My Travels: The State of Portland Tiki in 2017

Our family travel plans for early 2017 kept changing on us, and ultimately fate sent us on a road trip to Oregon.

The first leg of our trip was in central Oregon, and I have nothing to report because it is a tiki desert. I’m not going to stop pleading until it happens (or my family moves away from Bend): someone, please, open a tiki bar in Bend.

But the second leg was in tiki-dense Portland. Even with the loss of its Trader Vic’s (RIP), it remains one of the better tiki destination towns out there. I’m in Portland relatively frequently, but there have been a ton of changes since my last visit, and I had a lot of exploring to do.

 


 

The Tiki Putt in Gresham, Oregon

The Tiki Putt

The Tiki Putt is in Gresham, a suburb on the northeast side of Portland, and was right on the drive from Bend. Literally, no detour needed, it’s right on the path. My expectations were low, low, low, but I am a completist, so of course I was going to stop. I’m so glad I did!

Some care went into this! A scene at the Tiki Putt in Gresham, Oregon

Some of the tiki here is admittedly on the cringe-inducingly cheesy side, but if you can look beyond that, there are some beautifully constructed scenes and murals. It looks like they did a first quick pass with 2D elements, then brought someone in to do some more immersive scene work.

The lava tube at the Tiki Putt in Gresham, Oregon, photo by KevinCrossman

Critiki member KevinCrossman recently commented that it’s not great as a mini golf course, and I can believe that. Notable exception: the nifty, swirling “lava tube” hole that goes right through the volcano. Overall, keep those expectations low when you visit—but I’ll be back. I can’t help but imagine a big ol’ party full of tiki lovers decked in their best black light aloha wear. Wouldn’t that be a blast?

I added 37 pictures to the Critiki listing for The Tiki Putt.

 


 

The Alibi in Portland, Oregon

The Alibi

Of all the tiki spots I was going to visit on my trip, The Alibi was the one that had me holding my breath. A rare classic mid-century tiki bar, The Alibi is living Polynesian pop history, and when it dies someday, we can never have it back again. It has survived for a long time thanks to the steady hands of its managers. While it’s true that the drinks it served could be downright dreadful, I’m not going to question what they did, because it worked. In the 1980s and ’90s, when all the other great old tiki bars were closing, The Alibi remained.

But now, for the first time in many years, it is under new management, the same folks behind the lauded refresh of the historic Sandy Hut in Portland. They closed The Alibi briefly for a quick refurb, and reportedly had upped the cocktail game. Would it still be The Alibi that lives in my heart? One of my favorite places on the planet?

Side and back room at The Alibi

YES. The clean-up was just that: a clean-up. It is the same Alibi, it just looks better than it has in years. If anything, the reality now better matches the rose-tinted vision that lives in my brain. (Though I will miss the weird saloon-door bathroom stall in the ladies room, I must concede that the new setup is far more functional.) And the cocktails—they could only be better—are indeed noticeably upgraded, a giant leap for The Alibi. It’s still a solid notch below the top-tier craft cocktail tiki joints, and that is a-okay with me.

The light-blocking barrel entrance to The Alibi

There is a right way and a wrong way to go to The Alibi. The wrong way: go at night, be bombarded by karaoke, a very young party crowd, and all the wrong music. The right way: go for lunch. There are no windows at The Alibi, and a barrel entryway locks the light out. The place will be a proper dark lounge: a calming space where you can luxuriate, enjoy conversation with your friends, and feel no pressure to give up your seats for waiting customers. You can ask the bartender to put on Exotica music (they have a playlist!), and order yourself a flaming pu-pu platter. While you’re there, drink a toast to the karaoke-loving evening shift kids who keep this place in business for you to enjoy.

I’ve added 30 pictures to the Critiki listing for The Alibi.

 


 

Hale Pele in Portland, Oregon

Hale Pele

Hale Pele has also quietly undergone some shifts in upper management, though the day-to-day team that makes the magic happen is still the same. I didn’t expect to notice much of a change, and I didn’t, my experience there was as lovely as ever. It remains one of the hottest spots in Portland despite its out-in-the-neighborhoods location; if you want to bring a big group with you, be sure to reserve the Hut well in advance. You won’t find a (public) tiki bar with better drinks in Portland, plus outstanding decor, plus perfect mood music, plus smiling service… it’s a regular on Critiki’s Ten Best Tiki Bars in the World list for a reason.

I’ve added two pictures to the Critiki listing for Hale Pele.

 


 

No Bones Beach Club in Portland, Oregon

No Bones Beach Club

This was my first visit to No Bones Beach Club, which also has a location in Seattle. No Bones is all vegan fare, with a portion of proceeds donated to animal causes. The decor is definitely more “beach” than “tiki,” a bit more airy and surfy than most places in Critiki, but there are a few neat elements.

Tiki at No Bones Beach Club

The food was a very pleasant surprise: it was outstanding. No one in our party is vegan, but each of us was raving about our meal. As for the drinks… oh dear, let’s see… did I mention that they make very good food?

I’ve added 13 pictures to the Critiki listing for No Bones Beach Club.

 


 

The Monkey Hut in Portland, Oregon, photo by Kamala Kingsley for Hana Hou!

The Monkey Hut

What if I told you there is a tiki bar in Portland that is even better than Hale Pele? You won’t get better tiki drinks anywhere than the ones a The Monkey Hut. The bartender makes each one special just for you, tailored to exactly your tastes, with his own syrups created with a persnickety attention to history and detail. Every ingredient is worth a deep dive, and you can taste the results.

Drinks at the Monkey Hut, photo by Kamala Kingsley for Hana Hou!

And the bar is dark, so dark… full of artifacts, each with a story. Lots of Polynesian pop history to be had here. The music is enchanting, the company only delightful… and it’s kid-friendly, to boot! Naturally, a place this good comes with a catch: it’s a home tiki bar. Craig “Colonel Tiki” Hermann and Heather “Tiki Mama” Gregg are some of my dearest and oldest tiki friends, and they were the ones I was coming to Portland to visit. It’s a wonder I made it to any of the other tiki spots in Portland, but I’m nothing if not dedicated. You may not be able to visit the Monkey Hut yourself, but you can make a virtual visit thanks to video from the Q&A session we broadcast during a party at the Monkey Hut.

I did not take any pictures of the Monkey Hut, I had been transported to a realm where devices don’t matter and was enjoying the company of my hosts. Here is the Critiki listing for The Monkey Hut, and here is a gallery of pictures taken by Kamala Kingsley for the Hana Hou! home tiki bars article.

 


 

This was my first time doing a bit of tiki traveling since rolling out Critiki’s Upcoming Visits feature, which lets you post on Critiki about your travel plans so that the locals can come meet you. (Locals can follow their nearby tiki locations and get notified of these upcoming visits.) By golly, it worked! Mahalo to all of the wonderful new people I met on this trip, and hooray for getting to reconnect with some old friends, too.

One thought on “My Travels: The State of Portland Tiki in 2017

  1. Glad you had a good time in Stumptown. I moved away 5 years ago and still miss it. I pop into The Tiki Putt everytime I make it back to Gresham. The rotating lava tube of death remains my favorite!

    Liked by 1 person

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