Tiki culture emerged in the 1930s, pioneered by Tiki trendsetters Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic. The movement enjoyed a resurgence in the '50s and '60s but once again fizzled to the margins. Happily, Tiki fever is back again, and its third iteration is a purist fusion of friendly bartenders, keen attention to detail, thoughtful tropical décor and, of course, high-quality exotic drinks. The presence of an actual island or beach is immaterial. Tucked away in some of the U.S.'s biggest cities, these legitimate grog shops are true escapes.
During the long, rainy Pacific Northwest winters, a sense of tropical escapism takes on special significance. Enter Hale Pele, which opened in 2012 and offers 42 tropical libations for fending off the doldrums. A waterfall greets patrons at the entrance, pufferfish lamps supply mood lighting, and volcano effects elevate a visit into an immersive experience. A new seasonal menu, debuting summer 2017, will feature an entire section of staff originals alongside classics like Zombie Punch, made with the 1934 recipe (limit two per customer). Tama donuts — Okinawan-style drop donuts sprinkled with powdered sugar — are a worthwhile postscript to the evening, along with a keepsake A'a'po'e mug by local ceramics artists MunkTiki.
Insider Tip: Request table five if you plan to order a Volcano Bowl to share with friends. The bar also takes one reservation per evening for larger parties in the Chieftain's Hut area.
Order a communal, flaming Uh Oa! cocktail at Trader Sam's Grog Grotto, inside Disney's Polynesian Village Resort, and the room goes berserk. Patrons chant, wind blows, simulated storms rage in two volcano vignettes, and an irate Tiki-goddess statue comes to life. It's classic Disney and Tiki authenticity in one — the drink features light and dark rums, fresh juices, falernum, cinnamon and lime. Several menu selections result in similar shenanigans, and cast members in full Jungle Cruise–skipper attire never break character. Add to that tasty apps (Hawaiian poke sushi rolls, Kalua pork tacos), a cozy environment of just 50 seats, and nearly 1,500 Tiki props — including the snaking arm of a cephalopod — and you have a recipe for a seriously entertaining night out.
Insider Tip: Several of the drinks come in souvenir mugs that can be purchased for an additional charge. The Hippopoto Mai-Tai glass is particularly charming.
Hipster meets 1930s exotica at Lost Lake, a Logan Square watering hole founded in 2015 by Paul McGee, who rose to Tiki stardom at the helm of Three Dots and a Dash, Chicago's other — and flashier — Tiki lounge. Retro-chic banana-leaf wallpaper, fish-trap lamps and a woven-lauhala ceiling complement the 275-rum-strong menu of meticulously crafted cocktails. If you have time for just one, make it the Bunny's Banana Daiquiri, eccentrically finished with a banana dolphin. Fun fact: The bar assembled 13,102 of the elaborate garnishes in its first year of operation alone.
Insider Tip: Meant to feel like a welcoming neighborhood bar, Lost Lake is intentionally intimate, with a max capacity of just 85 people. To avoid a wait, come early (before 6 p.m.) or late (11 p.m. till 2 a.m.).
Opened in 1961 by bartender-to-the-stars Ray Buhen, Tiki-Ti has endured for more than five decades in its original hut on Sunset Boulevard. Today, Buhen's son and grandson keep the rum flowing — specifically 94 tropical drinks, many of which are secret family recipes. If you're lucky enough to procure one of the mere 12 seats at the kitsch-plastered (and cash-only) bar, ask for a Ray's Mistake, the circa-1968 signature drink featuring botanic liqueurs, passion-fruit juice and dark rum. Or order a Blood & Sand to hear the patrons erupt into a spirited cry of "Toro, toro!"
Insider Tip: Thursday night is the bar's slowest time, but check the website calendar before you go — the Buhen family closes the bar randomly when they're on vacation.
The king of Tiki 3.0, Smuggler's Cove boasts three floors, a waterfall and the biggest rum selection in the United States — including exclusive rums handcrafted just for the bar. The menu digs deep into the history of the spirit, featuring recipes that trace back to colonial taverns, Caribbean kitchens and even Prohibition-era Havana. Bring a small crowd to share the Top Notch Volcano, a four-serving elixir of rums, fresh fruit juices and cinnamon. Back at home, master the art of Tiki mixology with the help of Smuggler's Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki, published in 2016 by the bar's owner and acclaimed tikiphile, Martin Cate.
Insider Tip: Sip your way through the entire menu, keeping track of your progress on a punch card. On completion, you'll be named a Voyager of the Cove and get a special merit badge and memento.
Rum authority and author Jeff "Beachbum" Berry has spent the last 20 years uncovering and compiling "lost" exotic drinks. Try them, along with potent new concoctions, at Beachbum Berry's Latitude 29. Located in the Bienville House Hotel, the bar complements its French Quarter surrounds with polished antique woods, specially commissioned neo-Tiki artwork, and a hand-picked playlist of transportive tunes. What to order? "The Rum Barrel, with multiple rums, juices and modifiers, is Don The Beachcomber's baroque 1940s masterpiece," says the Bum. The bar is also unveiling a fresh cocktail menu in July, with three new drinks featuring rum, tequila and Japanese whiskey. The dinner menu flaunts some new additions as well, including a charcuterie platter with a house-made version of Spam. Ono!
Insider Tip: Behind the bar is a Rolodex with more than 100 off-menu vintage Tiki drink recipes. Tell the bartenders what kind of flavor profile you prefer, and they'll pick a card for you.
The Mai-Kai turned 60 in 2016, but like a retro pinup girl, she's as sexy as ever. "The Mai-Kai has a vintage feel without looking or feeling old," says manager Kern Mattei. "The décor is classic Tiki style, with giant Tikis, waterfalls, torches and a thatch roof on the outside, and inside, monkey-pod tables, black-velvet paintings and oceanic artifacts." Don't miss the famous Barrel O' Rum — dark and light rums blended with fresh-squeezed juices. In the showroom, the bar offers a full dinner menu accompanied by a 45-minute revue showcasing the dances of Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa and New Zealand. "We're open six days a week with shows every night," says Mattei, "so we're ready when you are."
Insider Tip: Locals know to drop into Mai-Kai's Molokai Bar on Wednesday nights for the weekly Sushi Buffet: With a minimum cocktail order, guests can enjoy gratis sushi and other goodies.