The Heartbreak of Televisions In Tiki Bars

Great tiki bars transport you to a different world the moment you cross the threshold… they simultaneously unnerve you by ruining your sense of direction, and calm you with an enveloping blanket of relaxation. That instant first impression, the one that takes your breath away and tells you that tonight, tonight will be different: perhaps no single factor is greater than the lighting. The dark turns ordinary corners into nooks and crannies to be explored and discovered. The dozens of dim light sources scattered in all directions and across the color spectrum paint an otherworldly view.

And then, some very confused person installs a television set.

How does it happen? How can anyone possibly think that what this magical environment needs is a television?

The Super Bowl.

Not specifically the Super Bowl, but any major sporting event. When these events happen, bars without televisions simply don’t see business. The staff hates working: no customers means no tips, which means practically no pay. The bar business is hard—no one is getting rich running these places—and a slow night is bad news. Panic hits, people feel like they have to do something.

A television is ordered. Two televisions. And the biggest cable package.

When they first go up, they’ll tell you, “Oh, it’s only for the playoffs. We won’t have them on otherwise.” I think they even believe it. It’s not true, of course. The televisions will be on, always, with no assessment of whether the customers are actually interested in watching them. The televisions will be on autopilot. They’ll play CNN when they aren’t playing sports.

The transporting magic of the space is shattered. The garish blue glow will be far brighter than anything else in the room. They’ll steal attention. Even if you turn your back, the inescapable flicker of light will cast everywhere, and your companion will struggle to keep their eyes off it.

It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it?

The bar business, it’s a hard one. The business owners have to make these difficult decisions all the time. If it truly is a choice between the bar having a television and the bar not surviving at all, of course we want to see the bar live. They’re trying to do their best under challenging circumstances.

So, here’s what you can do: if you’re not planning on watching the Super Bowl, spend the time supporting your local tiki bar. Try to tip a little heavier. Round up your friends. Don’t want to miss the game? Go after the game, go the night before, go the night after.

On any day, if you’re in a tiki bar, and a television is on, and it’s clear no one is there to watch whatever is on it: speak up. Ask if they’ll please consider turning the television off. You’d be surprised how often it works. If they get asked enough, they may stop bothering to turn them on. We can dream.

Take a moment to thank the people at your favorite television-free places for resisting televisions and providing such a lovely environment.

There’s a great Facebook page, Bars Without Televisions, that does what it says on the tin: it celebrates bars that don’t have televisions. Nominate your favorite local television-free bar, give it some love.

If you’re near San Francisco, Smuggler’s Cove is having a great event on Super Bowl Sunday: it’s a celebration of Steve Crane’s 100th birthday. Steve Crane was the Hollywood player who was married to Lana Turner and owned the Luau in Beverly Hills. He later partnered with the Sheraton hotel chain to open Kon-Tiki and Kon-Tiki Ports restaurants across the country. That’s where I’ll be!


(Television photo by Scott Smith on Flickr, taken on the Tower of Terror ride. In that context, the shocking bright contrast and attention-stealing of the television set is intentional, and very effective. It’s exactly what you don’t want in a tiki bar.)

10 thoughts on “The Heartbreak of Televisions In Tiki Bars

  1. I agree with your point-of-view wholeheartedly. Much prefer no TV. However, there is a Tiki bar near me that does have TV’s. They don’t play current events, though, rather, they play “tiki” themed clips (old surf moves, Gilligan’s island clips, etc..). The TV’s are fairly unobtrusive in their placement and the TV’s sound is never on (as far as I have ever observed)…wonder how you feel about this variation?


    1. Personally, I think it’s a big improvement over mindless whatever-channel-it-falls-on television… but it still is a bright, flashy light that grabs at my attention. I’d rather relax and enjoy the whole room, and my companions. I can understand the viewpoint of people who like seeing the vintage film & tv clips, though.


  2. thank you for this article… I can only hope this gets picked up by all major news sources for our own greater benefit 😉


    1. Yes, as I mention at the bottom of the article. I felt this image was great: visually it conveys the sharp contrast of a moody environment with the glare of television. In the attraction, that uncomfortable and jarring feeling is intentional design. In a tiki bar, it’s a thoughtlessly introduced effect that detracts from the intended experience.


  3. I agree. I hate them. Unfortunately we had a previous GM who ordered “TV’s for Football” . We would only show game days with the sound off. If people weren’t watching or seated at the bar in front of one we would turn them off immediately . I am happy to say once Super Bowl is done we’ve made special wooden crate covers to hide them for good. I can’t stand them and agree they take away from the transporting feel of a tiki bar. They will be only used from time to time like Frankies does to show a montage of clips within theme of the night . – Branden The Golden Tiki


  4. If a bar is large enough it might be possible to segregate a Sports room from the rest of the establishment. The karaoke area at the Alibi is not a very good analogy but shows how you can divide things up to keep different patron types coming in.


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