Tiki is taking over on the coast (and off it).

By Marisa Spyker
July 20, 2018
Polynesian partner, bartender, and tiki champion Brian Miller
© Noah Fecks/ Courtesy of The Polynesian

Tiki style certainly has its share of kitsch, from the over-the-top tropical décor to the sugar-loaded (sometimes flaming) rum drinks and totem mugs. But there’s no denying its widespread appeal—the tiki trend has transcended generations, from its first appearance in the ‘30s to the new wave that’s sweeping the country today.

But the new brand of tiki, the one that’s cozying up next to craft cocktail bars and speakeasies in some of the country’s trendiest urban neighborhoods, is a far cry (dare we say more sophisticated?) from its mid-century ancestors. Boutique spirits and upscale flavors bring new twists to iconic tiki-themed drinks, while wild presentations and moody settings are shaking up the definition of tiki in its most traditional sense. The wave is happening across the country—here are 5 standout bars that are leading the way.

Last Rites, San Francisco
You might think you’ve crash landed on a tropical island at this brand-new “Polynesian noir” hangout, where the bar is built from an airplane fuselage, the bar stools are made from airplane seats, and the walls and ceilings are teeming with tropical foliage. Behind the bar, bottles upon bottles of rum are mixed up to create trendy takes on tiki drinks, including their signature Mai Tai which blends two rums and swaps almond flavor for cashew orgeat. In lieu of tiki mugs, drinks are served in sanded down bottles to create the effect of found sea glass.

Courtesy of The Polynesian

The Polynesian, New York City
Blend the sophisticated feel of an urban epicenter with Polynesian style and you have this somewhat elevated rendition of tiki. “My idea was Trader Vic’s meets Mad Men meets Pirates of the Caribbean,” partner and bartender Brian Miller told The New York Times. The design features subtle references to the tropics, from the bamboo ceilings and lava-rock bar top to the cut-metal screens that evoke Polynesian masks. On the menu, you can expect drinks that match that sophisticated twist on tiki, with coconut tea-infused spirits and giant shareable cocktails with show-stopping presentation (such as a snifter that sits on a giant clam shell filled with smoky dry ice).   

Related: How To Make a Classic Mai Tai Cocktail: 

False Idol, San Diego
Getting to this SoCal tiki paradise feels like a treasure hunt: Visitors must enter through a different bar and then pass through a walk-in cooler lined with crates of pineapples to come out the other side. But once you’re in, the escapism is real. The over-the-top décor features a ceiling lined with hundreds of nets and fishing floats, totems carved with Polynesian pop art, and an entire stone wall that’ll make you think you’re stranded in a tropical cave. Modern interpretations of tiki libations fill the menu, from fruity sips to stronger cocktails like the Zombie, which caps patrons at two due to its “impossible amount of rum.”   

Lost River, Detroit
Even the Midwest is getting in on the tiki action. This new cocktail lounge promises to bring the warm tropical vibes to Michigan’s largest city with its nautical décor (leis galore and planked walls covered in fishing net) and tiki-style drinks. We’d order these as much for the fun servingware (punch bowls shaped like blowfish and mini footed bathtubs for the bathtub gin) as we would for the booze.

The Kon-Tiki, Oakland, CA
Home of the original Trader Vic’s and the birthplace of the Mai Tai, Oakland has a long, legendary history with tiki culture—and this latest rendition of the tropical watering hole is perhaps the most authentically tiki of the bunch. With thatched roofs, bamboo walls, cheeseburgers, pupu platters, and flaming cocktails, it channels the pre-WWII days of the tiki bar—yet caters to contemporary tastes with craft cocktail twists and elevated cuisine.