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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.)
1502 Grand Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85007