With its year-round sunshine and endless beaches, Florida has long been a hotbed for colourful tiki bars. The decor varies widely from one bar to the next, and you’ll find a broad range in the quality of the mai tais (a staple of the true tiki bar), but Florida’s Gulf Coast offers several great spots that will satisfy any lover of “tiki god” carvings and rum drinks. Here are five favourites.
Located on the harbour and offering views of some seriously fancy boats, the Hula Bay Club is a Tampa hot spot decorated with giant green bamboo sticks and large (fake) flowers. Next door is the outdoor bar, Duke’s, where you’ll find vintage photos of Hawaiian surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku. At either spot, expect lots of sports fans gathering to watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Rays or even the NHL’s Lightning.
Adorned with dark red wallpaper and tassels hanging from the lights, the suburban Chinese restaurant’s cocktail lounge is quiet and classic—like an old-time hotel bar. The mai tais are hand-made by an old-school bartender who creates a deeply flavourful and not-too-sweet drink, complete with an orange slice, a cherry and a pink paper parasol. Heaven in a glass.
This place, located in the Beachcomber Beach Resort Hotel, is consistently voted one of Florida’s best beach bars. It’s steps from the ocean, and the enormous, multi-tiered wooden deck features fountains and white and pink oleander bushes. Order from the extensive cocktail menu and then sit back and enjoy some live music. If the spirit moves you, there’s also a great dance floor.
The exterior of O’Leary’s has carved tiki gods and a walkway lined with fiery red hibiscus. There’s an enclosed area for inclement weather and an open-air dining spot that fronts Sarasota Bay, with towering palm trees and gleaming white yachts bobbing in the blue water. The outdoor, thatched roof bar has surfboards on the ceiling and great views of the bay, and there’s even a small beach of crushed shells. Try one of O’Leary’s signature frozen drinks and revel in the refreshing breeze that comes off the water.
It looks forlorn on the outside, but inside you’ll find a classic bar with dark, smoldering tiki gods. One of the newspaper stories on the wall talks about how “the smoke builds a nice layer of nicotine” over the paintings in this 60-year-old institution. The mai tais here are legendary and come with a two-drink limit because of their alcohol content. Sip slowly.