A Small Collection

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Tiki mugs are addictive. At least, they are for me. It all started with a nice score on eBay, and since my first Tiki mug purchase, I’ve gone on to collect a few more. I’m now out of room in the shelf I built just 6 months ago, which means I should probably stop buying Tiki mugs. Or build another shelf in A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge. 😎

As I marvel at the small collection of Tiki mugs I’ve amassed in just a few short years, it dawned on me: these works of art are mileposts along my Tiki journey. I will now recreate that journey for you, with pictures to prove it. Here we go.


The Kahiki Polynesian Supper Club, Columbus OH. As mentioned before, I found this gem on eBay, at a pretty reasonable price. There were many Tiki mugs sold at The Kahiki, so it isn’t particularly rare, but I had just begun researching this now-extinct Tiki temple and had a trio of “worlds colliding” moments (see Whenceforth A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge) when I found this mug. It was the start of a new addiction.


The Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show, Fort Lauderdale FL. As my research into Tiki temples continued, I learned of the granddaddy of them all, The Mai-Kai. Founded in 1956 by two brothers from Chicago, this is the oldest and best Polynesian supper club in the world. My wife Jessica and I took a long weekend trip to Fort Lauderdale a couple of years ago (see Aloha Spirit: The Mai-Kai) so I could see this Tiki Mecca for myself. We spent many hours in this beautiful place, walking through the gardens, checking out the amazing Polynesian dance show, and knocking back a few libations in The Molokai Lounge. The tall Tiki mug came with my first Mai-Tai, and the rum barrel came from the gift shop. Good times, and I would return later for The Hukilau.



Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room and Trader Sam’s, Anaheim CA. In 2013, Jess and I hit the road again, this time to California for the 50th anniversary celebration of The Enchanted Tiki Room (see Aloha Spirit: Los Angeles). We spent a couple of sessions in the new Trader Sam’s, where my favorite drink was the Krakatoa. It came with a cool animated show in the bar and this spiffy, lava-dripping Tiki mug. I also picked up this amazing Pele mug by Kevin Kidney at the Enchanted Tiki Room festivities, where I also scored some cool SHAG swag from the man himself. It was a memorable trip that contributed a lot of pieces to the Tiki Lounge.


The Hukilau, Fort Lauderdale FL. In 2014, I left Jessica at home and met my buddy Bruce at The Hukilau, the East Coast’s biggest Tiki weekender event (see The Hukilau: Day 1). 4 days of hanging out with like-minded Tiki geeks led to many new friendships and 2 cool new Tiki mugs: an orange coconut mug and a Marquesian cannibal mug by Eekum Bookum. Tasty.

Tiki Pop, Paris France. Sven Kirsten is the godfather of the modern Tiki movement (see Tiki Ohana: Builders). His newest book, Tiki Pop, was the companion book to the expo he had in Paris in 2014, Tiki Pop : L’Amérique rêve son paradis polynésien, at the musée du quai Branly. I gladly scooped up this tome and the Tiki Bob mug that came with it. Both are displayed proudly in the Tiki Lounge.


Three Dots and a Dash, Chicago IL. Last year, for my 50th birthday, the family took a road trip to Chicago. We spent time visiting my buddy Bruce, who lives in Lincoln Park, and he surprised me with a gift of this cool Tiki mug from Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge in Minneapolis MN. After a wonderful dinner at David Burke’s Primehouse, Jess took the kids back to the hotel and Bruce and I headed to Three Dots and a Dash for some Tiki drinks. While there, I picked up this gorgeous seahorse bowl designed by Baï of Paris. This is the most beautiful piece of Tiki art I own! It would inspire me to get another Tiki mug from Baï later.


Hawaii Kai, New York NY. When we returned from Chicago, my mother-in-law Phyllis surprised me with a gift of this cool bamboo Tiki mug. She got it on her honeymoon in NYC, at the now-defunct Hawaii Kai, Manhattan’s most famous Polynesian supper club. This is the rarest Tiki mug in my collection. Mahalo, Phyllis!


Tiki Lounge, Pittsburgh PA. Last year, we attended the first annual Wildwood Vintage Tiki Weekender in Wildwood NJ (see Wildwood Weekend), organized by my friend Beth Lennon of Retro Roadmap. I made a lot of new friends at the beach that weekend, including Paul Matarrese from Pittsburgh. During a room crawl / swap fest, I bartered one of my music compilations for this cool Tiki mug Paul brought along. The matchbook was a nice throw-in.

 Tiki Farm, San Clemente CA. Tiki Farm is one of the most popular purveyors of Polynesian pop culture around. They’ve created many Tiki mugs during the current Tiki revival, and just celebrated their 15th anniversary with this beautiful mug by Doug Horne. The mug comes with a cast-in spear holder in the back to hold a cool orange spear swizzle stick.


Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at The Polynesian Village, Orlando FL. On a quick trip to Orlando for a work sales conference last month, we made a quick stop in my happy place, The Polynesian. When we were there for our last family vacation, Trader Sam’s was still under construction. It’s now open for business! I met my newest Tiki friend, George Borcherding, for some Dole Whips and a couple of Tiki drinks. Our first drink was the Uh-Oa, which came in this cool bowl. I now have 2 Tiki mugs from Trader Sam’s, one from each coast.


Ku by Baï, Paris France. Ku is the Hawai’ian God of War. This is my 2nd Tiki mug designed by Baï, but this one I got directly from her. Whereas the Three Dots and a Dash seahorse bowl is my most beautiful Tiki mug, Ku is my most detailed and substantial Tiki mug. I really love Baï Tiki’s work – it’s stunning!

So there you have it. These are my prized possessions: Tiki mugs collected along many stops of my Tiki journey. But these aren’t the only Tiki mugs I own. My friends have a habit of thinking of me during their travels, and pick up little Tiki trinkets to bring home as gifts to me. Some of these gifts are Tiki mugs. Nondescript but cool, I haven’t been able to identify their origins, but I display them around A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge nonetheless. Here are a few final pictures of these beauties in action. If anybody recognizes any of these Tiki mugs, please let me know. Aloha!




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Tiki Ohana – Builders

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The Tiki craze was created by Don The Beachcomber in the 1930s, exploded with the return of American GIs from the Pacific Theatre of World War II in the 1940s, swept the nation in the 1950s and early 1960s, and vanished almost completely by the 1970s. Fortunately, Tiki was resurrected in the 1990s and is regaining its popularity today. Here are the current keepers of the Tiki torch who helped build and rebuild this wonderful lifestyle.

 

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LeRoy Schmaltz and Bob Van Oosting. 1956 was an important year for Tiki. This was the year The Mai-Kai opened its doors in Fort Lauderdale FL, and the same year that 2 guys in Southern California opened Oceanic Arts. I’ve written at length about LeRoy and Bob’s story (Keeping The Tiki Torch Lit, Nov 2013). It’s not an exaggeration to say that Oceanic Arts was the most important contributor to the Tiki lifestyle, both yesterday and today. They weathered the downturn of the 1970s and 1980s and are still going strong. Mahalo LeRoy Schmaltz and Bob Van Oosting. Please check out their website: www.oceanicarts.net.

 

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Sven Kirsten. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the most important figure in the current Tiki revival. Sven Kirsten is a self-proclaimed urban archeologist, a foreigner to our shores, who took it upon himself to research, document, and chronicle the Tiki culture of Mid-Century Modern America in his comprehensive tome, The Book of Tiki (2000). By doing so, Sven Kirsten inspired an entire generation of Tiki-philes to come up above ground, publicize their findings, and connect with each other. Sven Kirsten’s popularity is at an all-time high, as evidenced by last year’s successful exhibition at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris: Tiki Pop, L’Amérique rêve son paradis polynésien. Please check out the companion book here: www.taschen.com.

 

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Otto Von Stroheim. The Tiki craze was born on the West Coast, and the revival started there as well. From his home base in Los Angeles, Otto Von Stroheim was an early pioneer bringing Tiki back. He began publishing his Tiki News magazine in 1995 and continues to publish it as an e-newsletter today. Otto and his wife Baby Doe also created Tiki Oasis, the original Tiki weekender event held every August in Southern California, typically in Palm Springs or San Diego. He is one of the experts on all things Tiki, from cocktails and mugs to entertainment. Okole maluna, Otto Von Stroheim. Please check out this wonderful interview at The Atomic Grog: www.slammie.com/atomicgrog.

 

image Christie Tiki Kiliki White. Meanwhile, on the East Coast, a young lady in Atlanta GA was dreaming of putting on a Tiki Weekender event of her own for the folks who couldn’t make it to California. Along with her friend Swanky, Christie Tiki Kiliki White created The Hukilau in 2002, hosted by Trader Vic’s in Atlanta. That first 3-day Tiki weekend was a resounding success, and The Hukilau was moved to The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale the following year, where it’s been held ever since. I attended last year’s event and blogged live all 4 days I was there (Aloha from The Hukilau, Jun 2014). Now considered the world’s most authentic Tiki event, The Hukilau celebrates it’s 14th anniversary in 2015, thanks to the tireless efforts of cofounder and organizer Christie White. Mahalo, Tiki Kiliki! Please check out The Hukilau’s website for information on this year’s event: www.thehukilau.com.

 

image Tim Swanky Glazner. As a cofounder of The Hukilau, Tim Swanky Glazner is the East Coast’s answer to Otto Von Stroheim. An expert on all things Tiki, Swanky has many interests including wood carving, Tiki mugs, and mixology. He is the head bartender at Hapa Haole Hideaway in Knoxville TN, and created The Swank Pad website years ago to keep track of his diverse collections. Swanky is currently researching a book on the history of The Mai-Kai, which given his expertise and collection of memorabilia, should be an amazing read. Please check out Swanky’s Facebook page devoted to his forthcoming book here: Mai-Kai: Mystery, History and Adventure.

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!

Tiki Music: Exotica

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Exotica. The term is often misunderstood and confused with erotica, which is a completely different animal. Although it’s sometimes accompanied by scantily-clad dancers, Exotica is really about music. Tiki music.

Like Tiki, Exotica is about escape. It’s a form of music that takes its listeners to a faraway place and time. One could argue that the earliest Exotica music was created by Romantic-era composers, e.g. Ravel’s Bolero and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. There is some merit to this idea, but the term “Exotica” was coined in the mid-20th Century to describe the music of Martin Denny. It’s a style of music heavy on percussion, including many types of drums, keyboards, and vibes. It also can include exotic animal noises, like bird calls and monkey screams, usually created with a human voice. One variant of Exotica, known as Hollywood, added lush arrangements of strings and horns to make the escape even more dramatic.

So, here are the Exotica albums I’ve come to enjoy over the years, covering a broad spectrum of the genre.

Raymond Scott

Raymond Scott Quintette: Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights (1992). Recorded between 1937-39, the Raymond Scott Quintette’s music sounds as vibrant today as it did 75 years ago. This was the precursor to Exotica: music evocative of a distant and exotic place. Anybody who grew up watching Loony Tunes or Ren & Stimpy would instantly recognize Raymond Scott’s amazing music.

LesBaxter

Les Baxter: Ritual of the Savage (1951). This has been called the most important album of the entire genre. It sounds like a Hollywood movie soundtrack to me. Les Baxter was a pioneer in mixing lush, orchestral music with primitive instruments and vocals, but I prefer the more stripped-down version of Exotica that was soon to follow.

MartinDenny

Martin Denny: Exotica (1957). For my money, this is the greatest Exotica album of all time. Hell, it gave the genre its name! Martin Denny’s version of Les Baxter’s Quiet Village set the standard for everything that followed: a simple arrangement of percussion and animal calls that still manages to transport you to another world.

ArthurLyman

Arthur Lyman: The Legend of Pele (1959). Taking Exotica a step further, Arthur Lyman used his Hawai’ian heritage to focus his musical getaway. On this album named for the goddess of fire and volcanos, he even does a cool version of Scheherazade. If you know of the story of Pele, this is a very appropriate anthem for her.

Tikiyaki

Tikiyaki Orchestra: Aloha, Baby! (2011). These guys from California ushered in an Exotica revival. Their Polynesian theme and Hawaii Five-O references breathed new life into this mature musical style. How many bands do you know with their own airline, resort, and shuttle bus complete with a Mai-Tai bar? Aloha, Baby, indeed!

Ixtahuele

ÃŒxtahuele: Pagan Rites (2013). Exotica from overseas should not be surprising, and ÃŒxtahuele from Sweden does not disappoint. Their percussion-heavy sound is directly descended from Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman, but their rhythms and melodies are uniquely beautiful. If Thor Heyerdahl and his team of Norwegians could chase Tiki, why not 5 guys from Gothenberg?

ElliotEaston

Elliot Easton’s Tiki Gods: Easton Island (2013). Yup, that Elliot Easton, lead guitarist for the ubiquitous rock band, The Cars. Easton Island is his side project making Tiki music, but driven by guitar. This is an unusual move that really works, thank’s to Easton’s clever melodies and homage to a broad range of music, from Surf to Spaghetti Westerns. Let the good times roll!

LeftArmOfBuddha

The Left Arm of Buddha: Exotica Music and Other Savage Stuff! (2013). Another import from across the pond, this time from Belgium. I just saw this group perform at The Hukilau, where they made their American debut. What a show! 8 musicians, 3 dancing girls, 1 wacky fez-wearing emcee with broken English, a video screen playing campy old movie clips, all added up to great Tiki theatre. Shades of Les Baxter and Hollywood, Belgian style!

GolDustLounge

Gold Dust Lounge: Lost Sunset (2014). It’s hard to categorize this band I also just saw for the first time at The Hukilau. Leader Russell Mofsky claims many diverse influences, including Ravel’s Bolero for the title track, Lost Sunset. I hear Arthur Lyman when I play that song. Gold Dust Lounge spans many of the Tiki music genres (and beyond!), but for the purposes of this post, I will declare Exotica.

What amazes me the most about these artists is that they all created original compositions. There are very few covers in Exotica (with Martin Denny’s version of Les Baxter’s Quiet Village one notable exception). With new performers from around the globe playing this diverse style of music, Exotica is in good hands. It is the brightest star in the Tiki galaxy of sound.