Alexia Gonzalez · Aug 29, 2019 · 5 min read
What’s not to love about a place that is steeped in nostalgia, fun vibes and eccentric décor? A motif that recalls childhood memories or joyous times is always beloved. This seems to be the reason why certain aspects of our cultural canon are cyclical – history inevitably repeats itself and those truly special moments in time will always seem to make their way back.
Cut to paper umbrellas in frozen cocktails and wooden-skull mugs, thatched rooftops, bamboo décor and powerful rum-based libations, the nostalgic tiki-trope has been serving up tropical escapism at its finest and most lavish for decades.
Aside from a vibrant and festive environment, the modern tiki movement is anything but kitsch. The tropical trope has elevated its approach, with an almost elegant nod to camp aesthetics and roots deeply steeped in the core of it all – strong drinks.
Savvy mixologists have taken beloved favorites and turned them on their head, utilizing fresh ingredients like ghost peppers or CBD, along with intricate techniques to create a complex layering of spirits and flavors. From Mai Tai’s to mezcal, take a deep dive into all things tiki at one of these new-age players making waves on the St. Petersburg foodie and drink scene.
265 Central Ave
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Saigon Blonde Website
Walking into Saigon Blonde feels like you’ve immediately turned the corner from downtown St. Petersburg’s bustling Central Avenue into the middle of a post-war era bar tucked away somewhere on the Pacific Rim. The mysterious entry-way provides no indication of the interior’s eclectic atmosphere. From detailed murals and tiki props, there’s even a hanging crocodile on the ceiling, a shark-bitten surfboard and an antique Pachinko machine – no corner is left without quirky detail. The unique décor complements a diverse menu of inventive libations, such as the Ring of Fire, made with the Street Pumas blended scotch, Rhum Clément Créole Shrubb, Joto Junmai Nigori sake, simple syrup, bitters, "hellfire water" and Korean chili garnish. For those with a more mellow palate, try the Hemp Day, and earthy concoction made using Banyan Reserve vodka, Mezcal tequila, jalapeño, lime, mango kush beer, and CBD, topped with an edible garnish leaf on top of your drink. If you’re ready to be transported to an island far away, make sure to check out Saigon Blonde.
2500 5th Ave N
St. Petersburg, FL 33713
Bula Kafe Website
Said to translate to “long life and good health" in Fijian, “Bula” is the cheer typically exclaimed before imbibing a shell of Kava with a group of friends. Hailed as St. Pete’s first Kava Bar, Bula Kafe features an upscale selection of kava, coffees and botanical teas and evokes a sense of tiki with Polynesian décor, wooden-decor, tiki mugs and kava served in a half coconut shell. Kava is an ancient plant derived from the South Pacific Islands, made from the root of Piper methysticum, with a name that literally means “intoxicating pepper.” Used for centuries as a communal drink by tribes for its calming and anxiety-soothing effects, kava offers an alternative to alcohol and the conventional bar scene. Those visiting Bula Kafe can expect an alcohol-free environment where they can wind down and socialize, while enjoying mood-enhancing libations. Try the Everyday 50/50 Mind & Body kava brew to feel a sense of relaxation and soothed tension. Hesitant to try kava? Bula also offers an amazing array of coffees, teas, herbal infusions and kombuchas – but don’t be afraid to pick-up the shell – your first kava is on the house! Go Zen out at Bula Kafe.
2060 Central Ave
St. Petersburg, FL 33712
Trophy Fish Website
Although Trophy Fish exudes a bit more of a laid-back “bait shop chic” than tiki per say, the beachside vibe is totally undeniable. Guests enter the open-air space and are welcomed by tiki-torches, tables with beach umbrellas, whimsical wooden signs and crushed oysters providing that shoreline look. The center bar is the jewel of the space, with rustic décor surrounding a full-array of liquor, wine and lots of local brews. Skilled mixologists craft nautical libations, each inspired by a different experience at sea. For starters, try out the Passerelle, which as described on the menu, “is known as the welcome platform to the ship, this effervescent & light sipper will prepare you for a relaxing day at sea with Bobby’s Gin, lemongrass, honeydew, lemon sparkling wine.” For a more tiki-feel, grab your partner in crime and order the If You Like Piña Colada, which is served in an entire pineapple hull and features Appleton Reserve Rum, tangerine, vanilla sea salt coconut cream, caramelized pineapple and garam masala.
To absorb a bit of the tonic, head over to the back of the space and order from the boat house for some of the freshest seafood in town. Try the blackened grouper tacos, smoked local fish spread or grouper nuggets, but definitely don’t skimp on the key lime pie.
937 Central Ave
St. Petersburg, FL 33705
No Vacancy Website
Probably the most millennial take on tiki yet, No Vacancy has set the bar for Florida vintage nostalgia and has taken the cake for a one-of-a-kind aesthetic. Get ready to check-in and enjoy a colorful cocktail or tasty bite. Whether entering through the interior or outdoor courtyard, there is no shortage of technicolor décor and pops of neon pink flamingos, with vintage postcards and motel key rings lining the walls. The outdoor bar is a repurposed shipping crate which looks over a vintage motel-like courtyard, with old-school folding metal chairs, plastic wicker and even more neon pink flamingos. Get ready to “check-in” and sip on a frozen Pain Killer or a shareable fishbowl Mai Tai or fill up with Alligator Alley Bites, the indulgent Skinny Dip lobster nachos, or the juicy Sunshine City Burger. And don't forget the Crabby Patties.
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PLEASE NOTE: Reviews reflect a certain moment in time. Some restaurants stay extremely consistent over many years, and some change for the better or worse. Some things that may change are: chefs, recipes, food suppliers, ingredients, philosophies. We always hope that you have the same good, or great experience we had.