Blogging from A to Z Challenge

Turn up the tropics: San Diego Tiki rooms

If you’re thinking T is for Torrey Pines… surprise!

T is for Tiki rooms.

If you’ve never been to a Tiki room (or lounge, or bar), you’ve been missing out. My first Tiki experience was as a kid, when my parents, sister and I would frequently go for dinner at a place named Tong’s Tiki Hut in Villa Park, Illinois. The restaurant is located in a strip mall, and looks pretty nondescript from the outside, but once you open the door and step inside, you’re transported to a magical world somewhere in the South Seas, covered in fishnets full of faux pearls and lobsters, and – of course – Tiki heads.

Interior of Tong's Tiki Hut, Villa Park, IL
Interior of Tong’s Tiki Hut, Villa Park, IL

As a kid, I was hooked by the unusual decor, including a miniature waterfall/wishing well in the front, complete with koi fish. The American-style Chinese food was pretty much the same as everywhere else, but going to the restaurant was a mini adventure in my suburban upbringing.

As an adult, there’s even more to love about Tiki bars: fruity cocktails in unusual glasses – some of which you even get to keep – all topped with colorful miniature parasols.

Gate 50 Terminal 2 cocktail from San Diego's Cat Eye Club
Gate 50 Terminal 2 cocktail from San Diego’s Cat Eye Club

Here in San Diego, you’d think Tiki bars would be a dime a dozen, given our southern locale and laid-back atmosphere. Oddly enough, The Tiki Chick (profiler of all things Tiki, obvs) has only reviewed two spots: Bali Hai and Cat Eye Club. (Mister Tiki’s Mai Tai Lounge has sadly closed.)

Of the two, Bali Hai is the more traditionally decorated lounge (and was also named one of Thrillist’s 17 Best Tiki Bars in America), while Cat Eye Club offers more of the traditional Tiki drinks beloved in the 1950s and 60s.

However, upon closer inspection, there is at least one more sneaky Tiki bar here: Fairweather is a bar located on the second floor of Rare Form Deli, serving Tiki cocktails with a view of Petco Park. Eater profiled it when it first opened back in August 2014, so it’s new to the Tiki scene, and not at all traditionally dank and dark, though it does boast some mixed drinks that Tiki enthusiasts will love, like the STD (Strong Tiki Drink) and the Spanish Armada – described as “an invincible fleet of spirits.”

Finally don’t miss Tiki Oasis this August 13 to 16 – an annual event dedicated to all things Tiki, including the Miss Tiki Oasis Pin-up Pageant. This year’s theme is “Yesterday’s Future, Today!”

Bali Hai is located at 2230 Shelter Island Drive. Cat Eye Club is located at 370 7th Avenue. Fairweather is located at 793 J Street, inside Rare Form.

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