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The SCENE Magazine

The Great Kanakas Atomic Tiki Bar: New Tiki Bar in Kemah Offers Polynesian Oasis 

Jun 01, 2019 09:30AM
Located just a stone’s throw from the Kemah Boardwalk, The Great Kanakas Atomic Tiki Bar (601 5th Street) is Kemah’s newest hot spot. With tiki totems flanking the entrance, it is apparent even before you walk through the doors that the Great Kanakas is the epitome of a tiki bar. Upstairs, the tiki-themed décor and laid-back vibe help create an oasis of sorts where guests are immersed in the Polynesian culture. With palm trees in the corner, surfboard-shaped tables, bamboo walls and a palapa (thatched hut) over the bar inside adding to the island feel, guests can kick back with an umbrella-laden fruity concoction and relax when they need to get away from it all but don’t have the time or resources to actually visit Hawaii. 

Specialty drinks like the Wrong Way John E’s Bombastic Punch (coconut rum, fruit juices and a 151 kick) and the Lost Lagoon (their version of a liquid marijuana) are served in a tiki totem glass with, of course, a colorful umbrella. Specialty shots, such as the Naked Mermaid and the Capri Sun are served in mini tiki totem shot glasses, and they proudly serve Galveston Island Brewery’s Tiki Wheat on tap (they even installed their own tiki totem beer pull for the tap).
There’s a surfboard on the ceiling and an alien riding a pink flamingo in the corner, but the description for their Ocean Water specialty shot, “if you like it dirty, we can make it a Galveston Bay,” offers the biggest clue that owners John and Suzanne Williams are fun-loving people who don’t take themselves too seriously. 

With a dream of one day opening a tiki bar, John and Suzanne came up with the name when Suzanne discovered the word “kanakas” means “average Joe” in Hawaiian. The name personifies their salt-of-the-earth outlook on life and their vision to have a place where everyone feels welcome.

Not wanting to sound cliché, Suzanne explained, “It really is all about the customer experience for us, we want our guests to feel special, and we cater to their needs; providing special requests for alcohol if we don’t have it, we’re willing to get it for you.” 

Testament to the level of their customer appreciation – one of their regulars, who just recently moved to the area from Minnesota and gets homesick every once in a while, was sent a memento from her friends back home; Suzanne had it framed to hang up behind the bar so she can be reminded of home whenever she comes in. 

The open-aired bar downstairs offers karaoke every other Friday night and a DJ provides the entertainment on Saturday nights. Private parties are welcome. There is an area that can be rented out for special occasions. The main bar upstairs is open seven days a week from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. with daily drink specials. 

No reservations are needed to escape and "check in" at the newest addition to Kemah’s nightlife. Be sure to welcome the Great Kanakas Atomic Tiki Bar to the SCENE!

By Shawn Domingues