It's Never Too Early to Tiki

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The Tonga Room's floating bandstand, during a "rainstorm." Photo courtesy of Doug Letterman / Flickr

As you may have heard via the forum, we're doing a story on people with home tiki bars. I've now talked to a bunch of these people and while they're all different sorts they have one thing in common: Almost to a person they told me their love of tiki stemmed from happy childhood memories of visits to the tiki palaces of yore.

Southern Californians recalled classics such as Don the Beachcomber and Santa Ana's Kono Hawaii; A native New Yorker I spoke with waxed nostalgic about the Hawaii Kai in Manhattan. One tikiphile in Sacramento recalled blissful afternoons at his grandfather's home tiki oasis in Norwalk. But aside from a reborn Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach, these tiki palaces have one thing in common: They're closed.

The conclusion was clear, though: Kids love the exotic trappings and pure escapist fun of classic tiki. And exposing them to it helps instill some of the real-life nostalgia that we pleasurably tap into as adults. So for tikiphiles and those who would like to be, it's good to know that tiki is a family pursuit.

But there are far fewer tiki bars and restaurants to choose from these days than there once were. Just recently we mourned the loss of the Bahooka in Los Angeles, a family restaurant that went the way of many of its forebearers. Fortunately, California retains solid tiki destinations on either end of the state.

In San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel, the Tonga Room fully realizes the tiki fantasy. The enormous venue is built around the hotel's old pool, with tiki huts and a ship's deck surrounding it, and even a floating bandstand. A rainstorm every 20 minutes or so completes the escapist effect. Kids are welcome as long as they don't sit at the bar.

Meanwhile, in Southern Califonria, the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Its animatronic birds still tirelessly perform, singing and zinging their way through a Borscht Belt-inspired routine many times a day.

Both options are great for both kids and an adults. Honestly, how can you go wrong with this: