Be gentle with your liver and treat those menu skulls with respect.
Las Vegas’s love affair with tiki bars has seen ebbs and flows over the years, the city’s inventory of tiki drinking spots eventually settling on zero around 2005. Iconic spots like the Stardust’s Aku Aku couldn’t translate enduring fame into long-term viability, eventually cratering the concept in Las Vegas for a period of time. Luckily, Frankie’s Tiki Room is part of a renaissance of sorts, the first tiki spot back on the scene post-2005 and now one of a handful of similarly-themed spots in Las Vegas.
Owner P Moss purchased what was once Frankie’s Bar & Cocktail Lounge, a dive bar in its own right that dated back to the 1950s. Moss’ dive bar and tiki credentials are sterling thanks to sister bar Double Down Saloon, a Las Vegas dive bar so potent that it spawned a cross-country extension outpost in New York City. After seeing little traction within the tiki community to build the carvings and concept needed for the space, Moss enlisted Bamboo Ben Bassham as partner in 2008’s opening of Frankie’s Tiki Room.
Just as Moss’ dive bar credentials are strong, Bassham’s tiki credibility is absolute thanks to his extensive work in the community and direct lineage to tiki bar royalty in grandfather Eli Hedley. Among the most famous tiki bars to ever exist is Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room and Hedley designed both it and the previously mentioned Aku Aku, the pedigree transferred to Bassham and applied directly to Frankie’s Tiki Room. The entire space was remodeled, leaving little more than the structure itself and the name Frankie above the door before a complete retrofit sweeping sculptures, carvings, tiki lights and more into Frankie’s.
In very dive bar-friendly fashion, the white, simple Frankie’s Tiki Room exterior sits in stark contrast to the rich environment within. The name of the bar is inscribed in red neon atop a green lettered background, a swooping half-moon of an entrance lined with small, colorful hints of artwork. Almost hidden is the grotto-like scene housed underneath the bar’s entrance, black painted rock servings as a backdrop to a pair of tiki carvings and intricate mural work that runs along the inside of the curved surface. Lettering on the entrance reads “Kahi Malunia Loa I Ka Honua” or “The Greatest Peace in the World” in Hawaiian, which may be the best possible description of a Las Vegas dive bar.
The light inside is dim but colorful, emanating from what feels like dozens of lamps in various shapes, colors and sizes dotted throughout the Frankie’s Tiki Room space. Every surface here is adorned with some kind of decoration, creating a dense, dazzling atmosphere well suited to drinking numerous, potent drinks. The Las Vegas dive bar serves classic tiki bar standards like the Mai Tai and Navy Grog of course, but a handful of original selections, such as the Tangerine Speedo, offer potential for exploration. Handily, a skull-based system can be found along the bar’s drink menu, the more skulls beneath the description of the drink, the more potent the concoction. Frankie’s Tiki Room even released a book, Liquid Vacation, cataloging many of the bar’s recipes.
Drinks come in cups, it turns out, and at Frankie’s Tiki Room each piece is naturally a piece of tiki-style art, many of the mugs available as an upcharge on a drink purchase. So renowned is Frankie’s Tiki Room that the mugs serve as sought-after collector’s items when they are discontinued in favor of new designs. The Frankie’s Tiki Room web site devotes a page to retired mugs, running through the design and bit of backstory for dozens of previous mug incarnations.
Frankie’s Tiki Room does come with a few caveats. Every drink runs the same price ($14 on this reviewer’s most recent visit), enabling free experimentation in making a selection. The Las Vegas dive bar is open 24/7 and purports to be the only continuously-open tiki bar in the world. These are great amenities of course but they come with a cloud of smoke, literally, as smoking is still allowed within Frankie’s Tiki Room though pipes and vapes are both banned. For those sensitive to smoke, decades of smoke absorption despite frequent refreshes makes the permeating smell unavoidable.
But those caveats aside, Frankie’s Tiki Room is a perfect blend of tiki culture and the free-wheeling nature of an off-Strip dive bar. There are gaming machines and cigarette smokers and the occasional party bus of tourists to contend with, but few environments rival Frankie’s Tiki Room even in a city filled to the brim with attention-yearning bars and lounges.