I’ve developed my own rating scale for Tiki Bars, based on the factors that I feel are most important in determining a quality tiki bar. After all, not every place does everything good. So you have to view the overall rating for a bar as an average for all of these factors:
Drinks: quality, variety, price, consistency
A good example of this is the difference between Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco and the Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale. The Cove has a well-deserved reputation for having the highest quality cocktails, whereas even the Mai-Kai’s biggest fans would admit that the cocktails there can be hit or miss.
Ambiance: Decor, immersiveness, seating, special features
Does it feel like you’re in an authentic location with lots of things to see? The Tonga Room in San Francisco, known for its large size, pool, and frequent rain effect is a good examples of a bar with great ambiance. The special effects when certain drinks are ordered at the Trader Sam’s bars at the Disney resorts are another example.
Service: Hours, ease of service, friendliness
None of this matters if the bar is only open for a couple hours a day and the staff is unfriendly and hard to engage. A bar with a lower service rating than you might expect is Smuggler’s Cove, where there is no table service and when it’s crowded you really have to fight your way to the bar just to put an order in.
Tiki Aesthetic: Totems, Polynesian and/or Nautical theme, music
For those who hate the trend of “tropical bars” being called tiki bars, here is the criteria that will lower a location’s overall rating. For example, Last Rites in San Francisco has a detailed jungle/adventure theme, but there aren’t any tikis. Bars that play classic rock rather than Exotica, Surf, or Hawaiian also get dinged here.
Each bar is rated on a 1-10 scale, with generally a bell-shaped curve in mind. So, not so many ones or tens, but lots of fours, fives, and sixes.
- Any destination with a rating of 6 or higher is definitely worth your time.
Some of these places serve food and some don’t. We don’t like to penalize tiki bars that don’t serve food, or ones where the food is not really a strength or focus (hello, Forbidden Island). In cases where food is a positive and significant differentiating factor, we apply it to the service category.
San Francisco Bay Area Tiki Bar Ratings
The Bay Area is blessed with the highest concentration of tiki bars in the world, and happens to be our home turf. So, this is where we started.
Obviously, each person might rate each category differently, but these are based on my own experiences. Most of these I’ve visited many, many times.
|The Tonga Room||5||10||6||9||7.5|
|Downtown Tiki Lounge||5||5||5||4||4.75|
|World Famous Turf Club||2||4||5||2||3.25|
A few notes:
- Pagan Idol gets dinged a bit because I don’t love their current menu offerings, which are small in number and less diverse than when they first opened.
- Kon-Tiki’s frequent playing of Yacht Rock and other retro-rock music hurt it in the last category, though I happen to love their fun vibe. This is one of my favorite tiki bars anywhere.
- Hula Hoops, Trader Vic’s, and The Kon-Tiki all got a boost in the service category for their excellent food offerings.
- I have yet to try the new cocktail menus that The Tonga Room and Zombie Village introduced in January 2020.
- Hukilau is more of a Hawaiian-themed restaurant, but is listed on Critiki.com’s list of tiki bars.
More info: Tiki Travels – San Francisco Bay Area
Palm Springs Tik Bar Ratings
|Toucans Tiki Lounge||4||4||7||5||5|
More info: Tiki Travels – Palm Springs
Other Tiki Bars in the United States
A small selection of some of my favorite tiki bars to visit nationally. This list will expand over time but only includes bars I’ve actually visited.
| Trader Sam’s
Enchanted Tiki Bar
|Skull & Crown Trading Company||8||9||7||7||7.75|
A few notes:
- No surprise to see the famed Mai-Kai at the top of the list.
- More surprising was Tacoma’s Devil’s Reef tying for the top score. A testament to the immersive decor and highest quality cocktails.
- Skull & Crown Trading Company in Honolulu is the best tiki bar that most people haven’t heard of.