Tiki Deserts: Towns That Need Tiki Bars

Every now and then I get asked about towns in need of a tiki bar. Often, I’m asked by someone who is dreaming of opening one, and is flexible on location. For a long time the top of that list was Sacramento: it’s not just well-populated, it’s well-populated with tiki lovers. Tikiphiles alone can’t keep a place afloat, of course, but if you already know you want to open a tiki bar, might as well go someplace with a pre-built audience.

Now Sacramento has a great tiki bar in The Jungle Bird, and a bunch of other towns on my list have scored tiki bars in the last year. It’s time for me to revisit my list of tiki deserts in desperate need of relief. Here’s what I’ve got:

Austin, Texas

This is my current #1. For a long time, Texas had nothing to serve its massive tiki loving population. That’s improved in recent years, particularly with Lei Low in Houston, Howie’s Tiki in Spring, and, briefly, Concrete Jungle in San Antonio. I’m simply boggled, though, that Austin doesn’t have a proper tiki bar. (Hula Hut doesn’t really fit the bill.) I thought for sure that Austin would get one first. Someone: jump on this.

Dallas, Texas

Dallas certainly has a strong history in the Polynesian restaurant scene, and for a few magical years we had the time-capsule reopening of Trader Vic’s. But since its closure in 2010, nothing has come to take its place. Pilikia is coming soon, will it fill the gap?

San Jose, California

SO many projects, SO many false starts. There have been rumblings of the South Bay getting its own tiki bar for years and years, but until doors actually open, we can’t count on anything to come true. For now, the region’s large tikiphile set travel north to the tiki-dense end of the San Francisco Bay—or more often than not, hang out at their own elaborate home tiki bars. It’s a discerning crowd, though, so when a place finally does open, it’ll have to be good.

Reno, Nevada

I sure wish Reno still had Trader Dick’s, which closed in 2014 after more than 50 years in business. Reno has a growing cocktail scene, and is a great little vacation destination, especially for those looking for a bit of (very) old Vegas. If any town can handle some over-the-top theming, it’s Reno. Reno seems ripe to have a great tiki bar. I’ve heard whispers…

Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area has still not recovered from the loss of its last tiki holdout in 2004, Honolulu Restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia. It was a much-beloved restaurant and gathering place, and the last bit of genuine tiki to be had in the area. The area has a large group of devoted tikiphiles, and they still gather on Thursdays at the House of Foong Lin in Bethesda, Maryland. It’s a Chinese restaurant that has a scorpion bowl, and has been warm and welcoming to this wayward group of tiki lovers. A new tiki bar opened last year, Archipelago, but it’s not yet quite the full-on experience that the D.C. area tikiphiles desire.

Montreal, Quebec

Toronto has finally gotten its tiki, and Vancouver, too… only for Montreal to lose its beautiful Jardin Tiki. This has left a hole in the local scene, someone is sure to fill it eventually.

The entire Northeast United States

Man, you guys have it rough out there. There are smatterings of vintage tiki-lite out there, and some modern tiki-lite, but throw a dart at that whole corner of the U.S. map and you’ve got a spot for a GOOD tiki bar. It’s a densely-packed but incredibly underserved population.

Seattle, Washington

Seattle has tiki, but it doesn’t have the kind of fully-immersive, no-holds-barred TIKI that you’d expect, given the size of both the cocktail scene and the tikiphile scene. And the area’s history! The second Trader Vic’s opened in Seattle. I know of no fewer than three projects in the works (not counting the possible relocation of Hula Hula), so hopefully something is coming…

Louisville, Kentucky or Cincinnati, Ohio

This inclusion is prompted only by my looking at the map and seeing that these relatively good-sized cities are smack-dab in the middle of a tiki-less plain. It’s many miles to the nearest tiki bar, so one strategically placed bar here could be a big attraction from a wide radius.

Birmingham, Alabama

This is another void, it’s miles to the nearest great tiki bar, but this exactly the kind of town that could probably support one.

Bend, Oregon

This one is selfish: I travel here a few times a year to see family. I can’t say there’s much of a tikiphile scene here, but there is a surprisingly large ukulele scene, and ’50s vintage trailer campers are absolutely huge there for some reason, and tons of the folks who live there or have vacation homes there also have homes in Hawai’i… so maybe these folks are just one good tiki bar from tipping over into tiki fandom? Please? Someone?

 

Which towns do you know of that have a whole mess o’ tiki bar lovers, and no tiki bars to serve them?

26 thoughts on “Tiki Deserts: Towns That Need Tiki Bars

  1. I visited every tiki bar in New England in 2016. While most were reasonably good, none compared to the ones in Southern California, Florida, or even Chicago (which I also visited in 2016, so I have a direct comparison). I’ll agree wholeheartedly: WE NEED A TIKI BAR.

    I will also state that I am not actually sure one could make any money to pay the rent up here. My local big city, Hartford, shuts down at 6pm. Maybe down in New Haven, or up in Boston?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Grand Rapids, Michigan!

    The west side of the state is surprisingly behind in tiki, considering we’re less than an hour from Lake Michigan. We almost had a tiki bar a couple years ago (Bamboo Ben was even brought in to work on the design) but the owners decided to concentrate on their other venture, Hop Cat.

    Michigan has turned into a hotbed of breweries, but more and more small distilleries have been popping up. We need a tiki outlet for these local artisans!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. HopCat finally came through with a tiki-fied version and brought Bamboo Ben back in to work on the TikiCat concept here in Kansas City and local tikiphiles couldn’t be happier as our closest tiki venues were at least 2-3 hours away.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. While not a full blown tiki bar, the Baldwin Bar inside Sechuan Garden II does a bunch of great classic tiki drinks. Plus Ran is one of the best bartenders in the country.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. If you’re going to include Montreal, then I say add Tijuana to the list as well. Despite it’s reputation, it’s had a big cocktail and craft brewery renaissance in recent years, but no tiki

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point! I’ve not heard of a tikiphile scene around Tijuana, but that could easily be off my radar. And, a really good tiki bar mints tikiphiles, a strong cocktail scene is plenty fertile ground.

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  4. Kansas City BADLY needs a tiki bar! It has a decent history of tiki, there having been two Kona Kais, a Kon Tiki, and even a short-lived Trader Vic’s, along with a few locally-run operations that have been closed since the 80s. I know a couple bartenders who are planning to open one, but it’s a couple years away at least.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kansas City is getting one with TikiCat at Broadway and Westport across from The Bunker (essentially the basement of HopCat) SoT is doing a Monday tiki night and I believe The Well is still doing a tiki night. Some of the bartenders at Extra Virgin were once thinking of going in on a tiki bar once, but not sure where that stands. We have Shrunken Head in Jeff City, Laka Lono in Omaha and Golden Girl in Springfield…So at least the region is slowly coming around to the burgeoning renessaince of tiki!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks Humuhumu! I’m not sure why I didn’t check to see Shrunken Head had ever been added before. It’s been around for a few years now. I should check to see if their custom mug is in OogaMooga. Now I need to get off my rear and submit my home bar, The Flora Lounge, for inclusion too!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s not nothing, but considering Seattle’s large and longstanding scenes both on the tiki side and the cocktail side, it’s surprising there hasn’t yet been something offering a more complete tiki experience.

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  5. Great little article! My one add would be Miami!!! I can understand why Miami would be overlooked with the state having the Mai Kai, Grogs Grotto and hosting amazing tiki events like The Hukilau but I never understood why Miami (and a few other Florida “towns”) are lacking in tiki bars.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The closest thing the Baltimore, Maryland area has at the moment is Mutiny Pirate Bar in Glen Burnie. It’s got a lot of nautical decor and they always have 3 or 4 tiki drinks on the menu. During the summer they did tiki nights on Mondays (I think it was Monday) which offered more drinks as well as larger selection of Polynesian themed appetizers and entrees. It was cool because it was the best we had in the area, but UFC and NFL matches playing on the TV and the Top 40 modern rock that permeated throughout the place kinda killed the vibe sometimes. The staff is real nice and welcoming, though. It’s sad because on any random night we have went, the place is next to empty, but it was packed on each tiki night.

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  7. You said it….New York. I would love someone to explain to me how this city has NO good Tiki bars…nothing left over from the golden days, and no solid modern spots. I go to London, and at least there I get a good taste of strong Tiki (Trader Vics being a great example) but nothing in New York. Why?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The London Trader Vic’s is a lame pit. Grubby bottles and bar, furniture piled in corners, employees that think Tiki Farm mugs are made in the USA, and bartenders more concerned about selling you Heineken than making something that takes work. The only TV I’ve ever walked away from my Tiki Puka Puka as too crappy to finish. The only respectable tikiphile employees are the African doorman and one young Italian bartender. The rest are more suited to clean bathrooms at Nando’s. NYC is lucky to not have such a marginal joint to sully the name of Victor Bergeron. Go over to the American Bar at The Savoy and drink their house-brand of 38-year-old Demerara for a bar better rum experience.

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