In a city where dimly-lit bars featuring minimalist interiors and obscure cocktails dominate the nightlife scene, the unapologetic attitude of Why Kiki is a breath of fresh air. Having opened its baby pink doors in the spring of 2021, the funky beach bar has become a beloved space for anyone who doesn’t shy from a good time and a few racy menu items. As owner Randy Oveson says, Why Kiki is “a place for everyone.”
Opening a new business during a global pandemic is an ambitious endeavor in any industry, and particularly challenging for service-based enterprises. But in a modern marketing marvel, one viral video was all it took to launch Why Kiki into success. A TikTok made by local food blogger MileHighFoodFairy showed flashes of a blacklight-lit stage, appealing cocktails and…phallically shaped food items—enough to raise eyebrows and gain the blessing of the algorithm gods. In under one hour, the 60-second clip had reached more than a quarter-million views and generated comments like “In Utah? Am I seeing this right?”
Almost overnight, Why Kiki became a Salt Lake hotspot. The response was nearly overwhelming, but with the help of community members and strong-willed staff, Oveson says Why Kiki has come out on top. “Our motto has been surviving, striving, and thriving,” he explains. “We are finally out of the surviving stage and we are back to reflect on how to make the experience even better.” And Why Kiki is just that: an experience. Tropical decor and flattering lighting bathe the room in chill. The main beach bar offers more than 30 cocktails meant to be slung quickly and served in fish bowls and tiki mugs. Food offerings feature classic bar fare with a twist, like their signature Chicks and Dicks brunch item, which combines crispy chicken tenders with penis-shaped waffle bites (Joseph Smith, what has this city become!?) When you feel like a change of scenery, head to the basement to check out the speakeasy with its silent disco, or lounge in the covered patio and various private rooms. “The idea is that people can barhop within the same space,” Oveson says.
Why Kiki also hosts a number of events throughout the week that foster a sense of community and give the spotlight to performers of all kinds. On the weekdays, it’s Taco Techno Tuesday, Bitch Bingo Wednesday and a silent disco featuring Latin music and hip hop. Every second Friday of the month the all-drag-king show takes the stage with regular guest appearances from Ben D. Dickson, Madazon Can-Can and Eros Des Flammes, among others. Why Kiki’s Saturday Night Vibes focuses on a different theme each week; those who dress the part get in free before 10:30 p.m. Past themes have included toga, Mardi Gras and time warp. The evening includes other high-energy events like drag performances and lip sync karaoke—this one is for you off-key divas! Sundays are reserved for Why Kiki’s weekly drag brunch, featuring a rotating group of performers like Hoe Shi Minh, Sally Cone Slopes, Molly Mormon, Liam Manchesthair and Diana Lone. Check the bar’s socials for the weekly lineup, and always make sure to tip your performers.
Putting aside Why Kiki’s flashy personality and escapist attitude, the bar offers something even more valuable to downtown nightlife: belonging. Its central location establishes the space as one of the only LGBTQ+ bars in the heart of the city, adjacent to the prominent Salt Palace Convention Center that draws international visitors and big-league public figures. Of course, Why Kiki is a space for all, but Oveson also understands the bar’s responsibility to its community. Cover charges go toward paying performers. Drag kings and queer artists have a dedicated platform and spacious dressing rooms that cater to entertainers who spend hours preparing their craft. Oveson puts it simply: “We want to make sure people feel valued and taken care of.”
Visit Why Kiki (69 W. 100 South, SLC, 801-641-6115) Tuesday through Sunday, and keep up with their happenings and events on Instagram @whykikibar.