There was a time when the phrase ‘tiki bar’ meant little to the American public, the escapism of the concept not yet introduced to the masses. Phoenix’s Bikini Lounge is one of the first dive bars to do just that, constructing a literal oasis in a young city, opening in 1947 on what was then the outskirts of Phoenix. Over the years, the use of tiki at Bikini Lounge has meant decorations more than authentic drink selections, but those days have changed and Bikini Lounge has embraced its tiki past in just about every aspect of its operation.
Visually, wood slats along the roof and weathered wood paneling along the exterior wall do a pretty remarkable job of conjuring up the classic grass hut tiki look in a permanent structure. And this is a dive bar after all, so there are no windows, making for the perfect dim atmosphere to let the glassware, statues, paintings and decorations throughout Bikini Lounge command attention. Owners have changed over the years, most recently transferring to current owner Matt Tomb, but staff has been retained through each shift, creating a friendly, welcoming vibe inside.
The most interesting feature may be the hula girl painting behind the bar, rumored to be a painting of the wife of the bar’s original owner given the body of the owner’s mistress. Over the years, the painting has been modified and reverted to its original form a time or two, embedding in the painting a bit of the history of the bar itself. No matter the truth to the lore, the painting adds to the committed tiki vibe inside this cash only gem that makes a case for one of the oldest tiki bars in the world.