How to Build a Tropical Bar

DIY Tiki Bar

Don Williams / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 7 hrs
  • Total Time: 8 hrs
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $200 to $400

Import the easy life of the islands to your backyard or home by building a tropical bar. You'll have no shortage of friends when they find that your house is the ultimate destination for tropical drinks under palm fronds, beach parties, and luaus.

Tropical bars are fun to both build and furnish. They begin with a basic box and a roof, and are more about the joy of sourcing and adding decorations—bamboo, palm fronds, thatch, rattan, and even custom signage—than about fancy woodworking and big-ticket building materials. When construction is complete, have fun pairing up your bar with bar stools and then fire up the outdoor torches.

This bar is 42-inches high, 5-feet wide across the front, and 30-inches deep. It is purposely designed to use low-cost materials for the lower section since bamboo, thatch, and other decorative items can be costly.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Staple gun
  • Scissors
  • Measuring tape
  • Utility knife
  • Oscillating sander
  • Circular saw
  • Cordless drill
  • Speed Square
  • Pencil
  • Putty knife


  • Reed screen
  • Mexican palm-thatch runner
  • 1 sheet 1/2-inch plywood
  • Exterior filler
  • Enamel spray paint
  • Clear polyurethane coating, spray
  • 3 4-foot by 8-foot sheets MDF, 3/4-inch
  • 10 3-inch corner braces
  • 1 box 1/2-inch screws
  • 6 Chair/table glides
  • 7 One-by-four boards


  1. Build the Bar's Base

    With the circular saw, cut the two sheets of 3/4-inch MDF into one large piece for the front, at 41 inches by 60 inches, and two smaller pieces, each at 41 inches by 30 inches, for the sides. The bar has an open back for optional shelving.

    Join the sections in a U-shape with the large section forming the front of the bar and the two smaller sections forming the sides. Use three 3-inch corner braces on each side. Add the six chair/table glides. Be sure to purchase only the type that is nailed or screwed in: adhesive glides will not work.

  2. Mark the Bar Countertop

    Rather than using expensive countertop materials, you will make a simple, do-it-yourself countertop from MDF, exterior filler, and paint.

    Turn over the bar so it is resting on the glides. Lay a sheet of 3/4-inch MDF on top of the bar. Make sure that one side of the sheet is flush with the back of the bar. From underneath, mark a 6-inch overhang in front for the bar top. Do not overhang the sides.

  3. Cut and Install the Bar Countertop

    With the circular saw, cut the board to the specified size. Mount the countertop on the bar, allowing for the overhang. Add weights to the top of the countertop or have an assistant press down on it. From underneath, square up the two sides with the Speed Square, then add four 3-inch corner braces to join the counter to the bar base.

  4. Finish the Bar Countertop

    Butter the edges of the countertop with the exterior filler. Let the filler fully cure. Sand down with #220 grit sandpaper fitted into an oscillating sander. Repeat this fill-sand cycle at least two more times for perfectly smooth countertop edges that will take paint.

    Paint the countertop with an enamel spray paint of your color choice. After painting, sand with #220 grit sandpaper. Paint and sand at least twice. Follow with a similar spray-sand cycle with the polyurethane coating.

  5. Build the Roof

    Run four 1-by-4 boards vertically up the sides of the bar, securing each to the base base with four screws. At top, use additional 1-by-4 to build a rectangular perimeter around the tops of the boards as a supporting ring to hold them together (two boards cut at 60 inches and two boards cut at 30 inches). Attach this rectangle with screws. Top with a 60 inch by 30-inch sheet of 1/2-inch plywood and attach with screws.

  6. Add Grass Thatch to the Roof

    Layer the Mexican palm thatch runner on the roof and staple down. Around the edges, let the thatch hang for effect.

  7. Add a Reed Screen to the Front

    Use reed or bamboo screens woven into 8- to 16-foot long mats to face the bar. Install vertically. Cut each screen at 41-inches long with shears or scissors and staple to the front.

  8. Add Screen or Bamboo to the Roof Posts

    Use the same bamboo-reed screen from the earlier step to cover up the 1-by-4 roof posts. Wrap the posts with the screen and staple into place.

    Thicker 1-inch bamboo mats are available which can lend a more dramatic effect to your tropical bar. However, mats that employ larger-diameter bamboo tend to cost over eight times more than the smaller format, reed-style bamboo mats.