Ohana Means Community

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Last weekend, I ran into an old friend at a concert. I know George Mowrer from the church we used to attend together and from some men’s retreats we enjoyed. Lately I’ve lost my desire for organized religion, so I hadn’t seen George for a while. He asked me if I had found another church, and I told him no, that I was giving that a break for now.

George and I are Facebook friends, so he knows of my Tiki obsession. When George asked me what I was doing to be in community, I told him my Tiki ohana was my community. He asked me to explain that to him, and I tried the best I could before the concert started and we shifted our focus to the music. I’m afraid my explanation must have been pretty disjointed. I will try to explain it better now, so if you’re reading this, George, this is for you.

My Tiki ohana is both real and virtual. I’ve written at length about the many aspects of it (Who’s Who In The Tiki Ohana): artists, builders, chroniclers, musicians, mixologists. I’ll now talk about some of the specific people I’ve gotten to know well, some in person, some virtually. I feel blessed to know these folks, as they truly make up a wonderful community for me.

Beth Lennon. A/K/A Mod Betty, Beth is the creator of Retro Roadmap, a really cool website devoted to spotlighting vintage and retro places across the country with the hope of preserving them. Years ago, Beth came across my A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge page and reached out to me to talk about Tiki. She noticed that there was an interconnect between my world of Tiki and her world of Mid-Century Modern, one that we’ve explored ever since. I invited Beth to come up to Bethlehem so I could show her Steel Stacks; she and her husband Cliff Hillis both came up and we immediately hit it off! Cliff is a musician, a singer-songwriter who is very busy in the Philly music scene. He brought me a copy of one of his CDs as a gift, and I gave Beth a SHAG art postcard that reminded me of her.

Over the years, we’ve crossed paths on many occasions. Beth came back to Bethlehem for a Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica concert I helped organize at Steel Stacks; I spent time with Beth and Cliff at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale; and I helped Beth organize a Tiki weekender in Wildwood NJ, the MCM/Doo-Wop capital of the East Coast. It was at this Wildwood event that I met many people I’ve gotten to know in the local Tiki ohana, folks like Robin Cammarota-Nicholson and Michael Hirsch.

Michael Hirsch. Michael lives in New York City, but his parents live in Allentown, so he comes to my neck of the woods often. Michael has been to my Tiki Lounge a few times. He is an architect by trade, and he is passionate about historical preservation, having written a book on Doo-Wop architecture. Michael organized a tour of historically significant landmarks in Wildwood during Mod Betty’s Tiki Weekend. He also is involved with the Society for Commercial Archeology and brought a few of his SCA friends to the Tiki Lounge the last time he visited.

I’ve seen Michael in other places besides Wildwood and Bethlehem. He and I broke bread together at another Retro Roadmap event at the Village Diner in upstate New York, where I also met his parents, Anita and Syman. It turns out the synagogue they attend is literally across the street from my house! Michael also met my friend Bruce and me at The Polynesian, an upscale new Tiki bar in Manhattan.

Robin Cammarota-Nicholson. Robin is another New York City resident I first met at the Wildwood Tiki Weekend. She and her husband Ken live in Yonkers, but Robin travels the world in her job with the American Council on Germany. Everywhere she goes, Robin searchesm out Tiki hotspots to try out. Although I haven’t seen her as often as I’ve seen Michael, I did run into Robin at a Surf Music weekend in Asbury Park NJ and at a pop-up Tiki bar at Boilermaker NYC, where the bar was taken over by Tiki mixologist extraordinaire and historian, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry.

Jeffrey Berry. Jeff “Beachbum” Berry is one of the most influential people in the Tiki revival movement which began in the 1990s. He has published multiple books on Tiki cocktail recipes and history, travels the world as a Tiki drink ambassador, and opened his own restaurant and Tiki bar, Latitude 29, in New Orleans. I first met Jeff at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale, where I attended his symposium on the dark days of Tiki drinks in the 1970s. I found him to be personable and kind, with no ego, as he spent time talking with me as if I was the only person there.

The next time I met The Bum, he took his generosity of spirit a step further. My sister Anita and I visited Latitude 29 while in New Orleans on some family business. Jeff agreed to do an interview with me for my podcast before we sat down for dinner. He was articulate, genuine, and a wonderful historian during our talk (you can check out this interview in my podcast episode here: Panda’s Tasty Jambalaya). During dinner, Beachbum Berry came to our table and shared a new drink he was working on with us, asking our opinion on it. What a nice gesture from a great guy! I consider it an honor to know Jeff Berry personally, as he is the most accessible and humble of the Tiki titans. Mahalo, Bum.

Steve Seifert. My wife Jess first introduced me to “Tikiman” Steve Seifert, who created a wonderful website dedicated to WDW’s Polynesian Village Resort: Tikiman Pages. Our family are Disney junkies, and The Polynesian is my happy place. Jess began following Tikiman’s website and Facebook page to keep up to date on all things Poly, which helped us better plan our vacations there.

Over the years, Tikiman has asked his followers to contribute to his website, whenever he knew somebody was at The Polynesian and he was looking for on-the-ground reporting. I helped Steve out when our family was on vacation there in 2014. In return, he helped publicize my blog posts through his audience, as I was blogging daily durning our stay (WDW Polynesian Day 1) and Tikiman’s followers took my readership into 5 digits!

A few years later, Tikiman decided to host a get-together for Tiki friends at the Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto in The Polynesian Village. It was really cool to meet him in person, along with seeing other members of the Tiki ohana like Jim Hayward, Scott Deeter, George Borcherding, and Kevin-John Jobczynski.

Kevin-john Jobczynski. I’ve gotten to know and appreciate a lot of Tiki artists over the years (Tiki Ohana: Artists, Tiki Ohana: Artists, Part Deux), but I’ve only actually met a very few of them. Josh Agle was the first, and I’ve documented my interactions with him before (Stalking SHAG). One of my current favorite artists is Kevin-john Jobczynski, who has become somewhat famous as a Disney Master Artist.

I was fortunate to meet KJ at Tikiman’s gathering at Trader Sam’s, where he debuted a new art print created especially for the event. I had previously purchased a piece from him entitled Mai-Tai Sunset, which was one of KJ’s earliest Tiki-specific pieces of art. How cool that he printed it on a piece of driftwood with a bamboo frame and rattan matting! This print, along with several other Kevin-john works, hangs proudly in the Tiki Lounge.

George Borcherding. Like me, George Borcherding is a huge fan of Tiki. I first got to know him via our online interactions, but I have now spent enough time with George in-person to consider him a true friend. All of our meetings have taken place at The Polynesian, which certainly isn’t a bad place to meet. A Dole Whip and a Captain’s Mai-Tai are great reasons to get together!

 

 

 

 

 

 

George, like me, has his own home Tiki bar, which he puts a lot of work into making special. I’ve never been to Nui Keoki’s Enchanted Grotto, but I enjoy following along on his Facebook page to see the latest and the greatest in Tiki decor. I believe he feels the same way about A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge.

One of these days, I will visit George in Jacksonville FL, and I’m sure he will come to Bethlehem PA too. For now, we have many memories we’ve made together at The Polynesian, from the time we met with many of our Tiki ohana at Tikiman Steve’s event, and the time we were a couple of non-Polynesian gringos crashing Auntie Kaui’s birthday celebration in Luau Cove, to just chilling out at the Tambu Lounge sipping on Mai-Tais made by Walter. And we’ll never forget being served by Skipper Natalie at Trader Sam’s, which was sadly the last time we saw her before she tragically passed away at too young an age. Okole mauna, Natalie, and mahalo, Bruddah George, for being a good friend and a big part of my Tiki community.

Tiki Ohana – Performers

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All the world’s a stage, and Tiki is no exception. To wrap up this series on the Tiki ohana, I’m going off script a bit to highlight both groups and individuals who entertain us. Hell, one of the groups isn’t even human! No matter. All of these folks have created a legacy of keeping the Tiki torch alive through song, dance, fire, water, food, drink, and great service. Mahalo to you all!

 

 

MeduSirena Marina. Mermaids are real. This one not only beguiles the Tiki ohana with her underwater maneuvers; she also eats fire, dances as a space-alien slave girl, and is a budding photographer. Marina Anderson, a/k/a MeduSirena Marina, has been holding court at the Wreck Bar in Fort Lauderdale’s Yankee Clipper hotel since 1989. She and her pod of aquaticats have also taken their show on the road, performing internationally wherever a pool with a porthole view has called them. Marina has single-handedly revived this art form from the Mid-Century, and pays tribute to the mermaids who came before her with an amazing show. I was fortunate enough to catch her act last year during The Hukilau, and observed all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into her show. Okole maluna, Marina!

 

 

King Kukulele. Denny Moynahan plays the ukelele. But he does so much more! Under his stage name, King Kukelele, he has performed all over the world, entertaining audiences with his mix of music, comedy, and storytelling, all while wearing his Hawaiian straw hat and grass skirt. King Kukelele is a staple at Tiki events like Tiki Oasis and The Hukilau, where I caught his show in-person for the first time last year. I also enjoy his music on CD, which you can check out here: King Kukelele and the Friki Tikis. Mahalo, King Kukelele!

 

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Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show. There is no greater example of Polynesian culture, outside of the Pacific Ocean, than The Mai-Kai. Opened in Fort Lauderdale FL in 1956, The Mai-Kai is still going strong with their combination of tasty food, authentic Tiki drinks in their Molokai Lounge, ubiquitous Tiki decor (both inside and in their lush outdoor gardens), and the best Polynesian song and dance review I’ve ever seen. I first visited this Tiki Mecca 3 years ago, then returned last year during The Hukilau, which was quite the eventful trip for me! I would highly recommend a visit to The Mai-Kai for anybody who wants to learn what Tiki is all about. Aloha!

 

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Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. This amazing attraction has been entertaining visitors to Disneyland in Anaheim CA since 1963. I first enjoyed this show at Walt Disney World in Orlando FL in 2008, but I was fortunate to see the original during its 50th anniversary celebration 2 years ago. The amazing animatronic display must have been a revelation to visitors fifty years ago! It still enchants the Tiki ohana to this day. I particularly like the courtyard area at the Disneyland Enchanted Tiki Room, where seven Tiki gods tell their stories and Dole Whips are available for purchase. Yum, Dole Whip 🙂 Mahalo, Walt Disney and your wonderful Imagineers!

 

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Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Village Resort. No place offers a more complete immersion into Tiki paradise than this, my happy place. The Polynesian Village Resort opened with the rest of the original Walt Disney World in Orlando FL in 1971. Disney calls their employees “Cast Memebers,” and at The Polynesian, that’s really appropriate! From the minute you pass the sign at the entrance, every person greets you with a warm “aloha” and smile. The buildings are all authentically Polynesian, the amenities are cozy, the food is fantastic, and the Tiki drinks are fist-rate. We’ve been to Walt Disney World for five family vacations (so far), and I would never dream of staying anywhere else. Until we meet again, Auntie Kaui and the rest of the cast members, aloha!

 

For more detailed reporting on these performers, please check out my previous blog posts:

DisneyKeeping The Tiki Torch Lit

The HukilauThe Hukilau: Day1

The PolynesianWDW Polynesian Village Day1