The Bourbon & Branch Guys Opened a Tiki Bar: It’s Got So Much Rum and It Looks Like a Pirate Ship

“It’s got over 150 rums and a glowing waterfall volcano.”

There. Now you have your pitch down for Pagan Idol.

It’s a magical new tiki bar that’s now open in the Financial District, and here it is in all its bamboo-laden, pagan-god-related glory.

This is the latest thing from the guys behind Bourbon & Branch, Tradition and Rickhouse. Good bars, all. But this one’s a full-on escapist fantasy, complete with giant carved wooden idols, glowing glass orbs caught up in fishing nets and a black ceiling twinkling with stars.

You’ll start your evening early in the front bar, built to resemble the captain’s quarters in the hull of a well-appointed pirate ship. Grab a Hemingway Is Dead with rum, grapefruit, lime and maraschino. Or one of 150-plus other rums. And since you’ll likely fancy a classic tiki cocktail, those are there, too.

And sometime in the near future, you may hear the ringing of a captain’s bell. That’ll be your cue to ascend the staircase of glowing skulls and enter the back room. There’ll be another bar there, in addition to that glowing waterfall volcano and some thatched-hut-like booths where you can cozy up to a punch bowl for two.

Captain’s bells always end in punch bowls.


Doug Dalton
Look Inside Pagan Idol, Where Tiki Reigns Supreme: Worship at the altar of fun.

Tiki is nothing if not known for its dedication to a good time, and Pagan Idol is fully committed. The bar from the Future Bars team is filled with details and delights that will make Tiki lovers swoon.

Comprised of two rooms, the bar offers two distinct experiences, starting with the "Captain's Quarters," which is designed to look the the inside hull of a ship. Guests pass through a wooden-walled room that offers porthole views of underwater scenes and sunsets, and beneath a series of ornate lighting fixtures by artist Ivan Mora, depicting the dreaded kraken (giant squid). Then, after ascending a few steps (beneath which lies a pile of skulls, bones and dramatic red lighting), drinkers enter a magical island paradise, complete with thatched tiki huts, massive wood totems and an erupting volcano. Manager Justin D'Olier says that he and the team's hope was to create something that was totally fun and in fitting with Tiki culture, not an identifiable place (as in, this isn't their depiction of a real location like Hawaii). He and fellow manager Daniel Parks, previously of Trader Vic's in Emeryville, created what is essentially a diorama of the tiki world, from the ship to the island.

The ceiling is a twinkling night sky that took countless hours to install, something D'Olier imagines wouldn't have gotten pushed through if they'd known exactly how hard it would be to create. But luckily ignorance is bliss, and the end result has a stunning, transportive effect— especially combined with a volcano that erupts smoke intermittently.

Ellen Fort / SF EATER

Doug Dalton

Your next tropical vacation is in San Francisco’s Financial District, thanks to the guys behind Bourbon & Branch, Devil’s Acre, Local Edition, and Rickhouse -- this veteran team sneakily opened Pagan Idol, the most epic tiki bar in the country last night. How do we know? Well, in true FutureBars fashion, Doug Dalton and company visited all of the country’s best tiki bars and worked for over a year to create a rendition that takes the best of each. They more than match The Tonga Room’s over-the-top décor, and combine it with Smuggler’s Cove’s attention to delicious drinks -- while dosing the whole thing with fun, FutureBars-flavored surprises.

In Pagan Idol’s iteration of the watering hole classic, the Polynesian vibe isn’t so much a theme as it is a way of life -- an immersive experience that will bring you the closest you’ll ever get to joining the cast of Gilligan’s Island or Pirates of the Caribbean... minus the cheesy Disney camp, plus seriously good drinks.

Your journey starts in the cavernous hull of a sunken wooden ship, where the first bar mimics a ship’s saloon. On your right, portholes line the wall, featuring looping videos of fish and sharks swimming by. Custom, glass-blown krakens take over as sconces, and mermaids wrap themselves around glowing glass globes. It’s essentially like drinking in that underwater cave where The Little Mermaid stores her collection.

Take your classic Mai Tai -- or must-order beverage The Banana Life -- in the “captain’s quarters,” which is perfect for getting cozy next to an exotic saltwater fish tank as the sounds of aquatic life make you feel part of an underwater world. If shipwrecked adventure is more your style, continue on to the second bar -- and massive back room.

Ascend a few steps to the main bar area, where the island music gets a bit more bumpin’ and the vibe a little looser. Water fixtures behind the bar bubble like overactive lava lamps, while massive, hand-carved tiki sculptures and graphically painted walls add loads of Polynesian pop. Walk out from under the thatched hut, and you’ll be greeted with cozy private huts and a fiber-optic ceiling that actually twinkles like the night sky.

But the surprises don’t end there: the Tonga Room may offer tropical rain, but Pagan Idol has a trickling water feature -- and a volcano in the corner that erupts periodically, filling the room with mystical smoke.

As for the drinks, come on -- you’re in the qualified hands of the maestros behind Bourbon and Branch and Tonga Room. Tupper and Reed alum Justin D’olie, who grew up in Hawaii, joins the party, bringing his exuberant Aloha hospitality -- and collection of tropical shirts -- with him.

The drinks themselves are a departure from the group’s usual attention to booze-forward, bourbon-leaning concoctions. There are no hangover-inducing sugar bombs here -- instead, you’ll find balanced, fruity drinks in ridiculously fun glassware, likely change your notion of how tiki drinks can taste. While there are definitely heavy-hitters here, like the one-and-done Daywalker (which is essentially a zombie featuring over-proof rum), there are also day-drinking-friendly libations, like the Poolside Affair, which gets its subtle kick from Swedish Punch and comes adorned with an orchid.

It wouldn’t be a tiki bar without a few punch bowls and flaming drinks meant for sharing. One of our favorites is the made-for-two, creamy Rum Monkey, featuring Ron de Venezuela, rhum Martinique, banana, pineapple, orange, lemon, cinnamon, macadamia nut, cream, and a whole egg.

Less-discerning drinkers will be happy to know the menu is more paired down than the typical FutureBars list, and comes with helpful illustrations that allow you to choose your drink by the shape of the glass. After all, vacation is for drinking, not reading.

Amy Cooperman / THRILLIST

Doug Dalton
Drink: Pagan Idol

“No matter how you look at it, it all began on a boat,” says Daniel Parks, beverage director at Financial District tiki bar Pagan Idol.

The latest drinking destination to come from Future Bars, this escapist oasis derives its name from the wooden statues that embody the spirit of Polynesian pop culture. Pagan Idol is a bar on a mission, a space that sets out to tell the story of tiki from exploratory voyage to tropical island.

It’s not the first Future Bars endeavor to home in on a sliver of the cocktail tradition — but with a smoke-spewing volcano and drinks lit on fire, it may be the most whimsical.

Owner Brian Sheehy “had always wanted to do a tiki bar,” Parks says, and after opening Tupper & Reed in Berkeley, the group’s East Bay outpost, he decided it was time. The space has been open nearly six months now, like an after-work Pan Am Clipper to Fiji for the suits and ties of the FiDi plus any assorted jaguar gods.

A trip to Pagan Idol begins in the Captain’s Quarters, a tavern-like front bar reminiscent of a stalwart naval vessel. There’s a steering wheel in the front window, illuminated portholes, an aquarium, and brilliant crackin’ light fixtures crafted by glassblower Ivan Mora. It’s a little more luxurious than the balsa wood raft of the Kon-Tiki tale, and opens for business at 4 p.m. daily.

A substantial, leather-bound book of rums — arranged by country of origin — supplements the splashy menu of 16 illustrated drinks. The book opens with a playful note from a character called “Doc,” and features hand-drawn graphics of more than two dozen rum-producing regions. Off-menu orders are welcome, although why anyone would opt for, say, an Old Fashioned in a tiki bar is beyond me.

The bartenders are decked out in Hawaiian shirts and floral leis, but they’re serious about the construction of their cocktails, which range from traditional to innovative and include time-honored ingredients such as falernum, crème de cacao, fassionola, orgeat, and ron de Venzuela — as well as amusing additions like aloha, relaxation, ancient curse, and death (alone, in the rain). Drinks are ornately garnished with banana leaves, umbrellas, orchids, and fruit wedges, and several are served in specialty bowls and glasses — though the innate pirate qualities of certain visitors has dissuaded the staff from serving cocktails in overly valuable vessels.

House specials include a lip-puckering Mai Tai float made with Rhum Martinique and ron de Venezeula, and the dangerously drinkable Banana Life, a simple sipper that won’t make you think too hard (or at all) as you wrap your lips around the straw. Another trademark of Pagan Idol is it’s well-honed use of fire in the production of the Fassionola Gold — a shared bowl beverage whose lemon oil-soaked sugar cubes are set aflame by a blowtorch and a flairosol filled with rum. (Warning: Emits showers of sparks, sort of).

While most of the drinks are ambitious in appearance and straightforward in flavor — and boozy, very boozy — several are also somewhat serious in their complexity. Flavored with notes of lavender, rose water, citrus, and hibiscus, the City of Refuge toes the line between masculine and feminine, while the Bird of Paradise dusts a savory note of dried-plum powder and sea salt on its cloud of passion fruit whipped cream.

The Captain’s Quarters are sectioned off from the rest of the establishment by a locked door, and as the front rooms begin to crowd, an air of anticipation builds. Visitors start asking when “the island” will be opened for business.

“It usually takes about an hour to get there,” says a bartender, playing along. “There may be a tail wind, but we’re making good progress today.”

Not long after this announcement, a bell is rung alongside shouts of “land ho!” and guests are allowed to explore the back bar at will. Though the Captain’s Quarters never empties, the island, with its sticky floors, private grass huts, wicker stools and mercurial volcano, does tend to be more popular.

The focal point is a 9-foot-tall, hand-carved statue of Lono, the Hawaiian god of peace and fertility. It was carved by Ivan Mora, the same artist who did Pagan Idol’s blown glass (as well as the spectacular chandelier in Bourbon and Branch). Along with a second statue, carved by Al Evans, these two tikis embody the spirit of the island — which is mostly one of whimsy, with very few human sacrifices in the caldera.

“I want this to be the bar people go to to have fun,” Sheehy said at Pagan Idol’s conception.

And so it is. This isn’t really a place to get serious about your beverages. It’s a place to get silly, to slurp frothy drinks through swirly straws and stick little umbrellas in your hair under a fiber optic ceiling beside an erupting volcano that spews smoke over a koi pond. (“When the gods are angry,” Parks says.)

It’s a bit gimmicky, and a bit schmaltzy. But that’s the point.

A. K. Carroll / SF WEEKLY

Doug Dalton
Pagan Idol: Now open, a new tiki bar from the team behind Bourbon & Branch

Say aloha to Pagan Idol, the latest bar from Future Bars, the team behind Bourbon & Branch, Rickhouse, etc., which opens its doors tonight (Wednesday, February 23) in the Financial District. For the group’s newest project, which is an over-the-top celebration of all things tiki, owner Brian Sheehy just wanted his team to have fun. At first glance, it certain seems like they’ve succeeded.

The project is a largely collaborative undertaking according to beverage director Daniel Parks and general manager Justin D’Olier. The relative newcomers to the Future Bars group both have solid bar/tiki backgrounds. Originally from San Diego, Parks worked at Trader Vic’s among other bartending gigs and D’Olier, was a cocktail writer in Hawaii prior to joining Bourbon & Branch in 2013. (The bar also nabbed a couple of bartenders from the Tonga Room for even more tiki cred.)

Located just around the corner from sister bar Rickhouse, the roughly 1,900-square-foot space is divided into two separate areas. Up front, there’s the nautical-themed “Captain’s Quarters” and in the back is a tropical island bar — an oasis that comes complete with large wooden tiki sculptures, private tiki huts, a twinkling starry evening sky and even an erupting volcano water fixture. Parks and D’Olier say that the whimsical design of the space was largely a group effort by the entire Future Bars team, though much of the credit goes to Ivan Mora who has been with Future Bars since the early days.

Parks says that the notion behind the flow of the bar is to loosely tell the story of tiki’s origins — from Captain Cook’s early travels (hence the “Capitain’s Quarters” space up front) to how modern tiki culture became popularized in America. Ultimately, they wanted to create a warm, welcoming and transportive place that people won’t want to leave.

Drinks-wise, the main menu of about 13 cocktails and 3 punch bowls focuses on riffs on classic tiki and other tropical drinks, including the Mai Tai Float ($12) and the Daywalker ($15), which is a play on the classic Zombie. For purists, there’s also a secret classics menu of about 60-80 old school beverages, which will continue to expand as time goes on. For folks who like frozen slushy drinks, there’s the off-menu Pagan Potion #9 ($13), a piña colada made with chartreuse.

Hours to start will be 4 p.m.-midnight Monday-Saturday. Starting next week, most likely, the bar will expand its hours and stay open until 2 a.m.

Sarah Fritsche / SF GATE

Doug Dalton