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The Conga Lounge, Oakland, CA (bar)

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mig posted on Sun, Jul 27, 2003 1:02 PM

Name:The Conga Lounge, Oakland CA
Street:5422 College Ave.
Hours: Th/F/Sa 5pm til ? (other hours by arrangement; also available for private parties)

The Conga Lounge opened in 2003 in Oakland, in the Rockridge area of Oakland. (College Avenue, between highway 24 and Broadway). Opened by two brothers, Michael and Mano, they are attempting to provide the "authentic" tiki bar experience by using authentic drink recipes and music (in addition to decor.)

Size: smallish... capacity of perhaps 50 people?
Condition: excellent (as it is a new place), with the amount of "tikiness" continually increasing. (Examples: recent addition of more bamboo and furniture.)

[ Edited by: mig on 2003-07-27 13:03 ]

[ Edited by: mig on 2003-07-27 13:18 ]

mig posted on Sun, Jul 27, 2003 1:16 PM

My first visit to the Conga Lounge was yesterday, and I was quite impressed! The decor was very good-- many tikis, lots of bamboo, etc. (And from what I hear, it's still improving every day-- another patron there told me that the amount of tiki had been significantly increased just since the opening.)

There were a few items of non-tiki decor-- e.g., a sombrero, and a mod scooter album cover-- but these did not detract; it still worked, and worked marvelously. Even the bathroom was decorated; and the owners have plans for the only still-undecorated area, which is the ceiling.

The owners are brothers from South Africa. (Michael-- "congamike" on TikiCentral, and his brother Mano are the two we met.) They have a deep love of "true tiki" (if that can be defined), and they are doing a lot to give an authentic (i.e., non-Buffett) vibe. Examples: great old movies playing on a TV screen, and-- even more importantly-- actual EXOTICA music. (This should please the kids greatly!)

Drinks: although I am not the "expert" that others here on TC are, I was impressed. They have done research into tiki mixology and are well-prepared to make "true" tiki drinks. The "Gilligan's Island" has become a de facto house special, and the one I had treated me right!

Food: although I did not have any, I was told by a good authority that the food is excellent, so I can't wait to try it next time.

Location: as always, a key to a business's success. This location is in a hip and well-traveled district, so hopefully it will bring them success.

A few things I'd do if I ran it: I would glue/cement EVERYTHING down so it wouldn't walk away. I'd also put a big sandwich board out front... and I'd flyer the entire neighborhood. But those are just some minor suggestions... really, I can't find anything to complain about with the Conga Lounge, except that it's far from my house. But that's not their fault. :)


[ Edited by: mig on 2003-07-27 13:17 ]

I wholeheartedly concur with Mig - the drinks get stronger, the decor cooler, and the whole vibe cozier every time I walk in there (which is often, as it is now my neighborhood tiki bar). I love the video comp of film clips running constantly (and silently) behind the bar with scenes from flicks like "Gidget Goes Hawaiian" "Paradise Hawaiian Style" TV shows like "I Dream of Jeannie" and even quasi-exotic cinema like "King Kong" and "Jason and the Argonauts" - lotsa lounge, Elvis, cartoons, segments from various cable shows on people like Shag, etc. These guys really know their stuff, and they're pitching their new place directly to hardcore tiki festishists as well as the casual drinker. This is why we need to patronize this place and claim it as our own so it doesn't turn into another tiki sports bar (like Tiki Tom's in Walnut Creek - a nice place, with good food and drinks, but the non-stop sports on the TV ruin the atmosphere, even when they have Hawaiian music playing live, which isn't often enough).

I have no problem with the oft-mentioned sombrero since they are going for a general "exotica" atmosphere - and everyone here knows that to the postwar white guy (that includes us) "tiki" often denotes everything from hula girls to voodoo dolls to the Mambo. Les Baxter and others combined music from Africa, Asia, Cuba and South American in their exotic excursions, along with Tahiti and Hawaii. I think the owners, Michael and Mano - who are Greek via South Africa - are right-on in their assessment of Exotica, American Style. Still, the decor is mainly Polynesian in keeping with tradition, which is their whole objective: tradition.

I might also mention all the food items are outstanding, especially the tuna poke and salmon cerviche, and they play nothing but classic lounge/surf/pop music, and the diverse drink menu features many regularly rotating specials. I love their house drink, "The Gilligan's Island" (heavy on the banana flavor, served in an Easter Island mug). They just introduced a Scorpion bowl which is also outstanding.

Otto plans a regular monthly DJ gig there soon, and I also plan semi-regular Thrillville movie nights. Things will only improve there, and they're off to an unusually strong start. They want your input, too, open to any and all suggestions, so don't be shy. Do the Conga, baby!

I had the privilege of visiting the Conga (with AquaZombie and the Tiki Goddess, no less!) shortly after it opened, and I was quite impressed with the drinks and decor even then. However, I was completely sold upon hearing the resident TJ (Tiki Jockey) spin Annette Funicello's "Pineapple Princess"...and watching my husband's disbelief as he discovered I could sing right along with it. I definitely look forward to visiting again soon!

The Conga now has its own web site, check it out!



A handful of friends and I visited the Conga Lounge last night, and you can colour me a convert to this one!

It's pretty "cozy." It seems the right size now, though I wonder if this will be a future problem. The place did fill pretty well. Still, no-one seemed stuck without a seat, and our little group never felt crowded.

The ambience is great. It has certainly added since some of the various photos I've seen on the web, with plenty of knickknacks and such everywhere. Not all of it is strictly tiki-themed, but as mentioned before, it doesn't detract. The music, too, was not expressly tikiesque (there was no "TJ" there at the time), but most did fit the theme well amongst a staple of Tom Jones, Nancy Sinatra, James Bond themes, and so forth. Still, some martin Denny would have been good.

Playing on the TV (without sound) was Casino Royale which, (again) while non-tiki also seemed to fit all fine and well.

The drinks were excellent. We had the pleasure of sampling their Mai Tai (really good, but not the best I've had), the Blue Hawaiian (okay, but it's a Blue Hawaiian), the Mojito Cubana (very good, different), and the Zombie (the only one of these served in a mug. VERY potent, and well done).

We also had food from the restaurant downstairs. The pizza was given high marks, and the jerk chicken while tasty (and quite sizable, portion-wise) could have stood for being a bit spicier.

Service was excellent. Our server was very attentive, and one of the owners did come over to make sure we have all the ambience we could (turning on the large plastic moai and a small lamp near us). We definitely felt taken care of.

One concern we all had before going was that the location would be, shall we say, "trendy" or "yuppified." It didn't feel such, however, in contrast to its neighborhood. I would certainly go to the Conga Lounge again, given the opportunity.

Oh -- here's a couple photos as well. One of the decor along one wall, the other of a freshly served Zombie.

Gwen Smith

Conga Lounge has a brand, spanking new web site, designed by the one and only Humuhumu !!
Check it out...http://www.congalounge.com
Humu has also created a Flickr photo link, so if you have photos of some great times at the Conga, add them to Flickr with the tag "congalounge" and share them with all.

Cheers to the Conga Lounge! I have been in on multiple occasions. The drinks and vibe are just great! I actually prefer that the footprint is smaller - kind of cozy but just cool. If you live in the bay area but have not been to Conga Lounge then shame!!! :)
Try the classic Mai Tai or the signature Dark n Stormy - they added a needed degree of dimension to this fantastic drink!


Always a pleasure to go to the Conga! Besides the chillin' hang of its usual mood, it threw a huge (for that space) party celebrating Oakland as the home of the original Mai Tai a few years back, complete w/ city council member to make it official. I rented it as venue for my husband Bruddah Tom's milestone birthday (won't say which one) & had 50 friends from all over join us for a wonderful event. Bartenders are fantastic, and the coziness sublime!

It is with great sadness that we announce the closing of our beloved little tiki bar. Conga Lounge, was founded 12 years ago by my brothers and I, as an experiment to see if "tiki" could work in that day and age. It was the early 2000s, the tiki bug had bitten me hard and I had a dream of up a classic mid-century style tiki lounge, serving traditional tiki cocktails. This was still a dark time for the concept, several that had opened in LA and the midwest, were closing their doors after a brief period. We had an available 2nd floor to our pizza restaurant and so, Conga Lounge was born in 2003. It was an immediate success and set the stage for the "ultimate dream"...Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge.


Unfortunately, most TC's only experienced the Conga during a crowded, packed stop of one of the Tiki Crawls and never fully got to experience the awesomeness of this quaint little space. It also got overshadowed over the years, by the newer East Bay/ San Francisco tiki bars and lounges that opened it it's wake. Nevertheless, Conga has it's place in the Bay Area's rich tiki history, as one of the first "tiki-revival" bars in tiki's new golden age. At the time Conga opened, there was no tiki presence in the Bay Area other than the remaining Tiki mecca's like Trader Vics and Tonga Room (which were both perceived at the time as old-school and tired) and party tiki spots like Bamboo Hut and Trader Sams, both infamous for their dreadful concoctions passed as Tiki drinks. We set to change all of that by opening Conga. Shortly afterward, Kona Club and Forbidden Island opened and spearheaded a tiki revolution in the the Bay Area, which quickly spread across the country.

We are sad to see the Conga go and are even sadder for our hundreds of regulars and fans, esp those that have bonded, fallen in love or married as a result of meeting at the Conga! Unfortunately, tied to a 25 year old pizza restaurant, that has been struggling financially, spelled the end of our beloved tiki bar. We will miss you, Conga Lounge and you will always hold a special place in our hearts! Final date is Saturday 2/21.

A little photo tour...

[ Edited by: Molokai Mike 2015-02-13 10:26 ]

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