Umbrellas are popping up in bars all over town. Tiki drinks—rum-inspired cocktails mixed with fresh juices—are making a comeback, and aren’t just being gulped by old guys in Tommy Bahama shirts.
False Idol recently opened (inside the remodeled Craft & Commerce) in Little Italy and the décor is tiki from floor to ceiling. Kettner Exchange, also in Little Italy, and Normal Heights stalwart Sycamore Den are pouring noteworthy, tiki-inspired cocktails. Recently, though, I visited oldie-but-goodie Riviera Supper Club (7777 University Ave.) in La Mesa to grab a few of these beverages inspired by false idols.
Riviera is that dark den where you bring a date to grill up your own USDA Choice steaks on the communal grill, while sipping on a stiff drink. Now there are updates—like food you don’t have to cook yourself, and a weekly Tiki Night. The first was Saturday, Aug. 6, but beginning Sept. 29, Tiki Night will be every Thursday. A special drink menu includes a classic Mai Tai made with spiced rum, white rum and mixed juices in a tall glass. A Dead Man’s Cove features spiced rum, berry simple syrup, a splash of pineapple and a red wine float. The most popular drink, the Sneaky Tiki, includes Malibu rum, Disaronno Amaretto and mixed juices.
Riviera is a family business. Opened nine years ago, it’s now run by Chicago natives Michael and Barbara Rammelsberg. Their son, Jason Rammelsberg, is the general manager, and has overseen operations for three years. In the bar business for 21 years, Jason was running a bar in St. Louis when his dad asked him to join him in San Diego (where he first opened Normal Heights classic Rosie O’Grady’s).
Tiki Night was Jason’s brainchild. “Since Riviera is already so mid-century, we thought bringing over some tiki would be a great fit,” he says. He adds that Tiki Night has been well-received and customers are coming in specifically for the retro subculture. “It’s a special night and the staff loves it, which waterfalls down to the customers, and everybody gets into it.”
Not just an excuse to party, Tiki Night includes some sweet deals. Cocktails are $6 each and there’s a $12-dollar tiki burger and poke salad for $10. And if you dress in tiki attire—Hawaiian print shirts, floral dresses, pineapple earrings, pearl shell necklaces, etc.—you get a dollar off your drinks.
The Rammelsbergs are big believers in live music, so you’ll never see a quiet Thursday night. Featured bands include the Baja Bugs, as well as Alvino and the Dwells, who will perform on Sept. 29.