Happy Hour with Bobby Dudley

The SOS Tiki Bar bartender talks booze

It’s both perfectly intuitive and a little surprising that tiki culture is once again on the rise (see: new hot spots such as Lost Lake in Chicago, Mother of Pearl in New York, or Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 in New Orleans). After all, who can deny the power of the golden triumvirate that is rum, fruit juice, and elaborately carved drinking vessels? In Decatur, the SOS Tiki Bar has relit Atlanta’s figurative tiki torch, and that’s where you’ll find Bobby Dudley serving up Zombies and Mai Tais and punch bowls galore. Dudley’s beachside upbringing in St. Petersburg, Florida, certainly doesn’t hurt. But it’s his appreciation for the history of tiki that keeps the flame burning.

How did you end up working at a tiki bar?

The first bar I worked at was in Florida called Table: Mesa Lounge, which obviously makes no sense but was awesome. We did a lot of flavored mojitos and caipirinhas, tons of fresh fruit. I moved to Atlanta in 2009 and worked at various high-volume bars, did a couple of circuit parties at random clubs, and then went to the late Ink and Elm under Nick Chaivarlis. This is where and when I decided to focus on learning as much as I could about bartending. I applied to Empire State South and worked under Kellie Thorn for about a year before moving over to Paper Plane, under dudes like Ari Form, Martin Hwang, and Jason Harris, who are complete slayers at making delicious cocktails. About 10 months in is when it was announced that we were going to be closing for a short while to revamp and reopen as a then-nameless tiki bar.

Describe your first tiki drink experience.

The first time I had a drink that I recognized to specifically be “tiki” style was a proper daiquiri, as it should be. I used to think daiquiris were only frozen drinks served out of blenders that came in assorted shitty fruit flavors.

Have you ever been to Polynesia or Hawaii?

I have actually been to Hawaii. I was 10. My uncle Chris owned a charter fishing company out of Kauai and my aunt lived on Oahu. One of my most vivid memories is my dad trying to reel in a massive tuna over the side of my uncle’s boat. ... It eventually broke the line and got away. From what I remember of Hawaii, it was absolute paradise. And now I visit Polynesia about once every week when I dip my crispy little Chick-fil-A nuggets in their signature Polynesian sauce. It’s delicious.

How true to tiki history is SOS trying to be?

History is the basis of the tiki culture as far as I’m concerned. The coolest part of tiki is the rum and the story behind it. Researching old cocktails and working with new awesome products we have these days is never boring. Our menu is a pretty sweet balance between house recipes that the entire staff had a hand in making and classic tiki offerings.

Do you think people actually have more fun at tiki bars than regular bars?

More fun? I don’t know about that. I do, however, know that we put a massive emphasis on guests having a rip-roaring good time, and to hell with all the other bullshit. We try to keep it simple, casual, and fun.

Piña Colada or Mai Tai:

Mai Tai is always gonna be one of my favorites. Toasted almonds and rum? Come on!

Crab rangoon or coconut shrimp:

Coconut shrimp does, and will always rule. That fake crab pasty crap kinda skeevs me out a bit.

The beach or the pool:

Beach. Duh. Pools are a cop out.

What are you digging in Atlanta right now?

Atlanta has so much to offer, and unfortunately I haven’t seen as much of it as I should have by now. That being said, Empire State South and Kimball House are the two bastions of cocktail knowledge and execution in this city as far as I’m concerned. I love the hell out of Octopus Bar ... the music is always on point and the hours fit my lifestyle.

Pusser’s Daiquiri

There’s no (official) name for this cocktail. I’d simply call it a Pusser’s daiquiri. Pusser’s is a deep, delicious rum with an awesome spice note and a solid round finish. It does extremely well in cocktails, or just straight out of the bottle. Also, it’s steeped in history, which is my favorite part of booze in general. — Bobby Dudley

– 2 ounces Pusser’s Rum (84 Proof, Original Admiralty Blend)
– 0.75 ounce FRESH (and I mean fresh) lime juice
– 1 level tablespoon caster sugar

Shake till it’s too cold to hold, strain into a coupe, serve with a lime wedge.

Note: If you can’t find caster sugar, just throw some regular granulated sugar in a blender or a spice grinder and you’re in business!