Tiki Bars Worth the Journey

Tiki culture—which seems to have been cobbled together from authentic Polynesian iconography and cheap plastics by teams of ad executives in the 1950s—has been both studied and vilified, but endures like the flame of a torch driven into the sand. These bars, which all embrace the ukelele, bamboo building materials, and pineapple garnishes, vary from solemn reenactors of a pretend Polynesian civilization to fully blown museums of kitsch culture. Step through the beaded curtains to find fruit-laden beverages and a good time.

Highlights
2330 Kalakaua Ave #330, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA
Upscale food halls are having their day and here James Beard-winner and Michelin-starred chef Michael Mina takes a star turn. Of special note is the Myna Bird cocktail bar, inspired by Don the Beachcomber, the joint that kicked off the 1960s tiki craze. Expect rum, pineapple, and little paper umbrellas, of course, but also fusion touches like mezcal! Save space on your camera, as bartenders don’t hold back on the presentation. Strong, thoughtfully balanced drinks roll out in everything from cantaloupes to conch shells. Don’t miss the two-person, crowning glory of the Pacific Rim section: the Abandon Ship! It blends together two rums, chai tea, passion fruit syrup, Benedictine, and lemon.
1363 Boylston Street
Top Chef finalist Tiffani Faison showed off her versatility in opening Tiger Mama, her second restaurant, as an un-Americanized Asian-fusion concept—wildly different than Sweet Cheeks Q, her Boston barbecue joint. What’s similar is Tiger Mama’s Fenway location and its creative take on traditional preparations, in this case Thai, Malaysian, and Vietnamese dishes grouped under general headings (like Cold & Fresh, Crispy & Spicy, Rich & Earthy, and Noodles & Rice) to aid in navigating the maybe-unfamiliar names of dishes. The short-rib crudo is the go-to starter; “pig rice” is a typically generous portion of rice mixed with bacon, tasso ham, and Isaan sausage, sprinkled with pork floss; and the tiki drinks will flow as the sharing plates are passed.
Povai Bay, Bora-Bora 98730, French Polynesia
Bloody Mary’s, entertaining tourists since it opened in 1979, is one of those Bora Bora experiences that simply must be done. The ambience is beach-bar hip, with sand floors, colored lights, and coconut stools in a dining room under a thatched roof and surrounded by tropical foliage. Even if you don’t eat here, at least come for a cocktail to experience the vibe and mingle with the crowd of local pension, or guesthouse, owners, visiting celebrities, and other travelers. The food’s quite good, too: Fresh fish, seafood, and meats are grilled, American-barbecue style, with tasty results.
1378 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M6K 1L7, Canada
The West End neighborhood of Parkdale, once considered an unsavory part of town, has undergone a transformation. One of the new arrivals is the Shameful Tiki Room, a Vancouver transplant with a kitschy Polynesian atmosphere. The cocktail selection emphasizes drinks made with rum and orgeat—tiki ingredients from the 1950s—particularly fruity, boozy punches. The best, dubbed the Volcano Bowl, arrives tableside in conjunction with a smoke machine, a thunderous voice-over, and a flaming “volcano” in the center of the drink vessel. It doesn’t get much more fun than this.
3154 W Diversey Ave, Chicago, IL 60647, USA
If there were ever a city where a tiki bar is bound to succeed, it’s Chicago—during warmer months, they can help us embrace our short-lived summers; and during winter months, they help us escape the reality of subzero temps. As such, the seats of this Logan Square hangout are always filled, and bartenders tirelessly mix cocktails like the Bunny’s Banana Daiquiri (with overproof Jamaican rum, overproof demerara rum, spiced rum, banana, coconut, and lime, served with a banana dolphin) and the Tic-Tac-Taxi (a frozen drink with aged multi-island rum, overproof Jamaican rum, coconut, passion fruit, and lime). A recently opened kitchen serves up dishes like pork dumplings with scallion and ginger, and curry udon with summer squash and coconut crème fraîche.
321 N Peters St, New Orleans, LA 70130, USA
Owner and tiki archaeologist Jeff “Beachbum” Berry spent the better part of three decades researching early tiki drinks—he’s noted for unearthing the once-thought-lost recipe for zombies (dating back to 1934). He’s also the author of eight books about tiki drinks and culture, and he and his wife set down roots in New Orleans a few years ago to share some potable history with guests. Latitude 29 is more austere and understated than the original Polynesian pop palaces, but the drinks are every bit as elaborate. Sample faithful re-creations like that original zombie—or maybe a mai tai or a Navy Grog. He’s also got a smattering of delicious originals, crafted using nontraditional spirits like bourbon and vodka. The food provides welcome ballast—the pork ribs and dumpling burger rarely fail to satisfy.
1712 W Charleston Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89102, USA
The kitschy beachcomber designs of Frankie’s are the brainchild of Bamboo Ben Bassham, the grandson of a creator of Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room. The bar is chock-full of carvings, totems, thatch, and bamboo. Rum-heavy drinks are served in regular glasses or souvenir mugs (most designed by local artists) that channel the vibe of the place. One of the fave tipples: the Tangerine Speedo, made up of rum, crème de cassis, and Chambord. Another popular choice is the Mutiny, crafted from vodka, melon liqueur, amaretto, Everclear, and cranberry juice. In addition to these house specialties, Frankie’s offers traditional tiki drinks such as mai tais, Navy Grogs, and Lapu Lapus.
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