My number one choice for getting my Tiki fix is not in San Francisco
proper, but rather on the island of Alameda, parallel to Oakland in the
East Bay. Walking up to Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge, I wondered if this
odd suburban structure in the midst of LA-reminiscent 1960’s apartment
complexes and homes could actually be worth a visit?
Walking inside I was met with a glow of dim lighting and a TV behind
the bar playing “Blue Hawaii”. They had me at “aloha”.
One of my favorite Elvis movies, inane as it is, it set the tone of the
The room is narrow and hung with all
kinds of flowers, bananas, blowfish lamps and dollar bills (Forbidden
Island’s nod to a tradition apparently started in WWII
when soldiers would leave a dollar bill at their local bar to pay for
their drink when they came back from the war). Bamboo chairs and intriguing
wood booths under bamboo huts line one side of the room, while the bar
lines the other. A charming patio with palm leaf umbrellas and torches
sits behind the bar in the parking lot, ideal on warm nights (though
it closes at 9pm due to surrounding residential properties).
The spirit is festive on weekends but not obnoxious.
buzz but it’s not so loud that you can’t talk comfortably.
The music selection ideally encompasses 1950’s and 60’s tunes,
though not all obvious. Hawaiian themed music is at a minimum, though
I wouldn’t mind more of it. I’m eager to go back for events
such as the last Thursday of the month Church of
Sinatra night, or the
last Sunday of the month for 2pm rum and cigars on the
patio (my husband will like that one!)
Though I’ve seen a grouchy bartender or two on
busy weekend nights, I’ve also had impeccable service from a vivacious
woman dressed in a bright red, flowered sun dress with a flower in her
hair (a get-up I’d
My favorite Forbidden Island night
was after picking up my brother-in-law, Chicken Man (he raises exotic
chickens in the implausible sprawl of Orange County), from the Oakland
airport. Chicken Man and my husband, The Renaissance Man, were both giddy
over a rating system on the menu noting strength of drinks and were trying
to outdo each other in their manly appraisal of what level they could
withstand. Even more fun was had with names of drinks; they were tempted
to try an array of spicy Pirate
Rum tasting flights: another intriguing option.
In the end, The Renaissance Man ordered a refreshingly perfect Monkeypod,
a rum based cocktail with just the right blend of tamarind, coconut and
I had “dessert in a drink” with the lush Banana
like a rich banana milkshake laced with silver rum and coconut, brightly
decorated with an umbrella. Perfection.
Our peppy server gave us the tip of the month when she
mentioned a drink not on the menu known as Señor Amor. “The
bartenders would kill me if they knew I was telling you about this one
on a busy night”,
she confided. “It takes about ten minutes to make due to the extra
special whipping needed to make the perfect layer of cream over the top.
It’s really indescribable.”
I don’t know if she just liked the cut of Chicken
or felt he was the sort of chap to appreciate this insider drink (which
apparently is ok to order on slower nights), but he was the lucky one
to possess this truly indescribably martini, even as we loved our own
drinks. Of course we stole as many sips of Señor Amor as
we dared. I WISH I could tell you what was in it - such a thrilling cocktail:
not too sweet, but creamy and potent. It almost felt like taking a flavorful,
One tip: avoid the food (bar bites and appetizers).
Even basics, like sweet potato fries, are mushy and bland, while ketchup
was generic crappy tomato and sugar paste in two little packets that
barely served the portion of fries (more never came when we asked). Moral
of that story is: eat elsewhere. Come here for the drinks and atmosphere.
The drinks are some of the most appetizing I’ve had at any bar,
and they pride themselves on hand-squeezed-on-the-premises juices and
It felt as if we’d stumbled across an out-of-the-way island treasure.
Forbidden did the Tiki theme right: not half-hearted or hinting at, but
over the top and all the way. A night here feels like a kitschy, welcoming
party you want to linger at all night.
Next month, I’ll give you a few more Tiki spots in the Bay Area
and San Francisco when you’re not able to make it to Alameda… but
if you can, you’ll be glad you did.