Illustration by Isadora Pennington
Illustration by Isadora Pennington

By Isadora Pennington

You can almost hear the sound of waves crashing outside, and for a brief, glorious moment, the stifling city heat feels like it could be the balmy air of a South Pacific jungle. Beachy tunes play faintly in the background, and you kick back, sipping a cool, boozy beverage out of a funky tiki mug, thanking your lucky stars for a few days of respite from day-to-day life. But this is not your vacation, you’re still in Atlanta, and that heat isn’t going to be matched by a glistening blue ocean just outside the cabana door. This, my friends, is the power of the tiki bar.

Tiki culture has a long and interesting history in mid-century America, mostly arising due to the food industry. Don the Beachcomber’s in Hollywood is considered to be the original tiki bar that inspired the trend of Polynesian eateries and bars across the country. Don is also considered to have singlehandedly invented the tropical drink genre. Quickly, the trend caught on and spread. His rival, Victor Bergeron, would go on to found Trader Vic’s and is credited with creating a variety of “Polynesian” dishes and drinks, such as Crab Rangoon and Mai Tai.

This passion for Polynesian style, meals, drinks, and music can be traced all the way back to World War II, in which American servicemen returned from the South Pacific with stories and souvenirs. Affordable travel also enticed many middle class families to visit, and American families fell in love with a romanticized idea of South Pacific culture.

So, if you can’t get to the beach this summer, I stopped in at some of my favorite tiki spots and photographed the experience. If you need a little staycation, step inside one of these fun spots and get carried away.

Trader Vic’s
(404) 221-6339
255 Courtland St NE, Atlanta, 30303
Cosmo Tidbits – “Trader” Vic Bergeron’s original PuPu platter with crispy prawns, crab rangoon, pork belly, and BBQ ribs for two, $19.25. Mai Tai – The original and most famous rum drink, $9.

The S.O.S. Tiki Bar
(404) 377-9308
340 Church St, Decatur, 30030
Pineapple guacamole with malanga chips, $8. Ghost Face Kula – Rum, gin, falernum, apricot brandy, orgeat, lime, orange juice, $10

Tiki Tuesdays at The Bookhouse Pub
(404) 254-1176
736 Ponce De Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, 30306
Spicy Bleu Cheese Chips – Homemade potato chips, bleu cheese, tomatoes, bacon, cilantro, chipotle sauce, $8. Vodka Punch – A refreshing alternative to rum drinks, $9.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.