By now, any self-respecting South Floridian knows about Fort Lauderdale's Mai-Kai, the giant tiki hut off Federal Highway. Since opening in 1956, its the type of place where you can order up a potent mai tai, drown in a flaming scorpion bowl, watch a live Polynesian dance show, and listen to some tunes from a ukulele. Today, the restaurant stands as a landmark of sorts, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and playing host to the annual Hukilau, a 4-day celebration of tiki culture.
Decades later, the tiki bar has become a South Florida mainstay, a bar under a thatched roof serving up tropical cocktails. In Broward County, a few spots have managed to tap into the true South Pacific kitsch: old-school-era tiki bars that deliver the real deal.
That includes the city's hidden tiki gem, the Kreepy Tiki Tattoos & Boutique.
Equal parts rockabilly and South Pacific suave, the Fort Lauderdale tattoo-shop and music venue is also home to Kreepy Tiki lounge, all of it housed in an ominous black cinderblock building at the nexus of one-way Miami Road and South Federal Highway. From the outside it doesn't look like much, but once you pass through the tinted double glass doors into the dim-lit space beyond, it all makes sense.
To your left sits the tattoo parlor; to your right the lounge, what was once known as the Five Points Lounge — and, before that, The Monterey Club. Over the past year, the space has been officially designated as a tiki bar, and what it lacks in terms of beachside location, it makes up for with its own brand of tiki culture. That means plenty of Polynesian nostalgia, from the short bamboo bar stocked with bottles of small-batch, boutique-label liquor, to the authentic ceramic tiki mugs.
Co-owners Ayme Harrison and Jackson Valiente say the idea was to offer patrons a true retro tike lounge where they can listen to live music and enjoy a tiki drink or two. So authentic, in fact, that Kreepy Tiki was recently named one of three Florida bars to be listed among the 22 Best Tiki Bars in the United States according to Condé Nast Traveler (featured alongside Cocoa Beach's Mai Tiki Bar and — of course — the Mai-Kai).
"We're just a little hidden gem," said Harrison, whose love of cocktails and the hospitality industry brought her to assist Valiente is recreating the tiki vibe at Kreepy Tiki. "We're like family here. I've been doing this type of thing from my own kitchen for years, and just decided to do it full-time. Kreepy is a small crew, and we try to make everyone who comes here feel like they're a part of it."
Behind the bar you'll find one of several bartenders, including Harrison's daughter, Demi Natoli. As Kreepy's official bar mistress, Natoli can be found several nights a week, whipping up each of the menu's custom-crafted tiki cocktail recipes made with an arsenal of homemade bitters, liqueurs, syrups, and hand-squeezed fruit juices.
"We do everything here in house, and that's what really separates our tiki drinks from other area bars," said Natoli. "Even our almond syrup is fresh-made."
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Many of the tiki cocktails have been based on the original tiki drinks, but with a slight twist. Natoli's favorite: the Scorpion, a combination of Coruba Jamaican dark rum, Remy 1738, Death's Door gin, passionfruit syrup, Orgeat, fresh-squeezed orange and lime juice, and mint garnished with a slice of orange.
Once you find Kreepy Tiki, you'll be hooked. Just be careful: these drinks don't taste boozy at all, and just a few will have you considering branding your new-found love in ink next door in no time.
Kreepy Tiki is located at 2608 S. Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-641-2601, or visit their Facebook page.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.