EPCOT Explorer’s Tiki Tour of California

Aloha!

Having just returned from two weeks in California, the time is apt to share with you all some of the adventures I had. Although my trip wasn’t particularly focused on Tiki, as Disneyland, Yosemite National Park, and San Francisco were major destinations of this trek, my vacation was influenced and peppered with some amazing Tiki experiences that really elevated the trip itself and deepened my appreciation for midcentury Tiki Culture. California is home to not only Tiki’s American birthplace, but also home to its modern-day resurgence on the pop culture scene. With this in mind, I planned my trip around getting to see some of the most influential and popular sites in the Tiki world. Serendipitously, I was able to even go beyond my original itinerary and got to encounter some Tiki sites that I happened to just run into. As a Floridian, where Tiki is quite rare, turning a corner on a city street and finding a Tiki bar was pure bliss. Californians are quite lucky. That said, let’s get started! I intend for this post to be a sort of “trip report” where I review and explain what I saw and attempt to offer some history and thematic analysis. I’ll start off in Disneyland, work my way up the coast to Monterey, and end up in San Francisco.

 

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Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, Disneyland

Ahhh, the original. Although Walt Disney World recently brought back the classic version of the Enchanted Tiki Room to The Magic Kingdom, seeing the original show in Walt Disney’s original theme park is a heightened and more historical experience. This venue is where Disney and the Tiki Culture of Midcentury Americana gracefully intersected and vaulted Disney’s efforts in Audio Animatronics forward to greater possibilities and technical feats. The original Tiki Room is also the site of where so many members of the Tiki community in today’s “second wave” of Tiki culture were first exposed to midcentury Polynesian aesthetics and exotica and were hooked into a great hobby. Much like the rest of Disneyland, this feeling of cultural importance makes the Californian Tiki Room into something of a landmark and lends a wonderful feeling of heritage and history to the attraction.

IMG_9895The charm and intimacy of Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room begins in the Enchanted Tiki Garden, a feature of the attraction that is not only exclusive to the California version and home to Imagineer Rolly Crump’s best work. A relaxing setting, the Enchanted Tiki Garden is essentially an art gallery for Tangaroa, Pele, Maui, and all of the other fantastic statues that inhabit this small and secluded space in the middle of Disneyland. At night, it’s especially sublime as the background noise of Disneyland drifts away into the night and the lanai lights of the Enchanted Tiki Room glow mysteriously, heightening a feeling of escapism, transporting the audience far and away from a theme park in Southern California, and to some remote Pacific island.

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The interior of Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room is much smaller and much more charming than its Floridian counterpart. Florida’s Tiki Room could be considered a grand ‘Tiki Temple’, with a much more rounded seating area, sweeping A-Frame roofs, and grander staging for the Audio Animatronic birds and the Tiki drummers. In Anaheim, though, the Tiki Room is compact, intimate, and feels much more organic and closer to guests. Where in Florida you have to look up to see Jose and company, Disneyland’s Tiki Room seems to have you looking out at them. I found Disneyland’s Tiki Room to be more comfortable, in that respect. If making a comparison, Florida’ Enchanted Tiki Room could be compared to the behemoth that is Fort Lauderdale’s Mai Kai Polynesian Revue, and California’s Tiki Room could be compared to a smaller Tiki bar, like San Francisco’s Smuggler’s Cove (more on that later!) In terms of design and aesthetics, I find that I am more impressed with the Florida version, as it is larger and more of a sophisticated design, but I find myself preferring Disneyland’s more charming and warm venue.

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IMG_9911As far as the actual show goes, Disneyland’s show is clearly superior with its Enchanted Fountain still intact and a longer run-time, with less songs shortened and more classic dialogue still playing on. Only one song has been removed from the Enchanted Tiki Room in Disneyland, that being the Offenbach sequence. While the Californian show does not have the same window effects that the Florida version has, the interior lighting is much more precise and professional, with individual “can lights” aimed at the animatronics, not large strips of colored “gel lights” as in Walt Disney World. Small details, yes, but they make a world of difference in providing a more artful and well produced show.

Drinks imbibed: You (sadly) can’t order drinks in Disneyland but you can get a Dole Whip! Just sitting under the singing birds and flowers and enjoying a cold pineapple treat is really all you need.

IMG_0095Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar, Disneyland Hotel

If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you’ll know that I’m slightly obsessed with Trader Sam’s. Trader Sam’s was what truly launched me into the Tiki craze when I first visited in Disneyland in 2013. (Walt Disney World restoring the Enchanted Tiki Room in 2011 also helped, to be fair) This summer, I was fortunate enough to visit both the newly opened Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto in Disney World and Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar in Disneyland within a month of each other. Seeing both bars in quick succession allowed me to really compare the two and come away with some unique impressions of their thematics and the mechanics of their designs.

First, both Trader Sam’s venues operate under a sort of ‘meta-synergy’ where the bars serve as extensions of attractions and shows that are well known in the Disney canon. Most of these attractions come from Adventureland and draw upon the cultural wellspring of midcentury Americana and how Americans of the time period viewed foreign cultures, travel, and escapism. With that in mind, Trader Sam’s in both Anaheim and Orlando are Tiki bars that capitalize on strains of exotica, the mystery and romance of the tropics, and Polynesia. Disneyland’s Trader Sam’s seems to be skewed more towards referencing Disney attractions in a more obvious way than Grog Grotto. In Disneyland, various Enchanted Tiki Room props and set pieces populate the bar, such as Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily’s Enchanted Tiki Drummers and a Tangaroa Tiki Baby above the bar. In Disney World, the designers of Grog Grotto still reference Disney, but seem to have broadened the visual vocabulary of the bar- there are more references to Tiki establishments such as the Mai Kai and other local Floridian venues. These differences are appreciated and a good thing, I say- more of the same would be boring and creatively lazy. That said, I was looking around Anaheim’s Trader Sam’s for references beyond Disneyland but could not find many of them. This does not detract from the actual product of The Enchanted Tiki Bar, I find myself much more appreciative of the broader and more worldly décor in Grog Grotto. A perfect version of Trader Sam’s would have both the amazing Tiki Room props and artistic references to the larger Tiki community beyond Disney.

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Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar and Grog Grotto also differ in the manner in which they are laid out and the ways in which they operate. As I wrote in my Grog Grotto piece, I initially preferred Disneyland’s layout, but once I got used to Florida’s set up, I realized that that was the more artistic and roomy version of the bar. Disneyland’s U-Shaped bar is quite large, and while it does allow you to see the wonderful set pieces behind the bar, Grog Grotto pushes the bar to the back the room, and populates the space with small tables and chairs, allowing the audience to look around the room much more freely. In Grog Grotto, your eyes are drawn up into the eves and rafters of Trader Sam’s and to all of the fantastic props and artifacts that populate the bar. Conversely, Disneyland does not do this, as the bar is the center of the room and the center of attention. Considering how interesting the set design is for the bar in Disneyland, that’s not a bad thing, but I found the roomier Florida design to be vastly superior. There’s more of a sense of height and space in Grog Grotto than in Disneyland’s Sam’s, as the roof and walls feel further away and more as backdrops than barriers. Disneyland’s Trader Sam’s, meanwhile, is very much defined by the small space between the bar and the small row of tables along the wall. Where you can walk around in Grog Grotto, doing so in the Enchanted Tiki Bar is not as easy. Amusingly enough, these comparisons between Walt Disney World’s Trader Sam’s and Disneyland Trader Sam’s probably sound like comparisons made between the two Magic Kingdom style parks, and you’d be right. It seems that Imagineering took the Disneyland original to Florida and improved upon the idea.

IMG_2304Imagineering’s improvements to Grog Grotto are felt in comparing the effects of one bar to another. Grog Grotto takes nearly every effect in the book and elevates it to a whole new level of engineered expertise, leaving Sam’s effects feeling rather bare bones, four years on. Where Grog Grotto has wind effects and projections of the tide rising through the bar, Enchanted Tiki Bar’s effects are mostly just light and sound….and a spray bottle of water aimed up into the air. Also, Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Windows do not have as much depth as their Floridian cousins, which are sculpted and throw the projections and changes in weather into much sharper relief. In addition to that, the window I was sitting next to kept flashing “REPLACE PROJECTOR BULB” throughout my visit, which is fairly embarrassing and not up to Disney’s supposed standard of show quality. I certainly hope that that broken effect has been repaired by the time of this writing. Other observations I made on my Disneyland visit include how much louder Trader Sam’s felt than Grog Grotto. While it’s certainly true that both bars can get cramped and rowdy, I have happily found that Grog Grotto has times where it becomes peaceful, quiet, cold, and downright serene in the bar. This is exactly the atmosphere that Tiki bars aim to emulate: tranquil island escapism, accomplished through libations and relaxing music and surroundings. While I’m sure that Disneyland’s Sam’s has its downtimes I was unfortunate not to encounter that on my visit. In contrast, my visit to the Vacation Kingdom’s Grog Grotto started out a bit busy, but as the night wore on, became subdued, transportive, and wonderfully calm. I suspect that that sort of vibe might be rarer at Disneyland with its greater population of local annual passholders and employees that can drop into the bar (lucky for them!) on a whim. WDW, conversely, follows the rhythm of vacationers: when the parks are packed and everyone is out of their hotels, Grog Grotto settles into a nice pattern of leisure.

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If there is one positive, however, that Disneyland’s Trader Sam’s has over Grog Grotto it’s the Enchanted Tiki Columns that grace the corners of the main bar area. Although they are facsimiles of the same chanting totems in the Enchanted Tiki Room itself, these delightful pieces has wandering eyes that slowly track through the room, gazing at any unsuspecting guest. It’s a small thing, but it adds so much charm and a feeling of warm wit to Disneyland’s Sam’s. Despite my preference to Walt Disney World’s version of Trader Sam’s, this one detail in California adds so much to the experience of taking in Trader Sam’s and I would be remiss if I did not mention how delightful it is.

Drinks imbibed: I just had a Krakatoa, at Trader Sam’s. Standard fare and made just as well as the Krakatoas out east! Sweet, strong, and mixed really well.

Oceanic Arts, Whittier, California

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Mecca. The nexus. It all started here. Visiting Oceanic Arts was an enlightening experience. Oceanic Arts, founded in 1956, is widely considered to be the birthplace of Tiki Culture in the United States. Having returned from a tour of Polynesia, Robert Van Oosting and LeRoy Schmaltz began carving art in the style of the cultures they had seen, first sparking wider interest in the Pacific, and second, making a name for themselves as purveyors of Tiki Culture. In the 60 years that have passed since that fateful trip, Schmaltz and Van Oosting have supplied the entertainment world (and quite a lot of Tikiholics, like myself!) with props and artwork. Most notably, to me, Oceanic Arts carved all of the signs and décor for the Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Village and much of their crafts can be seen in Adventureland and the Enchanted Tiki Room. Oceanic Arts’ interpretation of Tiki Culture and Americana have become so engrained into the entertainment world that the aesthetic that they have crafted has become part of the very design language for establishing Polynesia on both stage and screen. If it weren’t for this little warehouse in a sleepy suburb of Los Angeles, the Tiki world we all know and love could be quite different.IMG_0406

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And yes, Oceanic Arts is “just” a warehouse and a working artist’s studio. There aren’t too many thematic things to describe here as I did with Trader Sam’s and the Enchanted Tiki Room, but that doesn’t mean that there’s a palpable feeling of history and importance about the place. If you’re a fan of Tiki and find yourself in the area, you owe it to yourself to pay a visit to Oceanic Arts and take in the sights of this historic location.

Drinks imbibed: Well, there’s no drinking at Oceanic Arts but there certainly is a ton of shopping to be done! As I said before, the place is essentially a warehouse with nearly everything up for sale. I was fortunate enough to pick up a mug, a Japanese float, and best of all, an original carving from Schmaltz and Van Oosting. By far, it is now my favorite piece in my Tiki collection, this little bit of Oceanic Arts will proudly hang on the wall of my office. I feel very lucky to have a little bit of Tiki history, here at home.

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Hula’s Island Grill, Monterey, California

IMG_0904After our time in Disneyland and Los Angeles, our travels took us up the coast to Yosemite National Park and ultimately, San Francisco. On the way there, we took a small side trip to Monterey to see Cannery Row and the various other Steinbeck landmarks. In a wonderful moment of serendipity, we were trying to find a place to park for Fisherman’s Wharf, when we pulled up in front of Hula’s Island Grill. Suddenly, we had found lunch plans and a reason to linger in Monterey.

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Hula’s is a perfect example of a beach town Tiki bar. Although some of the décor and theming could be considered more “Surf Culture” than Tiki Culture, the prevailing Polynesian aesthetic and vibe of the establishment works quite well and the overall mood is relaxed and organically resplendent. The restaurant itself is split between two small rooms and a lovely thatched bar just inside the main entrance.

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The room on the right hand side has a more nautical motif to it and is elevated, almost as a traditional Polynesian longhouse would be. The room I dined in, however, was the left room, and was more traditionally adorned for a Tiki establishment. Clad in rattan and bamboo, this room featured a fantastic shelf of classic and new Tiki mugs, and best of all, a wall of Bosco masks. Tiki tOny’s work is also prominently featured in the room, making this side of Hula’s Island Grill a great example of the artful side of current Tiki community. Dimly lit, cool, and relaxing, stumbling into Hula’s was a real treat and a great surprise. IMG_0898

Drinks imbibed: Hula’s makes a great and non-traditional Dr. Funk cocktail with Crème de Banana, Coconut Rum, and tropical juices. This and the Mai Tai I had at Tonga Room were my favorite drinks of the trip. This version of Dr. Funk was light, sweet, and refreshing. Crème de Banana might be my new favorite ingredient to experiment with in the kitchen. As for the fare, Hula’s calls their cooking a “Jamaican and Hawaiian fusion”, dubbing it “Jawaiian”. I had the Fish Tacos and was pleasantly surprised at how well the filet was seared. I’m usually not a seafood person, but this fish was fresh, tasteful, and prepared very well. Spicy, too. Finally, a heartfelt thank you goes out to our bartender who humored my inquires about all of the Tiki mugs on display, what was for sale, and about the history of Tiki bars in Monterey. Mark Thomas’ Outrigger Bar used to exist on Cannery Row itself, during Steinbeck’s era, but has since vanished. Hula’s happily pays tribute to that missing Tiki establishment, as a vintage Outrigger Moai mug is perched on a shelf near the entrance to the bar.

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The Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar, San Francisco

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Let’s be totally honest: Outside of a theme park, you’ll be hard pressed to find an environment that is truly thematic. Sure, some venues flirt with creating a passable illusion or setting, but it is rare that you happen to find a place that totally transports you, especially when there aren’t millions of dollars poured into the place or a hardworking team of artists and engineers adhere to the place on a regular basis. The Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar in the Fairmount Hotel is, amazingly, one of these transportive places and a true landmark for Tiki Culture.

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For me, The Tonga Room was one of the Tiki establishments in San Francisco that I wanted to see the most, and goodness, did it deliver. Easily my favorite Tiki aspect of my trip, the Tonga Room is a true national treasure and a wonderful culinary experience. The Fairmount Hotel, built in 1906, is built in the Beaux Art style, boasting a magnificent lobby and a coveted place on the National Register of Historic Places. The Tonga Room is one of the key attributes of the hotel that boosted it onto that prestigious list, considering its longevity, its place in popular culture, and its sheer level of detail. Originally opened as the hotel’s indoor swimming pool in 1929, the facility was converted into the Tonga Room in 1945. From 1945 to the mid 1950s, a fairly generic nautical theme dominated the Tonga Room, as conceptualized by Mel Levin and a team of designers from Metro Golden Meyer. From 1953 on, the restaurant has been a temple to all things midcentury and Tiki. The first (and much more midcentury modern) version of the Tonga Room existed until 1967 when it was redesigned by Howard Hirsch. The current version of the Tonga Room and Hurricane bar still flirts with a midcentury modern aesthetic, but is much more aligned to play up an organic Polynesian vibe. The Tonga Room was most recently refurbished in 2008, with minimal changes made and lots of respectful work done so as to keep the aging and historic venue in wonderful condition.

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The Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar, itself, is situated in the bowels of the Fairmount Hotel, with this remote placement acting as a boon for establishing it as separate and secluded thematic entity from the rest of the hotel’s Beaux Arts aesthetic. After exiting an opulent elevator and down a standard faire convention center hallway, the door to the Tonga Room almost seems like an otherworldly tropical portal to another world. Clad in dark woods and deep red tapa cloth, the foyer to The Tonga Room sets the stage and proudly announces that you’re not really going to feel like you’re in the Fairmount Hotel (or in San Francisco) any longer.

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Upon walking beyond the foyer and into the main part of the Tonga Room, my jaw dropped. The space is massive and cavernous, with 4 dining areas all surrounding the main lagoon. Each area of the Tonga Room contributes to its overall look and aesthetic, despite each “room” having its own distinctive theme. After leaving the foyer, you pass onto the dance floor, fashioned after a sailing ship and actually made from the remains of the SS Forester, a sailing ship that ferried lumber from California to and from the Polynesian islands. The dance floor, along with all the other rooms of the Tonga Room, border the lagoon that dominates the center of the space. The dance floor is also situated a little higher up than the rest of the restaurant, providing the audience with an “overview vista” of the entire place, upon walking in. Those first few seconds of walking into the Tonga Room, passing through the dark and mysterious foyer, and then finding oneself gazing out and over a Polynesian paradise were perfectly sublime. These first few seconds alone made an incredibly strong impression on me and the “reveal” of the Tonga Room itself was what solidified my appraisal of the venue being a thematic entity and carefully designed. The way that the Tonga Room and everything in it is presented to a viewer is done with careful purpose and with an exacting artistic commitment. You aren’t having dinner in a restaurant with a few cool props and some Polynesian art; you’re dining in a showpiece and an illusion.

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Directly to the right of the dance floor is the first real “room” in Tonga. Made up of four individual Tiki huts and an open air longhouse running behind it, this room has the best view of the lagoon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Serendipitously, this is where we were seated. Each of the four huts is decorated with Japanese float lamps and an overwhelming number of Oceanic Arts pieces. Personally, it was amusing to see a majority of the pieces we had just seen in Disneyland and the Oceanic Arts warehouse also being used in the Tonga Room. This just goes to show you how ingrained Oceanic Arts is to the design language of Tiki Culture AND how well preserved the Tonga Room is.

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Behind the “hut room”, there’s a room that bridges the length of the lagoon and leads to the longhouse room. Fashioned to look like the dock to the lagoon itself, this is the smallest area in Tonga Room and provides access to the kitchen area. This is also where the band’s boat is moored when they are not out, floating on the lagoon, and playing music. (Yes, more on that later!) The dock area, though small, is a wonderfully illusory set piece for the Tonga Room and forces the audience to question if they are inside or outside, similar to Disney venues, such as New Orleans Square’s Blue Bayou or EPCOT’s San Angel Inn. While both of those restaurants take place in an indoor show building, perpetual twilight and outdoor features provide the illusion of dining al fresco and being transported to another environment. The Tonga Room is designed to emulate the same visual artifice.

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To the left of the dock area is the longhouse room. Directly parallel to the four Tiki huts that I mentioned earlier, this room is probably the largest of the four areas, but does not have much access to the lagoon. Despite that, it is probably the most intimate of all of the areas in the Tonga Room and the best decorated. Modeled after a traditional Polynesian longhouse, the space is clad in warm earth tones, punctuated with vibrant reds and deep blacks and browns. To top all of this off, a wonderful model of an outrigger canoe hangs in the rafters.

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And lastly, there’s the lagoon itself. The veritable centerpiece and heart of the Tonga Room, both metaphorically and literally, this showpiece is truly what elevates the Tonga Room from being just another vintage Tiki establishment and into a thematic and cultural gem. Made out of the remnants of the Fairmount’s indoor pool, the crystal clear waters are lit in deep blues and greens, adding a fantastical element to the whole affair. On top of all this, a tropical rainstorm, complete with lighting and thunder punctuates the placid surface of the lagoon every 15 minutes and interrupts the house band, which is floating on the lagoon, on a small thatched boat. Oh, yes, there’s a floating band, too. Writing about this a month after my visit just makes the entire place seem like a sort of fantastic and wonderful Tiki fever dream.

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Beyond the thematic elements that the lagoon provides, pause must be taken to reflect on how downright incredible it is that this delicate water feature has survived nearly 70 years. Where other establishments have scaled back expansive and expensive thematic effects, such as this, the Tonga Room’s lagoon has endured and flourished, providing the believable illusion of falling rain and lightning in the middle of a lovely restaurant. A great deal of care has gone into maintaining this feature of the Tonga Room and the utmost respect to history has been afforded to the Tonga Room by still having this signature effect play on. For all intents and purposes, the centerpiece and heart of the Tonga Room experience is the same as it was when it first opened. How many other Tiki establishments can say that about their shows or set pieces? The Polynesian Village in Walt Disney World lost its classic lobby waterfalls this past year, with the excuse that the falls brought mold to the structure and that it was too costly to maintain. The famed Mai Kai, while truly a glorious relic of the same age as the Tonga Room, has admittedly lost some of its luster in some areas, and could use a general refurbishment to keep it up to par. But The Tonga Room? Excuses of mold and rising maintenance costs be damned, The Tonga Room still has its waterfalls and rain showers running and maintained, providing a beautiful show and beating Disney and other establishments at their own game. The Tonga Room’s commitment to their themed show is a glorious and heartening thing.

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While all of the physical elements of the Tonga Room were utterly fantastic, the only negative about the experience was the music. Truthfully, the house band, while artistically talented, played music that did not support the overall illusion of Polynesia that the Tonga Room seeks to craft. The band played a mix of hits from the 1970s and 80s, and very few of them resonated as appropriate for bolstering with the tropical atmosphere. Considering that this is the only negative I can find in my experience, this should be an indicator at how strong the rest of the Tonga Room is for crafting an environment and being a bastion of the best aspects of Tiki culture. In addition to this, the food and drinks we imbibed were superb. I can’t tell you the exact dishes we had, as we ended up ordering a lot of small plates and splitting them among our party, but I can tell you that the Mai Tai I had was probably the best I had on the trip and was both strong and sweet, which I prefer to just being strong and more skewed to tasting like rum. Whoever was the bartender that night knew how to mix juices and rums so as to not have one taste overwhelm the other. I was very impressed.

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Smuggler’s Cove, San Francisco, California

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Last, but certainly not least, comes Smuggler’s Cove. While The Tonga Room was perhaps the purest example of what is known as a “Tiki Temple” in the Tiki community for its grand spaces and thematic illusions, Smuggler’s Cove is easily the purest example of what a classic Tiki bar should be. On my original itinerary for our trip to California and San Francisco, I regrettably overlooked a visit to Smuggler’s Cove but was able to rectify this when I realized how close it was to a few other destinations we were planning to see. We ended up getting to Smuggler’s Cove just at twilight and were able to stay for an hour or so and soak up the ambiance of one of the most interesting Tiki bars I’ve ever been to.IMG_1699

 

 

With an unassuming façade, a lusciously cramped and decorated interior, and a fantastically intimate and mysterious vibe, Smuggler’s Cove is exactly the transportive hideaway that most Tiki bars try and emulate. The space itself is smaller than both Trader Sam’s in Anaheim and Orlando, though, it is spread out over three levels. Given that Smuggler’s Cove is hidden behind a regular city street, walking into an overwhelmingly Polynesian atmosphere is exactly the transportive moment that most Tiki establishments aim for. Much like with the Tonga Room, I walked in, and my jaw dropped: How could this fantastic illusion of tropical escapism be hidden so deftly on a San Franciscan street?

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While each of Smuggler’s Cove’s areas are made distinct by being on three different floors, I won’t go into detail on each one, as they are all similarly decorated in the same way. This isn’t a negative, at all. Smuggler’s Cove is decadently Tiki, but with a wonderful nautical bent to it. Figureheads, ship’s lamps, and other seafaring materials make up the design language of the place, which is punctuated by art and artifacts from the South Seas and other vintage Tiki establishments. Smuggler’s Cove is stratified “upward” as floor space is limited; guests’ eyes are drawn up into the rafters and shelves to see the props and set dressings. Among my favorite pieces were the chained up Tiki Bob mug, (The rare mug was once stolen and the chains are there to ensure that doesn’t happen again) a family of glowing puffer fish, and a constellation of lovely Japanese Floats and Tapa lamps, casting luridly colored hues through the murky interior. Smuggler’s Cove is the archetypical Tiki bar: its décor and illusions are just as potent as the drinks served.

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Drinks imbibed: Speaking of drinks…. At Smuggler’s Cove I indulged in a rum barrel so I could take home one of the bar’s classic Munktiki mugs! Probably the strongest drink I had on my trip, the rum barrel was a knockout (literally). In the future, I’ll probably get something sweeter, like a Mai Tai, as my tastes tend to favor a sweeter and lighter drink. This isn’t a knock on the rum barrel at all, mind you. Smuggler’s Cove takes incredible pride in the rums and liquor that they stock and their bartenders are second to none. While my drink at Smuggler’s wasn’t my favorite, it was easy to discern at how well crafted the beverage was.

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Topping off the Tiki Tour- Well, I have rambled long enough. Pour yourself a nice strong drink if you read through all of this. I thank you deeply if you have. Over the course of the past four years or so, Tiki has easily become one of my favorite hobbies and the experience of writing about it is only made sweeter when I am recalling memories from one of the best vacations I have ever taken. If I missed any essential Tiki venue along the way, let me know. If you’ve been to any of the locations described here and have found something different than I have, speak up! I’m already thinking of a return trip to California for some more Tiki explorations. Aloha and mahalo!

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6 thoughts on “EPCOT Explorer’s Tiki Tour of California

  1. I’m hoping some day to do the reverse route: fly into San Francisco, spend a few nights there, then over to Yosemite and Sequoia, and on to LA and Disneyland. Your reviews give me something to go on for Tiki bars! But no Trader Vic’s this time?

    I’m not sure if I’m recollecting it correctly, but my feeling about WDW’s Enchanted Tiki Room vs. Disneyland’s was that while the “Tropical Serenade” had more floor space, it also had a lower ceiling. I felt more cramped in it than in Disneyland’s version. Couple that with the full experience of the Disneyland version – the garden show, the more complete soundtrack, and being able to eat Dole Whips inside – and it is definitely the superior version.

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    1. Yeah, no Trader Vic’s. A big regret…. And a reason to head back. 😉

      Dunno about WDW having the lower ceiling, as we have a sweeping a-frame room in Florida, but it certainly hangs over you differently. Granted, it’s beautiful, but Disneyland’s is so much more intimate and warm.

      Thanks for your comments. Appreciate it.

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  2. Within the last few months Sam’s has had those projection errors showing on their windows, though my last few visits they’ve been gone/fixed.

    Meanwhile Grog Grotto has had window issues nearly on a weekly basis, including lovely BSODs projected into the skies. Within the opening months too! And people wonder why animatronic Uh Oa wasn’t included? The repairs would be so frequent – or infrequent – that it would be a very costly headache.

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    1. Happy to hear they’ve been fixed. Is the flickering light above the Tiki Drummers back working correctly, too?

      I haven’t seen or heard of Grog Grotto issues in quite some time, thankfully. Goodness knows why WDI can’t get some computers working.

      Also, it was my understanding that the mechanisms to run the Uh Oa AA would have taken up too much space in the wall and caused an aesthetic intrusion in how Grog Grotto is designed. Honestly, while I would have liked SOME movement to the figure, the way the show does take place is nicely done. The lights and wind effects have a great kinetic feel to them. It’s more subtle than the figure gesticulating around from on high.

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  3. Fantastically written homage to the California tiki scene! I appreciate the care with which you’ve evaluated the aesthetics, history and escapism to be found in the sights, sounds, and beverages of a well played tiki establishment. While I’ve been to the top 3 destinations you listed, you’ve given me a strong urge to head back to San Fran to see what I missed.

    I assume you’ve already been, but Don the BeachCombers in Huntington Beach is another must-see if you return to Cali. It has a much shallower history in that destination than the Tonga room but it still sports a sprawling multi-room escape. I had the pleasure of being there for one of their International Tiki Marketplace events last December so timing a trip around that would be ideal if you’re interested in the wares of local modern tiki artisans and collectors alike.

    Liked by 1 person

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