Despite its reputation for foggy weather and clam chowder, San Francisco has been a tiki mecca for decades. The latest newcomer to join the ranks is Louie's Gen-Gen Room, "a cocktail bar with food" tucked underneath the ultra-popular Liholiho Yacht Club.
"There's a big expectation of a tiki bar, and I love tiki, but I didn't want to continue to blueprint and do the same drinks," bar manager Yanni Kehagiaras said of the concept. "It's [an] offshoot inspired by tiki, 100 percent, but it starts to bend and break the rules here and there in an effort to be its own thing."
The reservation-only space definitely feels like its own thing. For starters, you're not going to find a tiny umbrella in any of your drinks. Kehagiaras has nixed garnishes from his repertoire, not just at Louie's, but at the other spots he manages, including Nopa, Nopalito, and Liholiho.
"I think it's all stylistically different. I think that stuff is great, but for here, a lot of it is just giving focus to the drink, and having very striking glassware is important to me," he said. "It's not a garnish but a quiet beauty."
The Endless Summer, a drink Kehagiaras calls "a negroni on vacation," demonstrates that quiet beauty.
"Truthfully it's a pilsner glass at the end of the day, but I just see something different in it," Kehagiaras said. "It's a throwback shape-wise to tiki but it's modernized."
The reservation-only element may also seem like a modern touch, but it's more of a logistics thing than a way to be exclusive. With Louie's serving food and being as tiny as it is, it would be a nightmare to have a packed house.
"Obviously there are physical restraints, how many people can you jam in here?" Kehagiaras said. "I'm not personally the biggest fan of reservation bars, but I think there's a different dynamic when there's food involved—and we do have food involved."
The reservation system helps keep the intimate vibe the Louie's team is going for. Drinks are not made behind a traditional bar, but at a kitchen island.
"This bar, by its design, we wanted it to feel like you're bartending at home," Kehagiaras said. "That's part of the aesthetic here."
Louie's homey bar is stocked with tiki basics like Hawaiian rum and coconut milk as well as spirits you'd expect from an industry vet like Kehagiaras that lead to unique tiki creations. The Last Mango in Paris transports you to the tropics with mango puree, and also surprises and delights with Lillet, Pierre Ferrand Cognac, and lemon.
"I don't think we should all be doing the same thing," Kehagiaras said. "You can definitely tip the hat to certain classic cocktails and dance around it, but not necessarily be doing classics. I like the idea of doing original cocktails that obviously have a lineage."
Kehagiaras dances around a piña colada and a white Russian with the dreamy Lounge Act. It's a white rum-based cocktail with coconut milk, coconut water, and a coconut syrup made in-house. It looks like a glass of milk and tastes like a glass of beachy heaven.
Kehagiaras' iteration of the tiki may not include cutie umbrellas or flowery garnishes, but it does include plenty of rum and tropical flavors. What more could you need?
Well, a reservation.