Trader Vic’s founder and namesake, Victor Bergeron, with tiki masks in his famed San Francisco restaurant in 1961.
As is the way with many nostalgic pieces of popular culture, the over-the-top style of tiki has been revived as escapist fun. As with most other bars, escape can be found in alcohol. But walking into one of the new tiki bars — or a classic tiki restaurant like Trader Vic’s, which ignited the Bay Area tiki craze in 1934, or the Tonga Room, which originally opened in 1945 with a cruise ship theme, the ambiance is the escape.
Tiki bars are designed to transport the visitor to some platonic ideal of paradise — complete with little paper drink umbrellas, of course. It’s not just about throwing tropical bric-a-brac onto the wall — tiki decor is serious business.