Tiki Bars of the World: Portland TIki
Tiki bars are nothing new to Portland. This city has a long history of Mai Tais with many different versions being thrown around including the one at El Gaucho steakhouse toasting the Trader Vic’s that use to stand in the same location. With a mix of holdouts from the 1950s Polynesian craze and the reintroduction of tiki culture to the scene, Portland is the perfect place to hideaway under the thatch and get away from it all in a tropical paradise.
History of Portland Tiki
The peak of Portland tiki culture really took off during the early 50s. Across from the Lloyd Center, the Sheraton Portland (now the DoubleTree Hotel) offered the upscale Kon-Tiki restaurant and bar that was named for the raft of South Pacific lore. The Benson Hotel featured flaming tiki torches with an impressive thatched entry way to Portland’s first Trader Vic’s. The beautifully detailed brick specially made only for Trader Vic’s can still be seen on the outside.
Another hotel, the Heathman featured an enormous painted mural of King Kamehameha on Waikiki Beach, with Diamond Head looming in the background at their Hawaiian-themed, Aloha Room. As time went by, tiki culture became passé. Most tiki establishments in Portland sadly came to an end. Other establishments, like The Chinese restaurant Jasmine Tree picked up some of the tikis, clam shell bowls, and other décor from the now debunked tiki bars that were later passed on to Thatch tiki bar and then Hale Pele when the others closed. In good old Portland fashion, even when it comes to tiki, this is a city that knows how to reuse and recycle.
Along with the giant neon sign of the Palms motel across the street, The Alibi is a rare survivor of Portland tiki’s golden era. For over 60 years, The Alibi has had the best business sign in Portland. Multi-colored fishing float lanterns hang around the outside of the building, only giving you a hint at the kitch décor waiting for you inside.
Inside, the original, authentic, tropical décor may be aged, but it’s still as perfect as it was in its heyday. A 3-D hula girl mural that glows under black light, tiki statues, Witco accents, and lanterns made from real shells come together to create a tiki bar that has been loved by many through the years. If you aren’t into drinks that are overly sweet tropical drinks of the 80s and the late night karaoke in the back room, sit up front for the best seats in the house. Instead, enjoy watching the tropical fish tank complete with an Easter Island head and get the bartender to make you something a little more classic.
The Alibi can be found at 4024 N. Interstate Ave.
Trader Vic’s Portland
Trader Vic’s is a welcome return to the Portland Tiki scene. Fully palm-thatched ceilings, tapa (bark cloth) walls, floor to ceiling tikis, and fishing floats and baskets hanging from the ceiling make for a fun yet refined tropical elegance. It’s the perfect blend of vintage meets modern. Order an assortment of their tidbits and pupus (appetizers) focusing on Polynesian Cuisine or an entree from their famous Chinese wood-fired oven to pair with one of their many tropical cocktails
Their themed ceramic mugs, bowls, and retro glassware accompany the drinks on their rather large cocktail menu seamlessly. Trader Vic’s bartending philosophy is to measure each ingredient exactly for every drink to taste exactly as the Trader originally crafted. You are going to want to order a drink or two, but watch out because they do have a big punch. On any given winter’s day in Portland, Trader Vic’s is a perfect escape from the rain.
Trader Vic’s Portland can be found at 1203 NW Glisan St.
Walking through Hale Pele’s doorway, you will cross a footbridge over a trickling pond, then settle into one of the cozy tables underneath walls and ceilings covered in custom art work by some of tiki’s best artists. As the sound of thunder booms out and rain flows from above the pools that separate this little oasis from the busy concrete jungle outside, you immediately know that Hale Pele hasn’t spared any attention to detail.
Different colored pufferfish hanging from the ceiling, savage cannibal tikis, volcano sounds, and decor from tiki bars past- Thatch, Jasmine Tree, Kon Tiki, and the original Trader Vic’s of Portland surround you as you discover tropical drinks and island-inspired pupus. Each time you go back, you will discover a new kitch detail you didn’t notice the visit before.
Hale Pele is a serviceable homage to the works of Donn Beach and Victor Bergeron and a celebration of tropical cocktails from legendary tiki bars of times past. Their menu takes drinkers through over 40 tropical drinks made of fresh squeezed juices, premium spirits, and locally made B.G.Reynolds’ Hand-Crafted Syrups. With such an outstanding food and drink menu, like that at Hale Pele, this is the tiki bar you don’t want to miss while visiting Portland, Oregon.
Hale Pele can be found at 2733 N.E. Broadway
Have you ever visited any of the tiki bars of Portland?
All photography by Kimmy Hayes © 2014.