Jill is the Director of New Media Marketing at Innisfree Hotels.
Riptides Sports Grill, The Biggest Tiki Bar on the Gulf Coast
Enjoy beachfront luxury at Holiday Inn Resort Hotel, Hampton Inn Hotel and Hilton Gulf Front Hotel steps from the sugar white sands on Pensacola Beach, Florida.
Looking for beachfront dining on Pensacola Beach FL? We suggest you check out the huge hamburgers and best wings on the beach at Riptides Sports Grill.
Riptides offers indoor and outdoor dining. When the weather is fair, the best place to sit is the beachfront tiki bar.
Located on the pool deck of the Holiday Inn Resort hotel, this massive palapa is a cool place to people watch. The sunsets can’t be beat and the Cuban sandwich will not disappoint. Outdoor televisions ensure you won’t miss a minute of your favorite game.
The tiki itself is a very interesting structure and the story of its arrival is seeped in local tradition and entrepreneurial ingenuity.
Leo Folse, the energetic owner of Tiki Isle Art, was it’s chief engineer and builder. He’s an artist and designer with a unique approach. His business model is to “make cool stuff” and he argues that in order to do so he needs to be a “jack of all trades”. He says, “Most designers have a narrow focus but we just go out and find stuff. We’re pickers. If we can’t find it we make it.” Leo’s the guy to call if you need to outfit a nautical themed restaurant with antique crab traps and boating debris.
Born and bred in Pensacola, Leo started his career working in restaurants while doing side jobs in construction. After fifteen years he made an abrupt career change and opened an art gallery. One gallery turned into two and eventually he found himself creating contract art for hotels. He says, “I enjoy hotel jobs because of the freedom I get to express my design style.”
Eleven hotels later, Leo closed his galleries to focus on wholesale art. He’s a d0-it-yourself kind of guy who keeps his company cutting edge by constantly learning new trades. When he found it difficult to source artificial greenery for his clients he added the production of trees and bushes to his business repertoire. He’s since built and installed hundreds of artificial palm trees in Gulf Coast hotels.
Leo’s business changed course once again when he was contracted to transform an abandoned Lowe’s hardware store into the world’s largest indoor RV Park. He was tasked with building a fifty-foot waterfall, fish pond, sixty-seven boulders, two thousand trees and multiple palapas. He rose to the challenge and learned to build huts under the expert tutelage of Pensacola Beach guru Mark Anderson.
Many global indigenous groups built simple, functional palapas suited to their culture and environment. The most recognizable are the tiki huts of Polynesia and chickee huts of the Seminole and Miccosukee Indians, which are well known for their use as Everglade hideouts during the Seminole wars. Mark taught Leo to build palapas in the traditional chickee method.
Tiki culture went mainstream in 1934 when a Louisiana native named Don Beach opened the first Polynesian-themed bar in Hollywood, California. Don’s credited with initiating the American love affair with tropical cocktails, flaming torches and rattan furniture. Three years later, Victor Bergeron, popularly known as Trader Vic, opened a tiki themed restaurant in Oakland California that eventually grew to become a global chain. Both restaurants claim to have invented the Mai Tai cocktail.
Riptides Sports Grill Beachfront Palapa Pensacola Beach
Someday Leo might be known for reinvigorating the tiki trend in northwest Florida. He says, “My hands have been on every large commercial palapa west of Mexico Beach”. We build them from scratch and have it down to a science.” Leo crafts his huts from cypress or juniper trees. He says, “Unlike the guys up north, I buy my wood directly from lumber jacks who cut it out of the swamp. When the trees arrive they still have limbs.”
Leo started building the Holiday Inn Resort palapa by erecting the thirty-eight foot, 4,700-pound king post. He had to rent an extra large crane to suspend it in mid air while two other smaller cranes maneuvered the supporting posts into place. The logs were bolted together while the frame was suspended. The thatch, which is a foot thick, was delivered in two seventy-foot semi trailer trucks.
Leo says, “My work is prison labor hard. I’m the guy that has to go all the way to the top to tie the rope and I’m always the fastest thatcher. However, I love the fact that the beach is my office. When I’m done working I jump in the ocean and surf. I’m very proud to have built the biggest hut on the Gulf. This was an exciting project and it’s cool that it happened in my hometown.”
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