Tiki bars are serious about not being serious. The palm-thatched divey haunts are filled with random totems of Polynesia, and offer potent, overly garnished (and mostly rum-based) drinks that help transport us to an exotic getaway that is native to nowhere.
The hideaways, a mishmash of flotsam from a mythical South Seas, originated in California. Just after Prohibition ended in 1933, Donn Beach (real name Ernest Gantt) opened Don the Beachcomber, filled with souvenirs from his travels, and drinks he knew and loved from the islands.
Another architect of the movement was Victor Bergeron. His 1934 bar, Hinky Dinks, later changed its name to Trader Vic’s, the popular chain that spread worldwide.
Tiki culture was a mainstay of the mid-20th century, and Atlanta has its own tiki spots, offering a brief oasis encounter.
Atlanta’s Trader Vic’s, located in the lower level of the downtown Hilton, feels frozen in the 1970s era of its launch. Globe lanterns dangle above rattan chairs, while carved tiki totems watch over silent tribal drums.
Diners eat crispy prawns and crab rangoon from plates emblazoned with tribal masks. There are dozens of punchy cocktails. The tiki puka puka, with 151 proof rum, grenadine and spices, packs a fiery punch. In Polynesian luau tradition, many drinks, like the scorpion bowl, are communal, pairing well with Trader Vic’s pu pu platter.
Trader Vic’s. 255 Courtland St. NE, Atlanta. 404-327-6339, tradervicsatl.com.
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S.O.S. Tiki Bar
Painted palm trees on the white brick of an alley lead to the door of S.O.S., which is dark and cool, even on the sunniest of days. It’s a snazzy vibe, with cozy leather booths and swivel bar seats. Hula girl lamps add just the right amount of kitsch.
Beverage director Ean Bancroft and crew, clad in tropical gear, shake and stir from a concise illustrated menu of tiki classics, like zombies and mai tais. Their Pain Killa special, with white rum, aged rum, coconut cream, orange, pineapple and tiki bitters, is a frequent order for its tropical flavors and $6 price. They also mix up punch bowls that serve six to eight sippers.
To supplement the beautifully garnished cocktails, Jarrett Stieber of Eat Me Speak Me delivers the food menu Wednesdays through Saturdays. He offers small and medium plates of hyper-local and seasonal dishes, as well as an omakase option with five plates and dessert. Dishes are clever, with multiple ingredients, lots of veggies and vivid plating. Take his Lord of the Wing, a crisp chicken wing with peach kimchee paste, “fancy” herbs and cauliflower puree. It’s a total reflection of tiki drinks: delicious and fun.
S.O.S. Tiki Bar. 340 Church St., Decatur. 404-377-9308, sostiki.com.
At Bookhouse, the tiki ethos is subtle. It’s dark, relaxed, unabashedly brown, and, true to its name, a repository for books, which line shelves above the booths. The name is actually an homage to the television series “Twin Peaks.” Glowing salt lamps offer subdued light. The bar holds an extensive spirits collection, especially of Asian whiskies. There also is a woodsy patio, vine-filled, strung with lights, and anchored by a carved tiki pole.
While there are always tiki-inspired cocktails on the menu, each week celebrates Tiki Tuesdays with tacos. Concoctions like Jungle Birds or 3 Dots and a Dash come in a glass for $8, or in a take-home tiki mug for $10 with a trio of house-made tortillas featuring a variety of fillings. The menu consists of fresh takes on pub fare — think mushroom poutine and chicharrones with roasted jalapeno lime cream.
Bookhouse Pub. 736 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta. 404-254-1176, thebookhousepub.net.
This outpost of the original, founded by musician Todd Rundgren and wife Michele in Kauai, Hawaii, is slated to open very soon. It’s full-on South Seas kitsch. There are hanging blowfish lamps, and hand-painted barkcloth draping a main room of thatch and rock walls.
The Hawaiian-inspired menu has a deft Southern touch, while cocktails focus on tiki classics, with fun inclusions like fruit caviar and the addition of smoking aromatics. You will be able to sample a large collection of sipping rums with coconut ice cubes. The large patio, covered in bamboo mats, soon will have wooden swings full of friends sipping from flaming scorpion bowls.
Tiki Iniki. 1044 Greenwood Ave., Atlanta. tikiinikiatl.com.
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