocktails"—or because they look so I'll-have-one-of-those iconic with their pineapple triangles and maraschino cherry orbs. The place is tiny, full, and loud; the feeling is celebratory, like everyone's awakened to find themselves on vacation.
Sawing and hammering went on for months behind the paper-covered windows, then finally one day golden Chinese characters appeared around the door, which itself says "BAR" in tiki-style lettering. Now fruity drinks are available in this pocket neighborhood along Summit, along with doughnuts from the lower Capitol Hill Top Pot, great beers at the Summit Public House, groceries purveyed by the nicest man in America, pizza from a random pizza place, and assorted art from No Space gallery. The joyful din may be related to the fresh urban luxury of not having to walk uphill to get a nice cocktail.
Sun Liquor's aesthetic is entirely ersatz, in the manner that Viceroy is '70s playboy den and Redwood is Montana roadhouse, but it's a little harder to put your finger on: stylized colonial Singapore? Upscale Hong Kong Phooey? As with Top Pot's interior—same owners—no expense has been spared and every detail scrupulously aligns: an antique cooler with an antique safe on top flanked by antique cocktail glasses and shakers, lemony-backlit bar shelves with cutout blossom patterns, light fixtures echoing the same pattern, bamboo chairs and bamboo bowtie accents beneath the bar, "Mandy" and "The Girl from Ipanema" playing. The best part: a mural proclaiming "UNEXCELLED FIREWORKS LEAD THE WORLD," depicting monkeys with a box of fireworks in a tree, confetti, a couple inexplicable ponies, a ghostly face, and a sun with flowing, curling, far-reaching beams. It's like a postmodern Chinatown fever dream, and you don't want it to make any more sense than it does, which is none whatsoever.
The irony of the décor, and whether it's funny or too cute or too contrived or just right, is the kind of luxurious debate undertaken here, while signature cocktails make for luxurious drinking at $8 a pop. The creation of café Espanol and café Mexico involves the bartender hand-whipping cream with Godiva liqueur and Myers's rum, as well as dramatically flaming giant wine glasses to make a candy-sugar rim. (Passersby outside pointed and stared, while inside someone accurately remarked, "It smells like Christmas is on fire!") In the fruity-drink realm, there's the mai tai; the even prettier sarong, a mildly citrusy, alcoholic Slurpee that looks like a sunrise garnished with an orchid and goes down way too easy; the dirty-sounding punetazo, rumtastic in a dark, mysterious glass; and a blended mojito that sparkles with soda and isn't too sweet. Then again, a greyhound made with fresh-pressed grapefruit for $5 is a nice, uncomplicated luxury itself.
Sun Liquor, 607 Summit Ave E, 860-1130.