Tiki culture is all about escapism—the food, the drinks, and the decor are all attempts to re-create some fantastical tropical island that never actually existed. This is also why tiki cocktails are so potent, designed to help ease you to into a festive state of mind. San Diego is embracing the tiki culture with a new generation of bartenders celebrating that rich tradition. Here’s a roundup of San Diego’s hot tiki bars and other spots where you can find a perfectly tropical cocktail.
Hidden inside Little Italy restaurant Craft & Commerce, False Idol’s design is a trip. Martin Cate—the guy behind San Francisco’s Smuggler’s Cove—joined forces with Ignacio “Notch” Gonzalez and San Diego tiki artist Bosko Hrnjak to create an interior so full of clever details, you’ll have to visit multiple times to take it all in. Consortium Holdings’ head bartender Anthony Schmidt worked with Cate on a 38-cocktail menu that’s part classics and part modern interpretations of classics. The menu also pays homage to San Diego tiki bars of yore, with cocktails from spots like the Barefoot Bar at Vacation Village, the Islands Bar at the Hanalei Hotel, and the Hotel Del’s Luau Room.
Where: 675 W Beech St, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about False Idol
Cat Eye Club
Cat Eye Club started off as a Mad Men-era retro cocktail lounge before getting a tiki-inspired facelift (lots of ferns, wicker chairs). When it comes to tropical libations, Cat Eye goes all-out with the perfect kitschy glassware and garnishes, like the popular Tourmaline Typhoon (Cutwater Three Sheets aged rum, Gaucho light rum, guava purée, lemon juice) that’s adorned with an adorable banana dolphin.
Where: 370 Seventh Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
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The Grass Skirt
Hidden behind Pacific Beach restaurant Good Time Poke, this Polynesian-style speakeasy takes its cues from classic spots like Trader Vic’s and Don the Beachcomber. Beverage director Stephen Tuttle’s menu includes classics (Painkiller, Mai Tai) and original creations, like The Tipsy Tentacle (black rum, biscotti liqueur, lime, pineapple, coconut, banana). And when you order one of the three punch bowls, the whole restaurant is treated to the sounds of a tropical rainstorm.
Where: 910 Grand Ave, San Diego, CA 92109
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Miss B’s Coconut Club
“Miss B” is short for Mission Beach, and also a reference to the attractive woman who decades ago adorned marketing materials luring folks to San Diego beaches. While this bar and restaurant isn’t decked out in tiki decor, it pays homage to Mission Beach’s resort-town past with tropical libations like The Coconut Club (house rum mix, house orange-pineapple cordial, Coco Lopez) and The Lusca (house rum blend, guava-mango kombucha, nocello, citrus, honey, papaya).
Where: 3704 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 9210
> Find out more about Miss B’s Coconut Club
Bar manager David Kinsey comes up with a special tiki-inspired cocktail menu for “Permanent Vacation,” the tiki takeover night happening every Thursday at this South Park vegan bar and restaurant. Clever tropical cocktails from past events include the Widow’s Bite (overproof Jamaican rum, Batavia Arrack, grapefruit-vanilla bean oil, pineapple, lime, Thai basil, Firewater bitters) and the Unspoken Promise (dark rum, falernum, allspice, pineapple, lime, one tiki bitters), while the kitchen impresses with vegan riffs on Polynesian bites like the Loco Moco.
Where: 1503 30th St, San Diego, CA 92102
> Find out more about Kindred
Located in a large, warehouse-like space, Hive is a self-described “mega-restaurant.” But keep an eye open for the guy behind the bar wearing a Hawaiian shirt. That’s Ram Udwin, one of San Diego’s finest tiki-cocktail makers (and founder of Boy Drinks World). For the first Sunday of the month, he comes up with a special menu of tiki cocktails, served from 5 to 9 p.m. Stop by any other Sunday for some of his fancy rum drinks and to geek out on all things tiki.
Where: 4428 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111
> Find out more about The Hive
Presided over by a large sculpted-wood idol referred to as “The Goof,” this six-decades-old Shelter Island restaurant has long been a required stop for tiki aficionados. Founder Tom Ham referred to it as the city’s “tiki temple.” You won’t find fancy riffs on rum drinks here. Instead, expect potent classics that come with warnings, like the World Famous Bali Hai Mai Tai, described on the menu as, “Quite possibly the strongest drink you’ll ever consume.”
Where: 2230 Shelter Island Dr, San Diego, CA 92106
> Find out more about Bali Hai
San Diego Tiki – One Bright Idea