Happy Tuesday, readers!
We know that for many of you today is your first day back at work after the long weekend, and that you might be feeling an extra-large dose of the Monday Blues. So, please join us as we transport you to a tropical island oasis and tell you a little bit about our favorite Tiki Bars!
Obviously, this is in no way an exhaustive list, but our hands-on research has shown us that these are the best of the best when it comes to the Tiki Bar experience. Tiki is a Californian invention, so these are all located in the Golden State, and we highly recommend that if you live here you visit them immediately and if you ever visit you make them one of your stops.
12808 Victory Blvd, North Hollywood CA, 91606
Tonga Hut bills itself as “the oldest Tiki Bar in LA,” and although that might be a stretch, it is still a great spot. The Hut originally opened in 1958, and has been operating as a Tiki Bar in some capacity ever since. The Hut today is decorated with much of the original decor, and the vibe inside is always warm and welcoming. The menu at Tonga Hut is a bit more limited than other Tiki Bars, but the drink quality is still top notch. They also make several specialty drinks in bowls that can (and should) be shared. The final important bit of info on Tonga Hut is that they tend to have more seating than their rivals. Although all Tiki Bars are small and intimate by design, Tonga still managed to shove some booths in there, giving groups a better chance to find a spot. For all of these things and more, we love Tonga Hut.
4427 W. Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles CA, 90027
Arguably the most famous Tiki Bar in Los Angeles today, Tiki Ti’s is deservedly a revered institution. The cash-only, bartender-run bar is a tiny hole in the wall with the best Tiki drinks sold in all of Southern California. There. We said it. Tiki Ti’s history is linked directly to one of the founders of Tiki drinks, Don The Beachcomber. Ray Buhen, the original owner of Tiki Ti’s, trained directly under Don and honed his recipes for over 20 years before opening up Tiki Ti’s in 1961. The bar is still in the Buhen family, with Ray’s grandson now the head bartender. When you walk inside Tiki Ti’s you walk into a family full of traditions, and those traditions are as delicious as they can get.
Tiki Ti’s drink menu is expansive, and includes drinks that you might not consider when imagining traditional Tiki drinks, but don’t be scared — they are all delicious. Also, make sure you have money for a cab home — because you will definitely need one.
650 Gough St., San Francisco CA, 94102
We saved the best for last! Nothing against Tonga Hut or Tiki Ti’s, but Smuggler’s Cove is our absolute favorite Tiki Bar. End of story. Located in San Francisco, Smuggler’s Cove is not a bar you just stumble across. In fact, unless you know how, you would probably never find it. The bar is located behind about as nondescript a door as you could find (a blacked out glass number), and there is absolutely no sign to let you know you have arrived. You know you’re there when you see one red and one green light over the door. That’s it. But once inside, you are transported to a completely different world!
Although it appears rather small on first inspection, Smuggler’s Cove is actually 3 stories tall, with a bar on every level. The basement level is the largest with the most seating, but we recommend grabbing a seat at the main bar on the entrance level and watching the master bartenders at work.
The menu is almost overwhelming — they will hand you a lamented copy that is as heavy as Moby Dick when you land at the bar, but once you dive in, you will feel right at home. The atmosphere is incredibly inviting, and the vibe is always relaxed and homey. And the drinks? Those are to die for. Smuggler’s Cove drinks are made with precision and artistry unmatched by their rivals, and although you will wait a few minutes for each order, watching you drink being made is a thing of beauty.
Smuggler’s Cove also offers a challenge to regulars: if you manage to make it through everything on the menu, they will put a plaque with your name engraved on it on the wall. The menu is so vast that it usually takes dedicated regulars about 2 years to complete the challenge. You will almost always see a patron or two with what appears to be spreadsheets laid out in front of their drinks when you are at the bar — those are the people working to get their names on the wall. Doing God’s work.
So there you have it! The best Tiki Bars you can find! Now book your tickets to LA or San Francisco and get your ass to the bar!