Ever since Trader Vic Bergeron introduced us to the quasi-authentic flavors of the Pacific Rim (which begins, after all, a mere 23 blocks from Trad’r Sam’s doorstep), San Franciscans have been sipping cobalt-colored concoctions out of plasticine coconut shells in bamboo-edged establishments more reminiscent of Anaheim than Arorangi. The tradition lives on at popular watering holes like the E&O Trading Company, the Bamboo Hut, Le Colonial, Trader Vic’s itself and the four plastic-fronded hangouts listed below. Share that Scorpion wisely.
» Trad’r Sam — The oldest tiki bar of the bunch (est. 1939) has strayed furthest from its faux-tropical roots, with minimal island iconography, a clientele largely composed of bridge-and-tunnel fratsters and their skinny blonde counterparts and nary a Martin Denny LP on the jukebox. But there are cozily segregated bamboo loveseats and sofas to frolic upon, and the menu’s three dozen offerings include Mai Tais, Planter’s Punches and Hurricanes. All are uniformly potent, so beware. The surly barkeeps, iffy restrooms and post-apocalyptic decor give the place some of the flavor of a Shanghai waterfront dive. (6150 Geary Blvd.; 221-0773)
» Hawaii West — As befits its monicker, this unprepossessing North Beach hideaway is as laid back as an Oahu trade wind. The ambience is pleasantly run-down and noncommittal: a few Easter Island nature gods here, a swatch of leopard skin there, random netting, a Christmas light or two. Most of the tiki action is concentrated toward the back, where you’ll find a small thatched-roof bar alongside a gurgling stone fountain. Don Ho is available on the jukebox, and depending on the bartender, you might end up with one of the city’s finer Mai Tais … or a blank stare. (729 Vallejo St.; 362-3220)
» Lingba Lounge — The Lingba might best be described as a tiki bar for the new millennium: Daiquiris and Fog Cutters have been replaced with Guava Cosmos and Lemongrass Drops; the rain-forest contralto of Yma Sumac has been supplanted by the somnolent sounds of a house deejay; the kitchen proffers neither egg roll nor rumaki, but cross-cultural cutting-edge cuisine out of Thailand. There’s an abundance of foliage, all of it apparently natural, and the trellised shadows, silent cowabunga video footage and dark, candlelit interior bespeak a sleepy tropical hideaway. (1469 18th St.; 355-0001)
» Tonga Room — We come finally to the most grandiloquent entry in the city’s tiki-bar sweepstakes. Here it’s all about the Polynesia, from the totem poles and fertility gods occupying every spare nook and cranny to the overarching jungle foliage and ship’s riggings to the singularly delectable tropical cocktails, served, as God intended, in hollowed-out pineapples or vertiginous flagons festooned with speared fruit and blossoming flora. But the thing that truly separates the Tonga from the competition is the regularly scheduled tropical downpour, replete with thunder, lightning and sheets of rainwater. Cheers! (Fairmont Hotel, 950 Mason St.; 772-5278)