There are tiki bars that you have to visit because they are the classics - leftovers from Tiki's Golden Era or resurrections a tiki original. Think Mai Kai in Ft Lauderdale, Tonga Hut in North Hollywood, Bali Hai in San Diego, as examples.
Then there are the tiki bars you have to see because of the amazing decor - the Hale Kahiki in Chicago and the False Idol in San Diego are just a couple that come to mind.
And there are the tiki bars you have to visit because of the bartending greats and the amazing drinks they serve up - think Kevin Beary and Three Dots & a Dash in Chicago, any of Martin Cate’s bars including Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and his Lattitude 29 in New Orleans, and so on.
But tiki bars are not just about the sights, sounds and tastes of tiki. A truly great tiki bar makes you feel the tiki vibe, like you are part of something. It's the ohana spirit that comes straight from the islands and, frankly, what makes the tiki culture unlike any other. The community. And when you find a tiki bar that has an amazing decor, incredible drinks with roots in - or deep inspiration from - tiki history, AND it makes you feel like you are a part of the ohana from the moment you walk in, then that is a pretty damn special tiki bar. After all, what good is an escape if you aren't sharing it with anyone? That’d be more like solitary confinement rather than paradise!
And that is what Forbidden Island in Alameda, CA is - a perfect, incredible mix of decor, drinks, food, music and true ohana spirit, that envelop you from the moment you step through its doors. The ohana feel is what makes Forbidden Island such a special place and why people write songs about it.
Forbidden Island is newer than the classic tiki bars, but it pulls from the rich history of tiki in Oakland and the greater Bay area. The decor is not as old or as written about as the Mai Kai and other vintage tiki bars, but Forbidden Island is a Bamboo Ben designed work of art, featuring the appropriate flotsam and jetsam of sights and sounds to set a truly classic tiki scene.
It doesn't feature pop star owners or bartenders (“Our customers are our publicists” noted Michael Thanos, Forbidden Island’s founder and creator), but they serve up amazing drinks - from classic tiki, to specialty and seasonal tiki-style cocktails.
While they hit on all points for me in all these areas, it is in the ohana spirit Forbidden Island has cultivated and maintains that is just off the charts. The place was very busy on a Wednesday night - the night after Halloween. It should have been dead as everyone had been out partying and/or trick or treating for the past few days. But it wasn’t. The regulars needed their fix and they there in droves. Just judging by the interactions with each other and the staff it was easy to see this was a family thing for most there that night.
Check out more Forbidden Island pics on the Tiki Trail Gallery
Make sure to visit Forbidden Island in person at:
1304 Lincoln Ave, Alameda, CA 94501
or online at:
or on their Facebook page