One of the best surprises from our recent trip to the South Pacific was a unique establishment called Tisa’s Barefoot Bar. While a bit infamous, it’s also an unassuming place, tucked away along a remote stretch of highway near Alega on the island of Tutuila in American Samoa.
In fact, if you weren’t looking for it, you’d undoubtedly miss it. From the roadside, it’s mostly just a sandy path leading through a gate with a small sign hanging above. There’s about enough space for two or three vehicles to park along the shoulder of the narrow, two lane highway.
It wasn’t until the late afternoon that we got the chance to stop after a day spent exploring the far eastern edge of the island. With no other vehicles stopped—and no sign of life in the bar—we weren’t even sure if the place was open. Nonetheless, the name alone had offered enough intrigue for us to add it to our itinerary. So we parked and cautiously wandered in, down some steps and across a patch of inviting sand.
The setting was simultaneously entirely forgettable and remarkably scenic. While faded flags of random college sports teams hung from the ceiling above the bar on the right, displayed alongside license plates and posters for Vailima beer and cheap barstools—reminiscent of countless and otherwise nondescript dive bars—it was hard not to look to the left. There, multiple decks jetted out to the edge of the ocean, a private sandy beach lurking below the wooden planks. The entire bar was open to the air; no walls to hem you in or to dampen the soft rhythm of the waves. Whether it was open or not, this was clearly an interesting place.
As I stepped in even further, beyond the bar and towards what looked like the only structure with walls, a woman appeared, investigating who had arrived.
“Hello there,” I called out.
She beelined towards me, fastening a lightweight dress around her body as she walked, much like you might a bath towel. I got the distinct impression that she had been nude.
“Are you open?” I managed to ask, feeling vaguely awkward, like an unintentional peeping tom.
“Well, it depends,” she responded.
“Can we grab a drink?” I quickly inquired.
That seemed to be the right question. We made some light small talk and inspected what she had to offer. She handed over the bottle of beer I ordered, and poured Jen her glass of wine, then instructed us to sit at the edge of the deck. She casually poured herself a glass of wine and followed a few steps behind.
Oh, that’s interesting. This was going to be a personal visit—like meeting up with an old friend to watch the sun set and chat about life.
Between sips, we chatted about travel, about the virtues of simple life on the island, and a bit about ourselves. The conversation gently meandered from topic to topic, often punctuated by several moments of silence while we gazed towards the horizon, just enjoying the moment. We learned that Tisa had worked to create a conservation sanctuary in the bay surrounding the bar, led the push for eco-tourism on the island for decades, and also hosted an annual traditional tattoo festival at the bar.
It was clear that she really loved the place, and the lifestyle, and was content with the life she had built for herself. She lamented that we didn’t have substantially more time to spend on the island, in order to really enjoy the pace of island life.
We were interrupted by a brief downpour, which served as an excellent excuse to get a fresh beverage. Some of her extended family, visiting from California, wandered by after some time playing further down the beach. All the while, Tisa held court with the two of us, ensuring that we appreciated the serenity we had found ourselves in.
Long before we wanted it to, the last moments of dusk had arrived. It was time to go—for now, at least. We’d be back the next day, we assured her. And we’d probably bring our snorkeling gear, too. After settling up and thanking her for the amazing time, we departed.
We returned two days later, eager to renew the experience. To our chagrin, however, the gate was locked, and we were flying to Samoa early the next morning. There wouldn’t be a second visit—at least not this trip.
But it gave us another good reason to return to American Samoa.
If you find yourself in American Samoa, be sure to stop by at Tisa’s Barefoot Bar for a drink. Or better yet, schedule to arrive on Wednesday night, when she hosts a popular traditional Samoa feast. Tisa also provides guided tours of the island by reservation, as well as accommodations.
Or, as we learned later, you can also experience Po Ula, a traditional erotic nude dance (and more?) on Fridays near the full moon. See…maybe I was right about the nude thing.
Like I said, this is an interesting place.