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Definition of a Tiki Bar.

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Maybe this question has been posed before and maybe if I researched a few books I'd have my answer, but I thought I'd post it here. How does one define a Tiki Bar.

I personally think that if they serve a few of the classic Tiki Drinks they should be classified as Tiki. The two drinks I always look for would be a Fog Cutter or Navy Grog.

I mean sure a Mai Tai can be made anywhere, the two listed above are dying breeds. I welcome all opinions.

I post this because while passing through Chatsworth California, I found a place called Tryst Bar and Grill. Tryst advertises Tropical Drinks and this is where this question comes from. There were no Tiki Designs, in fact other than the drinks there was nothing Tropical about it. But Navy Grog was on the menu ... Tiki or no...you be the judge.


[ Edited by: Tiki Baron on 2003-05-14 15:21 ]

You drove right passed me at Plummer & De Soto....The Tryst is a Filipino/American place. I have yet to go inside. My Thai (Lassen & Mason) looks promising. This is the former Wooden Shoe. It looks cool from the street and may be of some Tiki interset. I am planning to go Friday.

I'd say it's all in the decor - heavy on the Polynesian with a few assorted nick-nacks collected from around the world. Drinks are incredibly important, but are not the making of the bar itself. Just think of one of those awful, soulless bars at your nearest airport. Even if they served their drinks in the finest Tiki mugs in the world, it wouldn't be a Tiki bar.

Yep - decor.

Trader Woody


as an owner of a Tiki Bar I struggled with that question prior to opening. I was even sent an essay from Sven Kirsten detailing what he thought it meant to open a tiki bar. At the end of the day I decided that it was

  1. the drinks. mainly because you can get a martini at any bar but a suffering bastard is a whole other story.
  2. decor. whether traditional or modern interpretation it needs to pay homage to the pioneers
  3. service. that goes w/o saying

Please refer to Trader Woody's post above for my response.


I like Steve's answer. But, I think that he should add music (it's definately an important element to Otto's). Gotta have some of that Tiki Music--hey, fabalous live exotica bands and DJs count! I'm not saying tiki music EXCLUSIVELY because variety sweetens the pot. Just like a tiki bar wouldn't have nothing but tiki drinks, would it??? gonna have beer, wine, soda, tradional mixed drinks. Same with the music. AS long as it's tiki some of the time, it's a tiki bar to me.


[ Edited by: manic cat on 2003-05-15 09:47 ]


A tiki bar (or tiki bar/restaurant) must really have a printed tropical drink menu. The printed menu must not only list the name and description of the tropical drinks, but must also include strongly worded WARNINGS!

Such as: "The Tidal Wave" (If they were really your friends, they'd talk you out of it!)

Or, "The WitchDoctor" (Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.)


On 2003-05-14 16:26, manic cat wrote:
Just like a tiki bar wouldn't have nothing but tiki drinks, would it???

From what I've heard and read, Hala Kahiki does! Gotta make it to Chicago to see it for myself!


Tatsysp, where's your bar?


it's in NYC
it's called Otto's Shrunken Head
538 e. 14th st.
ny ny 10009
212 228 2240

Music really is important! I mean look at Taboo Cove, a great tiki bar but the music absolutely ruined it for me. All that work on decor but yet they totally missed the boat without the right music.

[ Edited by: DawnTiki on 2003-05-15 12:38 ]

Drinks are important, but not crucial. Same with music (face it, how many of the remaining tiki bars do music right? 3? 4?) What really makes a tiki bar a tiki bar is TIKIS! Bamboo is not enough. Thatch is not enough. Glass floats are not enough. You can all those things but if you don't have any Polynesian-style idols or masks it's just a bamboo bar. Nothing wrong with that, but it's not a tiki bar without tikis. Betcha Sven will back me up on this one...

I agree with Dawntiki, Taboo Cove is an excellent tiki bar, but music sets the mood. Although, I do enjoy the sounds of Martin Denny and Les Baxter, I would prefer to hear polynesian drums or native polynesian folk songs in the background. With this, i totally forget the outside world and imagine that I'm in Tahiti agian.

You comments are welcome.

The Monitors


On 2003-05-14 22:42, TikiMaxton wrote:
What really makes a tiki bar a tiki bar is TIKIS!

damn straight. and putting tikis on all the mugs is really good too!

[ Edited by: manic cat on 2003-05-15 09:49 ]


While I agree music is very important I couldn't survive as a purist Tiki bar. I have 2 nights dedicated to tiki. Mondays w/ Fisherman (lounge & exotica) and Thursdays w/ Moonlighters (20's 30's rootsy/hawaiian). These are some of the best bands in NYC that play tiki music and even then they don't draw as much as the local punk/hard rock band does on some nights. I personally love them and will have them for as long as they want to play my bar. Unfortunately there just aren't enough tiki-philes out there to appreciate the experience.
As to decor. I agree that you need Tikis the more the merrier. I have 5 six footers including a smoke-blower!
I wish I had the money to go all out but as a local small business person You gotta do a lot with what little you got.

GECKO posted on Thu, May 15, 2003 3:17 PM

wot I like in da tiki bar is lotsa da kine, carvings from all ova polynesia. some running watta, thatch roof salt water aquarium, and da old hapa tunes as well as classic Hawaiian tunes sung in da native tounge. dimmed lights with flamin drinks. I'm a fan of da piano bar to.

A tiki bar should, first and foremost, pay homage to the Tiki god.

Therefore, by this definition, it would be difficult to have a tiki bar without a tiki statute or atleast a multitude of tiki mugs.

I agree with James, the higher the TIPSY factor (tikis per square yard), the better quality the tiki bar.

By this definition, Lava Lounge, with its single tiki in the doorway qualifies as a tiki bar. However, a bar like George's at Paradise Cove in Malibu, where Hawaiian shirt clad wait staff serve mai-tais while you relax in adirondacks chair with your feet in the sand looking at the Pacific, would not qualify as a tiki bar.

Every other aspect, such as polynesean decor, etc. is icing on the cake.

Music is important, but as Taboo Cove exemplifies, there can be framed album covers of Martin Denny and Les Baxter on the walls, but a hiphop soundtrack booming in the background and still be a full-fledged tiki bar.

JTD posted on Fri, May 16, 2003 12:01 PM

I'm with Maxton and Manic Cat on this - It's the tikis!

I promise I won't EVER talk about symbolic anything after this, but.......

I figure that in the 1940's & 1950's going into a place that's got pagan gods as a centerpiece of the decor was a clear sign that one was checking the rat race at the door and looking to relax with abandon. Not such a big deal nowadays, but I think the tikis still cue folks to let go of their inhibitions - certainly more than a bank of sports blaring TV's do.

OK. I'm done.


Pages: 1 18 replies