Bahi Hut: Tamiami Trail’s treasure
“So the Bahi Hut… Many memories, mostly pleasantly hazy,” reflected New College alum William “Bill” Rosenberg (’73) about the historic bar tucked away in the Golden Host Resort Hotel off of Highway 41. Since its debut in 1954, not much has changed inside Bahi Hut, whether it is its interior design, indoor smoking habits or “World Famous Mai Tai” which to this day only a handful of people know the recipe to. The tiki bar, perhaps overlooked in North Sarasota, is a staple to Sarasotan regulars and New College students – a place where memories begin to form, only to be drowned out by the sweet nectar of the Mai Tai.
Although Bahi Hut has stayed pretty much the same, a lot has changed on the Tamiami Trail since Rosenberg attended New College in the 1970s. Life on “the Trail,” as he referred to it endearingly, used to be a vibrant place filled with neighborhood bars, restaurants and old Florida-styled motels. It was a social hub for young adults to congregate after a studious week within the confines of campus, and the Bahi Hut provided just the spot.
“It was cool for a lot of reasons,” Rosenberg said. “It was really close to campus. It was one of those places that was comfortable and had that dive-bar vibe.”
When Rosenberg started frequenting it, Bahi Hut had been around for nearly 20 years. What is familiar to us frequent customers today as the “two Mai Tai limit,” was merely a suggestion and judgment of character back then.
“I know you couldn’t put down two and then walk,” Rosenberg laughed. “It was scary.”
Set to BACC in the summer of 1979, Rosenberg’s financial aid ran out. He had been working at the Cop Shop for a while when his boss caught wind of his financial situation and secured him a job with the Longboat Key Police Department as a dispatcher.
“I lived a real double life,” he told me. “I’d go to work wearing my uniform and everything. And then I’d come home, back to campus and was hanging out there. It was really crazy.”
Rosenberg reflected on a night in 1979 in particular when he and a co-worker wound up at Bahi Hut. “Having driven over there in her white Toyota Celica convertible [we] had an amazing time… Memories of said time becoming fuzzier and fuzzier as the night went on.”
At some point, Rosenberg said, he was nominated to be the designated driver back to his duplex. At the time, he admitted that all seemed well, until morning.
“The next morning, the sun was up, the birds were singing in time to my throbbing headache it seemed,” he said. “My friend went to head home but came back in and said to me ‘Come out here, you’re not going to believe this!’”
Rosenberg, dazed and hung over, stumbled to his friend laying his eyes on what used to be his rosebush, replaced “squarely and neatly” by the Toyota Celica.
“Apparently I managed to mistake the rosebush for the driveway. Neither of us had noticed anything at all amiss the night before, and so it goes.” I could hear him smiling.
Bahi Hut, among other bars of Tamiami’s past, was just as popular among students then as it is today. The bar contributed majorly to what used to be a drinking age of 18. Its close proximity to campus also drew in the masses in addition to the guests from the Golden Host Resort, which remains today largely due to Bahi Hut’s popularity.
“If somebody really got trashed and didn’t want to go back [to campus] or had guests, they could get a room and hang out for the night. [Bahi Hut] just always had a good reputation.”
Even after many years, the remnants of Bahi Hut’s tropical and coconut-y flavored drinks, dressed up in fancy umbrellas, continue to linger on the tongue of Rosenberg.
“[The drinks] all had one thing in common though,” he pauses before delivering his punch line. “They would all knock you on your ass.”
Rosenberg explained that everyone loved the legendary Mai Tai’s, frequently using them to test each other’s limits: “Can you drink two and still be able to walk?”
For first-year alum Aric Smith (‘11) the dive bar quickly became a popular hangout after he was invited to the bar for a friend’s 21st birthday.
“I had heard stories about the Mai Tai’s ever since my first year at New College,” Smith reflected. “I was a little skeptical when I first got invited just because of the fact that the bar was attached to one of the motels lining Tamiami Trail.”
Smith said soon after he pulled the wooden handles of Bahi Hut all of his concerns were sucked down with his Mai Tai.
“It was strong, I didn’t like it,” Smith cringed. “But yeah, it was strong.”
Despite a particularly rough night that evolved after Bahi Hut’s “world famous” drink, the quirky and historic atmosphere of the place continues to pull Smith and his friends back to the dimly lit bar. When looking for a cheap night filled with strong drinks (and unlimited complimentary pretzels) Smith says he will always return to the bar’s alcove in the back facing a painting of three smiling lionesses.
“It’s a weird old tiki bar from the 1950s and they pour strong drinks,” Smith said. “What more is there to say?”
When I walked into Bahi Hut, it was just shy of five o’clock on a Monday, with only a handful of people lounging at the bar: some with beers in hand, others with specialty drinks. “Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry echoed over the speakers., The bartender, known as Frosty, approached me offering me pretzels and a smile. Frosty, one of the newer faces at the bar, has been bartending for 25 years, but only six months at Bahi Hut.
“People are drawn here because of [Bahi Hut’s] historical value,” Frosty said, directing me toward boastful newspaper clippings hanging from the brittle walls.
Frosty explained a normal night at Bahi Hut is typically filled with regulars from the surrounding neighborhoods of Tamiami Trail, as well as the curious out-of-towner interested in the tucked-away bar and its drinks.
At around 5:30, Mike Marcouiller, a 12-year Bahi Hut veteran, sat down at the bar and ordered a Mai Tai “because that’s fun to do” he said. Marcouiller’s initial attraction to the bar began when his friends introduced it to him as the “Bye-Bye” Hut.
“You know, after two Mai Tai’s, you go bye-bye,” he said with a smile. “But I don’t know, everyone has their own way [of saying Bahi Hut.]”
Even without his friend’s recommendation, Marcouiller says Bahi Hut has its own charm explaining that it is a Sarasota landmark, and an under-the-radar spot.
“It’s a hugely eclectic place and brings in lots of different people,” he said.
To Marcouiller, the bar brings about feelings of nostalgia. He said it has an odd resemblance to old Holiday Inn bars he used to see when his parents would take him on vacation.
For more than 60 years, Bahi Hut has been Tamiami Trail’s watering hole, bringing in New College students and curious onlookers alike. True to its 1950s radio jingle, Bahi Hut is still the spot.