How exactly does a landlocked town in the American South revive a storied, fraught, and complex section of cocktail history? Let’s tap this coconut and find out!  

Tiki bars, which gained popularity in the mid-20th century, and experienced a renewed frenzy of appreciation in the early 2010s, sparked fascination for their vibrant and exotic motifs, inspired by Polynesian and South Pacific cultures. While these establishments offered a playful escape with tropical cocktails like Mai Tais and Zombies, they also faced deserved criticism for cultural appropriation and misrepresentation. The atmosphere of a tiki bar does not reflect the true cultures, traditions, and histories of the peoples they purport to represent, and the commercialization of these elements trivializes the sacred and cultural significance of the original symbols used in tiki-themed settings. 

Despite the shift away from Tiki-bar culture, many passionate bartenders remain captivated by the delicious and complex range of flavors that this era has introduced. Though complicated by cultural issues, this era in cocktail culture has added some foundational and exceptionally flavorful recipes to the beverage lexicon. It has given bartenders the excuse to experiment with passionfruit, mango, coconut, with heavy pours of orgeat, exotic liqueurs, and gorgeous colors.  

Several bars in Chattanooga are developing programs inspired by classic tiki cocktails and finding ways to celebrate these iconic flavors in distinctly modern formats. This island revival is happening just in time for summer in Chattanooga, and pairs swimmingly with a morning spent soaking up the sunshine on a kayak tour or a dip in a clandestine blue hole.

Matilda Midnight 

This twilight bar in the Dwell Hotel lives up to its name, with limited windows, a deeply groovy seventies vibe and a sprinkle of lights across the ceiling that entice guests to “sip under the stars.”  The sophisticated yet tropical menu is based on tarot themes, and with cocktail names like “The Emperor” and “The Star” you can pick your own destiny. The engaging and mystical atmosphere is lively on weekends, so make sure you can grab a seat, or even better, book a room at The Dwell and have a cocktail picnic in one of the stylized suites. 

What to get: Major Arcana, Our mixing medium Monica Penn’s riff of the famous Fog Cutter. It is composed of Gin, Rum, Cognac, Sherry, Dry Curacao, and Orgeat with fresh orange juice and pineapple, and then clarified (like a milk punch) for a smooth and silky texture.  

Bless Yer Heart 

If Matilda Midnight was your sophisticated aunt in a penthouse apartment, then Bless Yer Heart is your affable 1970’s uncle, who is inviting you and all yer friends to a raucous bash in his epic wood-paneled basement. This spot centers on kitsch, brilliantly slathered with beer ads of a bygone era, moody neon lighting and nick-nacks. The “beach drink” menu is laid back and tiki-inspired – the kind you would crave at summer celebration where you might kick off your loafers to enjoy the shag carpeting before you chase your cousins into the pool. The flavors are fresh and on-point, never overly sweet, and they offer some frosty frozen options to enjoy on the sunny back patio. 

What to get: The Barn Sour – a refreshing blend of gin, fresh cantaloupe, honey, and lemon served by the friendly party-guardian/bar manager Stephen Harper. 

Ernest Chinese 

Formerly Flying Squirrel, the creators at Ernest Chinese found themselves “intoxicated by the flavors and the long, bizarrely intertwined histories of American Chinese food and tiki cocktails” and in 2024 they made the decision to focus their concept on these elements and “dive all the way in.” The menu is upscale American Chinese food with more locally focused ingredients. These lavish, crispy, spicy Asian-inspired dishes are perfectly cut by a cocktail menu that skews into the tropical: Six tiki-inspired offerings that can be scaled up to serve a group. The atmosphere is airy, modern, and clean, with a sprawling wrap-around bar and large outdoor area.  

What to get:  Peking Punch - toasted sesame-infused Toki Japanese whiskey, apricot liqueur, Creme de Noyaux, mango, lemon – Craving the tropics without a buzz? ask mix master Sarah Cullum about her delicious mocktail options!