Get Bombed at The Bikini Lounge – Phoenix, AZ

Bikini Lounge exterior

Tiki is having its second (or third?) wind, with new spots still popping up, but few bars remain from its original heyday in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The Bikini Lounge opened in 1947, making it one of the oldest remaining tiki bars in the world — and the only vintage tiki bar left in Phoenix.

Interior

For decades, Bikini Lounge seems to have done just fine as a local’s dive, but since current owner Matt Tomb took over, he’s made an effort to preserve the bar’s history and bring in more tiki elements, including décor, drinks and mugs.

Tiki decor

Carved tikis, restored hanging bamboo lights, fluorescent-painted tapa print and local artist Tom Cooper’s contemporary tiki art (some of which is for sale) coexist among neon beer signs, a pool table and booths patched with duct tape.

Painting

The bartenders are a loyal bunch, and if you’re lucky, they might regale you with some stories about the bar’s history. They told us how this painting behind the bar was originally a nude, but then in the ’60s a grass skirt was added for a bit of modesty.

Internet jukebox

Bikini Lounge often hosts DJ nights starting at 10 p.m. — check their Facebook page to see the schedule. Before that, you can set the sonic mood yourself with the hulking internet jukebox by the entrance.

Patio

A door to the right of the pool table leads to the patio, which is populated with a picnic table and plastic lawn chairs. Tom Cooper recently added some tiki murals to spruce up the space. (I especially like that tiki with the glowing toothy grin.)

Cocktails

Everyone else seemed to be drinking pitchers of beer, but our crew insisted on ordering off the menu of tropical drinks. The dozen options include a Mai Tai (with pineapple juice, FYI), Blue Hawaiian, Painkiller and Scorpion, plus original concoctions like the Mr. Howell (coconut & spiced rums, mango puree, pineapple juice, sweet & sour). They’re not craft cocktails by any means, but it’s hard to complain too much when they’re priced between $6 and $7.50. Meanwhile, Maui Brewing Co.’s Coconut Porter and Tahitian lager Hinano bring some island influence to the beer choices.

Bikini Lounge mug

On New Year’s Eve 2015, Matt Tomb introduced the bar’s first custom tiki mug, the Laughing Moai, and followed up the next year with the Angry Samoan (a Tom Cooper design). Both of these $10 limited-edition mugs have since sold out. However, you can still purchase Bikini Ka Blammi ($50), a collaboration between Bikini Lounge and Jimmy Smith. The mushroom cloud sculpt references the bar’s namesake, the 1946 nuclear testing site. You can’t really get a sense from the photo but this is one hefty piece of ceramic — it holds 64 ounces.

Bikini Lounge in Phoenix

Comparing the tiki bars in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, Hula’s Modern Tiki may have better drinks and a full food menu, but Bikini Lounge has them beat when it comes to history and personality. It is open every day from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. and keep in mind that it’s cash only. The Grand Avenue arts district is lined with studios and galleries, but at night it feels industrial and rather desolate. (At least it’s not hard to find parking.)

Bikini Lounge
1502 Grand Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85007
602-252-0472

Like Disneyland for Adults: The Golden Tiki – Las Vegas

The Golden Tiki sign

With its rum-spiked Dole Whip and profanity-spouting animatronic skeleton, The Golden Tiki in Las Vegas is like Disneyland designed for adults. It’s even sprinkled with tributes to (and/or props from) Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, Indiana Jones, Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion.

Bar

The driving force behind this tiki bar, which opened in August 2015, was Vegas marketing and nightlife impresario Branden Powers. (Back in the ’90s in San Diego, he spun exotica tunes for weekly events at the Hanalei Hotel’s Islands Restaurant, before it was gutted.)

The Golden Tiki is sandwiched in a seemingly endless strip mall called The Center at Spring Mountain in Chinatown, which is only a couple miles west of The Strip.

Outpost near entrance

The fantastic décor was masterminded by Tiki Diablo, whose previous projects include the Tonga Hut Palm Springs (and its secret tiki room) and Mission Tiki Drive-in Theater in Montclair. Billy the Crud devoted half a year to making masks, carvings and more for the bar.

After entering through a lava rock cave serenaded by the familiar refrain of “Yo ho, yo ho, a pirates life for me,” you’ll find yourself next to a trading outpost (future souvenir stand) stocked with curiosities like The Chachapoyan Fertility Idol.

Headhunters Village

The design incorporates the legend of the Golden Tiki, which you can read on the back of the menu (or on the website). It’s the story of Captain William Tobias Faulkner, who flees from vengeful pirates and lands on Skull Island, reputedly populated by Cyclops who melted down treasure in a volcano to make the Golden Tiki. His crew is attacked by inhospitable natives, as represented by the “Headhunter Village” on the left. Three booths, each able to sit at least six, are adorned with skulls, spears and other weapons, as well as masks from Oceanic Arts, the famed tropical warehouse in Southern California.

Along the wall is a shell waterfall reminiscent of the one from the aforementioned Hanalei Hotel. Meanwhile, the backs of the bar chairs feature Bosko carvings that correspond to each area’s theme (skulls, cyclops or seahorses).

Golden Tiki interior

If you walk straight in instead, you’ll find tall tables along the wall below A-frames and custom black velvet paintings that also illustrate this backstory. Behind the bar is a large thatched hut with a tiki drummer from the Enchanted Tiki Room perched on top. You’ll also notice the illuminated face of “Goldy,” an animated special effect contributed by “Irk” Hedman. A faux night sky stretches over all this space with twinkling LED stars and bursts of fireworks.

(I hear there used to be TVs behind the bar, so I was happy to see that they’ve since been cleverly concealed…though there is still one remaining screen on the rear wall next to the DJ booth.)

Mermaid's Cove

The tale continues with the Captain being saved by seductive sirens. “Mermaid Cove” is portrayed by this giant pink clamshell bathed in a fluid lighting effect to illustrate the “Diamond Falls” (where Faulkner discovers and steals the Golden Tiki). It’s a popular spot to pose for photos, so I had to continue the tradition.

This corner has a small raised platform where live bands occasionally perform. (The Golden Tiki has been open for less than a year, but they are already looking to expand into the space next door to create the “Cyclops Burial Ground” and a larger stage.)

Skeleton

Finally, you’ll reach the “Pirate’s Lair.” Moored in the middle of the room is a ship with the skeleton of Faulkner, who wasted away gazing in wonder at the Golden Tiki. Periodically, he comes to life and regales those seated on the surrounding banquettes. (I guess dead men do tell tales…)

Adjacent to this room is the hall of curiosity (also the corridor to the restrooms). It’s worth a wander even if you’re not in need of the facilities.

Dole Whip with rum

Dole Whip, that frosty pineapple treat people line up for at the Enchanted Tiki Room, can be ordered on its own for $6, as a float with pineapple juice for $9 or with Coruba dark rum for $11.

Banana Batida, Painkiller, Golden Tiki

Dole Whip even makes its way into some of the drinks, like the Banana Batida (left) and The Painkiller (middle), where it stands in for the pineapple juice. Aside from that, they stay faithful to the recipe for this litigious libation with Pusser’s Rum, coconut cream, orange and grated nutmeg on top.

The other cocktails range from tiki classics (Mai Tai, Navy Grog, Three Dots and a Dash, Jungle Bird) to original creations that incorporate Asian flavors like lemongrass and Thai basil. For example, the signature Golden Tiki features five spice syrup along with Jamaican rum, Michter’s rye, apricot liqueur, ginger and mango.

Drinks

Of the drinks we sampled, my favorites were probably the Painkiller and the Kokonut Sunrise (left), made with tequila, mezcal, honey syrup, pineapple and homemade grenadine. If you prefer something that’s not as sweet, the Hotel Nacional (middle) may be up your alley. The Honey Mango Java Punch (right) is interesting, though I’m not a huge fan of bringing coffee liqueur into the mix.

Most of the cocktails are priced at $11, but there also are a few bowls (Scorpion and Zombie Punch), Martinique Ti’ Punch prepared tableside from a cart, and the $500 Treasure Chest that comes with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne and Appleton Estate 12 Year Jamaican Rum (the tiki equivalent of bottle service, I suppose).

Menu

Tiki Farm mugs are available for purchase for $29 (including the drink), but the ones pictured on the menu have since sold out. Instead, they offer some of the other recently released designs, like the Marqo-Coco and Lightning.

Upcoming mugs for The Golden Tiki

However, The Golden Tiki is working on some unique signature designs for mugs, including one featuring Tiki Diablo’s sculpt of the logo tiki from Doug Horne’s menu cover art, as well as a Cyclops sipper from Tom Thordarson (aka Thor). The former should be available in March.

The Golden Tiki

In true Las Vegas style, The Golden Tiki is open 24 hours (same as Frankie’s Tiki Room, the other must-visit tiki bar in town). Food isn’t served here except during happy hour (Monday through Friday 2 p.m.-6 p.m.) when there is a free mini-buffet of Chinese food (chicken wings, egg rolls, potstickers), plus $5 Mai Tais and $1 off all drinks. (The drink specials are also available weeknights from 4 a.m.-8 a.m.)

Check out their Facebook page for a heads up on DJs (cover charges sometimes apply after 8 p.m.), live music, burlesque shows, etc.

The Golden Tiki
3939 Spring Mountain Rd.
Las Vegas, NV 89102
702-222-3196

Underwater Artistry: Mermaid Shows at the Wreck Bar – Fort Lauderdale, FL

B Ocean Resort (formerly Yankee Clipper)

We have all been led to believe that mermaids are just mythical creatures, but you may be convinced otherwise with a weekend visit to the Wreck Bar at B Ocean Resort (formerly Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel). It originally opened in the 1950s as the Yankee Clipper, hence the ship-shaped architecture.

The Wreck Bar, one of the few porthole lounges left in America

The Wreck Bar, which was built to look like a sunken Spanish galleon, is one of the few porthole lounges left in America. Behind the bar are windows that display an underwater view of the hotel’s pool. In the past decade, the property has undergone changes in ownership and multi-million-dollar renovations, but the Wreck Bar has managed to stay relatively intact.

A full house for the mermaid show at The Wreck Bar

The space is small — and the mermaids quite popular — so you better get there early. When we visited a few years ago, we arrived 45 minutes early and the room was already half full, with all extra available space filled in with white folding chairs. (There were lots of families in the crowd, and it is a bit strange to see a bunch of kids in a bar.)

The Wreck Bar in Fort Lauderdale

We were initially tempted by the banquettes and tables along the back wall of aquariums. Instead, we snagged a few of the bar stools for front-row views of the show. That’s definitely the way to go unless you have a larger group. (Also, you can admire the wooden bar rail with all the carvings inscribed by patrons over the years. Legend has it that Joe DiMaggio etched his and Marilyn Monroe’s initials, and the owner of the hotel removed that chunk as a souvenir.)

Stained glass mermaid at The Wreck Bar

There’s a lovely stained glass mermaid mural, plus neat little details like gold doubloon-type coins inlaid in the tables. Looking up, you’ll notice jagged cut-outs in the wood plank ceiling to reinforce the shipwreck setting.

The Wreck Bar in Analyze This

The Wreck Bar has been featured on the silver screen in the 1960 spring break flick “Where the Boys Are,” and more recently in “Analyze This” (1999). A plaque on the wall commemorates the scene with Robert DeNiro and Billy Crystal.

Mai Tide poster by Tom Thordarson

You may also spot a poster of “Mai Tide,” a painting by Tom Thordarson (aka Thor) featuring the queen bee of the deep blue sea: Marina the Fire-Eating Mermaid (aka MeduSirena). (She’s been a muse for many artists and even inspired a comic book character.)

Black Pearl at The Wreck Bar

While you wait for the show to start, you can take the opportunity to order some grog and/or grub. (Pictured is the “Black Pearl,” which used to be a signature drink. You should probably save your serious imbibing for the nearby Mai-Kai, my favorite tiki bar in the world.) The revamped food menu ranges from avocado hummus, sweet soy ginger wings and corn, lobster and crab cakes to chimichurri rib-eye, mahi mahi and jerk guava bbq chicken.

Marina the Fire-Eating Mermaid

Marina is a famous finned figure on the tiki scene. The Wreck Bar hadn’t regularly hosted mermaid shows since 1962, but she revived this wonderful retro entertainment here and it’s been a success for nearly a decade. She’s also appeared at events like Tiki Oasis in San Diego, Tiki Kon in Portland and The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale. (And if you’re ever in Macau, you can see her digitally projected at the City of Dreams’ Vquarium.) I’d caught her performance at Vintage Roadside’s mermaid event at Modernism Week in Palm Springs, but there’s nothing like seeing her in her natural habitat.

Mermaid show at the Wreck Bar

She and the “Aquaticats” she’s trained put on a mesmerizing show, demonstrating such control of movement underwater in their graceful gliding and flips, all the while interacting with the audience via mysterious gazes and flirtatious looks. After the show, guests can go upstairs to the pool level and pose for photos with them.

Mermaids in Fort Lauderdale

Around Halloween, the Creature from the Black Lagoon has been known to crash the pool party, while Christmas might feature a siren in a Santa suit. There are also special themed shows scheduled during The Hukilau (June 8-12).

Side of the Wreck Bar

The Wreck Bar opens at 5:30 p.m. and MeduSirena’s 30-minute swimshow takes place at 6:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Parking is available for $10 in a garage across the street. (Then, access the hotel via the covered walkway on the fourth level, take the second set of elevators down to the lobby and head left to the Wreck Bar.)

Want to know where else you can find cocktails and fishtails? Travel + Leisure recently published an article on the “10 Places for Mermaid Spotting in America.”

UPDATE! Some recent news from The Wreck Bar: “The Wreck Bar will soon be nearly twice its size, with two additional portholes restored. The cocktail & food menu is now better than ever! (No more plastic cups!) Bartender Mark is “Raising the Bar!” We are also looking into later night shows for 21+ only.”

The Wreck Bar
B Ocean Resort
1140 Seabreeze Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316
954-564-1000