Stefan Giesbert via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0
Stefan Giesbert via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

9 Amazing Tiki Bars

Stefan Giesbert via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0
Stefan Giesbert via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

In the 1950s and 1960s, Americans were obsessed with “tiki culture,” the relaxing, tropical lifestyle that they perceived was led in Hawaii and the rest of Polynesia. It flourished from the stories brought home by World War II soldiers, Hawaii’s statehood in 1959, and the hit musical South Pacific. While tiki culture is no longer a nationwide fad, some of the kitschy bars that flourished during that era are still around, and new ones spring up occasionally to give folks a taste of a tropical paradise, whether they can actually visit that paradise or not.  


KCET Departures via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Bootlegger and world traveler Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt established the first tiki bar in 1933 in Southern California. He decorated it with souvenirs of his South Pacific travels, and designed a cocktail menu around rum—in fact, he originated the Zombie and other familiar rum drinks. Rum was associated with the Caribbean islands but, more importantly, it was the cheapest liquor available. He named his place Don the Beachcomber. It was so successful that Gantt changed his name to Donn Beach.

During World War II, Beach’s wife Sunny Sund (no, she never went by Sunny Beach) expanded the number of bars to 16 locations while Beach served his country. When they divorced, she kept the chain, while he opened a Don the Beachcomber in Hawaii. Since then, there have been more than 20 different Don the Beachcomber bars all over the country. Today, they exist in two Hawaiian resorts and in Huntington Beach, California. 


The Sip 'n Dip Lounge opened in 1962 as the bar at the (then) new O'Haire Motor Inn. Its tiki theme was quite a novelty in Montana, being so far away from any tropical beaches. Another draw was the glass wall between the lounge and the motel’s pool, which allowed bar patrons to watch swimmers underwater. In 1995, during a nationwide revival of the tiki bar, the Sip 'n Dip added mermaids: swimmers in mermaid costumes performing in the pool as bar patrons watched through the glass. Another draw is “Piano Pat” Spoonheim, who has been singing and playing piano at the Sip 'n Dip for more than half a century.


The Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar was established at the Fairmont San Francisco hotel in 1945. That’s when the hotel’s 75-foot tiled swimming pool was turned into a lagoon for the new tropical-themed lounge designed by MGM set director Mel Melvin. It was a chic place for clubbing in the 1940s and '50s, with a floating bandstand and live music. The floating stage has a roof because, every 15 minutes or so, a (manufactured) tropical rainstorm falls over the lagoon—complete with thunder and lightning effects. The Tonga Room was slated to be demolished a few years ago to make room for a ballroom but, amid protests by preservationists who cited its historical significance, it got a reprieve and is still open.


Tom Simpson via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

You don’t have to drink at a bar to become enamored with tiki culture. In fact, many folks fell in love with the aesthetic long before they were old enough to drink by visiting the Enchanted Tiki Room, which opened at Disneyland in California in 1963 (at the height of the tiki craze) and at Walt Disney World in Florida in 1971. It was the first Disneyland attraction to feature animatronic characters singing and dancing for the audience.


My drink's on fire #grassskirttiki #tacofriday

A photo posted by @trehops on

The Grass Skirt Tiki Room in Columbus, Ohio opened in 2012. Any drink on the extensive cocktail menu can be enhanced by their signature flaming lime. Lighting at the Grass Skirt is provided by blowfish lamps, a skull chandelier, and a “lava wall,” backlit with glowing rivulets of faux lava.


Hale Pele has the South Seas decor and the rum drinks you expect from a tiki bar, plus a couple of features they’ve grown famous for: their pyrotechnic cocktails and lamps made of real pufferfish. Owner Blair Reynolds was enchanted by tiki culture when visiting the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland as a child. He built his bar with a moat and a volcano. When someone orders a Volcano Bowl cocktail, they set off an “eruption” with smoke, rumbling noises, and lightning effects. The moat has its own rainstorm, too, every hour on the hour.


Don Johnson 395 via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The Tiki Bar at the Postcard Inn at Holiday Isle in Islamorada, Florida, opened in 1969 as The Hapi Hula Hut. The open-air bar at the resort’s marina became the Tiki Bar in 1971. It was there that bartender Tiki John invented the Rum Runner cocktail in 1972. The story is that he created the drink on a dare when the bar had an overstock of rum and various liqueurs.


Kreepy Tiki Bar & Lounge/Facebook

The Kreepy Tiki Bar & Lounge serves tiki drinks, but also hosts a variety of live music, from metal to ska to jazz, and comedy and burlesque acts as well. Next door, you’ll find Kreepy Tiki Tattoos & Boutique, where you can peruse an art gallery and get a new tattoo. The tiki-themed tattoo parlor actually came first, in 2008, then expanded into the lounge next door in 2014.


Sam Howzit via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The Mai-Kai Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale has been in business for 60 years. Brothers Bob and Jack Thornton were impressed by Don the Beachcomber as children, and opened their own Polynesian-themed restaurant in Florida in 1956. It was one of the most expensive restaurants to be built in the country that year at about $400,000, but it became such a hit, the Thorntons recouped their money and even made a profit in their first year. The Mai-Kai’s cocktail menu uses the same tiki recipes today as they did in 1956. The most unique feature of the Mai-Kai is the Polynesian Islander Revue, a floor show with hula dancers, war chants, and fire twirlers. One of the early dancers was Mireille Thornton, who married Bob Thornton and now owns the restaurant—and choreographs the show. Mai-Kai is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Big Questions
Is There Any Point in Letting Red Wine Breathe?

by Aliya Whiteley

At the end of a long day, few things beat simple pleasures like watching a good film, eating a bar of chocolate the size of your head, or drinking a big glass of red wine.

By this point in the evening, most people don’t want to be told that they need to uncork the bottle and let the wine sit for at least 30 minutes before it becomes pleasantly drinkable. Yet that's (by the letter of the unwritten law) what you're supposed to do.

But why? Well, let's start with the assorted historical reasons.

Red wine has been around since the Stone Age. In fact, in 2011 a cave was uncovered in Armenia where the remains of a wine press, drinking and fermentation vessels, and withered grape vines were uncovered; the remains were dated at 5500 years old. Early winemaking often had a ritualistic aspect: Wine jars were found in Ancient Egyptian tombs, and wine appears in both the Hebrew and Christian bibles.

The concept of letting wine "breathe" is, historically speaking, relatively new and probably has its roots in the way wine was once bottled and stored.

Traditionally, sulfur is added to wine in order to preserve it for longer, and if too much is added the wine might well have an ... interesting aroma when first opened—the kind of "interesting aroma" that bears more than a passing resemblance to rotten eggs. Contact with the air may have helped to remove the smell, so decanting wine may once have been a way of removing unwelcome odors, as well as getting rid of the sediment that built up in the bottom of bottles.

It’s also possible that the concept springs from the early 1860s, when Emperor Napoleon III asked Louis Pasteur to investigate why so much French wine was spoiling in transit. Pasteur published his results, which concluded that wine coming into contact with air led to the growth of bacteria, thus ruining the vino. However, small amounts of air improved the flavor of the wine by "aging" it. In bottles, with a cork stopper, the wine still came into contact with a small amount of oxygen, and by storing it for years the wine was thought to develop a deeper flavor.

However, how much of that actually matters today?

Many experts agree that there is no point in simply pulling out the cork and letting the wine sit in an open bottle for any period of time; the wine won’t come into enough contact with oxygen to make any difference to the taste.

However, decanting wine might still be a useful activity. The truth is this: It entirely depends on the wine.

Nowadays we don’t really age wine anymore; we make it with the aim of drinking it quickly, within a year or so. But some types of wine that are rich in tannins (compounds that come from the grape skins and seeds) can benefit from a period of time in a decanter, to soften the astringent taste. These include wines from Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley, for instance.

If you really want to know if a particular wine would benefit from being given time to breathe, try your own experiment at home. Buy two bottles, decant one, and let it breathe for an hour. Do you notice a difference in the taste? Even if you don’t, it's an experiment that justifies opening two bottles of wine.

One word of warning: No matter where a wine comes from, it is possible to overexpose it to oxygen. So remember Pasteur’s experiments and don’t leave your wine out of the bottle for days. That, friends, would be one hell of a waste.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at

A Beer From the Middle Ages Is Making a Serious Comeback

Hop-forward beer is all the rage today, but in the middle ages many imbibers preferred brews that skewed towards the sweeter side. Now, centuries after it fell out of fashion, Atlas Obscura reports that gruit ale is making a comeback.

Gruit beer is any beer that features botanicals in place of hops. The ingredients that give the drink its distinctive sweet, aromatic taste can be as familiar as ginger and lavender or as exotic as mugwort and seabuckthorn. The herbs play the role of hops by both adding complex flavors and creating an inhospitable environment for harmful microbes.

It may be hard for modern beer lovers to imagine beer without hops, but prior to the 16th century gruit was as common in parts of Europe as IPAs are in hip American cities today. Then, in 1516, that style of beer suddenly vanished from pint glasses: That was the year Germany passed a beer purity law that restricted beer formulas to hops, water, and barley. Many of the key botanicals in gruit beer were considered aphrodisiacs at the time, and the rising Puritan movement helped push the brew further into obscurity.

Hops have dominated the beer scene ever since, and only in the past few decades have microbrewers started giving old gruit recipes the attention they're due. In 2017, the Scratch Brewing Company in Illinois released their seasonal Scratch Tonic, made from a combination of dandelion, carrot tops, clover, and ginger. The Põhjala Brewery in Estonia brews their Laugas beer using Estonian herbs, caraway, and juniper berries. Get in touch with your local microbrewery to see if they have their own version of the old-school beer in their line-up.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]


More from mental floss studios