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

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Oregano’s Pizza Bistro Menu – Tiki Deja Vu

IMG_6693On our last visit to Mesa, Arizona, we caught a geographically convenient lunch at Oregano’s Pizza Bistro. (Tiki types in the Valley of the Sun should check out Hula’s Modern Tiki in Phoenix or pay their respects to Trader Vic’s Scottsdale, which closed in July 2011. The decor is being sold off piece by piece but the space is pretty much intact and being used for private events hosted by the Hotel Valley Ho.)

IMG_6703Anyway, Oregano’s serves up decent pizza and a heaping helping of nostalgia. Mark Russell founded the restaurant a decade ago to pay tribute to his father Lawrence Gibbilini, whose flair for cooking Italian food earned him the nickname “Lawrence of Oregano.”

IMG_6704Each of the dozen Arizona locations tries to evoke the feeling of a neighborhood Italian restaurant in Chicago from decades past. The dining rooms are filled with random kitsch like neon clocks, old wooden skis and surf boards covered with Christmas lights.

IMG_6692
I was a bit surprised to see a mug shot for a young Frank Sinatra framed up on the wall. His crime? Seduction.

IMG_6672But the most interesting thing about Oregano’s is the menus, which graphic artist Jon Arvizu designed to look like retro album covers. There are several different styles but “Polynesian Paradise” features a hula girl pin-up and a tiki that looked rather familiar…

DB383075Design Toscano turns out resin tables with a similar tiki that they’ve dubbed The Lono (Tongue). (I ought to recognize it as we have one in the tiki room.)

IMG_7568But then I remembered how that catalog has been “inspired” by photos in “The Book of Tiki,” and there it was when I flipped through my copy. The image illustrated author Sven Kirsten’s discovery that tikis from the original Luau in Beverly Hills somehow ended up at the Hanalei Hotel (now a Crowne Plaza) in San Diego. Double déjà vu!

Hula’s Modern Tiki – Phoenix, AZ

On the way back to LA from Mesa, AZ, our two-car caravan stopped at Hula’s Modern Tiki in Phoenix for Sunday brunch. There were quite a few folks enjoying the nice weather on the outdoor patio, but we opted to eat inside. (Well, everyone acquiesced to me since this whole tiki thing is more my gig.)

This Phoenix location is the newest (opened in 2009) of the Hula’s Modern Tikis—the others are found in Santa Cruz and Monterey, California. They remodeled and expanded a unique 1960s-era building with this rad hexagonal window.

“Tiki Time” happy hour is from 3:30 p.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and all night on Wednesdays with $5 appetizers and drinks. There’s also all-day drinks specials on weekends, Mahalo Mondays that benefit nonprofits, and “Word of the Day” Tuesdays with “2 Apps & 2 Tropical Cocktails for $20.” (See Facebook & Twitter for more details.)

It’s a bummer that they were out of their signature mugs, designed by Philippe Tilikete. The logo reminds me of Squidward from Spongebob Squarepants. (Tiki Farm had also produced a smaller companion mug.)

The bartender was totally gracious in answering all my questions about their for-purchase drinkware, and he trotted them all out so I could take a look. From left to right: a limited edition mug made by one of the locals, signature mai tai glass ($8), and generic Fu Manchu.

Hula’s Modern Tiki forgoes thatch and bamboo in favor of a mid-century, Palm Springs-style look. The Bosko shield and tikis carved by Tiki tOny provide an interesting contrast with the blond wood and retro atomic fabrics.

Another really cool touch was the long double shelves of devilish Munktiki mugs (“El Bastardo” and “U Bastard”) in red, black and white.

I didn’t have to drive the remaining five hours home, so I ordered a Zombie ($5). Their very tasty version had Cruzan rum, dark rum, lime, pineapple juice and passionfruit. And I adore brunch so I had to get the Island Eggs Benedict ($10) with fried spam.

Salads, burgers, tacos and sandwiches (like the luau pork and coleslaw sandwich, $9) made up the rest of the brunch menu, and everything sounded pretty good. Unfortunately, what did leave a bad taste in my mouth was our waiter. He was actually kind of rude and sarcastic, and not in a joking sort of way either.

Aside from that bump in the road, I really did dig this place and would definitely return. It’s practically worth the trip just to see the amazing collection of Munktiki mugs on display at the bar. Here’s another tip: According to the bartender, you can get $2 off buying one of their logo mugs or glasses if you order a cocktail. (Although, our server neglected to figure that in the bill…)

Hula’s Modern Tiki
4700 N. Central Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85012
602-265-TIKI

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