Visit: 20 Dec 2010
The Kon Tiki Lounge (no relation to the Steven Crane Kon-Tiki chain) is a classic original tiki bar. Open since 1961 according to the old Critiki site (January 30th, 1962 according to the Arizona Daily Star and 1963 according to the Kon Tiki website), the Kon Tiki Lounge has seen modern-day Tucson grow up around it on all sides. It is tucked back a bit on its busy street, surrounded by strip malls and small office buildings. The small-looking building feels a bit out-of-place. There is an almost lush little garden area out front, with tikis and a small "water feature" -- Tucson's arid climate wouldn't easily support a pond, so a tiled mosaic pond is in its place, with a small walkable bridge over it. To the left of the building was a great old Milan Guanko tiki originally purchased from Gray's Nursery and which was eventually brought in to the outdoor patio area for its protection.
Inside, the restaurant is dark and mysterious, with no windows, and much of the original decor still in place. A former aviary behind the bar is a jarring flash of light -- it used to house parrots, then a lizard cage, now it is used as an outdoor patio space. Large bamboo, gorgeous light fixtures, and tikis aplenty are throughout. The room is structured with smaller sub-rooms encased by bamboo and thatch dividers, giving a feeling of coziness and mystery.
The menus are standard fare for an old tiki bar -- barbecue ribs & similar items for food, and lots of tropical drinks (though a bit on the sweet & sugary side).
Today, the Kon Tiki's future continues to look very bright. It has been kept open through the years with a never-ending supply of college kids who love the place and keep it packed on weekends. These people are who we have to thank for keeping the place alive, but it's a bit more enjoyable when visited earlier in the day or on a weeknight, when the music is more in keeping with the environs and the place isn't so packed with bodies that the decor can't be seen.
In recent years the management has been working on spiffing up the place, while keeping it classic. The Kon Tiki now has their own tiki mug, designed for the Milan Guanko tiki outside (now in the outdoor patio), and has undergone some sprucing up courtesy of Bamboo Ben. A new Bamboo Ben bar looks like it has always been there.