Tiki Bar Review: Zombie Village – San Francisco

Zombie Village Tiki

I’ve heard San Francisco described as the American capital of Tiki — and though I’m L.A. biased I might be starting to agree. The Bay Area has long been home to some fantastic tiki bars, but a slew of new destinations have sprouted up in the past few years, including Pagan Idol, The Kon-Tiki (formerly Longitude in Oakland), Last Rites and, most recently, Zombie Village.

Skipper Kent's Zombie Village

Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic have been the inspiration for countless tiki bars, but Zombie Village pays tribute to a less famous name (to me, anyway). Frank “Skipper” Kent was a “traveler, lecturer, explorer, yachtsman and cinematographer,” as described on one of the original menus. While some other restaurateurs of this era embellished their personal legends, he was actually the real deal. He sailed all over the world collecting “authentic decorations and curios” that were eventually displayed in his two establishments: Skipper Kent’s in San Francisco and Skipper Kent’s Zombie Village in Oakland. He opened the latter in 1942 and it served as an escapist paradise for 25 years until it was destroyedby fire in 1967. (Naturally, Tiki Central has a very informative thread on its history.)

Zombie Village inside

Now, back to present day! This Zombie Village is a project from Future Bars group, which for more than a decade has created SF nightlife destinations with vintage flair, such as nearby speakeasy Bourbon & Branch (established 2006). It makes sense that eventually they would bring that immersive spirit and passion for craft cocktails to tiki bars. Owner Brian Sheehy and beverage director (now GM) Daniel “Doc” Parks debuted Pagan Idol in 2016 and then Zombie Village with an official opening in January 2019.

Zombie Village interior

My jaw dropped when we walked in. I’d seen a few pictures but it was even more stunning in person. The starry night sky and groovy projections on the wall and tikis bring such a unique vibe, sort of psychedelic. Every so often you’ll hear thunder crash and see a lightning bolt flicker across the wall.

Zombie Village carving

Artist Ivan Lee Mora collaborated with Future Bars on the design andfabrication of Pagan Idol and again with Zombie Village. He made this massive tiki and fish goddess (Crazy Al carved its counterpart), along with the Moai perched on top of the bar and much more. On top of that there are custom pieces from Bosko (carved panels on the bar), Woody Miller (maps of the Caribbean and Polynesia, plus other carvings), Mikel “MP” Parton (Tiki Bob velvet painting and menu cover art that’s also featured on the website) and Marc Atkinson (Aku-Aku painting).

Zombie Village huts

They also brought in Bamboo Ben, the famed fabricator of Strong Water, Clifton’s Pacific Seas, Frankie’s Tiki Room and many other incredible tiki bars. He built out the thatched A-frame huts that line one wall of the space. These private hideaways can be reserved on Yelp for groups of two up to ten people.

Bahooka hut at Zombie Village

Each of the eight huts pays tribute to historic tiki bars with their decor: the original Zombie Village in Oakland, the Aku-Aku in Las Vegas, Luau in Beverly Hills, Tiki Bob’s in San Francisco (with a black velvet painting of its iconic mug), The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale (my all-time favorite still going strong), Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood, Trader Vic’s and, finally, Bahooka pictured here. Note the nautical vibe with the wood planks and empty fish tank, which once had a carrot in it in honor of Ruffus. Huge shout-out to Rob for showing me around and pointing out all these fun details.

Zombie Village grotto

If you don’t manage to get a reservation for one of the huts, there are some bar stools around two corners of the central bar. Open seating is also available in the candlelit grotto — look closely and you’ll spot the “fossilized” impression of tentacles from a fearsome creature of the deep. There’s also plenty of standing room at the drink rail along the wall.

Doc's Voodoo Bar

A staircase ascends next to the gnarled roots of a banyan tree upstairs to Doc’s Voodoo Bar, which opens up on busy weekend nights or for private parties. It’s festooned with tropical foliage and vines overhead and a catacomb’s worth of skulls on the bar.

Zombie Village menu

Doc’s menu features traditional tiki drinks (Mai Tai, Painkiller, Nui Nui) as well as more experimental offerings, like a Jamaican Zombie spiced up with Scotch bonnet chilis. There are also a few large-format concoctions, including the Scorpion Bowl, Chief Lapu-Lapu and Zombie Luau.

The Bird of Paradise & Coconut Pandan

The Bird of Paradise ($13, mezcal, cachaca, lemon, passion fruit, vanilla) had a bold smoky flavor that could be tempered by the tart sweetness of the passionfruit whip and the tangy li hing mui (salty dried plum powder) dusted on top.

The Coconut Pandan ($12) blends two flavors often found in Southeast Asian cuisine, the latter derived from the leaves of a tropical plant. (I first tried this nutty flavor in a tiki drink a few years ago in the Pandan Painkiller at Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago.) This drink featured Barbados rum, coconut milk, pandan and coconut rum liqueurs, plus a lychee and coconut popsicle that is a delicious bonus.

Zombie Village mugs

On a shelf behind the bar you can spot the limited edition tiki mugs that have been designed for the bar so far (along with ceramics from other tiki bars). There’s the Moai Mug by Woody Miller and Zombie Village mug by Eekum Bookum (inspired by the glowering genie-like figure that appeared on the menu covers of the original Zombie Village.) For their recent first anniversary they released a new glaze (with a black and gold fez) and on my visit last month there were still a few available to purchase at the bar for $120. (If you’re looking for a cheaper souvenir, don’t forget to take the cool custom swizzle stick from your drink.)

Zombie Village entrance

Zombie Village is open Monday through Friday 5 p.m.-2 a.m. and Saturday 6 p.m.-2 a.m. (closed Sundays). It’s located in the Tenderloin District, not the most savory of neighborhoods but don’t let that deter you. (Their Instagram has recommended tourists that walk over to come down Jones from O’Farrell instead of up from Ellis.) It’s just a short rideshare trip away from sister spot Pagan Idol, or you could head over to Smuggler’s Cove or the Tonga Room….but you just might fall under the spell of Zombie Village and make an evening of it.

Tiki Bob at Zombie Village

Zombie Village
441 Jones Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
415-474-2284

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Try Your Hand at Audio-Animatronics at the Walt Disney Family Museum – San Francisco, CA

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“It’s like a trip to Disneyland itself…It’s the third happiest place on the planet, behind Disneyland and Disney World.” That’s what Tom Hanks said about visiting the Walt Disney Family Museum when researching the man behind the mouse for “Saving Mr. Banks” — and I think many Disney fans would agree.

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First off, it’s located in a gorgeous historic building, a restored 1890s army barracks in the Presidio overlooking the San Francisco Bay, Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. I highly recommend getting a snack and coffee from the cafe and enjoying the views out on the veranda when you need a break between walking through the exhibitions.

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After buying your tickets, the first room you’ll enter is filled with various awards, including the honorary Academy Award (and seven little Oscars) that Shirley Temple presented to Walt Disney in 1939 for “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” It’s such an iconic moment in Disney history so it’s neat to see these statuettes in person.

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The non-profit museum, which opened in 2009, was co-founded by Walt’s daughter Diane Disney Miller and chronologically narrates his personal and professional history. “My kids have literally encountered people who didn’t know that my father was a person,” she told The New York Times. “They think he’s just some kind of corporate logo.” (Here’s the Disney family leaving Honolulu on the Matson Lines‘ SS Lurline after a Hawaiian vacation.)

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Walt Disney led a pretty interesting life even before he became a household name. While he was still a teenager, he lied about his age so he could enlist for World War I. These were the little souvenirs he brought back from France where he drove trucks and ambulances after the armistice.

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Another random piece of ephemera that caught my attention was this handwritten list of Walt Disney’s favorite foods that he’d made for the housekeeper. (The paper was rediscovered decades later tucked in a magazine at the house.) Spam and eggs with biscuits and honey, FTW.

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A centerpiece of the ninth gallery, “The 1950s & 1960s: The Big Screen & Beyond,” is the 12-foot model of “The Disneyland of Walt’s Imagination.” He considered the park to be an ever-changing entity and the map features original attractions as well as ones that were in the planning stages during his lifetime. If you look closely you can see Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room and Tahitian Terrace.

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New to this section as of this year is “Pepe del Presidio,” a replica of the “Barker Bird” that used to beckon guests outside the entrance to the Enchanted Tiki Room. (It made its debut at a tiki-themed Animate Your Night! party presented by Tiki Oasis and Smuggler’s Cove — I bet there will be more of these in the future as the first two seem to have been pretty successful.)

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After a few minutes of video on the history of Audio-Animatronics, guests can use the joystick to control the bird’s movements and make it open its beak, nod and turn its head, move its body forward and back, and puff out its chest. Such a fun, interactive element!

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Naturally, a stop at the gift shop is a must. In addition to numerous books, pins, jewelry and shirts, there were Kuku and MarqMarq mugs designed by Tom “Big Toe” Laura for Tiki Farm.

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It was all I could do not to collect all of these Enchanted Tiki Room charms: all the parrots (Jose, Fritz, Pierre and Michael, plus the Barker Bird for $6.95 each), two designs for the tiki drummers and totems, and an E ticket ($8.95). They’re exclusive to the Walt Disney Family Museum, just in case you needed another incentive to make a visit.

Walt Disney Family Museum
104 Montgomery St.
San Francisco, CA 94129
415-345-6800

A Tricky Trio – Players Sports Grill, Tiki Bar & Arcade, San Francisco

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On our last visit to San Francisco, Mr. Hockey found an ad in our little tourist map for Players Sports Grill & Arcade that billed it as “San Francisco’s only waterfront tiki bar.” He asked me if I knew about it and I snobbishly insisted that it couldn’t be a real tiki bar.

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Our wanderings along the Embarcadero did eventually take us to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, and Mr. Hockey wanted to see if Players was legit. I remained skeptical about a sports bar, arcade and tiki bar coexisting under one roof.

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The front area looked like your typical sports bar, but then we spotted this little kiosk with a Lono (Hawaiian tiki) and a sign pointing towards the Luau Lounge tiki bar that was 50 steps away.

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But first you have to navigate through a little labyrinth of video games and skee ball to the back of the establishment. (I suppose if you have kids you could let them loose here while you go enjoy a drink?)

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Coincidentally they even have an arcade game that features Moai among the graphics. Cruis’n Exotica — no relation to the musical genre, as far as I can tell — is the 1999 sequel to the racing games Cruis’n USA and Cruis’n World. Alas, it doesn’t look like Easter Island is one of the available tracks.

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Maybe it’s the obscure location but the Luau Lounge was a surprisingly serene oasis in the middle of this tourist trap area. Not too many folks had ventured back there that afternoon and there was vintage and modern jazz on the soundspeakers.

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Once you pass the tikis standing sentinel at the bar’s entrance, you’ll find a thatched hut bar in the center of the room manned by a bartender in a Hawaiian shirt.

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My expectations had been quite low so I was a bit surprised to see that the decor was actually pretty decent, with tapa print and bamboo on the walls, fish float and pufferfish lanterns, and prints of Eugene Savage’s Hawaii-inspired art. These were featured on the menus for the Matson Lines steamships traveling from the West Coast to Hawaii in the late 1940s. (You might also recognize them from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel — or that “Mad Men” episode filmed there.

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To top it all off, there are fantastic views of Alcatraz and the bay from pretty much every seat in the house.

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But then things took a turn for the worse when I opened the cocktail menu. Granted, most places that serve Mai Tais don’t make them the way Trader Vic intended, but to call these “Tiki Classics” is too much.

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At least they delivered the Mai Tai ($11) in a tiki glass, though. We also had to order the appropriately named Cruzan Confusion ($11) because it sounded like such an abomination of a beverage. Made with pineapple juice and four flavored Cruzan rums, it reminded me of those “suicide” fountain drinks we’d make as kids by mixing all the different sodas together.

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Normally I wouldn’t advocate drinking beer at a tiki bar, but here that may be your best bet. There are about a dozen options on draft, including local brews like Anchor Steam ($6) and a few rotating seasonal taps.

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With so many great tiki bars in the San Francisco/Bay Area (Smuggler’s Cove, Tonga Room, Trader Vic’s, Forbidden Island), I can’t honestly recommend going out of your way for the Luau Lounge at Players Sports Grill. However, if you’re already at Fisherman’s Wharf anyway, you could do worse!

Players Sports Grill, Tiki Bar & Arcade
Pier 39
San Francisco, CA 94133
451-981-6300

Related Posts:
Reviews of Tiki Bars in San Francisco

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