Reporting Jay Lloyd
What’s summertime without a tiki bar to look forward to at the end of a day? You know – those island and tropical themed outdoor watering holes that provide breeze-blown relief from the heat and a cool drink to fuel an evening of tall tales and salty yarns. The ideal tiki bar should have a cooling breeze off of the mountains or the water, plenty of umbrellas, an eye catching view, lively bartenders and a crowd to match. Here are a few of my own favorites at home, down the shore, on the Chesapeake, in the Poconos and at points between. –Jay Lloyd
When people complain about the weather, I always tell them, “It never rains in the bars.” Well, almost never. There was the evening I rode out tropical storm Allison at Zogg’s popular tiki bar in Rehoboth Beach, when the rain slanted across, but never dampened the fun, at this Atlantic Ocean outdoor spot that has one of the region’s most impressive rum lists. Frequent music and occasional steel drums drive evenings here, and the menu sweeps you to the Caribbean. Happy hours feature oysters for a buck-a-shuck, too.
Nothing quite evokes the tropics like a graceful schooner carving the seas with a fresh breeze in the sails. The American, with its towering masts and furled canvas, is docked alongside Cape May’s venerable Lobster House and now serves as an ideal summer sipping stop. The ever-present breeze and view of the harbor full of colorful commercial fishing and pleasure boats serves as a platform for a congenial bar that mixes up summer coolers. For nibbles, there are heaping plates of raw oysters and clams, steamed shrimp and crab claws. The tapering contour of the bar encourages conversation among strangers and kick-starts a lively evening in good old Cape May. And if you arrive by boat, tie up (at no charge) right alongside the schooner and climb aboard.
Waterman’s Crab House
When spending a summer weekend on the nearby Eastern Shore of Maryland, there’s no shortage of bar stops that combine all the elements of tiki. But two favorites that anchor the sides of busy Rock Hall Harbor are a must. Most Rock Hall regulars sort of migrate between Waterman’s Crab House and the lively Harbor Shack. Both have unobstructed views of the harbor and its passing parade of sail and power yachts, charter fishing boats and work-horse boats that bring in live crabs and oysters from the Chesapeake. Waterman’s newly expanded bar offers an enhanced view straight to the bay bridge and distant Annapolis, while Harbor Shack is a magnet for sport fishermen who have their own “bragging board” behind the bar. The board highlights the daily catch and its size, and the fisherman, boat and captain that reeled it in. Food at Waterman’s is focused on the bounty of the bay and those famous steamed crabs. Harbor Shack veers from fin food to Mexican specialties. Both are known for their weekend music and a very entertaining crowd, full of yarns and yaks.
One of the cooler spots for a summertime weekend getaway is lakeside at Lake Harmony in the western Poconos. Don’t be surprised to hear conversations about snow and skiing while sipping and nibbling at Nick’s Lake House patio bar. After all, the same people who ski the Poconos in winter spend summers on this Lake between Jack Frost and Big Boulder Mountains, and many of them find their way to Nick’s. The bar overlooks the lake and rakes in a cooling breeze. A popular bar app combines wings, clams, fried mozzarella and chicken fingers – a great share. And if you want to arrive by boat, you can tie up right at the door.
The Tiki Bar at Spring Mountain is a bit closer to home and has the whole deal, complete with phony palm trees, South Sea island tchotchkes and a thatched hut vibe. It draws its cooling breeze right off the mountain and offers a slopeside view. Besides serving up summer coolers and beer for the happy hour crowd, the Tiki sells steaks, burgers, seafood, even alligator tail–all raw! Yes, you cook it yourself. It’s a totally fun experience in an outdoor wooded environment with people who have absolutely nothing to frown about.
So what do you do if your tiki bar doesn’t have a mountain, an ocean or even a creek? You create something. How about a beach? That’s just what the Trappe Tavern did in western Montgomery County. The owners of this popular bar and eatery that goes 365 days a year carved a chunk out of the parking lot and brought in truckloads of beach sand, beach chairs and even a lifeguard station. Then, with some carefully placed deck walls, plastic palm trees and hanging plants, they obscured the rest of the parking lot from view. There it was, an honest-to-goodness tiki bar and beach with an outdoor deck, serving up well drinks and domestic beers for two bucks a pop during happy hour. Free nibbles are included. The kitchen turns out consistently dynamic meals, including a killer prime rib every night and whole lobster on Wednesdays. This is a friendly, local crowd that welcomes drop-ins.
Of course, my all-time favorite tiki bar requires a plane and a boat to get there. Foxy’s, on Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands, is the real deal, with real palm trees and a real island crowd. If the customs agent drinking at the bar is in a good mood, he’ll take you back to the nearby office to get your passport stamped.
Stay cool, my friends.