It's hard to imagine a time when people didn't think that tiki bars were a good idea, but the tiki bar has had a bumpy history, rising to immense popularity in the 1950's and 1960's, and falling out of favor shortly after. Recently, they're seeing a sort of revival. Whether people are looking for an escape from ordinary life, or they just want a well-crafted rum drink, we can all agree that tiki bars play an important part in American bar culture-- they remind us of a simpler time. Also, need I remind you how easy it is to get totally smashed on fruity tropical cocktails? Here are some of the best tiki bars in the country that take their kitsch very seriously.
Mai-Kai: Probably the main attraction at this Florida paradise is the Polynesian Islander Revue, a show that features authentic music, costumes, and dances from the South Pacific at the turn of the century. And what tiki bar would be complete without dinner and a drink? They have a dinner menu featuring Polynesian delicacies, and they sort their drinks menu by booziness; so if you really need a vacation, you know to skip the drink that comes in a fresh pineapple and to go right for the "Barrel o' Rum". Oh, and be sure to check out the gardens after the show, and definitely stop by their happy hour!
Three Dots and a Dash: This Chicago spot has a special reverence for the tiki bar's illustrious past, and it shows in everything they do, from the food and the decor to the perfectly kitschy drinkware (thankfully, they sell them as souvenirs). They also have group drinks, including an especially over-the-top one for groups of 6-8 that comes in a treasure chest and is served with a bottle of Dom Perignon. Then again, tiki bars are all about over-the-top, right?
Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar: San Francisco's authentic tiki lounge comes complete with a lagoon, a thatched-roof stage boat for Big Band orchestras and DJs, a dance floor made with the wood from a former schooner, and monsoon sound effects. Once you're done taking all of the island awesomeness, you'll probably need a drink (or two) so grab a seat and order a Zombie, a Mai Tai, or a Singapore Sling.
Trader Vic's: Of course, no list of tiki bars would be complete without the original. Trader Vic's is one of two massively popular tiki bars that pioneered the vibe (inspired by Vic Bergeron's travels to Cuba and Hawaii to refine his bartending skills) and the trend during the 1950's and 1960's. Vic started serving up tropical-inspired rum drinks and a tropical atmosphere to guests in the late 1930's. Though the tiki bar as a trend has seen its ups and downs, Trader Vic's has been around to serve up a little slice of island life the whole time.
Porco Lounge & Tiki Room: Tucked away in the tropical paradise of Cleveland, Porco is one of the newer tiki bars that's reviving the trend. They've got the standard drinks like Painkillers, but recently, they set themselves a goal of crafting a drink that's twice as strong as a classic Zombie (a notoriously stiff tiki drink), but just as delicious. And thus, Tiki Bob's Concussion was born. In following the tradition of Trader Vic's two-Zombie limit per customer, the Concussion has some rules as well: only one per customer, and you have to order it before 10pm. It sounds pretty intense... but in a relaxing, tiki way!
Frankies Tiki Room: There aren't a lot of places where people willingly ask for Scurvy or Mutiny... but when those are the names of rum-laced drinks, then it's totally acceptable. And while the outside may not look like much, once you step inside, you'll be whisked away from the grungy Vegas Strip to a tropical island... well, at least the best dive bar on a tropical island. It's a vacation from the showy casinos of Sin City, and a great place to hang with the locals. Oh, and it's open 24 hours...
Psycho Suzi's Motor Lounge: This drinkery adds a whole lot of badass attitude to the traditional recipe for a tiki bar, and they're not apologizing for it. Turns out, that's a pretty excellent combination: the decor and ambiance of the place is kitschy as hell (in the best way possible), the drinks are delicious, and they have a riverfront patio that you can boat to. You'll seriously forget that you're in Minnesota after a few hours (and a few drinks).
Surf Bar: Nothing sets a beachy mood quite like sand, and the floor of this Brooklyn neighborhood spot is covered in it! The bar's owner is a surfer herself, and has decorated the place with souvenirs and surfboards from her trips to various beaches across the world... which add a really rad, personal touch. The food menu features lots of light, fresh ingredients (and lots of seafood, of course) and they offer up a good variety of cold tropical drinks to add to the beachy flair.
Just a Civil War beard enthusiast, writer at Roadtrippers, and aspiring astronaut reaching for the stars.