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Palm Springs Coolest Tiki Lounges

bootleger tiki

Tiki culture began in the United States in the 1930s, inspired by Polynesian themes and driven by a fascination with the South Pacific. The movement gained momentum after World War II when soldiers returned from the Pacific, bringing back stories and artifacts. The first Tiki bar, Don the Beachcomber, opened in Los Angeles in 1934 by Don Beach.

The enigmatic figure Donn Beach was born Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt in 1907 in New Orleans, Louisiana. As a young man, he developed a passion for travel, adventure, and the exotic. In the 1920s, Gantt embarked on a globetrotting journey, visiting various tropical destinations and immersing himself in their cultures. During this period, he adopted the moniker “Donn Beach” as a nod to his beachcombing lifestyle and his love for the sea.

Don Beach

The Polynesian-themed bar and restaurant in Hollywood soon became a hotspot for all the major stars. However, the Tiki trend didn’t become popular until after World War II, when young men returning from the Pacific wanted a taste of what they had experienced. Their taste for the tropical quickly spread to the rest of the nation.

By the end of the 1940s,  the Tiki scene had become the getaway for celebrities and urbanites, who brought the Tiki trend with them. One of Donn Beach’s most significant contributions to tiki culture was his innovative approach to mixology. He created elaborate and secret cocktail recipes featuring exotic ingredients, rum, and intricate garnishes. His cocktails, such as the Zombie and the Mai Tai, became legendary and remain staples in tiki bars to this day.

Don the Beachcomber was the first to incorporate these exotic concoctions into its menu, creating a unique and immersive drinking experience. During the tumultuous mid-20th century, patrons flocked to the bar for the drinks and the escapism it offered.

Bootleger Tiki Palm-Springs ad

Don the Beachcomber of Palm Springs

In 1953, Don the Beachcomber opened in Palm Springs. Sunny Sund, Don’s ex-wife, owned it. Lucile Ball and Desi Arnaz dined with Mayor Frank Bogert. Frank Sinatra was at Jimmy Van Huesen’s party at the Queen’s table, where Sunny dined. Other movie names included Eddie Cantor (hits include Makin’ Whoopee), Tom Irish (actor known for Father of the Bride), and Tab Hunter. Sam Goldwyn was with Claudette Colbert, among others.

Sinatra gave a dinner party in 1954. The party included Susan Zanuck (Darryl Zanuck’s daughter), Judy Garland, and her husband, Sid Luft. Alice Faye and Jack Warner were also frequent guests. Marilyn Monroe was a guest in December of 1954, dining with her photographer, Milton Green. George Montgomery and Dinah Shore joined music publisher Sammy Cahn for dinner. Jack Benny hosted a dinner with Lily Pons. Ray Ryan came with Academy Award Winner William Holden. George Burns and Gracie Allen hosted a small dinner party that included Jack Benny.

Clark Gable dined at the Queen’s table with his new wife, Kay Spreckels, in 1955.

Bootlegger Tiki

Today, Bootlegger Tiki is in the same location as Don the Beachcomber (1101 N. Palm Canyon Drive). This Palm Springs tiki bar retains a Polynesian theme with delightful blowfish light fixtures, thatched palm walls, and an outdoor patio offering mountain views. While it’s not a speakesy, the side street entrance is a bit hidden. The interior is an intimate space with a few booths and chairs along the bar. There’s no bad cocktail on the menu, and it does change. You can still order the Donnbeach 1934 Zombie with gold rum, dark rum, Hamilton 151, lime, grapefruit, Falernum, grenadine, cinnamon, and Herbastura bitter.

Bootlegger Tiki

The adjacent Ernest Coffee Co., was named after Don’s real name, Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt.

Toucan’s Tiki Lounge

Toucan’s Tiki Lounge is known for its vibrand nightlife, located in north Palm Springs. You’ll be greeted by an array of Tiki masks, bamboo accents, and Polynesian-inspired art, all contributing to a playful and immersive environment. The lounge is designed to evoke the carefree spirit of a tropical getaway, making it an ideal spot to unwind and have fun. It has become a favorite spot for bachelorett parties.

Toucan’s offers a range of entertainment. The Palm Springs Tiki lounge has some of the best drag shows and feature talent with high-enery performances. The lounge hosts various themed nights throughout the week, including Latin Nights and karaoke.

Toucans Bar

Tonga Hut

In 1958, the original Tonga Hut opened in Los Angeles. It is now the oldest Tiki bar in the city. Opening its second location in Palm Springs, the Tonga Hut is fashioned after the original. The furniture is simple and casual. Black velvet paintings overlook curved booths. There is a communal space where benches flank an inglenook-style chimney fireplace. The lighting is dim, as it should be. Explore the secret Tonga Room, hidden inside a telephone booth!

Prepare to be delighted by the variety of Tiki classics at Tonga Hut. The Mai Tai and 1934 Zombie are just the beginning. Another drink, a tribute to Don the Beachcomber, is the Pi Yi (pronounced Pie Aye), served with two kinds of rum and pineapple juice. And for those seeking a potent blend, the Navy Grog, with its mix of 3 rums, citrus, honey, and a twist, is a must-try.

Tonga Hut offers a large appetizer menu. Their famous Pu Pu Platter includes coconut shrimp, potstickers, eggrolls, Chinese pork ribs, and beef or chicken skewers. Other classics include pineapple fried rice, fish and chips, and Loco Moco, a beef or spam patty served over steamed rice with gravy and a sunny-side-up egg.

interior Tonga Hut

The Reef

Located in the historic Caliente Tropics Resort, The Reef offers a quintessential Tiki experience with a poolside setting.

Caliente Tropics originally opened as Tropics Motor Hotels, punctuated with a tropical theme and tikis of various sizes. They leased the hotel’s food and beverage to Sambo’s, which would include a higher-end restaurant and cocktail lounge in some of the properties. Palm Springs was lucky enough to be one of them. They opened the Conga Room Steakhouse with a view towards the pool. It was later changed to The Reef Bar and is now the location of The Reef.

The decor is colorful and features tiki statues and bamboo accents. The poolside location adds to the tropical vacation vibe. They have an extensive cocktail menu, including some mocktails. The Painkiller is a creamy, rich blend of rum, cream of coconut, pineapple juice, and orange juice, topped with a sprinkle of nutmeg.

The food menu includes salads, burgers, sandwiches, and Hawaiian-themed entrees like coconut shrimp, Kalua pork sliders, and Loco Moco.

The Reef

Palm Springs Tiki lounges offer a captivating escape into a world of tropical fantasy, vibrant culture, and unforgettable flavors. Whether you’re soaking in the rich history and craftsmanship of classic Tiki bars or enjoying the lively entertainment and inclusive spirit of modern Tiki lounges, these unique establishments provide a refreshing oasis from the everyday. So, don your favorite Hawaiian outfit, savor a meticulously crafted cocktail, and let the magic of Tiki transport you to a world where the sun always shines, and the spirit of Aloha is ever-present. Cheers to the Tiki life!

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