As summer approaches people’s thoughts turn naturally towards a well-deserved vacation. After such a rough winter, many will flock to various tropical locations around the world to enjoy some sunshine, fruity cocktails and warm ocean currents.
For those that can’t get away, however, another alternative is to find a suitable stand-in. And for us, that stand-in is the Tiki bar.
Tiki bars began springing up throughout the United States during the years following World War II. Many veterans came home with a fondness for the South Pacific, and so in response, Polynesian-themed lounges, restaurants and bars opened in just about every large and small town you could find.
These places had much in common, like the use of Polynesian décor, Tiki statues and rum-based cocktails.
But sadly, many of these great old places disappeared during the 1970s-1980s as their style and atmosphere became dated. There has been a resurgence of late, but there’s something about those old places—the history and ambiance—that just can’t be replicated. Here we feature the five oldest Tiki bars in the country. If you get a chance, stop by and have a drink or three, and soak in some authentic Polynesia from the past!
The Tonga Room, San Francisco CA
The Tonga Room was opened in the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco in 1945. The lounge was designed by a well-known Hollywood set designer and actually enveloped the hotel’s pool, turning it into a tropical lagoon, complete with floating stage for a live band.
The Tonga Hut, North Hollywood, CA
Opened in 1958 by brothers Ace and Ed Libby, who had traveled to Polynesia and fell in love with the culture. For years the Tonga Hut served a loyal crowd in North Hollywood before finally living on the verge of becoming a dive.
It was bought and restored in 2011 and now proudly serves an even bigger and more loyal crowd of Tiki enthusiasts.
Tiki-Ti, Los Angeles, CA
One of the premiere Tiki-drink masters of the LA area, and bartender at the very first Tiki bar in the US (Don the Beachcomber’s), Ray Buhen grew weary of mixing drinks for bars owned by others. So in 1961 he decided to open his own. Tiki-Ti has been a popular destination for LA Tiki enthusiasts ever since.
Kon Tiki, Tucson, AZ
The middle of the desert is an unlikely place to find a tropical paradise, but that’s what you find at Kon Tiki in Tucson. Opened in 1963 by restaurateur Dean Short Kon Tiki has become known for powerful drinks and a fun atmosphere. Like the Tonga Room the Kon Tiki features a full Asian-inspired menu, so you can order a pu pu platter to help soak up the booze you’re likely to consume.
Hala Kahiki, River Grove, IL
Outside of Chicago is this gem, the Hala Kahiki, founded in 1963. Originally the bar was built as a simple road-side lounge. But when owner Stanley Sacharski began adding some bamboo-siding he bought from Sears to repair the walls, his customers became enthused. Seeing an opportunity Stanley completed remodeled the place to embrace the Polynesian theme and they’ve never looked back.