I can clearly remember the first time I went to the Golden Tiki on Spring Mountain Road in Chinatown because my iPhone calendar notice went off while I was sitting at the bar, letting me know that it was Martin Cate’s birthday. Martin is the founder and proprietor of one of the best tiki bars in the world, Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, so it was rather uncanny that I happened to be where I was on that particular day. I ended up texting my old friend a birthday message with a photo of my cocktail, letting him know that I was celebrating the date appropriately. Once he realized where I was, he wrote back: “Did you know they don’t even have a lock on the door at the Golden Tiki? They’ve never been closed even for a minute.”
That was the moment that Las Vegas’s 24/7 drinking culture really hit home for me. You’ve got this legendary tiki bar, with delicious, yet inexpensive drinks, gambling at the counter, live music on the stage, surf movies playing non-stop on the televisions, and it never closes. You can walk in at 3 PM on a Friday and easily find a seat, order yourself one of many happy hour bargains, and leisurely enjoy yourself, ordering food from the kitchen if you feel like a snack. Contrast this experience with what I generally experience from other great bars across the country: a long wait, difficulty finding a chair, and a $100 tab by the time I’m finally done.
Given the current tiki renaissance and the new-found enthusiasm for rum among spirited enthusiasts, you would assume the Golden Tiki would be overrun with middle-aged men wearing Hawaiian shirts, asking for rare editions of aged Guyanese pot still expressions, but that’s never been the case in my experience. If the Golden Tiki gets packed, it’s because there’s a wicked cover band occupying the stage, pumping out new wave hits to rowdy crowd of young drinkers looking to have a good time. Few bars in Las Vegas capture the essence of drinking as well as this little oasis: it’s about fun, first and foremost.
That fun never comes at the expense of quality or customer service, however, especially with folks like Ronnie behind the bar. The staff at the Golden Tiki has never been anything short of exceptional during my visits: friendly, talkative, interesting, and quick to whip up another round once you’ve drained your glass. My wife and I have had a multitude of fabulous conversations while stopping in, especially during happy hour when the cocktails are five bucks and draft beers come down to three dollars. How can you say no to that?!
My favorite part about the Golden Tiki is that never for a moment does it take itself too seriously. Even in tiki culture, where kitsch and camp are a given, there are still those who manage to turn something inherently silly into pretentious practice. But, as you can see from the outside banner, the Golden Tiki is more interested in advertising its various gambling amenities than its adherence to craft culture or authenticity. You are much more likely to sit next to construction worker who just finished a shift, smoking a cigarette, while tinkering away at the video poker screen, than some stuffy cocktail nerd who’s quietly criticizing the lack of Batavia Arrack options.
That’s just the way I like it.