Pleasure Island Tiki Bar in Orange Beach
By John Mullen
April 5, 2018 – Orange Beach, AL (OBA®) - If you travel the Western Caribbean and the Mexican Caribbean you’re likely to encounter an endless number of palapa tiki huts on the landscape. But on the Alabama Gulf Coast, you’ll find just one.
Tiki Bar Hostess“There’s nothing like that in Orange Beach, nothing that’s actually an authentic tiki bar,” Sportsman Marina General Manager Brian Wells said.
Pleasure Island Tiki Bar at Sportsman was Wells’ brainchild and is getting ready to celebrate its fifth anniversary. The square structures are centered on a huge center king pole and the roof is layered with almost two feet of thatched, dried palm leaves. 
“The way the leaves are weaved, at a certain wind velocity the wind just goes through them,” Wells said. “The Caribbean is where they developed this type of structure so that when the wind comes, they lose a few leaves. All the stuff that’s in it may be in the backyard, but they still have the structure.”
Local and visitors alike have gravitated to the sultry breezes off Terry Cove and the breath-taking views of the islands of Perdido Pass and beyond to the Gulf. There they enjoy cold drinks, good times and music with friends and a menu that has evolved into one of the tastiest on the coast.
About two and a half years ago Wells put in place a new general manager over the restaurant, Nancy Van Wynen, who brought in more than 20 years of restaurant management experience. She immediately went to work.
“I went back in the kitchen after coming here,” Nancy said. “Our kitchen manager left in June and I spent from June until May of the next year working in the kitchen, improving the recipes, putting some consistency in place.”
One of those improvements came in the Coleslaw served at the Tiki.
“We stopped putting it on the sandwiches and wraps because people weren’t eating it,” she said. “We improved the recipe and now people ask for the Coleslaw.”
The Tiki's tenderloin sandwich.
Northern visitors get a taste of home from a sandwich suggested by Indiana native Wells. The sprawling tenderloin sandwich has a meat patty about twice as big as the bun. It’s supplied by the Meat Mart on Canal Road, the same place the Tiki gets pork skins which are fried and serving popping hot.
“People love the tenderloin,” Nancy said.
Nancy has also worked to upgrade the fare from just bar food to add some coastal flavors to the menu. More offerings are on the way including a unique seafood sandwich addition.
“We are adding a crab burger and it’s going to be a fresh-made crab cake made here, toasty golden brown and served on a bun,” she said. “We’ve worked and improved the menu trying to bring in a few more seafood items like gumbo. We’re working on a new menu now where we’re doing fried fish and we’ve already added fish tacos. It’s flounder, with a pineapple salsa and a cilantro lime sauce.”
The Tiki Burger with a glazed pineapple slice.
But the most popular items continue to be burgers, wings and a variety of pizzas including a taco version that has a loyal following.
“Our cheeseburger is our best seller and the fish tacos are really popular as well,” Nancy said. “The Tiki burger, we sold over 1,500 of those last year.”
The Tiki Burger is a 10-ounce burger topped by a teriyaki-glazed pineapple, grilled mushrooms, Tiki special sauce on a sourdough bun. If you’re enjoying one and happen to gaze up into the rafters to wonder at the construction of the palapa hut, grab Wells if you see him so he can tell you all about it.
Pleasure Island Tiki BarIt all starts with the king pole.
“It’s just all triangulated to where that center post can’t move once it’s all locked together with the posts underneath it,” Wells said. “It’s just a big trellis. The king post is what the whole structure is built off of.”
The thatch roof is made from 15,000 to 18,000 leaves and Wells said it should last 15 to 17 years.
“A palapa, a Spanish word of Mayan origin, meaning “pulpous leaf,” is an open-sided dwelling with a thatched roof made of dried palm leaves,” Wells said. “It is very useful in hot weather and, therefore, very common on Mexican beaches and the Western Caribbean.”
But you don’t have to travel there to see an authentic one. Just head over to Sportsman Marina in Orange Beach. (Check out Pleasure Island Tiki Bar's page on the Orange Beach Community Website.)
Pleasure Island Tiki Bar