Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Since it opened in 1956, Mai-Kai has proudly carried the torch for tiki. Even today, it still exudes a "'50s-swinger" vibe. Waitresses wear sarongs and bikini tops. Each room reflects a different Polynesian region and overlooks a waterfall or lagoon. Polynesian dancers perform nightly. And then there's the Mystery Drink, which involves, among other things, a gong, flames, and a kiss on the cheek.
San Francisco, California
"Over the top" seems so inadequate to describe this fantasyland inside the venerable Fairmont Hotel. Tables surround a lagoon on which floats a ship-shaped stage for the band. Periodically in the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar, thunder rumbles, and rain falls into the lagoon. Lavish quantities of faux foliage, carved tiki heads, thatched "roofs," and other Polynesian froufrou complete the decor. The Pacific Rim cuisine gets mixed reviews, as do the prices, but the happy hour buffet is a relative bargain. Sip a Singapore Sling and enjoy the ambience.
"Trader Vic" Bergeron spearheaded America's tiki craze. In 1937, he turned Hinky Dinks, his rustic restaurant-bar in Oakland, California, into a Polynesian-theme hideaway that he renamed after himself. (In 1972, the flagship location moved a few miles north to the Emeryville bayfront, gaining great sunset views.) Vic pioneered fusion cuisine by introducing exotic island flavors to Chinese, French, and American dishes. Even more momentously, in 1944 he and his staff invented the potent beverage known as the mai tai.
Under the helm of three-time James Beard Award nominated mixologist Julian Cox, Three Dots and a Dash serves up tiki cocktails across five categories: Creamy N’ Delicious, New Classics, High Octane, Super Fresh, and Group Excursions. The menu celebrates a mix of old favorites (mai tais, painkillers, banana daiquiris); fresh spins on classics; and big-batch tropical cocktails that feed a crowd that are served in charmingly-kitschy containers (a miniature old-fashioned diving helmet, a treasure chest, etc.).
Bahi Hut's 1960s-vintage decor includes but a single tiki (a carved image of a Polynesian god). No matter: Tiki attitude pervades the place, and the Hut still serves its fearsome original-recipe mai tai. There's a two-mai tai limit, for good reason. Less-dedicated drinkers should try the milder Sneaky Tiki.
San Diego, California
The Bali Hai, overlooking the water on Shelter Island, offers gorgeous views of San Diego Harbor and the city itself. Not long after its 1954 opening, the restaurant became so popular that several other tiki-theme businesses opened nearby. The tiki factor in the decor hasn't changed much over the years, but is coming back strong with the current "Polynesian pop" revival. Local boaters traditionally visit for Sunday brunch.
The Wong family has operated this Boston-area institution since 1950. Kowloon Restaurant has expanded several times and now incorporates a variety of cuisines (Cantonese, Szechuan, Polynesian, Thai, sushi) and decorating styles. But the gloriously tikified Tiki Lagoon (pictured) remains the most popular dining area. Try for a booth beside the fountain that runs down the middle of the room.
As one of the most popular watering holes in the United States, Square Grouper Tiki Bar has seen its fair share of fame. It's the home of Alan Jackson's "It's Five O'clock Somewhere" video and a famous lighthouse, with stunning scenery of the Jupiter inlet. Sip on a Fuzzy Coconut (peach Schnapps, coconut rum, & orange juice) while you enjoy the relaxing sea breeze.
Fresh juices, house-made syrups, and plenty of old Hollywood inspiration combine to form one of the most celebrated newcomers to the tiki scene. Opened in 2015, Lost Lake has garnered praise from the craft cocktail community and thirsty Chicagoans. Their signature Lost Lake cocktail combines aged Jamaican rum, passionfruit, lime, pineapple, maraschino, and Campari.
This bar originally opened in 1969 as The Hapi Hula Hut, but officially became known as the Tiki Bar in 1971. The hotel's owner forged his claim to fame as the original inventor of the cocktail known as the rum runner—a delicious mixture of banana liqueur, Meyers rum, brandy, and grenadine. The concoction became so popular that a statue was resurrected in its honor and is still a hot photo opp.
As soon as you walk into La Mariana Tiki Bar & Restaurant, you'll feel the dedication to keeping historic Hawaii alive. The restaurant embodies the old, traditional, unhurried pace of dining. They suggest one of their famous mai tais or zombies to assist in your time travel journey.