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.
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!
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!
Burdines Chiki Tiki Bar and Grill
1200 Oceanview Ave. (at the end of 15th St.)
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 –
-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.
- 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.
Looe Key Reef Resort and Dive Center Tiki Bar
27430 Overseas Hwy.
Ramrod Key, FL
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:
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!