When summer brings more fog than tradewinds, it's time to go tiki—and the Bay Area is home to a surprisingly large number of moody hideaways that glow with pufferfish lamps and potent, flame-lit drinks.
Before you shrug it off as kitsch, consider that early tiki torchbearers like Earnest “Don the Beachcomber" Gantt and “Trader Vic" Bergeron were the original mixologists, blending rare, quality spirits and fresh-squeezed juices as far back as the 1930s. So toss a jacket over your Hawaiian shirt and head to our favorite sultry escapes.
From the dudes behind Bourbon and Branch etc etc, Pagan Idol is an ode to traditional Polynesian tiki but with seriously legit drinks served mostly in ceramic tumblers. The bar is, of course, neon-lit and a starry night sky hangs overhead. Nautical nods and an absolutely captivating jellyfish tank round-out the bar's left-of-center decor. // 375 Bush St. (Chinatown), paganidol.com
Set in the dystopia of an aircraft crashed on a deserted island, Last Rites is among the city's newer tiki destinations. Unlike others on this list, the space is unwaveringly intimate, with a few airplane seats at the bar and a handful of spots to lounge beneath the foliage. Come for the one-of-a-kind vibes, stay for the treasure trove of tiki drinks—you'll have to keep coming back if you hope to taste them all. The Rabid Chinchilla (aged rum, bourbon, grapefruit, lime, curry stout syrup, and bitters) is our go to. // 718 14th St. (Duboce Triangle), lastritesbar.com
Set on a palm tree–lined promontory stretching into the Bay, this scenic Emeryville restaurant and bar is the flagship of the tropical empire started by late Bay Area restaurateur Victor Bergeron. Bergeron, aka Trader Vic, invented the Mai Tai in 1944 in his original Oakland bar and became the standard-bearer of an ensuing tiki trend. Today, a large cocktail menu opens like an atlas with retro-style drink illustrations serving as points of interest. Zero in on the 1944 Mai Tai which stays true to the Trader's original recipe. As you move into the section marked Strong Drinks, remember that the Emery Go-Round is your friend. Check their site for upcoming events and tiki-minded workshops. // 9 Anchor Dr. (Emeryville), tradervicsemeryville.com
Despite its undead theme, Zombie Village is bringing a newfound vivaciousness to the Tenderloin bar scene. Walk through the heavy wood doors and find all the usual tiki tropes: a star-lit ceiling, fake plants woven into skulls, grass huts, and a soundtracks of squawking macaws. Seating is tight, so reserve a tiki hut in advance and expect to wait a bit for your mai-tai to come your way. // 441 Jones St. (Tenderloin), thezombievillage.com
The rich interior of this decade-plus-old Alameda hideaway—think netted glass floats, tiki masks, and dollar bills pinned to a thatched ceiling—looks as if it's been there since Mitzi Gaynor fell for Rossano Brazzi. Skull and crossbones note the strength of original and classic exotic drinks served in Tiki Farm mugs that you can add to your collection. It's a regular venue for DJs spinning vinyl from the 1940s to '60s as well as local surf, rockabilly, and lounge bands. // 1304 Lincoln Ave. (Alameda), forbiddenislandalameda.com
Thank the tiki gods for Martin Cate, the fez-capped bar owner who reminded us that pineapple juice has no place in a proper Mai Tai. His Hayes Valley homage to the genre has the feel of a pirate's hideaway stocked with more than 550 rums—the largest selection in the United States—including four bottled exclusively for Smuggler's Cove. The extensive cocktail list reads like a history of rum and the culture that grew from it. Cate's actual book, Smuggler's Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki, was published in 2016 and is a love letter to Polynesian cocktails that any enthusiast should have in their library. // 650 Gough St. (Hayes Valley), smugglerscovesf.com
Occupying the space of Suzanne Long's past tiki project, Longitude, Kon-Tiki picked-up where Long left off in 2017, filling a hole in Oakland's equatorial drinking landscape. Admittedly, nods to Longitude still exist around virtually every corner; if anything, it's an inherited walk down memory lane rather than a full-tilt reinvention of the wheel. "Tarot Tuesdays" and "Ohana Night" are calendar staples, where tiki-philes and bar regulars crowd the space for various Polynesian happenings and drink specials. That said, roughly $20 will always give you (and a friend) a quenching Scorpio bowl. All other drinks, unless otherwise specified by the bartenders that night, are $13—a steal! // 347 14th St., (Oakland), thekon-tikioakland.com
Not only is the Tonga Room the only place you'll find consistent rainfall in California, but it's also one of the best-preserved tiki bars in the world. Yet we almost lost it twice: once to sickly-sweet drinks and again to developers. Thankfully, a revamp of their recipes and a timely visit from Bourdain made it safe for locals again. The drink menu these days eschews high fructose mixes for handmade syrups from local artisan shop Small Hand Foods. The balanced Mai Tai sips just as it was intended and the Zombie is a rich, delicious blend of rum, citrus, passionfruit, and bitters. The atmospheric space looks as lush as ever: wooden tikis, lava rock walls, and an underlit aquamarine pool with a timely monsoon. // 950 Mason St. (Nob Hill), tongaroom.com
The Luau Lounge at Players Sports Grill
Bear with us here for a sec. Yes, Players Sports Grill is a boisterous, selfie-stick-wielding tourist trap on Pier 39 with a hellacious soundtrack of music and children. But if you take a deep breath and follow the signs toward the Luau Lounge, you'll be rewarded with Polynesian drinks (try the Pineapple Painkiller) that, if you suspend your disbelief, are almost as good as the views of the San Francisco Bay. // 2 Beach St. (North Beach), playerssf.com/luau
A lava rock's throw from Trader Vic Bergeron's final resting place at Mountain View Cemetery, you'll find this easygoing, neo-tiki bar blanketed in bamboo and lit with pufferfish lamps. Behind the bar, a giant volcano erupts to much fanfare. The owner also owns The Mallard in Albany and may have rattled tiki purists with the inclusion of TVs, a pool table, and a jukebox that strays well beyond Martin Denny. // 4401 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, konaclub.net