San Luis Obispo has its bars and its restaurants. However, the new kid on the block — Creeky Tiki — has lit up Higuera Street since its expansion onto the main road on Nov. 22.
The original Creeky Tiki, tucked away behind Paper Sky and Cowboy Cookie N’ Grub, has existed for about eight months. The small storefront boasts a huge patio area, with views of the river and mission and room for live entertainment. When now-managing partner Mike Maquez was looking for a career change, he found potential in the little grill.
Maquez, who had been manager of Firestone Grill for five years, was looking for something different. As a family friend of Brett Butterfield — one of the owners of the Creeky Tiki — Maquez went to the Creeky Tiki to confide in Butterfield for some career advice, which he found right outside the door.
The key? The vacant storefront on Higuera, formerly Johnson’s Children’s store — which conveniently connected with the Creeky Tiki patio onto Higuera.
“I got the advice, walked outside the door, and noticed this vacant space,” Maquez said. “I looked in there, and I said to myself, I wonder if we could expand this place? So I ran back inside and I was like, ‘Hey Brett, what do you think about this idea?’”
Butterfield consulted his managing partner J Walsh, and decided to bring Maquez on board as a managing partner. They also teamed up with Mike Salucci to piece the plan together and take over the space on Higuera.
Interestingly, that patio area was once home to the hottest bar in town called The Spindle, Maquez said.
“It used to be the biggest bar in San Luis in 1979 to 1980,” he said. “It used to go off. It was the place to be.”
Thus, Maquez saw the Creeky Tiki as a means to revive that same fire.
The first obstacle? Attaining a liquor license for the bar. However, a few loopholes allowed them to carry the license over to the storefront.
“The police chief has put an umbrella over the bars,” Maquez said. “They said there’s no new bars coming into San Luis Obispo on Higuera Street.”
Yet because the original Creeky Tiki already had a liquor license, all they had to do was transfer it over. The liquor license has allowed for the restaurant to have a full bar, along with a full tiki bar outside for patio patrons.
“Well, we were already existing, and this was an expansion onto Higuera,” Maquez said. “So we pulled the liquor into this space.”
The second obstacle — perhaps considered a long-term goal for the restaurant — is reaching everyone in San Luis Obispo: senior citizens, college students, high-schoolers, business people, families and the like.
“We’re for SLO, we’re for the college, but we want a mix,” Maquez said. “We’re not going after the hard-core drunk fighting crowd. That can go somewhere else. It’s a more rootsy feel.”
The décor of the space emits a grassroots feel with old surfboards and vintage surf and skateboard magazines (courtesy of Maquez’s father) replacing the lit-up “Bud Light” or “Corona” signs adorned so often in other bars.
“That’s the feeling, you know?” Maquez said. “Just rootsy, and there’s meaning behind it.”
And the music is different, too.
“We don’t play top 40,” Maqeuz said. “We play 1960s rock, classic rock, underground hip-hop, punk rock. It’s not the commercialized feel.”
The restaurant and bar, which now includes a large multipurpose space, is also reaching out to the community through hosting special events.
“It’s all one venue and there’s multiple aspects to the space,” Salucci said. “We’re not just a bar.”
One such event was the world premiere of the surf film “Intersection,” which packed the surf-themed bar with, well, surfers.
“It was about 300 surfers from Cambria to Guadalupe,” Maquez said. “It was just really fun and it brought everyone together.”
One last thing the restaurant is continually working on is the quality, price, and amount of food, along with conscious customer service.
“We’re really trying to make an effort to really dial in the food and make it good,” Maquez said. “We’re not just going after the hard alcohol. We’re trying to make an effort with food and service.”
Restaurant-goers have taken notice. Nicole Morris and Garth Kelly, who have noted the happy hour deals, said they’re fans of the low prices.
“It’s a really cool atmosphere and they have TVs to watch sports, and it’s the best happy hour in town,” Morris said.
Kelly said she agreed, raving about the seven days a week, 3-7 p.m. happy hour.
“In this town, it’s the same places all the time,” Kelly said. “They get kind of old and you get bored of the same places. So to go somewhere new is fun. And the food is cheap.”
Maquez said he wants customers to feel like they got a good deal and had a great time.
“I want them to be stoked and say, ‘Wow, that’s a great deal,’” he said. “Just trying to unite the community.”
Salucci said he sees potential in the friendly atmosphere.
“We want to be the happiest place in the happiest town in America,” Salucci said.