I was skeptical when I learned that Dallas was getting a tiki bar. Not because I don’t believe that we, as a city, aren’t ready to accept the resurgence of the trend. Area bartenders have been slinging Polynesian-inspired beverages for the past couple of years, and restaurants like Small Brewpub and Rapscallion host weekly nights dedicated to the whimsy of the era. Local cocktail enthusiasts have fully embraced saccharine Mai Tais and modern twists on the Flaming Volcano. There is no doubt that tiki has arrived in Dallas.
What concerned me, however, was the hospitality group behind the city’s first tiki bar since the closure of Trader Vic’s in 2010. SBBC Hospitium, known for their lounge concepts like Punk Society, Truth & Alibi, and The Tipsy Alchemist, partnered with Patrick Tetrick, the owner of Three Sheets, to open Pilikia. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with SBBC Hospitium. The group excels at the LED-dazzle and showy dry ice cocktails that give ultra lounges their sleazy appeal. But could they pull off a truly authentic tiki bar?
I arrived at Pilikia, which opened in late January, with a friend on a Wednesday night. We were greeted at the double door—partially hidden under a thatched roof—by a bouncer. He was tall, well-groomed, and dressed head-to-toe in black. After checking our IDs he let us pass. The space, illuminated by multicolored mood lighting and adorned in wicker furniture, was vibrant. Rows of plush benches and peacock chairs lined the back wall, “reserved” signs sat on the tables they bordered. My friend and I were the first to arrive. It was a quarter past eight, but it seemed like they were gearing up for a busy night.
We grabbed two stools at the sprawling bar and were approached by a bearded bartender in a button-down Hawaiian shirt. His enthusiasm for sweet, multi-ingredient cocktails was infectious. Before we could say “Zombie!” he started filling a ceramic volcano bowl with rum, vodka, gin, orange juice, pineapple juice, and grenadine—and then he set the darn thing on fire. This wasn’t my first time to the tiki rodeo, nor was it my friend’s, but the bartender’s passion for igniting booze rubbed off on us.
We took our oversized plastic straws, dipped them in the intoxicating brew, and slurped. Suddenly, the fact that an earsplitting Bob Marley dance mix was playing overhead was overshadowed by the sweet and boozy punch in front of us. (Listen, I have absolutely nothing against Bob Marley or music with a BPM greater than 135, but Arthur Lyman or Martin Denny would have been much more appropriate, and authentic, musical choices.)
After taking a closer look around it became clear that Pilikia isn’t setting out to mimic longstanding and iconic tiki bars like the Tonga Room and Tiki-Ti, or even attempting to compete with new and noteworthy additions like Chicago’s award-winning Three Dots and a Dash. Rather, this is a tiki-themed ultra lounge. Some of the drinks light up, Tuesday is “ladies night,” and there’s a $2,000 bottle service that includes a magnum of Grey Goose vodka, two bottles of Dom Pérignon, and 20 Pilikia coconut shots.
There’s nothing wrong with this. The space is fun. So fun, in fact, that D Magazine bar columnist Tara Nieuwesteeg calls it “upbeat and celebratory.” But an authentic tiki bar, Pilikia is not. For that, Dallas is still waiting.