The Bay Area's Most Festive Tiki Bars

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When summer brings more fog than tradewinds, it’s time to go tiki. 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. 


Photo by Garrick Ramirez

The Tonga Room

Not only is the Tonga Room the only place you’ll find consistent rainfall in California, it’s 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 new drink menu 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 timely monsoon. Note: the line for their popular happy hour buffet (Wed-Fri, 5-7pm) forms as early as 4:30pm. // 950 Mason St, San Francisco, (415) 772-5278

Photo courtesy of allisonwebber.photography

Smuggler’s Cove

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 over 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. Watch for Cate’s actual book "Smuggler's Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki" to be published next year by 10 Speed Press. // 650 Gough St, San Francisco, (415) 869-1900

Photo courtesy of Trader Vic's

Trader Vic’s

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 like a night of exotica with Otto from Tiki Oasis, a retro tiki fashion show and monthly cocktail workshops. // 9 Anchor Dr, Emeryville, (510) 653-3400

Photo by Garrick Ramirez

Trad’r Sam

Need a Scorpion Bowl at 11am? This tropical Richmond dive is your spot. A dutch doored foyer leads you into a dark interior with rattan booths bearing the names of far-flung islands. Under a ceiling of pop-culture flotsam, the semi-circular bar has whipped up frothy, umbrella-festooned drinks since 1937 (check out the black & white photos of early bartenders outfitted in safari attire). The vibe today is more corner bar than tiki mecca and it’s likely the only spot on this list where you’ll hear Sade. // 6150 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, (415) 221-0773

Photo courtesy of Kona Club

Kona Club

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, pool table and a jukebox that strays well beyond Martin Denny. // 4401 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, (510) 654-7100

Photo courtesy of Forbidden Island

Forbidden Island

The rich interior of this nine year-old Alameda hideaway—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 & 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-1960s as well as local surf, rockabilly, and lounge bands. That helps explain why the late “Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill” cult movie star Tura Satana chose it as the location for her 69th birthday party. // 1304 Lincoln Ave, Alameda, (510) 749-0332

Photo by Gabriel Hurley

Longitude

Owner Suzanne Long—a former bar manager at Forbidden Island—is quick to point out that her nearly year-old Longitude isn’t a tiki bar. So why is it on this list? Ask the tiki buffs who frequent the Oakland spot for rum swizzles and goblets of rich, complex drinks served in a beautiful, faux-exotic space. There’s a great weekday happy hour and $10 always gets you a Daily Daiquiri served alongside a taste of the featured rum. If your idea of good rum includes a bearded captain named Morgan, sign up for Rum 101 where Long guides participants through a history of the spirit with an extensive tasting. // 347 14th St, Oakland, (510) 465-2008

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