When San Francisco weather brings more fog than trade winds, it's time to go tiki.
The Bay Area is home to several 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 and quality spirits with fresh-squeezed juices as far back as the 1930s. So toss a jacket over your Hawaiian shirt and head to our favorite sultry escapes.
(Courtesy of @tradervicseville)
Set on a palm-lined promontory stretching toward 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 at his original Oakland bar, and became the standard-bearer of the 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. // 9 Anchor Dr. (Emeryville), tradervicsemeryville.com
(Courtesy of @smugglerscovesf)
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 pirates' 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
(Courtesy of @dr.funksj)
The newest comer to the Bay Area's tiki scene, Dr. Funk is named for an actual medicine man who also practiced mixology in the South Pacific for over 30 years. Take your medicine in the form of Jungle Birds, Mai Tais, Puka punches, and Jamaican highballs inside the aptly funky space or on the palm umbrella-shaded and string-lit patio. Bonus points for happy hour discounts on drinks and bites. // 29 N. San Pedro St. (San Jose), drfunksj.com
(Courtesy of @thezombievillage)
Despite its undead theme, Zombie Village brings vivacious spirits 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
(Courtesy of @paganidol)
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, a captivating jellyfish tank, and private huts (first come, first served) round out the bar's decor. // 375 Bush St. (Chinatown), paganidol.com
(Courtesy of @lastritesbar)
Set in the dystopia of an aircraft crashed on a deserted island, Last Rites is 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. "No Doctor on Board" is a super choice for adventurous couples. // 718 14th St. (Duboce Triangle), lastritesbar.com
(Courtesy of @tongaroom)
Tonga Room is one of the best-preserved tiki bars in the world—and perhaps the only place you'll find consistent rainfall in California. The drinks menu eschews high fructose mixes for handmade artisan syrups in a balanced Mai Tai, whih sips just as it was intended, and the Zombie, a rich, delicious blend of rum, citrus, passionfruit, and bitters. The atmospheric space is lush as ever: wooden tikis, lava rock walls, and an aquamarine pool with a timely monsoon. // 950 Mason St. (Nob Hill), fairmont-san-francisco.com
(Courtesy of @konacluboakland)
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, instagram.com/konacluboakland
(Courtesy of @thekontikioakland)
Nods to Suzanne Long's past tiki project, Longitude, exist around virtually every corner at Kon-Tiki where tiki-philes and bar regulars crowd the space for various Polynesian happenings and drink specials. 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
(Courtesy of @forbiddenisland)
This Alameda hideaway sets the vibe with tiki masks and dollar bills pinned to the thatched ceiling. Skull-and-crossbones symbols note the strength of 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); reservations are preferred, forbiddenislandalameda.com.