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

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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.

Courtesy New District
Say ‘Cheers’ to the Holidays With This 24-Bottle Wine Advent Calendar
Courtesy New District
Courtesy New District

This year, eschew your one-tiny-chocolate-a-day Advent calendar and count down to Christmas the boozy way. An article on the Georgia Straight tipped us off to New District’s annual wine Advent calendars, featuring 24 full-size bottles.

Each bottle of red, white, or sparkling wine is hand-picked by the company’s wine director, with selections from nine different countries. Should you be super picky, you can even order yourself a custom calendar, though that will likely add to the already-high price point. The basic 24-bottle order costs $999 (in Canadian dollars), and if you want to upgrade from cardboard boxes to pine, that will run you $100 more.

If you can’t quite handle 24 bottles (or $999), the company is introducing a 12-bottle version this year, too. For $500, you get 12 reds, whites, rosés, and sparkling wines from various unnamed “elite wine regions.”

With both products, each bottle is numbered, so you know exactly what you should be drinking every day if you really want to be a stickler for the Advent schedule. Whether you opt for 12 or 24 bottles, the price works out to about $42 per bottle, which is somewhere in between the “I buy all my wines based on what’s on sale at Trader Joe’s” level and “I am a master sommelier” status.

If you want to drink yourself through the holiday season, act now. To make sure you receive your shipment before December 1, you’ll need to order by November 20. Get it here.

[h/t the Georgia Straight]

Wally Gobetz, flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A Brief History of the Pickleback Shot
Wally Gobetz, flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Wally Gobetz, flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It's sour. It's briny. For some, it's nauseating. For others, a godsend.

It's the pickleback shot, an unusual combination of drinking whiskey and pickle brine that has quickly become a bartending staple. Case in point? Kelly Lewis, manager of New York City's popular Crocodile Lounge, estimates she sells at least 100 pickleback shots every week.

Pickleback loyalists may swear by it, but how did this peculiar pairing make its way into cocktail culture? On today's National Pickle Day, we hit the liquor history books to find out.


As internet legend has it, Reggie Cunningham, a former employee of Brooklyn dive bar Bushwick Country Club, invented the shot in March 2006. He was half bartending, half nursing a hangover with McClure's pickles, when a customer challenged him to join her in doing a shot of Old Crow bourbon whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice as a chaser. As he nostalgically tells YouTube channel Awesome Dreams, "the rest is history."

Cunningham went on to introduce the pairing to more and more customers, and the demand grew so much that he decided to charge an extra dollar per shot, just for the addition of pickle brine. After that, the mixture spread like wildfire, with bars across the world from New York to California and China to Amsterdam adding "pickleback" to their menus.


Two shot glasses topped with small pickles.

Neil Conway, flickr // CC BY 2.0

Sure, Cunningham may have named it the pickleback shot, but after reviewing mixed reports, it appears pickle juice as a chaser is hardly novel. In Texas, for example, pickle brine was paired with tequila well before Cunningham's discovery, according to Men’s Journal. And in Russia, pickles have long been used to follow vodka shots, according to an NPR report on traditional Russian cuisine.

Unfortunately, no true, Britannica-approved record of the pickleback's origin exists, like so many do for other popular drinks, from the Manhattan to the Gin Rickey; it's internet hearsay—and in this case, Cunningham's tale is on top.


Not sold yet? Sure, a pickle's most common companion is a sandwich, but the salty snack and its brine have terrific taste-masking powers.

"People who don't like the taste of whiskey love taking picklebacks because they completely cut the taste, which makes the shots very easy to drink," Lewis told Mental Floss. "Plus, they add a bit of salt, which blends nicely with the smooth flavor of Jameson."

Beyond taste masking, pickle juice is also a commonly used hangover cure, with the idea being that the salty brine will replenish electrolytes and reduce cramping. In fact, after a famed NFL "pickle juice game" in 2000, during which the Philadelphia Eagles destroyed the Dallas Cowboys in 109 degree weather (with the Eagles crediting their trainer for recommending they drink the sour juice throughout the game), studies have seemed to confirm that drinks with a vinegary base like pickle juice can help reduce or relieve muscle cramping.


While core pickleback ingredients always involve, well, pickles, each bar tends to have a signature style. For example, Lewis swears by Crocodile Lounge's mix of pickle brine and Jameson; it pairs perfectly with the bar's free savory pizza served with each drink.

For Cunningham, the "Pickleback OG," it's Old Crow and brine from McClure's pickles. And on the more daring side, rather than doing a chaser shot of pickle juice, Café Sam of Pittsburgh mixes jalapeños, homemade pickle juice, and gin together for a "hot and sour martini."

If pickles and whiskey aren't up your alley, you can still get in on the pickle-liquor movement with one of the newer adaptations, including a "beet pickleback" or—gulp!—the pickled-egg and Jägermeister shot, also known as an Eggermeister.


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