Tiki Bob's, San Francisco 1960s
Tiki Bob’s restaurant and bar was opened in San Francisco in 1955 by entrepreneur Bob Bryant, who had previously worked for Trader Vic’s. At the time – the mid-20th century - America was in the grip of a Tiki obsession, created after US soldiers stationed in the South Pacific during WWII returned home with tales of exotic island culture.
There were tiki bars and restaurants galore in American cities, selling exotic rum-based cocktails in carved mugs, or pineapple shells with straws and umbrellas, and so-called Polynesian food which was, in reality, Americanized versions of Chinese and Hawaiian food.
Tikis, wooden or stone carvings in humanoid form, usually looking rather alarming with bared teeth, protruding tongues and intimidating facial expressions, became decorative items in bars and restaurants and even in homes. (In Polynesian culture, they were used to protect sacred sites).
The tiki that was created for Tiki Bob’s, greeting guests as they entered the establishment, was different. Whimsical and charming, it had been given a friendly and mid-century modern twist by its creator Alec Yuill-Thornton (1917-1986). Born in Manila in the Philippines, Alec moved to the US and became a successful architect and artist. But his most famous work remains Tiki Bob.
Sven Kirsten, widely recognized as the world authority on Tiki culture, has described it as ‘part George Jetson and part Modern Primitive.’
The Tiki craze died out as America embraced The Swinging Sixties but Tiki Bob’s remained open at the corner of Post and Taylor Streets until 1983. Successive businesses left the Tiki in situ but did not give this icon the care it deserved. Through the ensuing decades, it was painted different colors, and someone even gave it a pair of spectacles.
That changed when Tiki fans and preservationists Heather David, Martin Cate and Donald Harvey restored Tiki Bob to glory in 2019. The friendly Tiki remains a San Francisco landmark and, in this new wave of appreciation for the Tiki aesthetic, is a focal point for Tiki fans who travel to the city by the bay to see this wonderful relic.
This Tiki Bob’s menu, judging by the prices, is from the late 1960s.
Courtesy Private Collection.
Each order includes a print of the interior menu.