Great Tiki Bars That Take You Far, Far Away
We’re calling it: Tiki is ‘in,’ thanks to a group of like-minded enthusiasts around the country who have elevated the form to its rightful place among other sophisticated, noteworthy drink trends. “I don’t think you can deny it’s making a comeback, especially in the cocktail world,” says Brian Miller, the ‘captain’ of the popular Tiki Mondays series held at New York City’s lauded cocktail lounge Pouring Ribbons, a tiki aficionado and accomplished bartender in his own right (he won several awards during his time at Death & Co.).
Yet in the past, where the emphasis was on kitsch, today’s tiki havens are notable for having more substance. “Just as the pre-prohibition speakeasy movement is expanding classic drinks, so is tiki,” Miller says. “It’s more than sweet, syrupy rum drinks, a lot more than that, and you’re starting to see that with these places.”
He notes that the drinks are layered, with a depth most people don’t realize. They may start with rum, lime juice and simple syrup, but a host of other elements, from orgeat and curacao to spices like cinnamon, vanilla, and clove, give them complexity and dimension.
This emphasis on craftsmanship starts with the food and drinks, but at the best places, it extends to décor and beyond. “There’s a certain amount of curation involved, where it doesn’t seem like people are throwing things on the shelf just because there’s space on it,” Miller says. “There should be a feeling of escapism, too. Once you walk in the door, you should think, ‘I’m not in Cleveland, or Tampa, or New York.’ You should feel like you’re in a tropical environment.”
Bootlegger Tiki, Palm Springs, California
A haven in Palm Springs, Bootlegger Tiki is getting a lot of notice for its pristine décor (bamboo ceiling, blowfish light fixtures)—and expertly made drinks. In the same space that held the legendary Don’s Beachcomber Café for more than 30 years, the menu honors this historic spot with a carefully curated list emphasizing well-balanced, perfectly blended drinks.
Trader Sam's Grog Grotto and Tiki Bar, Disney's Polynesian Village Resort, Florida
Adults have happily embraced this respite from the crowds at Disney World. Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto evokes the spirit of the South Seas with specialties like the Polynesian Pearl (RumChata cream liqueur, Grand Marnier, and cinnamon with tropical juices) and Castaway Crush (Leblon cachaça, cream of coconut, pineapple, cinnamon, and lime juice).
Three Dots and a Dash, Chicago
Little more than two years old, Three Dots and a Dash has generated—and kept—the buzz ever since. Last year, it won Best New American Cocktail Bar at Tales of the Cocktail, the Oscars of bartending. Crowds come throughout the week to sample its variations on classic and modern tiki drinks, or grab a few friends for the group drinks (for a splurge opt for Treasure Chest No. 3, a heady mix of rum and tropical fruit juices that comes with a bottle of Dom Pérignon).
Tiki Ti, Los Angeles
Tiki Ti has long had a cult following, one that’s very happy to have its watering hole back after a fire put it temporarily out of commission earlier this year. Welcome this L.A. classic back with open arms by ordering its signature Blood & Sand.
Latitude 29, New Orleans
This hot newcomer seems to the universal favorite among tiki fans. “Without a doubt, it’s one of the best right now,” Miller says. “It’s the tiki bar we’ve all been waiting for.” Latitude 29 is owned by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, a noted historian of “lost” exotic recipes. The menu boasts some 20 drinks, many originals, and many inspired by the classic recipes of Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic's. “If you go in there and aren’t having a good time, I’m not sure you know how to,” Miller says.
Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar, San Francisco
Seemingly ripped from a scene in Mad Men, the Tonga Room inside the Fairmont San Francisco has pristine décor surrounding its 75-foot pool, hourly tropical storms, and a rightfully famous Singapore Sling.
La Mariana Sailing Club, Oahu, Hawaii
This private marina and tiki bar blends perfectly with the surrounding Hawaii atmosphere. Nestled on the shores of Keehi Lagoon in Honolulu, La Mariana Sailing Club is known for its fresh-from-the-waters fish and popular Mai Tai.
Smuggler’s Cove, San Francisco
Miller credits this bar, which specializes in “traditional drinks of the Caribbean islands, classic libations of Prohibition-era Havana, and exotic cocktails from legendary Tiki bars” for helping to launch the current tiki renaissance, largely owing to the talents of owner Martin Cate. “When it opened, Smuggler’s Cove was at the time—and still is today—the new mecca,” Miller says.
Don the Beachcomber, Los Angeles
One of the original tiki bars in America, Don the Beachcomber is a mecca for tiki fans. “The place is beautiful, it’s like walking into a time warp,” Miller says. Décor includes rare old daggers, and live bands and luaus are regular events. Miller notes the Zombies here are delicious, authentic—and strong.
Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge, Minneapolis
A tiki oasis in the Midwest, cheese curds are just as at home on the menu as the scorpion sting at Psycho Suzi’s. Here, the crowds come out when the steel winters thaw and they stay outside all summer long.
Forbidden Island, Alameda, California
Forbidden Island offers happy hour all night on Mondays, and every other weekday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., so it’s fair to say the aloha spirit never really leaves. Just outside of San Francisco and Oakland in Alameda, the expansive space, its house specials like the China Clipper and Rusty Romero, and bar bites like crab Rangoon, make you feel far from home.
Porco Lounge & Tiki Room, Cleveland
A relative newcomer on the tiki scene, Porco Lounge is gaining momentum fast. Fans come for the painkillers, whose alcohol level you can adjust per order, as well as Tiki Bob’s Concussion, a $35 drink served in an ample, and amply filled, goblet.
Hale Pele, Portland, Oregon
Owner Blair Reynolds makes small batch tropical drink syrups at Portland’s beloved Hale Pele, where drinks are categorized by such groupings as “strong ones” and “short hoists.” There’s are several rums of the day, out of a list of more than 200, perfect for sipping alongside a pu pu platter or kalua pork.
Zombie Hut, Brooklyn, New York
This Boerum Hill hideaway has been popular for years, and the Zombie Hut (273 Smith St., Brooklyn, NY) gets consistently high marks among groups and dates. “Here, it’s about more than the drinks,” Miller says. “It’s the atmosphere in which they serve them—this place is really fun.”