27 Days ’til Tiki – Tropic Cafe, San Diego

The Tropic Cafe hula girl, c1939

27 | Tropic Cafe, San Diego


The Tropic Cafe (1935-1946), arguably San Diego’s first pre-tiki nightclub, was helmed by ‘Skipper’ John Ewing, a career navy man stationed in San Diego. He opened The Tropic Cafe to serve the large transient military population of San Diego. Business was so good, two years after opening he moved to a larger space in the Gates Hotel building, just across Third Avenue from the U.S. Grant Hotel Coffee Shop. In 1939 he opened the Tropic Village room, with moonlit dining and dancing amidst a grove of coco palms, and music by Stone’s Hawaiians. From a freighter-shaped bar — the S.S. TropicAl Jacobs specialized in ‘various new rum drinks.’ Design and murals were by local artist Russell Dale Moffett.


Tropic Cafe newspaper ad, 1937

Everything is ship-shape in this 1939 newspaper ad for The Tropic Cafe!



Kickstarter project 16% funded, thank you! 27 days to go…
28 Days of Tiki is a countdown to the funding of my Kickstarter project, Ninety Years of Classic San Diego Tiki – The Book. It’s a visual history and celebration of San Diego and Tijuana’s Polynesian Pop culture, tiki restaurants, bars and cuisine.

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