A Guide to Tiki Bars and Rum Tiki Cocktails

Rum Runner

The Spruce

How Did the Tiki Bar Begin?

Ernest Raymond Beaumont Grant (aka Donn Beach) opened the first tiki bar in the 1930’s on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. The bar was the now famous Don the Beachcomber and was decorated with items from the South Pacific. Beach developed a cocktail menu that celebrated the many styles of rum he had tasted over the years in elaborate, very secret recipes.

Around that same time, Victor Bergeron transformed his Oakland, California saloon Hinky Dinks into Trader Vic’s after touring the South Seas. At his new tropical-themed bar, Bergeron created rum drinks in the same fashion and with the same prestige as Beach and the two became rivals as well as the pioneers of the tiki culture. Both bars expanded into chains and continue to operate today.

Post World War II, the interest in South Pacific culture blossomed and the tiki boom took off. Soon, tiki bars popped up all over the country, each attempting to outshine one another with lavish tiki decor, mammoth bowls of cocktails, and, of course, tiny umbrellas and lots of rum in every drink.

The tiki craze has slowed a bit in recent decades, though there are still plenty of tiki bars and many more tiki-themed parties to be found.

Tiki cocktails are a ton of fun and just one part of the larger tiki scene. It may be a little more underground than it was in its heyday of the 1940’s and 50’s, yet it’s still alive and well.

Tiki parties remain a popular theme for many and the drinks below are the most popular cocktail for such an occasion. First, however, let us take a look at what goes into a tiki cocktail.

What Is a Tiki Cocktail?

There is no real definition of what makes a drink worthy of the ‘tiki’ category. However, there are some characteristics found in almost every tiki cocktail.

Rum, and lots of it. Most tiki cocktails include at least one rum, though many combine up to three different styles of the sweet liquor.

Stock up on tropical fruits. In true tropical style, tiki drinks include fruit juices and many recipes include more than one. When it’s tiki time, be sure to have a good supply of fruits like pineapple, orange, passion fruit, guava, and coconut.

The flavour is often dominated by fruit and that helps hide the heavy taste of alcohol. This is perfect for drinkers who prefer less alcohol flavour, and yet, that also makes them slightly more dangerous. They end up tasting so good that a person can almost forget how potent they really are.

Layers of flavour. Those first two characteristics are an indication that these drinks are anything but boring or simple. The tiki cocktail will often have four or more ingredients that create a great depth to the drink’s flavour. Tiki drinks are among the most interesting and delicious taste experiences you’ll have.

Spices make an appearance. Though not a requirement in a tiki cocktail, you will find that many have an ingredient that adds just a touch of spice. Pimento dram, spiced rum, and spices like nutmeg can be found in a number of tiki recipes.

Many ways to make one drink. For one reason or another, tiki cocktails are the most likely drink recipes to have multiple variations. Almost every drink on this list has had ingredients added, subtracted, and substituted multiple times over the years. Some barely resemble what we accept as the original recipe.

Why is that? One theory is that the recipes were often kept secret for so long that bartenders began interpreting what may be in them. There is so much going on in these drinks that it can be difficult to pinpoint each ingredient, so they gave it their best guess.

Link – Rum Runner Cocktail

Link – Beachcomber Cocktail

Link – Blue Hawaiian Cocktail

Link – Scorpion Cocktail

Link- Painkiller Cocktail

Link – Bahama Mama Cocktail

Link – Mai Tai Cocktail

Link – Zombie Cocktail

Link – Navy Grog Cocktail

Link – Hurricane Cocktail Recipe

Link – Pina Colada

By Colleen Graham