The Return of the Tiki Bar? I Wish…

So yesterday, I was tweetering about a story from the annual food show on CBS Sunday Morning that had to do with the (totally untrue) “Return of the Tiki Bar.” It was a trend story, which made it highly suspect right from the start. It was a trend story hooked to a pre-holiday broadcast, which made it doubly-suspect. And finally, the entire “Return” portion of the tiki bar “Trend” was hooked to just two joints in NYC–Otto’s Shrunken Head (which actually opened 9 years ago) and PKNY (which has been having problems of its own lately).

The worst part about the whole thing? I love tiki bars and wished like hell that Sunday Morning was actually onto something. Of all the dead trends that I wouldn’t mind seeing resurrected (see Potato Skins below, courtesy of Art), tiki bars–along with tiki drinks served by tiki girls–are near the top of the list. I will trade you a thousand cupcakes, bacon martinis and high-end cheeseburgers for one decent place to get sloshed on Mai Tais and scorpion bowls, is what I’m saying. Basically, one can not say that there is a tiki bar trend happening until there are as many tiki bars on the streets as there are shitty “Prohibition Speakeasies” clogging up the cocktail scene. And here in Philadelphia? We got nothin’.

This was not always the way. Once upon a time, Philly had Pub Tiki (which was discussed in loving detail here, back in 2010, and was once a favorite of GQ’s Alan Richman). But really? Since then (it closed in 1977), we haven’t had much of anything. Sure, there are some places to get tiki drinks–and even some places where you can get little umbrellas in ’em–but as for the full-fledged tiki experience, we’re SOL.

This should change. Immediately. In this month’s Bars issue of Philadelphia magazine, Victor pissed off virtually everyone in the city by demanding a return to drinking the way our grandparents drank–meaning simple, everyday cocktails made with recognizable ingredients–but I say that we should also take a turn toward the rum-and-fruit-heavy concoctions that were made for celebrating: the Zombies, Suffering Bastards, Fog Cutters and coladas of history. What’s more, we need appropriate places to drink them.

Fishtown would be a great place to start. This neighborhood needs a tiki bar bad, and it would fit right into the booming Barcade and Loco Pez landscape–with a vibe just retro enough to be cool and drinks so strong that, after two, you won’t care that you’re drinking something with more fruit on top than Carmen Miranda’s hat.

You know what else would make a great tiki bar? Swanky Bubbles. There are rumors going around right now that this recent Bar Rescue target went thoroughly un-rescued after the show split town and is currently dark, so maybe someone with a few bucks and a taste for rum could re-make this failure into something awesome–in a neighborhood that could really use some awesomeness. Also, the name “Swanky Bubbles” was just about the worst name I’ve ever heard of for a bar, so calling it anything else couldn’t possibly hurt.

The former Tweed space? That would’ve made a great tiki bar–the interior is just about perfect and just need some bamboo and palm fronds. And maybe a new bar. Plus, being right in the middle of Center City would mean being close to my office, which I would not mind one little bit. The old L’Oca space would work, too–and a tiki bar there might be just what Fairmount needs to push it into the “when did this neighborhood become hot?” category.

So what do you guys think? Is it time for a tiki revival in Philly? And, more to the point, where would you like to see the first one open?

Return of the Tiki Bar [CBS Sunday Morning]

Has Swanky Bubbles Gone Flat? [Insider]

Tiki Drinks In Philly [slideshow]

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  • Bob

    L’Oca is already set to become Hickory Lane.

  • @Bob

    Yeah, it is. But wouldn’t a tiki bar be cooler?

  • poots
  • Victor Fiorillo

    Philly could learn a lot about bars from Milwaukee.

  • Lord Chesterfield

    I think it should go in at Philips or at the Boots Bar!! So the neighbors might complain but logistically speaking it’s great because you have the confluence of two very, very important things that make for great late night tiki drink swilling: public transit and a soon-to-be open 24 hour diner. Craving a ridiculous set-on-fire drink at Otto’s so hard right now. Not enough loopy theme bars here!

  • cleevus

    i think it sounds cool. and would immediately sound stupid after your first time there.

  • M

    No love for Rum Bar?

    • Tami

      I guess you haven’t been to Rum Bar ?

  • booberry

    I worked at Silk City (before Mark Bee took it over) when it was trying to be a tiki bar. I really loved it then & would love to see a kitschy tiki bar come back to Philly. I WILL tip heavly to the servers who’ll have to carry around the Volcano bowls though – those things were heavy! and on fire!

  • Lord Chesterfield

    Rum bar is in no way, shape, or form a tiki bar. It’s a Pirate Bar. If there is such a thing.


    Either NoLibs/Fishtown or Passyunk would work. Triangle Tavern and Bonnie’s Capistrano are both for sale. Triangle would be great, especially if they put up a big roof deck.

  • @Nemesis

    Both good suggestions, but you know what? As counterintuitive as it might seem, I actually don’t like tiki bars with decks. Something about looking out over, say, Passyunk in August just ruins the vibe for me. It’s something about the suspension of disbelief that comes from being locked inside a windowless room full of palm trees, liquor and Don Ho music that does it for me.

  • I would be so up for something like the Tonga Room; I used to create excuses to go there when I lived in SF. I don’t think a tiki bar is fully successful unless it rains indoors.



    That makes sense about the roof deck. While this tonga room place looks great I don’t think there are a lot of available properties with that much space. I was thinking of something completely old school made to look like it hasn’t been changed since the 60’s. Something like the now closed Lava Lounge in LA

  • @Nemesis & Lisa:

    From your lips to the tiki gods’ ears…

    I think one of the defining elements of a tiki bar done right is the sense that it hasn’t changed even a place mat in 40 years. If this can be faked, that’s nice. But when it’s authentic, that’s awesome.

    In any event, there shouldn’t be anything slick or ironic about them. A tiki bar has to be done with love and an absolutely straight face or it just doesn’t work at all.

  • Rummy

    Tiki Bar resurrection has been in the works for months… Starting in January the roof top deck at the Continental Midtown is being transformed.