“My friends judged me for taking this job,” a bartender at Zombie Village said one night. “They said, ‘Doesn’t San Francisco have enough tiki bars?’ ”
Does it? There are at least a dozen, from big kahunas like the Tonga Room, Trad’r Sam, and Smuggler’s Cove to more recent additions like Holy Mountain (above Hawker Fare), Pagan Idol, Last Rites, and Oakland’s fantastic The Kon-Tiki — plus “tiki-adjacent” places like Del Mar, Bon Voyage, and The Den at WesBurger, or the tiki-craze holdover Mauna Loa Club. Then there are tropical bars, such as Natoma Cabana or Louie’s Gen-Gen Room in the basement beneath Liholiho Yacht Club.
There’s more than a bit of credibility to the accusation that the tiki imaginary — a sort of fantasy colonialist hybrid of the Caribbean and the South Pacific — often represents icky cultural insensitivity. Plus there was that awful episode in 2017 when tiki-torch-armed white supremacists marshalled in Charlottesville, Va., chanting “You will not replace us.” You can find them dangerous or embarrassing, but they certainly besmirched the aesthetic some.
So: Does San Francisco have enough tiki? The answer, as high-school debaters say, is a resounding no — at least at Zombie Village, Future Bars’ replacement for Tradition, which closed several months back. Future Bars, it should be noted, also operates Rickhouse, the marquee Bourbon & Branch, Local Edition, and — notably — Pagan Idol.
While Bon Voyage deftly sidestepped appropriation with an incredibly specific narrative of a world traveler who settled in Palm Springs, and Last Rites — assuming you can manage to see anything at all in there — ran with the plane crash from Lost, Zombie Village also evades the danger zone in a way that Pagan Idol somewhat gleefully did not. There are no virgins in grass skirts eating human brains on the lip of a volcano, either. Few if any Future Bars projects feel like neighborhood places per se, but here you can slip into little thatched booths of various sizes and shapes to sip an $11 Mai Tai, or just hang out under the medusa-like mermaid creature whose tailfins are enwreathed with octopus tentacles. (The portrait behind the bar at High Tide, a block and a half down Jones Street, no longer shows the only bared breasts in the Tenderloin.)
Under a faux-starry sky, you can drink not one but two types of Zombie. The Jamaican version comes with a stalk of pickled nopal, a garnish not typically found in Polynesia and one that leavens its sweetness with a bit of heft. In light of what happened on India’s North Sentinel Island in November, the name “Missionary’s Downfall” feels almost a little too on-the-nose, but like a rarefied julep, it’s maybe worth the loss of an evangelizing nut or two. While you probably shouldn’t risk deviating too much from the menu — woe unto he who orders a vodka soda — Zombie Village is fun to poke about, or to switch locations after each round. You can even reserve the tiki booths.
Although it’s named for a long-lost Oakland tiki bar that stood in close proximity to Trader Vic’s, Zombie Village is firmly planted, mixing falernum into things. Sitting on a Noc Noc-esque bench and scoping the scene, you might just stumble into a conversation about the Chinese zodiac with some random strangers. Thank Pele we didn’t have to toss the cocktail umbrellas out with the plastic straws.
Zombie Village, 441 Jones St., 415-474-2284 or thezombievillage.com