The Tiki Bar: A Polynesian Review

From Rubicon to 12 Galaxies to the taco truck at 19th and Harrison , it seems that San Francisco bars and restaurants are closing left and right.

With that in mind, we wonder if years from now people will be digging up napkins and menus to rediscover San Francisco’s fine dining or hipster bar scene of yore. We say this after being sucked into an hour-long session of web trolling while looking for information about the tiki craze that started in the late 40’s after the war and amazingly kept its stream through the late 60s.

There are arguments about who started what, some stand firm on the belief that Hollywood’s Don the Beachcomber invented the Mai Tai and created the first tiki bar in 1933, but the original Trader Vic’s in Oakland also claimed to be the Mai Tai creator, opening in 1944. These two well-know Polynesian-themed bars were forever rivals during the height of the tiki renaissance, but there’s a lesser known tiki bar and restaurant that some say came before them both: Skipper Kent’s.

According to an old menu from the 1950’s:

“Skipper Kent, traveler, lecturer, explorer, yachtsman and cinematographer, on his many travels and in far away corners of this world, gathered together the intriguing drinks listed…”

And while no Mai Tais formally grace the menu he did have the Scorpion, the Hurricae, the Tabu—“Limit one to a customer,” and barbecued spareribs for $1.25.

Now Kennedy’s, an Irish pub and Indian restaurant in North Beach across from Bimbos, you won’t find much beyond on the mere suggestion of tiki framework if you visit the location today.

Skipper Kent’s is closed and so is the San Francisco Trader Vic’s so if you want to feed your need for kitsch you’ll have to go the Tonga Room, the Bamboo Hut or for the real deal, head out to the Outer Richmond and visit Trader Sam’s —a tiki bar that actually pre-dates tiki, opening in 1939.

After we knock back a few Mai Tai we think we’ll see about selling an old Rubicon receipt on eBay.

Trader Vic’s [Official Site]
Tonga Room [MenuPages]
Tonga Room [Official Site]
Bamboo Hut [Official Site]
Trader Sam’s [Official Site]

[Skipper Kent’s Menu via Arkiva Tropika]

The Tiki Bar: A Polynesian Review