San Francisco’s Trad’r Sam is by all accounts the oldest continuously operating tiki bar in the United States, but even that lofty praise doesn’t quite do justice to one of the city’s best dive bars. Opened by Sam Baylon in 1937, Trad’r Sam actually predates the “tiki bar” concept as we know it, instead functioning at what was then called a bamboo bar, a concept reflecting more generally a tropical aesthetic. At that time, bartenders donned classic safari-style costumes complete with trademark beige hats and strings of bananas hung above the bar.
While the uniforms are gone and the bananas long consumed, little else has changed in this Outer Richmond dive bar. Bamboo island names serve as mini gateways to small drinking snugs inside and the décor is of course laden with tiki statues and glasses. The epic neon that sits above the front door is the subject of a fundraising effort to ensure its restoration.
But to be clear, the vibe here is less a pure tiki bar and more a local dive bar that happens to have a tiki theme. The curved bar serves a series of locals and regulars drawn to their neighborhood dive more so than the historic tiki roots of Trad’r Sam. Nevertheless, the menu of course features tiki favorites, some of them available in bowl form, including the popular Scorpion Bowl that looks like a prime hangover delivery system.