When the average bartender gets ready for their shift, the process is, for many, much as you’d expect—they put their pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us. But for Brian Miller, the self-proclaimed tiki pirate and the co-owner of The Polynesian in Midtown, Manhattan, there are other factors to consider.
“Sometimes when I wear the lighter color sarongs, I have to coordinate my underwear,” says Miller as he walks me through his collection of around 30 sarongs, which, along with war-inspired face paint, skull-bedecked headbands and custom-printed Vans, have become a signature of his style.
It all started when fellow bartender Joaquín Simó returned from a trip to Bali with a sarong as a gift for Miller. “I was like ‘Oh this is fucking cool’,” says Miller, who donned the newest addition to his wardrobe at the inaugural Pouring Ribbons edition of “Tiki Mondays with Miller,” his bygone tiki pop-up. (Simó also sported a sarong that night.) “After that I started buying more sarongs,” he says.
Currently, half of the closet space in his one bedroom Brooklyn Heights apartment is dedicated to aloha shirts, sarongs and sashes (a preventative measure used like a belt to ward off would-be prankers from pulling the sarong down), though it’s easy to imagine the percentage increasing before long. His home already has the aura of a captain’s stateroom: paper parasols resembling enlarged cocktail umbrellas double as light fixtures, a rattan peacock chair occupies one side of the living room and skulls and crossbones abound. “I started making tiki drinks and then all of a sudden it just took over my personality,” says Miller, “and now I just can’t get away from it, and I’m not sure if I want to.”
On any given day, Miller might be dressed in an amalgamation of Polynesian-inspired garb—a sarong bearing the sovereign flag of Hawaii, a tiki totem necklace and a replica of the headband worn by Johnny Depp’s character, Jack Sparrow, in Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s an ensemble that has ruffled more than a few feathers, and Miller is no stranger to funny looks from passersby—especially when it comes to the sarong. But he remains unfazed. “It’s fun and silly—and, frankly, it’s the most comfortable piece of clothing I’ve ever worn.”
Mornings at Brian Miller’s Place