The world’s first tiki bars originated in 1930s California as a flamboyant answer to the lifting of a 14-year prohibition offering Americans an exotic postwar escape. Inspired by travels throughout the South Pacific, these tropically themed watering holes serving high-proof rum creations and other tasty cocktail treats offered pointedly casual atmospheres in which to imbibe, and the idea soon caught on, quickly sparking a new nation-wide bar culture and eventually, international chains. Its popularity has fluctuated throughout the decades, but perhaps in response to a series of particularly long winters, Toronto’s seen a recent surge of interest, with a new crop of bars exploring the culture across the city, with some exciting results.
THE SHAMEFUL TIKI ROOM | 1378 Queen St. W
While most local bar owners inspired by tiki culture are happy to deck their dimly lit walls with kitschy masks and bamboo, hollow out pineapples for cocktails and drop cocktail umbrellas into them, that’s also where they tend to stop running with it. The Parkdale iteration of Vancouver venture Shameful Tiki Room goes the extra mile to provide a more comprehensively faithful experience. All the rummy drinks and novelty bowls you drink them out of are here, but so too are important touches like the gong used to announce their delivery and the Polynesian-influenced bar snacks.
MISS THING’S | 1279 Queen St. W
Another Parkdale tiki option, Miss Thing’s taps into the same wave of tiki culture a number of Toronto establishments have already embraced, but they temper the exotic with a refreshingly modern atmosphere. Foregoing tacky dust collecting touches in favour of a sleeker, more elegant vibe – right down to their golden pineapple logo. This place is more focused on providing an experience through the product they bring to your seat, and they’re not afraid to experiment with their interpretations of classic Pan-Asian and Hawaiian recipes at the bar or in the kitchen. So you can still sip out of a coconut here, but it arrives in a bowl of dry ice.
SHORE LEAVE | 1775 Danforth Ave.
Inspired by travels throughout the Polynesian Triangle and other tropical settings, after bartending and throwing tiki-themed parties at Danforth watering hole the Only Cafe, Julian Altrows and sommelier Zach Littlejohn (also of BarChef) set their sights a little further east and opened Shore Leave to ensure the neighbourhood had a permanent local base for more regular casual getaways and seriously punchy drinks. Served up in flaming fish bowls and pineapples, they specialize in signature tiki cocktails built on house made Tahitian-style bitters and liqueurs, and their kitchen’s known to ambush guests with surprise PWYC snack spreads.
THE BOVINE SEX CLUB’S ROOFTOP PATIO | 542 Queen St. W
Breezy, exotic cocktails are all fine and nice, but what good is a tropical escape if it means denying yourself the sweet summer air? This is a glaring oversight of the local tiki scene, but the rooftop patio above legendary Queen West rock bar/punk hang the Bovine provides a good remedy. In contrast to the claustrophobic installations that clutter the walls and ceilings of its ground floor, it’s a flowery open air oasis ready to handle crowds of 30 at a time, complete with a fully equipped cocktail bar and washroom huts.
(Photo by: Sam Howzit)