Courtesy of the Inferno Room
Photo by Leslie Ryann McKellar
Guests at the Wiki Wiki Sandbar in Charleston, South Carolina
Live the island life—or at least dream of it during the cold front—at these tiki-inspired bars across the country.
The tiki bar, known for its umbrella-laden fruity concoctions, was first made famous in the middle of the 20th century by Don the Beachcomber (the man and his eponymous tiki bar). The popularity of these colorful rum bars serving Nui Nuis and Mai Tais—great for a mini-celebration or putting yourself in vacation mode—has shown no sign of slowing down. Beyond plastic palm trees and grass table skirts, today’s tiki bars are all about creating a laid-back vibe inspired by island relaxation. Here are eight tiki bars to keep you warm this winter.
At The Inferno Room in Indianapolis, you’ll find much more than tropical drinks. The bar is home to what may be the largest collection of tiki art on display outside a museum, including skulls, carvings, palm fronds, and more than 400 artifacts from Papua New Guinea. Peruse the artifacts, which rotate every few weeks, as you pick your drink from the extensive list. The menu includes classic tiki cocktails, such as the Skull & Bones, a fruity rum drink with lime, passion fruit, and grenadine. Or embrace the relaxed tiki culture and let the bartender create a delicious concoction based on your own tastes—flames optional.
The three-story Tiki TNT opened in December in Washington, D.C.’s growing mile-long District Wharf waterfront, complete with a rooftop garden, a fire pit, and bars on all three floors. It even has its own rum distillery that uses herbs grown on-site. Owner Todd Thrasher is an avid scuba diver and instructor, and his trips to the South Pacific inspired the colorful, island-style interiors. The drink menu keeps it simple, pricing-wise: All tiki cocktails are $14. The cocktails include classics like a Piña Colada, as well as its own creations.
Owner Karalee Fallert says Wiki Wiki Sandbar, a Charleston restaurant and bar, is a “love letter to the South Pacific.” The tiki escapism vibe is woven into five themed dining rooms, each with vibrant works created by local artists. In the Octopus Bar, you’ll find a massive octopus sculpture and framed octopus art with hand-stenciled foliage designs. The cocktail menu mostly consists of refreshing drinks with a coastal flair, like the Hello Dr. Jones made with overproof dark rum, apricot, and grapefruit. It’s not uncommon for tiki bars to serve cocktails in one-of-a-kind drinkware, and at Wiki Wiki Sandbar, you can take home the tiki mug your Mai Tai comes in for a $5 upcharge. The food menu ranges from Hawaiian plate lunches—typically rice, macaroni salad, mixed greens, and an entree, like Kalua Pork—to regional favorites like Southern Fried Coconut Shrimp.
You’ll feel a sense of calm as soon as you step in to Kanaloa in Houston, thanks to the teal, blue, and green color scheme that evokes the sea. Hand-carved tiki totems flank the entrance while large tiki-style masks representing ancient gods adorn the walls of this downtown oasis. The cocktail menu features such rum classics as the Mai Tai and Blue Hawaii, plus a half-dozen shareable drinks, including the beguiling Treasure Chest, which is decked out with three types of rum, Grand Marnier, tropical juices, Angostura bitters, and a full bottle of champagne. This showstopper arrives in a misty cloud of dry ice and serves up to 12 people. A strength-level meter on the menu reminds guests to “sip with caution.”
Last Rites is in San Francisco, but goes all out to make patrons think they’ve landed in a dense tropical jungle. Nine-foot-tall stone idols line the back bar among lush vines, while vintage airplane seats have been repurposed into bar stools. The bar stocks more than 150 rums that can be styled into fruity cocktail favorites, like Perfect Daiquiris and Zombie Killers, or the eye-catching Lovers’ Quarrel, which is made with rum, whiskey, grapefruit, lime, passion fruit shrub, and coconut cream and served in a flaming coconut. Looking for some sunlight with your Mai Tai? Check out these San Francisco rooftop bars.
Tropical flowers, bamboo, and driftwood are all part of the decor at Lost River, a new tiki-style cocktail lounge in Detroit. A large-scale floral mural created by local artist Ouizi covers the entire wall behind the bar, a photogenic backdrop for the colorful cocktails and creative drinkware. More than a dozen cocktails appear on the menu, each with its own unique drinking vessels.
Extensive research went into The Polynesian in New York City to create a gathering place that is light on kitsch, yet still transportive. Oversized tropical plants, bamboo ceilings, teak floors, and a bar top made of lava rock make the place a natural oasis—one that’s just steps from bustling Times Square. Located inside the Pod Times Square Hotel, the bar offers a cocktail menu of nearly 20 tropical-themed cocktails, along with four shareable creations, like Humuhumunukunukuapua’a, made with rum, Clairin, blue curacao, coconut tea syrup, absinthe, and tropical juices. It’s a very large, very blue drink for four served in a fish bowl.
Boston’s newest tiki bar, Shore Leave, evokes an island getaway with LED-lit tiki torches, tropical plant wallpaper, scalloped wall accents, and a bamboo-clad bar. The cocktail menu features classic tiki drinks, plus more than a dozen new island-inspired creations. Meanwhile, the food menu takes cues from the Pacific Rim with dishes to share like Filipino barbecue ribs and karaage chicken wings.
This article originally appeared online in February 2019; it was updated on December 18, 2019, to include current information.
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