Originally published January 11th, 2017.
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There is this off-handed comment... well actually, it is not even a comment. It is a snippet of a comment. There is an offhanded snippet of a comment that's been floating around in my brain for the past few weeks.
I have no clue who said it to me... or even if someone did say it to me. It might have been an article I read, or a podcast I listened to. Regardless, I can't get it out of my head.
"..there is this whole culture of people who travel around the country, going to different Tiki Bars."
I don't know why I've resonated with it so much. The vagabond in me senses an adventure.... the drinker in me senses a tasty cocktail.
While Polynesia and Hawaii probably aren't in my future... and neither are Los Angeles, New Orleans, or Chicago (home to some of the nation's best Tiki bars), I thank my lucky stars that I live in a city as cool as Pittsburgh, where I have my own Tiki bars at my disposal.
But first, a little backstory on Tiki culture:
It only took a few google searches to confirm that there is, in fact, a massive Tiki culture in the United States. As it turns out, it has been around since the 1930s.
Every single article I read points to one guy as the genesis of this movement - Don The Beachcomber.
Don visited Polynesia in the 1930s and loved the culture/vibes so much that he decided to try to emulate it here in the USA. He opened the first Tiki bar, appropriately named Don the Beachcomber, in Los Angeles in 1934.
... the rest, as they say, is history.
The "Tiki" phenomenon spread across the country. As war and uncertainty plagued the world, Americans sought out a "vacation," or place to unwind. This is where the Tiki bar stepped in.
This fantastic Eater article explains how Tiki culture was perfectly poised to grow during this time. Soldiers returning from war in the 40s and 50s had tropical memories from their deployment. Hawaii joined the United States. Airfare became more commonplace, and tropical travel more popular. The Beach Boys were a dominant music source.
Then the culture fell out of fashion... people considered it tacky. And now, suddenly, it has come back into style. This is where our story picks up today.
To get that Tiki experience in Pittsburgh you don't need to go to Polynesia. You don't even need to go to Ft. Lauderdale...
HIDDEN HARBOR in Squirrel Hill
Hidden Harbor is the new, trendy, Tiki bar at the corner of Shady and Forbes in Squirrel Hill, right next to Independent Brewing (in fact, they are owned by the same people). I had a blast at Hidden Harbor... is this why these bars became so popular? Because it is impossible to not enjoy island music, tropical decor, and tasty drinks?
Honestly, it is trendy Tiki, so the prices aren't great, and the vibe is definitely more chic than kitschy. However, if you have a friend from out of town that you want to impress, or are looking for a place for a fancy "girl's night," Hidden Harbor is the answer.
Their happy hour runs from 5-7pm during the week, and while most drinks are not discounted, they do have a '2 tacos for $6' deal that is pretty great. They also have fun theme nights.
Tuesdays: "Tiki Time Machine" - order drinks from a special menu of classic Tiki drinks from the 30s-60s. If you order every drink before March 31st (aka spend nearly $150 at Hidden Harbor before March 31st), you get a prize.
Wednesdays: Weird Science with DJ MB - Molecular mixology tropical drinks and DJ spinning "far out tunes" from 7-11.
TIKI LOUNGE, on the Southside
I think the person to explain Tiki Lounge should be Tiki Lounge. This is taken from their website, and it is perfect:
"Tiki Lounge is an extreme retro recreation of those high-style Tiki bars which dotted the map in the bygone 1950s and '60s. Come hither to get away from it all in our fantasy tropical village from a far-away place and time. Check out our three water falls, numerous statuary, and meticulous design...not to mention our beautiful employees.
During the week, the Tiki Lounge is busy with an array of regulars and bridge/tunnel people...On weekends, the place is packed when our DJ pushes the limit, spinning top hits to a pumping sea of people. Come join us for great fun in a great city."
The "bridge/tunnel people" comment is incredible. Well done, Tiki Lounge.
Thanks for taking this little journey into Tiki town with me. Aloha au ia 'oe!
For more articles on Tiki-dom, check out:
Critiki.com (very clever site name) - They also published a "Ten Best Tiki Bars in the World 2016."
tikiloungetalk.com - Awesome blog on Tiki culture. They have a really great history of Tiki culture here.
Why America Was Full-On Obsessed With The Tiki - The Huffington Post
Your beginner's guide to Tiki bars and culture - Thrillist
Tiki Drinking Culture Has Always Been a Fantasy, But Not an Easy One - Vice
and the less fun..
Let's Talk Tiki Bars: Harmless Fun Or Exploitation? - NPR
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