Tampa Bay Times: Six Amazing, Unconventional Tiki Bars

“Tiki bars come in all shapes, sizes and spirits.

Let’s get one thing straight: Beach bars and tiki bars aren’t necessarily the same thing.

A bar can have “tiki” in the name (or “island” or “jungle” or “bamboo”), or it can be stuffed with nautical decor and sweet, fruity rum drinks. But the careful combination of kitschy nostalgia and killer cocktail prep — not every beach bar in Florida can pull that off.

Truth is, a proper tiki bar doesn't have to be anywhere near a beach. Look no further than Sarasota's storied Bahi Hut, which sits off U.S. 41. Or Fort Lauderdale's vaunted Mai-Kai, or San Francisco's Smuggler's Cove, or Portland's Hale Pele, or even Minnesota's Lucky Cricket, an Andrew Zimmern restaurant whose cocktail menu was developed by Tampa mixologist Dean Hurst.

A good tiki bar evokes a sense of whimsy and wonderment as you’re downing Mai Tais and Pain Killers. It should make you feel like you’re waiting out a storm in an exotic port stripped of time and place — grateful for the shelter, but also just a little dark and devious.

The Tampa Bay area doesn’t really have its own version of Trader Vic’s, a single tiki bar that checks all the boxes on a South Seas scoresheet. The city of Tampa, in particular, is lacking in the tiki department — although the Pink Pineapple, which has been staging pop-up events in advance of a forthcoming bar in Seminole Heights, might remedy that later this summer.

Then again, tiki bars come in all shapes, sizes and spirits. Some of them do, in fact, double as laid-back beach bars. Others sneak up and surprise you in sleek restaurants and trendy drinking districts.

Here are six of Tampa Bay's best and most unconventional spins on the traditional tiki bar.

Saigon Blonde

Saigon Blonde is a high-concept bar with a Vietnam War-era theme, design details and exotic cocktails.

The exotic vibes are strong in this upscale Central Avenue hideaway, presenting its South Pacific imagery through an ominous Kong: Skull Island filter. You might hear Vietnam-era funk or rock as you sip exquisite, aromatic cocktails from a heavy tumbler, such as the Charlie Don’t Surf, made with cachaca and a caramelized banana.

Address: 265 Central Ave., St. Petersburg

Phone: (727) 827-7577”