Palm Springs

If you’re looking for a tiki destination, Palm Springs has a little bit of everything, and the four tiki bars are all in close proximity. Each place has their own charms and good reasons to visit, and so your preference might depend on your taste, which aspects of the venue are most important, the location, or even some small details.

Each bar is located within a four mile stretch of Palm Canyon Drive.

Toucans Tiki Lounge
2100 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262

Bootlegger Tiki
1101 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262

The Tonga Hut Restaurant and Tiki Bar
254 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262

The Reef
Caliente Tropics Resort, 411 E Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92264

Summary and Ratings

I am developing a rating system for Tiki Bars based on the follow four criteria.

Drinks: quality, variety, price, consistency
Ambiance: Decor, immersiveness, seating, special features
Service: Hours, ease of service, friendliness
Tiki Aesthetic: Totems, Polynesian and/or Nautical theme, music

Here is how that criteria averaged out for the Palm Springs tiki bars.

Ultimate Mai Tai Tiki Bar Ratings:

  1. Bootlegger Tiki 7.5
  2. Tonga Hut 6.75
  3. The Reef 6.75
  4. Toucans Tiki Lounge 5
  Drinks Ambiance Service Tiki Aesthetic Total
 Bootlegger Tiki 8 7 9 7 7.75
 Tonga Hut 7 8 4 8 6.75
 The Reef 7 6 8 6 6.75
 Toucans Tiki Lounge 4 4 7 5 5

Interestingly, my ratings on Critiki were in the same order:

  1. Bootlegger Tiki 8
  2. Tonga Hut 7.9
  3. The Reef 7
  4. Toucans Tiki Lounge 5.4

Overall, Bootlegger Tiki was my top choice. With a great immersive experience inside (if you can hang with an occasional classic rock number) and truly outstanding drinks, this place was my number one and compares well to fine tiki bars nationally.

But Tonga Hut was pretty close, and most certainly is the best one to take those new to tiki bars. Drinks were fine to excellent and the centrally located venue has a high seating capacity, perfect music, and great decor. Plus they have some great food, too. Service issues held the rating down for me.

The Reef is also a destination that every tikiphile should seek out. The friendly hotel bar vibe is truly relaxing and they too have fine food and great music. Drinks and decor elements were more uneven, hence the slightly lower rating. But with a group of people? This might be the most fun place for an evening of drinks.

Lastly, Toucans Tiki Lounge is a nightclub with a tiki theme and so isn’t essential for hardcore tiki people. But, you might have a fun time anyway.

Bootlegger Tiki: Craft Cocktail Heaven

This small craft cocktail bar is attached to a coffee shop and is a former Don the Beachcomber location. We visited on a Wednesday at around 4:30 and we able to be seated inside and at the bar. There is additional seating outside on the patio but inside is way better.

As you can see there is an impressive selection of liquor. Decor is really nice. Music was mostly surf with a few classic rock songs. Seating is intimate but fun. The music wasn’t too loud and the Christmas decor was still up. We enjoyed the dill popcorn.

The cocktails here are very “craft cocktail” oriented. Only a few tiki classics on the menu, though some are on the happy hour menu or available upon request.

I started with what they called a Trader Vic’s Mai Tai. It was a good (not great) 1944 style Mai Tai. Definitely better than the house Mai Tai at the other tiki bars in town.

Much better was the Rum Bum. Such a rich and complex set of flavors. Truly outstanding.

Service here was great. The bartender and bar back worked together very well and they were really responsive to the customers.

If you can get in, Bootlegger is an excellent experience and worth a visit by any tikiphile.

Tonga Hut: Does Everything Well

Pretty good time at Tonga Hut. We went for dinner and drinks. Unfortunately we had a party of five and the only tables that accommodate more than four were on the patio. Good decor and music out on the patio at least.

First Mai Tai was just with the dark rum that comes in it, Coruba. Pretty okay. Much better was my second with Real McCoy 5 year and “a little heavier on the Orgeat”. Delicious Mai Tai.

Food here was pretty good too. I had some pupus and Mrs Mai Tai had the Mahi. She liked her Chi-Chi and Kraken Dole Whip cocktails.

After one visit where we were stuck out on the patio due to seating configuration considerations, I wanted to return to have a drink inside. When we came back there was no seating in the lounge but we were seated in the dining room in a booth. The decor in this section is nice and dark, and allows for intimate conversations while surrounded by the quality exotica and surf music.

Unfortunately, this location also camouflaged us from the server who took for-ever to take our drink order. Timely service was also an issue on our first visit. Kind of a bummer.

More positively, I can report that the drinks we had were pretty good. I had a Reverb Crash and I liked it, while Mrs. Mai Tai’s Chai-Tai was excellent. The cocktails here weren’t uniformly outstanding but none were bad and I do like that they have an extensive menu of cocktails to choose from.

It’s a bit of a bummer that I really couldn’t get a close look at their speakeasy Tonga Room, since there were parties in there both visits. It’s a neat feature though.

Given it’s location downtown, fairly large seating capacity, and overall nods to historical tiki and modern trends, I’d say that Tonga Hut is the best option in Palm Springs for tiki-newbies or a guarantee of an overall good experience.

The Reef: Fun Bar at Tiki Resort

Since we were staying at the Caliente Tropics, we got to visit The Reef daily and in different circumstances. I enjoyed a nice virgin Pina Colada by the pool one day, though it’s a bummer that The Reef has a shirt/shoes policy and that you can’t put charges on the room. So remember to take the flip flops and some cash before going down to the pool.

I had a really bad experience on New Year’s Eve with three cocktails that completely destroyed me. I don’t know what happened or if they were made with more alcohol that typical of cocktails, or what. Further visits showed that the cocktails here are okay, with some like The Reef Daiquiri being pretty nice (and they used jiggers to measure the ingredients), while others were less balanced and prepared with free-pours. Mrs. Mai Tai like her Trader’s Chi-Chi but thought that the Blue Hawaiian was just fine. I really liked the Planters Punch (with Coruba rum) but the Mai Tai, Navy Grog, and Eastern Sour were reasonable but not amazing.

The Reef had a special menu for New Year’s Eve including a delicious New York Steak that included all the fixins and a satisfying cheesecake for desert. We had some apps on another visit and liked the food here.

Service here was pretty good at the bar, but table service at times could be longer than expected. I really enjoyed the music here, including the Yacht Rock Thursday where all the music was from that genre. Some of the patrons out on the patio where really hooting it up singing along to some songs as well. The decor here is fun but definitely not fully immersive. But plenty good enough for the job, especially when surrounded by the rest of the tiki stuff at the hotel.

In terms of merchandise, The Reef has an extensive collection. I was able to score the last available Tropics 55 mug, and came home with glassware, pins, bumper stickers, and even a tiki necklace inspired by that Brady Bunch episode in Hawaii.

It was really nice staying at a hotel with a quality tiki bar on site. Would be even nicer had we been part of a group outing or event. It’s easy to see why so many people say nice things about their experiences at the Tiki Caliente events.

Toucans Tiki Lounge: Nightclub Vibe

Tiki comes in many different styles and so Toucans is not as traditional as The Reef or the Tonga Hut. It’s a bar and nightclub voted “best Gay bar” and “best dive bar” in Palm Springs. This is way more of a nightclub than a dive bar, though.

On an early Thursday afternoon though, it was a mellow visit, with some pretty reasonable “club” cocktails (one of the better cruise ship style Mai Tais I’ve had). A bunch of locals smoking heavily out on the patio.

Mrs Mai Tai enjoyed her “Blue Balls” cocktail. They had some interesting names for some of the other drinks.

I’ve heard good things about the drag shows this place is famous for. But the low key afternoon cocktails were just our speed on vacation. Some nice decor elements here too.