These are the houses that Tiki built. Part restaurant, part bar, part nightclub; all aloha spirit. This partial list of Tiki temples represents the Meccas for Tiki geeks, like me, to visit as often as possible. If possible. Some of these places are gone now, torn down or closed up in the name of … progress?
A proper Tiki temple is a place you can go (or could have gone) to escape the real world for a little while. Enjoy a strong, rum-based drink with many layers of flavor. Chow on some Pu-Pu, typically Asian fare with some Polynesian flair. Listen to some cool music, like Exotica, Lounge, Hawaiian, or Surf, preferably performed live. If you’re lucky, catch a performance by a Polynesian dance troupe, including the amazing Samoan Fire Knife dance.
Here are some of the places I’ve been fortunate enough to see for myself, either in-person or through some second-hand tales that inspired me.
The Mai-Kai, Fort Lauderdale FL (1956-present). This is the granddaddy of them all, 58 years old and still going strong. The Mai-Kai is the perfect Tiki temple: great drinks, fine food, wonderful atmosphere, and the most authentic Polynesian entertainment outside of the South Pacific. I’ve been there a handful of times now and can’t wait to go back. You don’t have real Tiki cred until you’ve stamped your passport at The Mai-Kai.
The Kahiki, Columbus OH (1961-2000). Full disclosure: I’ve never been to The Kahiki. A few years before I started my Tiki journey, this temple was torn down to make way for a Walgreens store. A fucking Walgreens! However, I do feel a connection to this historic place, as I described in one of the many “worlds colliding” segments of my Whenceforth A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge blog post last year (24Nov2013). Jeff Chenault just published a new book, Kahiki Supper Club: A Polynesian Paradise in Columbus, which chronicles the history of how a cold Midwestern town came to host one of the most elaborate Tiki temples ever built. I look forward to checking it out.
Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Village Resort, Orlando FL (1971-present). This is my happy place. My family has vacationed at WDW four times, and we always stay at The Poly. We’re going back for our fifth trip next month! The Polynesian Village Resort takes the Tiki temple to another level: an escape for an extended stay. All of the elements are here, with the addition of authentic Polynesian architecture and amenities. This is a South Pacific paradise conveniently located in Central Florida.
Painkiller, New York NY (2010-13). At the other end of the spectrum, we have this wonderful Tiki bar nestled into an unlikely neighborhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Sadly, PKNY closed their doors when they lost their lease last year, but not before I had the chance to visit. I joined my friends Jack Fetterman and Gina Haase of Primitiva in Hi-Fi for a night of merriment with fantastic Tiki drinks, great music, and surprisingly authentic Polynesian decor. Mahalo, Jack and Gina!
Disneyland’s Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Room, Anaheim CA (2011-present). Disney strikes again, this time in Disneyland with the opening of their own Tiki bar with a Jungle Cruise twist. I wrote all about my visit to Trader Sam’s last year in my blog post Aloha Spirit: Los Angeles (02Jan14). This place has become so popular that Disney plans to open another version of it at…wait for it…The Polynesian Village Resort at WDW. Oh, happy day in my happy place! If only it was open in time for my trip next month. Oh, well.
Three Dots and A Dash, Chicago IL (2013-present). Another great new Tiki temple in an urban setting, this gem opened just over a year ago. Owner Paul McGee has already won awards for his upscale Tiki bar Three Dots and A Dash in downtown Chicago, which looks like a speakeasy from the outside. Inside, down a flight of stairs, you’ll find a sprawling restaurant and bar with meticulously crafted Tiki drinks, great food, and lush Polynesian decor. And the waitresses are pretty cute 😉
The Yachtsman, Philadelphia PA (2014-present). Somewhere between PKNY and Three Dots and A Dash lies the latest urban Tiki bar I’ve visited. The Yachtsman just opened last month in the Fishtown section of Philly, and it has the feel of a cool neighborhood bar. Don’t let that description fool you, though; this place is steeped in Tiki culture. The owners are veterans of the Philly restaurant scene, but they take their Tiki drinks very seriously, with fresh, homemade ingredients and expert craftsmanship. The decor is spot-on Tiki, and they plan to start serving food soon. The Yachtsman has all the makings of a proper Tiki temple, and should become a great one in time. I look forward to my next visit!
So these are the Tiki temples I know or have some experience with. There are many other great places I haven’t been to that are just as wonderful: Don The Beachcomber, Trader Vic’s, The Tiki Ti. I need another trip to California! There are also some brand new places I need to check out, like Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 in New Orleans and Suzanne Long’s Longitude in Oakland. I hope to do that soon, in my continuing Tiki journey. I hope you’ll join me there for a Mai-Tai, some Pu-Pu and a great escape. Mahalo!