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Tiki time! Your guide to those bamboo oases in our corner of paradise

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At Lido Beach Resort, tiki bar patrons get a beautiful beachside view of the sunset. That's why we live here, right? STAFF PHOTOS / THOMAS BENDER

My first sip of Southwest Florida-meets-South Pacific tiki culture was in college, when I stumbled into the Bahi Hut for a Mai Tai.

I’d been warned about the two-drink cap at this 1950s Sarasota bar, and three gulps into my fruity rum cocktail, the Polynesian masks on the walls were starting to wink back at me. I discovered there’s nothing like some hula kitsch and a sunset-colored drink to hush your inhibitions.

If you’re like me and dig that Elvis-in-“Blue Hawaii” ambiance with your Bacardi 151, our tri-county region is rife with tiki-style locales. Some pubs are decades old and others are newer hat-tips to the post-World War II décor. Many are nestled under thatched roofs by the bay and a few are inside dark dives with leis dangling from the rafters.

Savor a strawberry daiquiri at the Lido Beach Resort tiki bar.

At the Lido Key Tiki Bar last week, I learned that a straight shot of the horizon and a “Sarasota Smash” makes for an ambrosial afternoon. Formerly known as the Azure Tides beach bar and now managed by the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, this 2006-built hut in the sand is the apex of chill.

Lapis blue barstools and a light wooden counter match the waterfront. Bartender Derek Fowler pours me a $10 blend of Captain Morgan rum, banana liqueur, and pineapple and orange juices in a plastic cup. Minutes later, regulars Kim and Randy Prock are ordering us all a round of “Green Flash” shots with Malibu and Midori.

“You can’t be in a bad mood when you come here,” Kim Prock said. “Everybody’s happy.”

Understandably so. I’m buzzing on a free shot as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' “The Waiting” and ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” set the soundtrack. Fowler informs me about the live entertainment from 2 to 6 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday here, and how partyers congregate by the fire pits to slap bongos and strum acoustic guitars. Around 5:45 p.m. daily, when the sun dips into the Gulf, the sky goes dimmer and the mudslides get stronger.

It’s a similar scenario at Casey Key Fish House in Osprey, where bartender Skeeter’s Coruba rum-enriched mango daiquiris complement the view of the Intracoastal Waterway. Since 1999, this al fresco, chickee-type tiki bar (which shut down for a stint and reopened four years ago) has invited boaters to pull up their vessels, anchor and idle.

Nautical glass balls wrapped in rope, wooden columns and twinkling string lights forge the mood, and Skeeter tells me about the inventors, snowbirds and celebrities who regularly warm her Budweiser bar stools.

“My regulars are the most wonderful people,” said Skeeter, a petite blonde mixologist whose maternal charm is as revered as her rum runners. “I do celebrations of life for my customers. When someone passes away, I write a eulogy for every single one of them and read it by the water. My mission as a bartender is to touch lives.”

Cody, Laura and Marc will be happy to serve you at the Lido Beach Resort tiki bar.

She does, in the same way Sonny Nuttall at Cortez’s Swordfish Grill delivers conversation with his banana coladas. Since the hotspot opened about a month ago in Bradenton’s historic fishing village, it has been luring anglers to its outdoor tiki deck. White pelicans perch on the wooden rails and Nuttall slings his signature “Cortez Cooler” with Captain Morgan Parrot Bay pineapple and coconut rums, banana liqueur, and orange and lime juices.

“On a nice, bright, sunny day, it’s paradise out here,” Nuttall said. “It doesn’t get much better than this.”

Other best bets are Tarpon Pointe along the Manatee River’s Mile Marker 24 or Chester’s Reef in the Gulf Gate district of Sarasota -- two joints that also launched just last year.

And for those low-key eves when you can’t score a designated driver, take the tiki vibe home and fabricate your own bar with vintage mugs, lamps and swizzle sticks from Sarasota Architectural Salvage. A handful of accessories and you’ve got Don the Beachcomber in your living room.

Wherever you decide to dock for your tiki tryst, settle in, take a swig and say “Manuia!” (that’s “Cheers” in the Pacific islands).

IF YOU LIKE PINA COLADAS ...

Here are 30-plus options for your outing. If you don’t see your tiki bar here, please email us and we’ll be glad to post it in Ticket’s online listing:

Anna Maria Oyster Bar, 6696 Cortez Road W., Bradenton. 792-0077; oysterbar.net.

Bahi Hut, 4675 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. 355-5141; facebook.com/bahihut.sarasota.

Bearded Clam Restaurant and Tiki Bar, 7150 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. 355-2600; thebeardedclamsarasota.com.

Benedetto’s Steakhouse and Martini Bar, 300 W. Retta Esplanade, Punta Gorda. 639-9695.

Boomers Sports Bar and Nightclub, 2360 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte. 743-4140; boomersportcharlotte.com.

Cabana Inn, 2525 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. 955-0195.

Captain Eddie's Seafood and Tiki Bar, 107 E. Colonia Lane, Nokomis. 484-4623; captaineddies.com.

Casey Key Fish House, 801 Blackburn Point Road, Osprey. 966-1901; caseykeyfishhouse.com.

Charlotte Sports Park Tiki Hut, 2300 El Jobean Road, Port Charlotte. Open during Tampa Bay Rays spring training home games, March 4-April 2, and Charlotte Stone Crabs games (the Rays minor league team’s season opens April 5). 235-5010; stonecrabsbaseball.com.

Chester’s Reef, 6523 Gateway Ave., Sarasota. 922-4066.

Clancy’s Irish Sports Pub, 6218 Cortez Road W., Bradenton. 794-2489; clancysirishsportspub.com.

The Factory, 6916 14th St. W., Bradenton. 758-5249; the-banana-factory.com.

Fins Bar at Martini Bistro, 5337 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. 779-1000; martinivillefl.com.

Flounders Restaurant and Tiki Bar, 1975 Beach Road, Englewood. 460-8280; floundersonthebeach.com.

Gilligan’s, 5253 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key. 346-8122; gilligansislandbar.com.

Harpoon Harry's, Fishermen's Village, 1200 W. Retta Esplanade, Punta Gorda. 637-1177; harpoonharrys.com

Kokonut Hut at Gulf Drive Café, 900 Gulf Drive, Bradenton Beach. 778-1919; gulfdrivetiki.com.

Honoluana Island Grill, 222 Airport Ave. E., Venice. 483-3553; honoluana.com.

Island Time Bar and Grill, 111 Gulf Drive S., Bradenton Beach. 782-1122; islandtimebarandgrill.com.

Joe Cracker Sportsgrille and Tiki, 1020 El Jobean Road, Port Charlotte. 258-3444; joecracker.com.

Lido Beach Resort tiki bar, 700 Ben Franklin Drive, Sarasota. 388-3175; lidobeachresort.com

Lido Key Tiki Bar, 1234 Ben Franklin Drive, Sarasota. 309-2000; ritzcarlton.com.

O’Leary’s Tiki Bar and Grill, 5 Bayfront Drive, Sarasota. 953-7505; olearystikibar.com.

Osprey Beach Tiki Bar at Bentley’s, 1660 S. Tamiami Trail, Osprey. 966-2121; bentleyssarasota.com.

Peggy’s Corral, 4511 U.S. 41 N., Palmetto. 729-5442; peggyscorral.net.

Pop's Sunset Grill, 112 Circuit Road, Nokomis. 488-3177; popssunsetgrill.net

Sharky’s on the Pier, 1600 Harbor Drive S., Venice. 488-1456; sharkysonthepier.com.

Sniki Tiki at Captain Curt’s, 1200 Old Stickney Point Road, Siesta Key. 349-3885; captaincurts.com.

Spanish Pointe Restaurant and Pub, 135 Bayview Drive, Osprey. 966-5746.

Stump Pass Grille on Lemon Bay, 260 Maryland Ave., Englewood. 697-0859; stumppassgrille.com.

Swordfish Grill and Bar, 4528 119th St. W., Cortez. 798-2035.

Tarpon Pointe Grill and Tiki Bar, 801 Riverside Drive E., Bradenton. 746-8700; tarponpointgrill.com.

TT’s (The Tiki) Bar on Charlotte Harbor, 33 Tamiami Trail, Punta Gorda. 637-6770; facebook.com/thetikibarpg.

Trader Vic’s, 351 N. Cattlemen Road, Sarasota. 378-3900; tradervics.com.

Woody’s River Roo Pub and Grill, 5717 18th St. E., Ellenton. 722-2391; woodysriverroo.com.

Zeke's at Royal Palm Marina, 779 W. Wentworth St., Englewood. 475-6882; royalpalmmarina.com.

Last modified: April 12, 2012
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