True, Tacoma is a few degrees latitude north of where you'd expect to find yourself sipping on a saccharine-sweet, deadly-strong, fruity umbrella drink. But that's what makes tiki an immersive experience instead of just another bar: It's gloriously anachronistic, and it gets better the farther out of place it is. I won't say Tacoma is about as far as you can get from a tropical setting - we do have honest-to-God beaches, after all - it's pretty close, which is why the exploding tiki scene is reason to visit Tacoma, and a must-do when you're here.
Devil's Reef is the epitome of tiki-done-right, with floor-to-ceiling immersive decor that Disney Imagineers would have a hard time imagining. The darkness is so enveloping that it's almost lurid, and the aged wood and dimmed lamplight so complete that your brain even starts to imagine the humidity. Tables are tucked into private nooks and semi-private rooms, decorated with carvings, primitive boats, decorative ropes and glass floats throughout.
When owner Jason Alexander had to choose between pleasing the masses and staying authentic, he chose tiki authenticity at every turn. That's why you won't find vodka on the rum-soaked menu. Instead, you'll find cocktail names and descriptions that would make Robert Louis Stevenson envious: "The Voodoo Summoning: Heed the call of the great invocation with this liquid chant of passion fruit, coconut, spices and multiple rums." You might get a chuckle from the poetry of the menu, but the strength of the drinks is a point of pride at Devil's Reef, and is no laughing matter.
The new kid on the same block as Devil's Reef is McMenamins' Elks Temple property, with an immersive tiki bar called The Old Hangout. How immersive? The bar features a hot-tub-sized grotto fed by a waterfall. The original plan was to allow patrons to take a dip, but the City poo-poohed the idea, preventing many good times and likely several lawsuits.
What the menu lacks in creative naming and descriptions, it makes up for in "pow, right in the kisser"-strength cocktails like the Voodoo Brew, with Three Rocks Rum, Three Rocks Spiced Rum, Frank High Proof Rum, cold brew coffee, orgeat and coconut cream.
With these two hotspots anchoring the tiki scene in downtown Tacoma within stumbling distance of one another, anyone looking to explore the area will be glad McMenamins Elks Temple is also provides beds for weary travelers and revelers.