It’s not done yet, but a pre-opening tour of the Golden Tiki demonstrated its transportive powers. There’s a lava cave, a waterfall highlighting Headhunter’s Village, a trading post for souvenirs, a performance/DJ platform called Mermaid’s Cove and a lair for pirate captain William Tobias Faulkner (more on him in a bit).
Aside from the forthcoming tiki idol with the big schlong—a Vegas touch, surely—the bar and its contents evoke the comprehensive, time-freezing escapism of Disneyland. Such fantastical places have been an inspiration to Branden Powers, entrepreneur, club-industry veteran and managing partner of the Golden Tiki. Whether as a 6-year-old who envisioned a performing-robots-meets-pizza concept two years, he says, before Chuck E. Cheese’s, or as a rave promoter in Southern California, Powers always flexed his imagination to suspend reality.
“When [ravers] had to drive two hours on top of mountaintops, you had to buy into the vision,” Powers says. “You’re going into the enchanted land of Narnia. And that’s what I’ve been really good at creating. I’m not Walt Disney, but I admire what Disney has done. And I do incorporate that into my events, my bars, my Halloween parties.”
Enchantment is an apt word to describe the potential vibe of the Golden Tiki, the 4,000-square-foot Chinatown bar that used to be Little Macau, but now comprises four themed areas that align with the Powers-penned backstory about Faulkner and his fateful visit to Flaming Skull Island. (Powers will finally get his animatronic character in the form of a talking Faulkner skeleton.) To establish an immersive atmosphere, various props and artifacts were sought—including some from a certain theme park’s Haunted Mansion and the Indiana Jones film franchise—as were craftsmen and artists to create a legit tiki haven (including renowned designer/carver Tiki Diablo). LED-filled ceilings and niche DJs will add to the ambiance when the bar opens July 24, with vaudeville/cabaret-style entertainment and food offerings to follow.
It sounds like a slam dunk for tourists, who will be close thanks to its Strip-adjacent, Chinatown location—an area Powers feels is loaded with nightlife potential. But according to manager/venue mixologist/artist Jeffrey Alexander, formerly of the Cosmopolitan’s Vesper Bar, the Golden Tiki will actively court service-industry folk, working stiffs and other locals looking for a comfortable place to have a drink. “We want people to get off work and come here to relax,” he says.
Because locals have become more discerning about their beverages—as are tiki-culture loyalists, who might dismiss an establishment if traditions aren’t properly upheld—the drink program is well-considered. Around 15 cocktails make up the menu, including original concoctions and tiki classics like mai tais, plus craft beers, tea service and Dole whips.
The project has been about a year in the making, bar owners Jeff Fine, Seth Schorr and Joe Cain—all principals of Fifth Street Gaming—approaching Powers about ideas for refreshing the space, and Powers immediately placing a tiki concept at the top of his brainstorm. It’s one he’s intimately familiar with. After a stint as a lounge DJ, he promoted parties in the mid-1990s at the old Hanalei Hotel tiki bar in San Diego before graduating to large-scale parties. Though Powers is quick to credit his staff with piecing together Golden Tiki, it’s his relentless creativity that dreamed it up in the first place. And his directive is simple: remove you from the real world and take you elsewhere.
“Tiki Diablo said it best the other day: ‘Tiki bars are time machines,’” Powers says. “When you enter the front doors, you’re going to be teleported to another time. … You’re coming to Flaming Skull Island.”
The Golden Tiki 3939 Spring Mountain Road, 702-809-3636. Opening July 24.