Discover the fascinating history behind Tiki bars and the delightful world of Tiki cocktails. Cheers to tropical vibes and exotic flavors! ? cover image

Tiki Cocktails and the History of Tiki Bars

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Cocktail Bible

Added: 22nd September 2023

Tiki cocktails and the vibrant atmosphere of tiki bars have become synonymous with tropical vacations, exotic flavors, and a sense of escapism. These unique concoctions, often served in elaborate tiki mugs adorned with carved wooden figures, transport us to a world of Polynesian-inspired delights. But what is the history behind these tropical libations and the establishments that serve them?

The Origins of Tiki Culture

The roots of tiki culture can be traced back to the early 20th century when Americans became fascinated with the allure of the South Pacific. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 made travel to the Pacific islands more accessible, and World War II brought servicemen stationed in the Pacific back home with stories of the exotic locales they had encountered.

Entrepreneurs capitalized on this fascination by creating tiki-themed restaurants and bars, offering an escape from the mundane realities of everyday life. The first tiki bar, Don the Beachcomber, opened in Hollywood in 1933. Its founder, Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, later known as Donn Beach, created a tropical oasis complete with bamboo decor, thatched roofs, and an extensive menu of rum-based cocktails.

The Rise of Tiki Bars

Following the success of Don the Beachcomber, tiki bars began to pop up across the United States. Victor Bergeron, better known as Trader Vic, opened his first tiki bar in Oakland, California, in 1937. Trader Vic's became famous for its signature cocktail, the Mai Tai, which remains one of the most popular tiki drinks to this day.

During the 1940s and 1950s, tiki bars reached the height of their popularity. These establishments offered an exotic escape for Americans who were yearning for a taste of the tropics. The decor was often filled with bamboo, palm fronds, and tiki statues, creating a sense of adventure and relaxation.

The Tiki Cocktail Renaissance

As the 1960s and 1970s rolled around, tiki culture began to decline in popularity. The counterculture movement and a shift towards more minimalist aesthetics led to the closure of many tiki bars. However, in recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in tiki cocktails and the unique atmosphere they provide.

Bartenders and mixologists have embraced the art of tiki cocktails, experimenting with exotic ingredients, intricate garnishes, and complex flavor profiles. Classic tiki drinks like the Zombie, the Scorpion Bowl, and the Piña Colada have been revived and reimagined, appealing to a new generation of cocktail enthusiasts.

Dark tiki bar with cocktails

The Allure of Tiki Bars Today

Today, tiki bars continue to captivate patrons with their tropical ambiance and creative libations. These establishments offer an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, transporting guests to a world of relaxation and indulgence.

Many tiki bars feature live music, hula dancers, and elaborate drink presentations, enhancing the overall experience. The attention to detail in the decor, from the thatched roofs to the carved tikis, creates an immersive environment that allows guests to forget their worries and embrace the spirit of aloha.


Tiki cocktails and the history of tiki bars are intertwined with the desire for escapism and the allure of the exotic. From their origins in the early 20th century to their resurgence in recent years, tiki bars have provided a tropical oasis for those seeking a taste of paradise.

Whether you're sipping on a classic Mai Tai or trying a modern twist on a tiki favorite, the experience of enjoying a tiki cocktail in a vibrant tiki bar is a journey to a world of relaxation, adventure, and pure indulgence.