Tiki Ohana – Authors

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So, as I review my blog series on the Tiki ohana from last year, and after I updated the Artists list with a Part Deux, I realize there’s a new category I need to acknowledge: Authors. I’ve touched on Tiki books in some of my past posts, e.g. Thor Heyerdahl’s landmark Kon-Tiki (Tiki 101and Sven Kirsten’s seminal work, The Book of Tiki (Tiki Ohana – Builders). I’ve also hinted at several other people who were working on new books. Well, over the past few years, we’ve seen some pretty amazing new books published by the Tiki ohana. Please consider the following books as must-haves to start or expand your collection of Tiki literature.

Jeff “Beachbum” Berry: Potions of the Caribbean. Beachbum Berry is the single most important figure in the revival of the Tiki cocktail (Tiki Ohana – Cocktails). His work in researching the origins of Tiki drinks led him to discover that most of them were actually recipes from bars throughout the Caribbean, borrowed and repackaged by Don The Beachcomber and Trader Vic in the 1930s-50s. Bum’s book traces the history of rum going back to 1492, and expertly intertwines world history with the rise and fall and rebirth of rum as the important spirit it is. Potions of the Caribbean also includes a boatload of recipes for rum drinks throughout history, many of which were resurrected by Beachbum Berry himself via interviews with the bartenders who would have otherwise taken these once-secret recipes to their graves. If you’re a fan of history and Tiki, you must read this book. I don’t say this often, but I couldn’t put it down. Mahalo, Bum, okole maluna!

Sven Kirsten: Tiki Pop. What else can I say about Sven Kirsten? He is the undisputed king of the Tiki revival. Sven has published multiple books to this point, but here is something new. Tiki Pop is the companion volume to an exhibition he curated in 2014 at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris: Tiki Pop, L’Amérique rêve son paradis polynésien. My first thought was that it would be tough to build upon The Book of Tiki. I was wrong. By tailoring his message to an international audience, Sven Kirsten was able to expand upon his original masterpiece with an entirely new perspective on what drove the rise of Tiki culture in America. It works. Merci, Sven.

Martin and Rebecca Cate: Smuggler’s Cove. I just finished reading this book, and all I can say is: wow! Martin Cate is the proprietor of a Tiki bar in the SF Bay Area by the same name (Tiki Ohana – Cocktails), but Smuggler’s Cove the book is more than just an homage to the bar. Martin and Rebecca Cate have given us a how-to instruction manual on immersing yourself in the world of Tiki. This book chronicles their journey, but it does so much more. Here we have a thorough history of rum, it’s production methods, and numerous recipes with tips on how to select the proper rums and mixers. Martin and Rebecca have also educated us on how to throw a Tiki party, what the most important Tiki drinks are and how to make them, where to find the best Tiki temples in America (including Smuggler’s Cove) and how they were created. This book has quickly become my indispensable reference for the Tiki lifestyle. Ho’omaika’i ‘ana and well done, Mr. and Mrs. Cate!

Tim “Swanky” Glazner: Mai-Kai – History & Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant. Here is the newest book to arrive in the Tiki Lounge, hot off the presses this Summer. Tim Glazner was the cofounder of The Hukilau and was instrumental in making The Mai-Kai the focal point of this annual celebration. His love of this greatest Tiki temple of them all is illustrated in his beautiful new book, which tells the early history of how two brothers from Chicago moved to Florida and brought their vast Tiki knowledge with them. Tim used his access to The Mai-Kai and its owners to paint a picture of an amazing place, including beautiful pictures, intriguing characters, and a reverence shared by the Tiki ohana around the world. If you’ve never been to The Mai-Kai, you must go. My first visit was a Tiki epiphany (Aloha Spirit: The Mai-Kai). If you can’t physically go, Tim Glazner’s book will take you there in spirit. Mahalo, Swanky!

Tiki Ohana – Cocktails

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The Tiki craze of the 1950s was preceded by the Tiki cocktail movement started in the 1930s by Don The BeachcomberErnest Raymond Beaumont Gantt grew up in New Orleans, traveled the Caribbean where he collected rum-based drink recipes, settled in Los Angeles, dressed up his drinks with flowers and umbrellas and fancy tropical names, and changed his name to Don The Beachcomber (and eventually just Donn Beach). He opened his first restaurant and bar in Hollywood in 1933 and was a huge success, thanks in large part to his celebrity clientele.

The success of Don The Beachcomber led to a string of Tiki-themed restaurants. While Donn Beach opened new locations, imitators like Victor Bergeron with his Trader Vic’s and Stephen Crane with his Kon Tiki chain helped popularize the Tiki bar/restaurant across the country. This popularity peaked in the 1950s and 1960s, and like the rest of the Tiki movement, started to decline in the 1970s and 1980s. Most of these Tiki establishments are gone today, and their wonderful drink recipes might have been lost forever, were it not for the efforts of…

 

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Jeff Beachbum Berry. This guy, along with Sven Kirsten, is the most important figure in the current Tiki revival. Bum has been researching Tiki drink recipes for over 30 years, and his Potions of The Caribbean is the Bible for Tiki drink recipes and their history (get it here: beachbumberry.com/bum-books/). Like Donn Beach before him, Bum now calls New Orleans home, and he just opened his first Tiki bar there last fall, Latitude 29. It is a must-do Tiki temple! I was fortunate to visit Latitude 29 earlier this year, and Beachbum Berry himself welcomed me and even gave me an interview while I was there. You can hear it on my podcast: apandatikipod.podbean.com/e/pandas-tasty-jambalaya. Mahalo, Bum!

 

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Martin Cate. Few people, if anybody, have had a bigger influence on elevating the profile of rum than Martin Cate. He opened his Smuggler’s Cove bar in San Francisco in 2009 to much acclaim, both locally and nationally. Smuggler’s Cove is the physical embodiment of Beachbum Berry’s Potions of The Caribbean, focusing on “Traditional drinks of the Caribbean islands, classic libations of Prohibition-era Havana, and exotic cocktails from legendary Tiki bars.” All of this is served up in a bar with the most authentic Tiki decor you’ll find anywhere. You can find more about the story of Smuggler’s Cove here: smugglerscovesf.com/about/. Okole maluna, Martin!

 

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Suzanne Long. Across the bay in Oakland, Suzanne Long opened her new Tiki bar, Longitude, in 2014. Along with a mix of traditional and modern rum-based cocktails, Longitude features a stunning interior that evokes a spirit of adventure. Ms. Long didn’t limit herself to a strictly Polynesian theme, instead incorporating a whole world of tropical decor including artwork from east Africa. You can read a great review of Longitude here: insidescoopsf.sfgate.com. Full disclosure: I haven’t been to any of the Bay Area Tiki bars, but when I do visit, I’ll make sure to start with Smuggler’s Cove and Longitude. Aloha Suzanne, I hope to see you soon!

 

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Paul McGee. Another Tiki bar I have been fortunate enough to visit is Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago, created by Paul McGee in 2013. I wrote about my first visit here in my blog post Aloha Spirit: Chicago (Jan 2014). Creating a Tiki mecca in the Midwest isn’t without precedent (think The Kahiki in Columbus OH), but Mr. McGee managed to create a Polynesian paradise in a speakeasy-like atmosphere, right in The Loop in downtown Chicago. Not to rest on his laurels, Paul left his baby earlier this year to open a new Tiki bar, Lost Lake, in the western Chicagoland neighborhood of Logan Square. You can read about how McGee partnered with Martin Cate on Lost Lake here: www.chicagotribune.com. Well done, Tiki titans!

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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