Canada’s bar and restaurant scene undergoes a tiki revolution

There’s an unmistakable revival of the tiki bar in major cities across Canada. Operators are opening up contemporary versions of these once-tacky 1970’s drinking outposts. This next wave of island-inspired bars features quality rum-based drinks and authentic food in exotic, fun environments.

In Toronto, the foodservice scene is observing a particularly booming industry of independent tiki bars. Recently, the city welcomed Miss Thing’s, a Pan-Asian restaurant and tiki bar serving up modern Polynesian dishes alongside an interesting cocktail menu. Specialties range from shaved conch with mango slaw to Spam pintxo with pineapple salsa. Creativity defines the venue’s cocktails, such as its shareable Ohana Tai punch, a Hawaiian take on a mai tai served in an eye-catching bronze pineapple glass with colorful fruit garnishes and four bamboo-like straws. Like many new restaurants attempting this type of next-level island-inspired dining, Miss Thing’s balances authenticity with modern culinary creations.

Ohana Tai punch cocktail

Miss Thing’s four-person Ohana Tai punch cocktail

This trend is just as much about aesthetics as it is the menu. Tiki bars offer an unmatched experience for guests, in everything from themed glassware to in-your-face island décor to occasional live entertainment like Polynesian dancers. The differentiating quality of these venues is that they serve as an island getaway for Canadians, without ever having to hop on a plane.

Although most of this tiki mania is at the independent level, some chain operators are starting to offer their own takes on the trend. In December, The Pickle Barrel launched its limited-time Tiki and Tacos menu, offering island-inspired tacos paired with tropical drinks that are served in classic tiki glassware, such as the Spicy Hula Girl with spiced rum, pineapple juice and habanero-lime syrup. Beyond The Pickle Barrel, other chain restaurants are beginning to jump aboard the tropical cuisines bandwagon, leaving room for other operators to follow suit.

tiki-style glassware

The Pickle Barrel’s Tiki and Tacos menu offered tropical drinks
in unique tiki-style glassware

Overall, most consumers order ethnic foods to try something different and discover new flavours. As cuisines like Asian and Latin become increasingly mainstream and familiar, diners will begin to demand more emerging ethnic fare, such as Hawaiian and Pacific Islander. The unfamiliarity and limited availability of these cuisines make them particularly appealing to adventurous diners looking for an exotic meal. This signals an opportunity for operators to jump on the burgeoning tiki trend by incorporating authentic Hawaiian or island-inspired ingredients, preparations and dishes into their menus.

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Kristin Menas

Kristin Menas is an Associate Editor of Canada and Adult Beverage at Technomic Inc. in Chicago. She is responsible for writing, editing and analyzing content for the company’s newsletters and reports, which cover the Canadian foodservice market, U.S. adult beverage industry and convenience-store sector. She also contributes editorial content for Technomic’s Digital Resource Library, MenuMonitor and Digital Resource Information Knowledgebase (DRINK).

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