Best Kept Secret Tiki Bars in the Florida Keys!

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Wait… is anything secret in the Florida Keys? With an estimated 4 million visitors each year, and land that is less than a third of a mile wide at most points (and mere feet wide occasionally) how can anything be off the beaten path? You practically see the entire path from your car window as you drive through the Keys.

 

If you’ve been to any of these under-the-tourist-radar tiki bars, we’ll buy you your next Rum Runner!

 

There are some well known, happening tiki bars in the Keys that attract so many visitors a day you have to decide if the mega-fun people watching is worth being stuck next to a drunken someone who will want to be your new best friend and ask to come back to your hotel room. I must admit we were tempted to pull in to some of these quintessentially tropical places full of people getting lively. But we’re here to tell you how to find the lesser known, more tranquil tiki bar experience.

 

 

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Gilbert’s Resort

www.gilbertsresort.com

107900 Overseas Highway, Key Largo FL

 

Starting up north in Key Largo, tucked away down a winding road and over and then under a bridge is Gilbert’s. “What, turn where??” shouted CH as I directed him hither and thither, and admittedly, down a wrong road or two. When we finally pulled in it was one of those “Ahhhhhh… here we are” type feelings like when you deny yourself pizza for five months because it makes you fat but then give in, and you open the lid of that box for your first slice (or after a five hour drive with a badly navigating wife.)

 

  • VIBE:  Laid back, airy, roomy and tropical.
  • ARRIVE: You can come by car or by boat.
  • SIT:  An abundance of seating under cover at tables, or by the bar, and lots of seating by the water as well.
  • SIP:  Happy Hour is Monday through Friday 4 -7 p.m.
  • NOSH: Mostly casual bar fare you might expect; burgers, wings, fish sandwiches as well as kabobs, a pretty extensive raw bar menu, and higher-end choices like surf-n-turf and lobster tails. My chicken kabob was generous and the veggies were perfect, CH’s Mahi Po-boy was decent.
  • LISTEN: Live music most nights and twice a day on Saturday.
  • WE LOVE:  The Keysie feeling, the vastness of the place where we can’t imagine it ever being crowded. The VIEWS!

 

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gilberts-pelican

Since our visit Gilbert’s has completed a major renovation to their hotel, making this spot the perfect Triple B! Park your car and play and stay in the same spot. Click on their name above for details. This off the beaten path location is so perfect and the place just says “good times” all over it!

 

gilberts-entrance-chickNot sure what this vintage roller derby chick has to do with anything tiki….

 

 

Burdines Chiki Tiki Bar and Grill

www.burdineswaterfront.com

1200 Oceanview Ave. (at the end of 15th St.)

Marathon, FL

 

The next best kept secret tiki bar going southward is Burdine’s Chiki Tiki Bar and Grill. This tiki bar may be slightly better known – it was crowded the day we were there – but it is literally off the beaten path of the commercial-ish busy strip of road that is Marathon. You have to know about it to find it –  turn off the highway and drive past a shanty town type development –

 

burdines-shack

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-which I actually find charming. The small house movement is big these days (ha, “big”) and these little dwellings have their own charm; I especially like the pineapple cutouts on this porch.

 

I did read that someone called this area “sketchy,” but jeez, you’re in your CAR, driving BY. I’m sure Ms. Pineapple Porch with her linens hanging in the sun (which, by the way, will smell heavenly;  Mom used to force us to hang laundry out in the sun and now I’m so glad she did) would look askance at that person who called her cute little place “sketchy.”

 

Burdines is also a full service marina.

 

burdines-tiki-horiz

 

  • VIBE:  Bright and bustling, the wait staff is kept busy but remain cheerful and attentive.
  • ARRIVE:  You can drive here or come by boat.
  • SIT:  Burdine’s Chiki Tiki is upstairs and isn’t huge; we’ve heard there is sometimes a wait for tables and food. The day we were there it was hopping, but not totally full. There is some indoor seating but mostly outside, some under cover.
  • SIP: “Best prices in town; we’re always happy!”
  • NOSH:  Famous for their fries and green chili burgers. We chowed down on those amazing fries, and because the serving was so generous we just split the green chili burger, which was seriously to-die for.
  • LISTEN:  Live music Wednesday and Friday nights.
  • WE LOVE:  Watching the boats come and go, and the views up and down Boot Key Harbour and out to the ocean. Gorgeous.

More Burdines:

 

burdines-side-view

burdines-view-of-pink-buildingThis pink building is next to Burdines and I’m intrigued… if you know what it is, please let me know!

 

Looe Key Reef Resort and Dive Center Tiki Bar

www.looekeydivecenter.com

27430 Overseas Hwy.

Ramrod Key, FL

 

 

looe-tiki-front

Though the Looe Key Tiki Bar IS on the beaten path – right on the highway – you could drive right past and never notice it. It’s set back, for one thing, plus it is part of a resort that is a big draw for the dive crowd. I don’t mean “dive” as in ragtag, swill-slinging hole in the wall (which I admit, I am seriously drawn to) but as in diving down under the water with a tank on your back. An unpretentious, unglamorous, locals-mostly tiki bar where you can also spend the night. And we did. But more on that later.

 

  • VIBE:  Old-school tiki bar feel. We did see some young people but mostly age 50’s and up who all seemed to know each other and they all love to dance!
  • ARRIVE:  There is a very large parking lot to the left of the tiki bar, and also the resort is on a small canal that leads out to the ocean, with boat parking close to the tiki bar.
  • SIT:  This isn’t a huge tiki bar but there is plenty of seating, all under cover the night we were there; it was chilly.
  • SIP:  Happy Hour is daily from 3 – 7 p.m.
  • NOSH:  The expected burgers, wraps, sandwiches and baskets. Brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. I loved my potstickers, and CH’s blackened caesar chicken wrap was good as well.
  • LISTEN: Live music most nights; trivia night on Mondays.
  • WE LOVE:  The people-watching. There was one old guy with a huge white bird on his shoulder, and many intriguing romance-hopeful moves going on with cute little men shyly asking cute little and not-so-little women to dance. Precious! We also love that we could toddle out the door and a few feet away to our room for the night.

I usually don’t featuret hotel info in my “bar sampling” posts but I do want to just briefly mention the “resort” part of the Looe Key Resort and Dive Center Tiki Bar experience. As I wrote above, this is a place who’s main focus is scheduling dive and snorkel experiences on “the most professional” charter boat in the middle and lower Keys.

 

The hotel accommodations are fine. Clean, with an updated shower, and a little deck out your back door that overlooks the narrow canal. The decor is not upscale nor imaginative, but it is a fine place to stay the night, especially when the aim is to either go diving or go tiki-barring!

 

The best part about the Loee Key Resort – besides the fun tiki bar – is its proximity to Key West without the high prices of Key West accommodations. Just a 35 minute drive!

 

I didn’t get many photos of the tiki bar itself, as we arrived after dark and then left earlyish the next morning, but here are a couple from around the hotel:

 

looe-roomsLoee Key Reef Resort right next to the tiki bar –  you can stay here after a night of music, food and fun!

 

looe-back-deck-viewOut your back door is a porch area overlooking the canal.

 

We had so much fun on this visit to the Florida Keys, with our quest for finding the best tiki bars you haven’t visited yet (or, yes, that above-mentioned Rum Runner) that we’re already planning our next trip. Let us know your secret favorite places, and we promise not to tell the tourists!

 

 

12 Comments

  1. We have been to Gilbert’s Resort three times, each on the way to Key West. Love it there. Will be back again thus year! Where is my free Rum Runner. LoL

    1. Hi Mick, I was waiting for someone to call me on this!! Ha, you got me! I know; Gilbert’s isn’t exactly a secret, but it IS off the beaten path. You don’t see its tiki thatch looming over the highway like some others! I’m so glad you love it like we do. We usually try to do a Keys trip in November. Can I buy you that promised Rum Runner then? ;)

  2. I just got back from The Keys. My first time. I spent the whole time fishing and exploring. I love tiki bars. Growing up in southern California I’ve been eating and drinking in these establishments my whole life. I made it to a few tiki bars while there but am already planning my next trip which will include a search for great tiki like yours. Thanks for this post.

    1. Don’t The Keys just wrap themselves around you Robert? We’re so glad to hear that a seasoned Californian loved this area so much! Yes, put our recommendations on your list, and check back soon for a post on a very unique Keys bar with two faces!

  3. Gilbert’s is easier to reach via boat.

    1. It does look super easy to reach by boat, Maria. Alas we don’t own a boat (yet!) and so had to arrive by car. The fact that Gilbert’s is off the beaten path makes it that much more intriguing for us!

  4. Staying at Gilberts as I read this article! ! This is my 1st time here – the rooms have been BEAUTIFULLY remodeled and priced great ! So don’t be afraid to stay here next time !

    1. We have read so many great reviews about Gilbert’s!! Thank you for your input, we will certainly stay there next time. It’s the perfect place to enjoy the water, the bar, and walk a few feet after to our room for the night! Kudos to Gilbert’s and their updates.

  5. I’m taking my wife to Key West for her 40th on Dec. 9th. I’ll definitely have to check this out. It sounds great. It’s the first time for either of us to the Keys.

    1. For some reason I missed your comment, Brandon. How were the Keys on your trip for your wife’s 40th? No better place to celebrate, we think!

  6. We visit the keys every year in February. We LOVE Burdine’s, you have to try the Keys Three Cheese Steak on your next visit. The cheese steak is one of our favorites from Burdine’s of course along with the view. The pink building is an old hotel, one of our friends stayed there for their honeymoon, many years ago. This year we’re going to stay in Islamorada, so I’ll be sure to add Gilbert’s on my “must see” list. Thanks for the tips!!

    1. Thank YOU for your tips, Lora, we will definitely try the Keys Three Cheese Steak next time (we may be going in June!) Thanks so much for the info about the pink building; mystery solved.

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