Tiki bars take us out of our foggy city, to a far-flung tropical paradise–for the simple cost of a Mai Tai or Piña Colada. Tiki originated in 1930s Califonia, built on a romanticized notion of an island oasis by a bunch of white guys who longed for a little tropical escapism. The Bay Area was home to some of the earliest tiki bars in the US, and the genre has both evolved and endured in SF. At its best tiki offers a brief reprieve from reality, dropping you into an imagined vacationland with extravagant drinks and good vibes. Here are a few terrific tiki bars to check out.
1. Last Rites
Far from ordinary, Last Rites takes you on an unforgettable Polynesian Noir adventure. Imagine that you’ve crash landed and are now marooned in a tropical rainforest. To complete the scene, the bar sits inside a real airplane fuselage, with matching bar seats. The rear of the bar takes you into the jungle with two 9-foot-tall stone fire-breathing skull idols. It’s more Indiana Jones than Hawaiian vacation, and it’s a welcome change. Last Rites also features delicious tropical cocktails and an impressive selection of rum.
Location: 718 14th Street
Sporting a non-descript exterior, Smuggler’s Cove still feels like a secret hideaway. The multi-story bar has won countless awards and serves as a veritable tiki museum. The interior features vintage tiki artifacts, rum décor, and a massive waterfall. Smuggler’s Cove treats tiki with an almost anthropological approach. The novella of a menu walks you through tiki’s history and present. It’s a fascinating read and a shame that you won’t remember a word of it after that second round of drinks hits the table.
Location: 650 Gough Street
3. Pagan Idol
Pagan Idol’s sunny front room beckons you off the streets and into a nautical lounge. As you continue towards the rear of the bar, the sunlight fades away, exposing a true tiki wonderland. Impressive features include a starry night sky, cozy cabanas, and an erupting volcano. They offer an extensive menu of refreshing tiki cocktails served in custom-made vessels. The place has a Disneyland level of refinement and attention to detail. It’s a feast for the eyes and the drinks are extraordinary.
Location: 375 Bush Street
Zombie Village occupies a grand and airy space that pays homage to tiki’s history but with a modern twist. From the moment you step into this tiki wonderland the dramatic lighting and beautifully crafted interiors whisk you away to a tropical paradise. You can enjoy a tasty tropical cocktail from a seat at the bar, in a cozy cave, or in a private tiki hut.
Location: 441 Jones Street
When it comes to SF Tiki bars, The Tonga Room is the oldest and most famous. It’s a relic of tiki’s mid-century heyday and a place that chef/writer Anthony Bourdain called “the greatest place in the history of the world.” They serve a mix of classic and original tiki cocktails, with the option to enjoy your drink from a hollowed-out pineapple if you choose. The house band plays exotica classics from a thatched-roof boat at the center of a lagoon. As if this wasn’t extravagant enough, the restaurant features an indoor rainshower and thunderstorm. Needless to say, a night at the Tonga Room is an unforgettable experience.
Location: 950 Mason Street. Located on the Basement level of the Fairmont Hotel.
6. Trad’r Sam
Open since 1937, Trad’r Sam is the oldest continually running tiki bar in the US. Needless to say, it’s well worth a visit. To their credit, this bar is technically a pre-tiki “bamboo bar,” and one of the last of its kind in the entire world. Bamboo and rattan booths named after tropical hideaways beckon you to sit and share a scorpion bowl with a few friends. The drinks are as sweet as they are strong, and come decorated with all the maraschino cherries, orange slices, and cocktail umbrellas that you could hope for.
Location: 6150 Geary Blvd
7. Tiki Haven
Tiki Haven is an excellent neighborhood bar with an earnest commitment to tiki. It’s also a wonderful place to get lost in a Mai Tai or Piña Colada without emptying your wallet. Festive lights, hula skirts, and surfboards line the matted walls. Customers enjoy a relaxed come-as-you-are vibe and their favorite game on the flatscreen. It’s an excellent place to bring your friends, share a communal “fire bowl,” and let the stress of daily life melt away.
Location: 1334 Noriega Street
8. Bamboo Hut
The Bamboo Hut bills itself as a classic, old-school, neighborhood tiki bar. Their 1940s 7-foot tall tiki head is a point of pride, as is their menu of exciting drinks. You can order a flaming volcano bowl for the table, or sip on a classic Mai Tai. It’s tropical, casual and a very fun place to grab a drink.
Location: 479 Broadway Street
The Luau Lounge has the distinction of being the only tiki bar in SF on the waterfront. The Luau Lounge embraces its environment with refreshing drinks and extraordinary views. You’ll find tiki classics, ornate glassware, and plenty of tropical flowers. It’s a nice little oasis amid the hustle and bustle of Fisherman’s Wharf.
Location: 2 Beach Street on Pier 39
Featured image: Zombie Village on Instagram