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. Small bars with limited seating get penalized in this category.
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.
Tiki Bars with Food
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.
Notable Tiki Bars in the United States
A selection of some noteworthy tiki bars to visit nationally. This list will expand over time but only includes bars I’ve actually visited.
|Max’s South Seas Hideaway||8||8||7||10||8.25|
|Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar||7||9||8||8||8|
|Skull & Crown Trading Company||8||9||7||7||7.75|
|Trader Vic’s Emeryville||7||7||8||8||7.5|
|Tonga Hut Tiki Lounge||7||6||8||8||7.25|
|Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto||5||9||7||8||7.25|
|The Kon-Tiki (Oakland)||8||6||8||6||7|
|The Tonga Room||5||9||6||8||7|
|Tonga Hut Palm Springs||7||8||4||8||6.75|
|Pyscho Suzi’s Motor Lounge||4||8||5||7||6|
|Three Dots and a Dash||6||5||6||4||5.25|
A few notes:
- No surprise to see the famed Mai-Kai at the top of the list, along with Max’s South Seas Hideway which is the closest thing to the classic tiki palaces built in the last 40 years.
- More surprising was Tacoma’s Devil’s Reef tying for the top score. A testament to the immersive decor and highest quality cocktails.
- The rating for Tiki-Ko includes the newly opened basement level called The Sinking Ship.
- The Drinks rating for Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar factors in the bartenders who are willing and eager to go off-menu, and each of which seems to have a repertoire of self-created “hidden menu” cocktails.
- Skull & Crown Trading Company in Honolulu is the best tiki bar that most people haven’t heard of, and is by far the best tiki bar in Hawaii.
More Tiki Bar Ratings
Check out these Ultimate Mai Tai Tiki Travels pages that include ratings for the tiki bars.