The Florida bar celebrating its 65th anniversary updated its drink menu and went non-smoking last year.
When you think of the bars that best evoke Florida’s tropical feel, the tiki bar is a staple. And Sarasota’s lucky enough to have one of the country’s longest-running ones celebrating its 65th anniversary this year.
Opened in 1954 as part of the Golden Host Resort hotel on North Tamiami Trail, Bahi Hut is renowned for maintaining a mid-century tiki bar atmosphere over the following decades. It’s also known for its infamously strong mai tai, which helped earn Bahi Hut the nickname “Bye Bye Hut” for what happens if you have one too many. (I once saw “Archer” star Aisha Tyler speak at Sarasota Film Festival while nursing a hangover from visiting Bahi Hut the night before.)
However, the bar did make some changes last year, including going nonsmoking. It also revamped its drink menu, keeping some of its classics while adding new cocktails made in collaboration with Siesta Key Rum.
I’d visited Bahi Hut before and enjoyed the step back in time it provided (though not too much, as I still remember the night clearly.) But I hadn’t been back since its revamping, so I figured I’d pay another visit and see what the updates did for this piece of Sarasota history.
When I and a couple of colleagues visit Bahi Hut on a Saturday evening around 7, we end up being a few of the only people there. But then, the secluded, in-the-know feel is part of the place's charm, tucked away with no hint to its existence except a blink-and-you-miss-it sign on the North Trail.
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As you walk up to the Bahi Hut's front door, with a wooden spoon handle and two totems looming ahead of it, you feel transported to a different time. And besides the contemporary radio playing and a few turned-off flatscreen TVs, the inside still feels like a cocktail lounge from the ’50s, with a wood bar and two small rooms with tables.
The wood and rock walls are adorned with all sorts of Polynesian masks and tiki culture signifiers. There's also a framed vintage photo of Bahi Hut ("In our Bahi Hut ... authentic Hawaiian drinks or your favorite cocktail"), and in a sign of attention to detail, some of the decorations glimpsed in the photo remain in the bar today.
I don't remember Bahi Hut's smoke being as pervasive as some of Sarasota's other older bars, but it's clear of that now, if that was keeping you away. And if you're a smoker, there's a designated table out near the entrance. Incidentally, there's a vintage cigarette machine inside by the restrooms. It was out of order when I visited, but nonetheless added to the retro aesthetic.
The standby drink here remains the classic rum-based mai tai ($7.75), though Bahi Hut’s exact recipe remains a secret. It goes down easy enough, but is indeed potent, hence a strict two-drink limit enforced here.
Bahi Hut's sneaky tiki ($7) has a similar but sweeter (and less alcohol-heavy) taste to the mai tai. If you get either drink, you can buy a cool-looking collectible tiki mug for an additional $10, then bring in it again for $1 off refills anytime afterwards.
The two Siesta Key Rum cocktails are the Cobra’s Fang, made famous by pioneering California tiki bar Don the Beachcomber, and Bahi Aloha, based on the welcome drink for Puerto Rico's Caribe Hilton. I go with the Bahi Aloha ($12.75), a delicious concoction made with Siesta Key toasted coconut and spiced rums reminiscent of the pina colada that Caribe Hilton was famed for.
Other tropical cocktails available include a rum runner and blue Hawaiian. Bahi Hut also offers a modest selection of bottled and canned beers, all domestic except for Cigar City’s Jai Alai from Tampa. Happy hour runs 4:30-7 p.m. daily and includes $1 off beers and well drinks.
Bahi Hut doesn't serve food, unless you count the free bowls of pretzels our bartender graciously provided us. Yet there are plenty of restaurants on the North Trail that are just a quick drive or walk away.
Some of the closest options include Japanese restaurant Kasa Sushi and Huanchaco Grill Peruvian Cuisine. And if you're looking to do some bar-hopping at Sarasota's longest-running lounges, beloved dive bar Memories Lounge is close by as well.
As for Bahi Hut, the recent updates have helped improve the experience while staying true to the history that's made it one of Sarasota's most unique bars for six decades.
Bahi Hut Cocktail Lounge: 4675 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; 941-355-5141; goldenhostresort.com/bahi-hut
Have a favorite watering hole you’d like to see covered in this column? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally published to heraldtribune.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.
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