Tiki Temples

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These are the houses that Tiki built. Part restaurant, part bar, part nightclub; all aloha spirit. This partial list of Tiki temples represents the Meccas for Tiki geeks, like me, to visit as often as possible. If possible. Some of these places are gone now, torn down or closed up in the name of … progress?

A proper Tiki temple is a place you can go (or could have gone) to escape the real world for a little while. Enjoy a strong, rum-based drink with many layers of flavor. Chow on some Pu-Pu, typically Asian fare with some Polynesian flair. Listen to some cool music, like Exotica, Lounge, Hawaiian, or Surf, preferably performed live. If you’re lucky, catch a performance by a Polynesian dance troupe, including the amazing Samoan Fire Knife dance.

Here are some of the places I’ve been fortunate enough to see for myself, either in-person or through some second-hand tales that inspired me.

 

imageThe Mai-Kai, Fort Lauderdale FL (1956-present). This is the granddaddy of them all, 58 years old and still going strong. The Mai-Kai is the perfect Tiki temple: great drinks, fine food, wonderful atmosphere, and the most authentic Polynesian entertainment outside of the South Pacific. I’ve been there a handful of times now and can’t wait to go back. You don’t have real Tiki cred until you’ve stamped your passport at The Mai-Kai.

 

imageThe Kahiki, Columbus OH (1961-2000). Full disclosure: I’ve never been to The Kahiki. A few years before I started my Tiki journey, this temple was torn down to make way for a Walgreens store. A fucking Walgreens! However, I do feel a connection to this historic place, as I described in one of the many “worlds colliding” segments of my Whenceforth A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge blog post last year (24Nov2013). Jeff Chenault just published a new book, Kahiki Supper Club: A Polynesian Paradise in Columbus, which chronicles the history of how a cold Midwestern town came to host one of the most elaborate Tiki temples ever built. I look forward to checking it out.

 

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Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Village Resort, Orlando FL (1971-present). This is my happy place. My family has vacationed at WDW four times, and we always stay at The Poly. We’re going back for our fifth trip next month! The Polynesian Village Resort takes the Tiki temple to another level: an escape for an extended stay. All of the elements are here, with the addition of authentic Polynesian architecture and amenities. This is a South Pacific paradise conveniently located in Central Florida.

 

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Painkiller, New York NY (2010-13). At the other end of the spectrum, we have this wonderful Tiki bar nestled into an unlikely neighborhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Sadly, PKNY closed their doors when they lost their lease last year, but not before I had the chance to visit. I joined my friends Jack Fetterman and Gina Haase of Primitiva in Hi-Fi for a night of merriment with fantastic Tiki drinks, great music, and surprisingly authentic Polynesian decor. Mahalo, Jack and Gina!

 

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Disneyland’s Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Room, Anaheim CA (2011-present). Disney strikes again, this time in Disneyland with the opening of their own Tiki bar with a Jungle Cruise twist. I wrote all about my visit to Trader Sam’s last year in my blog post Aloha Spirit: Los Angeles (02Jan14). This place has become so popular that Disney plans to open another version of it at…wait for it…The Polynesian Village Resort at WDW. Oh, happy day in my happy place! If only it was open in time for my trip next month. Oh, well.

 

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Three Dots and A Dash, Chicago IL (2013-present). Another great new Tiki temple in an urban setting, this gem opened just over a year ago. Owner Paul McGee has already won awards for his upscale Tiki bar Three Dots and A Dash in downtown Chicago, which looks like a speakeasy from the outside. Inside, down a flight of stairs, you’ll find a sprawling restaurant and bar with meticulously crafted Tiki drinks, great food, and lush Polynesian decor. And the waitresses are pretty cute 😉

 

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The Yachtsman, Philadelphia PA (2014-present). Somewhere between PKNY and Three Dots and A Dash lies the latest urban Tiki bar I’ve visited. The Yachtsman just opened last month in the Fishtown section of Philly, and it has the feel of a cool neighborhood bar. Don’t let that description fool you, though; this place is steeped in Tiki culture. The owners are veterans of the Philly restaurant scene, but they take their Tiki drinks very seriously, with fresh, homemade ingredients and expert craftsmanship. The decor is spot-on Tiki, and they plan to start serving food soon. The Yachtsman has all the makings of a proper Tiki temple, and should become a great one in time. I look forward to my next visit!

So these are the Tiki temples I know or have some experience with. There are many other great places I haven’t been to that are just as wonderful: Don The Beachcomber, Trader Vic’s, The Tiki Ti. I need another trip to California! There are also some brand new places I need to check out, like Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 in New Orleans and Suzanne Long’s Longitude in Oakland. I hope to do that soon, in my continuing Tiki journey. I hope you’ll join me there for a Mai-Tai, some Pu-Pu and a great escape. Mahalo!

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The Hukilau: Day 2

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Friday 13Jun14

Day 2 got off to a slow start, as I caught up on some lost sleep and didn’t get out of bed until 9:30am. Since we didn’t have any scheduled events until 4:30pm, Bruce and I decided to take a walk along the beach and find some breakfast.

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After an omelette and some French toast (needed ballast!), we walked back to the hotel to get my Potions of The Caribbean book signed by Beachbum Berry in the Tiki Bazaar. Bruce ended up buying the book too, so he also got his book signed while he had the chance. His indoctrination into the Tiki ohana has officially begun!

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After that we hit the pool for some relaxation, sunshine, and swimming. It felt good to get the blood pumping a little today. The beer I had at the pool bar afterwards probably negated any exercise benefit from my swim, but today would not be a heavy drinking day (unlike yesterday).

We grabbed an early dinner at the hotel before heading over to the Yankee Clipper hotel to catch MeduSirena Marina’s mermaid show at the Wreck Bar. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the whole show, because I had to head back to the Bahia Mar for my volunteer shift from 7-11pm. I did, however, enjoy some of the staging of the swim show poolside before I had to run. Mermaids – you gotta love ’em!

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My volunteering experience at The Hukilau consisted of manning the door to the ballroom to make sure only people with paid admission got into the main event. This may sound boring, but I got a real flavor for the wonderful mix of people who attend this event. Young and old, male and female, everybody really gets their Tiki geek on here! My friends Beth Lennon and Cliff Hillis fit in perfectly, resplendent in their Tiki attire.

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The highlight of my day turned out to be the after party, which began after the main event (and my 4-hour shift) ended. It began with the transformation of Marina the Fire-Eating Mermaid into Marina the Orion Slave Girl. She was stunning in green!

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The after party was an intergalactic glow-glow extravaganza. Lots of black lights. Glow bands. 60s sci-fi vibe. Planet of The Apes motif with people in ape masks dancing around. The band, The Disasternauts, all wore NASA orange jumpsuits with ape masks, while they played some of the loudest, hardest surf music I’ve ever heard. Good times! Especially for Tiki geeks rejoicing into the early-morning hours. Tonight, I was one of them.
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A. Panda’s Bucket List

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Next year, 2015, I will turn 50 years old. God willing. I’m not a big milestone guy, and I certainly don’t want any birthday party so everybody can celebrate how old I’ve become, as if just making it to half a century is some remarkable achievement. No, I’d rather look at some of the things I haven’t achieved yet and start knocking them out. Hence my bucket list.

I have been working on this for a few years, so I’ve accomplished some of the easier things:

Drank at a Swim-Up Bar, Montego Bay Jamaica, 2003

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Met SHAG, NYC, 2007

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Visited The Mai-Kai, Ft. Lauderdale FL, 2012

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Met Bob and Leroy at Oceanic Arts, Whittier CA, 2013

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So what’s next? Well, I’ve always wanted to attend The Hukilau, the world’s biggest Tiki geek event, so I put that on the calendar for this year. In fact, I’ll be there in a little over a month, and I plan to blog live from The Hukilau, so stay tuned for that. I hope to meet some of my other Tiki heroes in-person there, like Sven Kirsten, King Kukulele, Bamboo Ben, MeduSirena Marina, and Beachbum Berry.

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Speaking of Beachbum Berry, he just announced that he’s finally opening his own Tiki bar in New Orleans this fall. This brings me to my next big item: Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Sounds like a good way to kick off 2015! Look for Jess and me at the Bienville House Hotel in the French Quarter next February, anchoring Bum’s new bar, Latitude 29.

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For a big finish, I really want to see Hawaii. Not just one island, but all of them! Well, at least the big ones, so I can look for Pele in Hawaii, do the touristy stuff on Oahu, try surfing in Maui, and see the unspoiled beauty of Kauai. Jess and I have talked about doing this trip in June 2015, over my actual birthday. As long as we are physically, emotionally, and financially able to pull this off, you will see me posting from Hawaii next year. Book it, Dan-O!

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I will close with a shout-out to Lesley Carter and her blog, Bucket List Publications. Lesley’s blog was the first one I started following after I started writing my own. I was so inspired by her mantra: “Some people make bucket lists to see places before they die; I make them so that I might truly live.” Wise words! Please take the time to check out this amazing blog. Mahalo, Lesley – perhaps our paths will actually cross some day!

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Tiki 101

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What is Tiki?

In Polynesian mythology, Tiki is a male figure sometimes identified as the first man. Tiki can also mean a wooden or stone image of a Polynesian god. But where exactly is Polynesia? Polynesia is a group of scattered islands in the Central and South Pacific Ocean, bordered roughly between New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island.

Conventional wisdom states that the Polynesian islands were settled by Asian explorers headed east. But could there be another story? Again calling on Polynesian mythology, Tiki, the first man, came from the east, following the sun. According to Peruvian pre-Incan mythology, Con-Tici Viracocha, the creator god, disappeared across the Pacific Ocean and never returned. Was there a connection?

Thor Heyerdal thought so. A Norwegian explorer and sociologist, Heyerdal was convinced that Polynesia was settled by South Americans. In 1947, he set out to prove this theory by sailing from South America to Polynesia on a balsa-wood raft, like the pre-Incan explorers did. Heyerdal and his crew constructed their raft using only ancient methods and materials, and named it the Kon-Tiki. They succeeded in sailing from Peru to Tuamota, a distance of 4,300 miles, in 101 days. The Kon-Tiki expedition attracted worldwide attention for Thor Heyerdal and the Polynesian islands. Heyerdal’s documentary of this expedition won the Oscar for best documentary feature in 1951.

The postwar period after 1945 saw an explosion of Polynesian and Tiki culture in America. Soldiers from the Pacific theatre of WWII, who experienced Polynesia firsthand, returned home with stories of a lush tropical paradise and beautiful native girls. These stories led to a growing interest in all things Polynesian, as an exotic escape from the everyday world. During the 1950s, Tiki invaded America in the form of bars and supper clubs, architecture, music and television, art, and home decor. The backyard luaus and basement Tiki bars peaked with the admission of Hawaii as the 50th state in 1959.

As we entered the 1960s in America, the growing drug culture replaced Tiki culture as the preferred means of escape for the next generation. Hippies saw their parents’ backyard Polynesia as pretty square, so Tiki became passé. Many old Polynesian structures and institutions were lost forever.

Fortunately, Tiki started regaining popularity in the 1990s. Urban archeologists like Sven Kirsten led the way back. Kirsten’s 2000 publication, The Book of Tiki, is the seminal work on the subject. He researched and recreated a cultural phenomenon that was, and is, purely American. Tiki today is once again manifest in resorts, bars, artwork, and music. Names like Disney have been responsible for keeping Tiki alive in their parks and resorts (Enchanted Tiki Room, Polynesian Resort, Trader Sam’s). Other names include Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (mixology), Josh “SHAG” Agle (art), Leroy Scmaltz/Oceanic Arts (carving/decor), King Kukulele (music) and many others. Tiki is alive and well!

So what is Tiki? Tiki is:

  • An escapist state of mind;
  • A blending of Polynesia and America;
  • A celebration of culture through art, music, decor and libations;
  • A nod to our mid-century past;
  • A thriving lifestyle today.

For more information, I highly recommend reading The Book of Tiki, seeing the movie Kon-Tiki, and liking my A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge page on Facebook for regular updates on all things Tiki. Mahalo!

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