60°F
weather icon Partly Cloudy

Tiki culture thrives in Las Vegas at Frankie’s, Golden Tiki

Updated August 23, 2017 - 10:50 am

Sit right back and you’ll hear a tale — not of a fateful trip, but of an escape from reality, your own three-hour tour.

It comes by way of tiki culture, which had disappeared from Las Vegas but came roaring back thanks to Frankie’s Tiki Room, which is approaching its ninth anniversary, and The Golden Tiki, which just marked its second.

But while the two spots share a clear appreciation for all things tiki, they’re really about as dissimilar as a toddler and an almost-tween could be.

Frankie’s filled a void that was absolute. Tiki tradition started in Las Vegas in the ’60s with Aku Aku at the Stardust and Don the Beachcomber at the Sahara, but both closed in the ’80s. Taboo Cove, The Venetian’s attempt to revive the genre, lasted only from 2001 to 2005.

small pic description goes here

Frankie’s Tiki Room

Enter P Moss, owner of the Double Down, the venerable Paradise Road dive bar. While Moss said he “wasn’t a fanatic or anything” in regard to tiki culture, he knew a niche when he saw one.

“It’s escapism,” he said. “It’s tropical-looking. It’s not a beach bar, but it’s like you’re on a desert island … without a care in the world.”

small pic description goes here

Frankie’s Tiki Room

Moss snapped up the old Frankie’s bar on Charleston Boulevard near University Medical Center and after extensive renovations, Frankie’s Tiki Room opened in December 2008. Moss hired tiki icon Bamboo Ben — grandson of tikidom founder Eli Hedley, who designed the exterior of Aku Aku and did extensive work at Disneyland — to do the interior, which is covered with bamboo matting, jungle and rainforest artifacts and much, much more.

The Golden Tiki came along in summer 2015. Partners Seth Schorr, Jeff Fine and Joe Cain wanted to do something different with their Little Macau in Chinatown, and Branden Powers went to work.

Powers was a tiki fanatic. He’d long been a fan of exotica music — what Americans hear when they think of island music — which came to be associated with tiki bars. Powers, too, came to be associated with tiki bars, at the Hanalei Hotel in San Diego in the early ’90s.

small pic description goes here

The beach-inspired bar at Golden Tiki. Benjamin Hager Las Vegas Review-Journal

After watching the decline of tiki culture, Powers came to Las Vegas in 2000 to open a bar that didn’t happen, and ended up working as a consultant and at the Hard Rock Hotel. Then the owners of Little Macau came along. And, well, The Golden Tiki isn’t as much a bar as it is a backstory — Disneyland in miniature, or at least the Enchanted Tiki Room writ large.

The story of The Golden Tiki — which is on the back of the menu — is the story of the golden tiki, a holy grail-like object that was the fervent desire and eventual undoing of the fictional Capt. William Tobias Faulkner. Walking into the bar brings you to Flaming Skull Island, with Headhunters Village, Mermaid Cove and on and on.

small pic description goes here

Old-world, tropical decor at Golden Tiki. Benjamin Hager Las Vegas Review-Journal

On a walk-through Powers, never one to let facts get in the way of a good story, recounts the history of each item, such as “the only known taxidermied head of Bigfoot in existence,” a mummified mermaid and, jabbed through a picture of Richard Nixon, a dagger Powers swears once belonged to Hunter S. Thompson. A clamshell-shaped chair is, he asserts, the seventh-most-photographed spot in Las Vegas, not that anybody’s counting (nobody is).

 

 

A post shared by DeeDee Cupcake (@deedee.cupcake) on

 

Easter eggs — those unexpected little surprises — abound. Open a treasure chest attached to the wall and you may find pirate booty in the form of plastic rings and similar items. Open the portholes in the Pirates Room and you’ll see little vignettes, and maybe a photo left by a guest.

“You can come here and touch,” Powers said, and some take that to heart. The walls are adorned with shrunken heads of local celebrities; Carrot Top’s mysteriously disappeared — and just as mysteriously returned.

Drinks lean to tiki classics such as the Scorpion Bowl, and Powers plans to start food service Sept. 1. He said The Golden Tiki sold 15,000 tiki mugs in its first year, and if you want to be sure of getting a table on weekends, reservations are advised.

Frankie’s offers tiki classics, too, but a point of pride is the 24 original drinks on the menu, most of them crafted of house-made ingredients. Moss is so serious about the 60 originals created by his bartenders that he published them in a book, “Liquid Vacation,” which is in its second printing. He also has a line of original tiki mugs, with eight or so available at a given time.

small pic description goes here

Cocktails at Golden Tiki. Benjamin Hager Las Vegas Review-Journal

Moss said the appeal of tiki culture is its universality.

“The orbit of this touches everyone else’s orbit,” he said. “That can be said for bars in general, but not as much as this.”

And the draw extends far beyond American shores. Moss said Frankie’s gets lots of European customers, especially those from Scandinavia, the U.K. and Germany. One of its busiest times, he said, is the Viva Las Vegas rockabilly weekend in the spring.

“Nine in the morning and it’s slammed,” he said, “sometimes out to the street. And half are European.”

While he opened a second Double Down in New York, he has no plans for another Frankie’s.

“It’s not the kind of place where you can franchise it and give the new guy a handbook,” he said. “The drinks are very complicated.”

But he doesn’t see the culture going away anytime soon, and is confident Frankie’s will remain a destination for tiki fans from all over the world.

“Tiki bars in general have really caught fire in the last few years,” he said. “That, and it’s in Las Vegas.”

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Smith & Wollensky opens at The Venetian
After 18 years, the Smith & Wollensky location on Las Vegas’ south Strip closed in 2017, to be re-born two years later with a rib-cutting — instead of a ribbon-cutting — in The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
Colin Cantwell, Creator Of Iconic Star Wars Ships Visits Vegas
Colin Cantwell, who created and designed such "Star Wars" ships as the X-Wing fighter, and Death Star, met fans at Rogue Toys in Las Vegas today. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Beauty & Essex in Las Vegas makes an EDC Wonder Wheel
In honor of the Electric Daisy Carnival, Beauty & Essex at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas makes its Wonder Wheel party-worthy. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Giada talks Vegas Uncork’d
Giada De Laurentiis talks during Aperitivo Hour, a Vegas Uncork'd event, at her Caesars Palace restaurant, Pronto, May 10, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Scenes from Vegas Uncork’d 2019 on the Las Vegas Strip
The 13th edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit brought four days of food, wine, celebrity chefs and parties to town, May 9-12. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Three ingredients Gordon Ramsay can’t live without
Bon Appetit's Andy Baraghani interviews the "Hell's Kitchen" chef during a Vegas Uncork'd event at Caesars Palace, May 11, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas Uncork’d launches wiith bubbles and a blade
Dozens of chefs representing some of the Strip’s top restaurants gathered Thursday at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to launch the 2019 edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bunky the Clown at the clown convention
Bob "Bunky the Clown" Gretton talks about his life as a clown and the Clown Convention which was in Las Vegas at Texas Station this week. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Frying soft-shell crab at Lola’s in Las Vegas
At Lola’s: A Louisiana Kitchen in Las Vegas, soft-shell crab is breaded and fried and served either as an appetizer, po’boy or platter. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
The Stove in Henderson makes Pecan Pie Pancakes
At The Stove in Henderson, chef/partner Antonio Nunez stacks buttermilk pancakes with pecans and dulce de leche and tops them pie crust crumbs. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vinnie Paul remembered at Count's Vamp'd
The late rocker's favorite table at one of his favorite clubs in Las Vegas. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
4DX movie experience at Red Rock
4DX movie experience during a demo reel at Red Rock. (Christopher Lawrence/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
What To Do On May The 4th
There are plenty of events going on May the 4th this year around Las Vegas. Celebrate Star Wars and Comic Book Day all at once. The Rogue Toys, the 501st, Rebel Legion and Millennium Fandom Bar are all hosting fun events to help celebrate your geek-dom. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Water Sports Introduces New Attraction At Lake Las Vegas
Las Vegas Water Sports will debut its new aqua park attraction at Lake Las Vegas Days this weekend. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Making the Space Invader at Greene St. Kitchen in Las Vegas
Lysa Huerta, pastry cook at Greene St. Kitchen at the Palms in Las Vegas, starts with angel food cake, Fruity Pebbles ice cream and strawberry sorbet to create a space creature engulfed in flashing lights and swirling mists. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Pools
The M, Park MGM and NoMad are just a few great pools in Las Vegas. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jose Andres explains Iberico pork
(Al Mancini/Las Vega Review-Journal)
Inside Life is Beautiful
Craig Asher Nyman explains how Life is Beautiful festival is booked and talks about this year's line-up. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America Pops Up In Vegas
Tattoo'd America, a new pop-up attraction on the Linq Promenade, had their grand opening Friday. The attraction is dedicate to the culture of tattoos. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Jose Andres gets key to the Strip
Chef Jose Andres was presented with a Key to the Las Vegas Strip and a proclamation declaring April 26 Jose Andres Day in Clark County by County Commissioner Tick Segerblom on Friday. The ceremony took place at his restaurant Bazaar Meat in the SLS Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sadelle’s in Las Vegas makes a grilled cheese with an inverted bagel
Michael Vargas, executive sous chef at Sadelle’s at Bellagio in Las Vegas, inverts an everything bagel and grills it with Swiss, cheddar and Muenster cheeses to make the Inverted Bagel Grilled Cheese. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures
Kassandra Lopez at Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Prime rib is carved tableside at Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Las Vegas
Dave Simmons, executive chef of Lawry’s The Prime in Las Vegas, which plans special cuts for National Prime Rib Day, demonstrates the restaurant’s service from rolling tableside carving carts. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making gluten-free pizza at Good Pie in Las Vegas
Good Pie owner/pizzaiola Vincent Rotolo makes his gluten-free pizza.
Rockabilly fans enjoy Las Vegas weather poolside
Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender runs Thursday, April 18th through Sunday, April 21st with a huge car show on Saturday featuring The Reverend Horton Heat, The Delta Bombers and The Coasters. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brownie sundae at VegeNation in Las Vegas is completely vegan
Donald Lemperle, chef/owner of VegeNation in Las Vegas and nearby Henderson, NV, makes his sundae with ice cream made with coconut and almond milks, a brownie made with coconut flour and oil and organic sugar and cacao, and fresh fruit. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Taste of the Town: Henderson Booze District
Those who like to support local businesses and sample local products will find the best concentration in an unlikely spot: a Henderson industrial park.
Founder of Las Vegas theater talks about a favorite play
Ann Marie Pereth, founder of A Public Fit Theatre Company, speaks to the Review-Journal about which play she would see every day if only given one option. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
How to make authentic Foynes Irish Coffee

The bartenders at Ri Ra will gladly share the tale when preparing their Signature Foynes Irish Coffee with Ri Ra’s custom-blend coffee and Irish-style whipped cream.