Start With Why

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A few years ago, I was sitting in a meeting with my Vistage Trusted Advisors team (a professional peer review group) when our host, Lori Blatt, threw us a curveball. Instead of doing the typical host business review, Lori put on a video and told us to relax and watch it. The video was a Ted talk featuring Simon Sinek entitled How Great Leaders Inspire Action. This 18-minute video opened my eyes. I was so impressed with Simon Sinek’s talk that I went out and bought his book on the same subject: Start With Why.

In a nutshell, Sinek claims that people won’t follow you simply because of what you do; rather, leaders inspire because of why they do what they do. His examples included Apple, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Wright Brothers. It’s a compelling story that I bought hook, line and sinker. You start with why, which leads to how, and results in what you do. Sounds simple, right? Sadly, this isn’t the way most leaders think, and those who don’t project why they do what they do don’t sustain success. This isn’t only true for business; it applies in all walks of life.

So, with this newfound knowledge, I asked myself: what is my why?

I really hadn’t thought about this before, being happy learning about the great examples Simon Sinek showed me and reading the specifics of how this all works in his book. I’ve always fancied myself a leader, but I never examined what made me a pretty good one (I’ve been told that I am, so I don’t want to sound like I’m tooting my own horn here). One of the things I’m most proud of myself for is that I’m the same person no matter what the circumstance. Business. Family. Friends. Society. It doesn’t matter who I’m dealing with; I always talk and act the same way. No situation seems too big or too small for me to be myself. I’ve gotten to know a lot of great people in my life, and I can count on one hand the ones I would no longer associate with (nor they with me). This makes me happy.

And then it hit me: my why.

“I believe that I was put on this earth to enter into long-lasting, positive relationships with as many people as possible.”

Whew. That’s a tall order, it’s a good thing I’m an extrovert! But, how do I do this?

“When I meet someone, I immediately act as if I’ve known them for my entire life, and often this leads to meaningful conversations in a short period of time.”

Wow. That’s me. Ask those in my life who interact with me the most (my wife, my kids, my boss, my coworkers, my close friends) and I think they would agree. I drive my family crazy with the way I will talk to anybody, and when they ask me “who was that,” I will often answer them “I don’t know, I just met them.” This ability informs my business success as well. Although I sell energy for a living, which as a commodity business can be very price-driven, I follow a relationship sales model. I have many long-standing customers and consultants who I consider friends. They do business with me because they like me and are comfortable working with me. I may not always have the lowest price, but my service to them is second to none. I always respond promptly, tell the truth, even if it’s bad news, and solve problems as quickly as I can. Simple, right?

So, why am I writing about this in a Tiki blog?

First, it’s my blog and I like to write, so deal with it!

Second, this is a story that’s been bouncing around in my head recently, and I needed to get it out, so here it is.

Third, I’ve been documenting my Tiki journey in these blog posts, and the one consistent theme has been the friends I’ve made over the past 10 years in the ohana.

Tiki is one of my newest walks of life, but I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in a short period of time. With the advent of the Internet, Facebook and social media in general, it’s even easier to develop meaningful relationships. Take my buddy George Borcherding (pictured with me on the cover image for this post), for example. George and I got to know each other via Facebook, as we travel in many of the same Tiki circles. George lives over 1,000 miles away from me in Jacksonville FL, but I consider him a good friend and Tiki brother. We’ve gotten together a few times now, all at Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Village Resort, where we’ve knocked back many Dole Whips and Tiki drinks together. George has inspired me with his love of Tiki, and I hope I have done the same for him. Mahalo Nui Keoki, I love you bruddah!

George is the exception, as most of my Tiki friends are people I haven’t actually met. No matter. Thanks to phones and the internet, I’ve had meaningful conversations with Tiki people all over the world. The syndicated radio/podcast host in Sydney, Australia. The Tiki mug maker in Paris, France. The Tiki wood carver in Kauai, Hawaii. The musicians in Jacksonville, Miami, Houston, and Los Angeles. The artists in LA, Seattle, Salt Lake City, and Melbourne Beach, Florida. The list goes on, and I don’t want to mention all of the names for fear of forgetting somebody. If you’ve read my blog posts, you know who these good people are.

The moral of my story is this: relationships matter to me. A lot. I’m good with that, and glad to know it helps me in all aspects of my life. That’s my why.

What’s your why?

You can check out Simon Sinek’s Ted talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action

After you’ve watched the video, read the book: https://www.amazon.com/Start-Why-Leaders-Inspire-Everyone/dp/1591846447

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A. Panda’s Exotica Lounge

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So, here we go again, back to A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge for another music mix. This time I’m shooting for a compilation of Exotica and Lounge tunes, many of which I’ve only recently discovered. A lot of these songs are from the heyday of this style of music, the 1950s and 1960s. Many more are by modern-day artists who either revisited old chestnuts or created something new. All of them should fill you with a sense of escape, which is what we’re all about here in the Tiki Lounge.

Now, I’m not an artist or musician, though I really appreciate both. Where I flex my creative muscles is in writing and compiling. That’s why I enjoy this blog, and that’s why I also enjoy making music mixes. It really is an art form, mixing up other peoples’ work into something completely new.

For this particular musical collection, I have Dawn Frasier to thank for the inspiration. Dawn is an amazingly talented artist in Seattle who created the painting that is the cover of this mix. The original artwork is now hanging behind the bar in the Tiki Lounge. I also want to acknowledge some wonderful musicians who are Tiki friends of mine and landed in this mix: Jay Brooks of Clouseaux, Tony Marsico of The Martini Kings, Michael Bridoux of The Left Arm of Buddha, John Bartley of Five-Eaux, Mark Fontana of The Blue Hawaiians, Jim Bacchi of The Tikiyaki Orchestra, Brother Cleve of Combustible Edison, Russell Mofsky of Gold Dust Lounge, and all of the other musicians who made Exotica and Lounge music the treasure that we enjoy today. I hope you enjoy listening to this mix as much as I enjoyed bringing it to you. Aloha!

Here’s the playlist in case you want to see what’s in this mix:

A Panda's Exotica Lounge Playlist

And here’s the link to listen to this playlist on 8tracks:

Paradise Lost?

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So, I just finished reading a book about Paul Gaugin called Gaugin: Tahiti. Now I’m not much of an art fan, other than my love of modern Tiki artists (see Tiki Ohana – Artists ,  Tiki Ohana – Artists, Part Deux) and Edward Hopper (see Edward Hopper). I know enough to be dangerous about old-school artists. I never really knew anything about Paul Gaugin and had certainly never seen any of his artwork. When I found out he left France to pursue his late career in French Polynesia, I was intrigued, so I read his story.

Apparently, Gaugin left France because he was disgusted with the traditional art scene, culture and politics in his mother country. He hoped to find a more primitive lifestyle in Tahiti to transform his art. He also had a lust for young ladies, which he partook of in abundance in Tahiti, much to the detriment of his reputation. Many believe it took many years after his death for Gaugin’s art genius to be acknowledged in France because of his horrible character and his outspoken criticism of the French establishment. But that’s another story.

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Gaugin leaves France for French Polynesia in search of a more primitive lifestyle, an escape, if you will. Here’s why I was drawn to this story: it reminds me of Tiki escapism in Mid-Century America and it’s revival today. Gaugin was looking to surround himself with the natural beauty and color of Tahiti to reinvigorate his art. Isn’t that what Tiki does for us now, in a way? We seek an escape through music, art, libations and all things Polynesian, both authentic and faux, to get us to a better place.

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Unfortunately, when Gaugin first arrived in Tahiti in 1891, he was disillusioned by what he found. The French government had beaten him there by at least 50 years, and the colonizers and missionaries did a great deal to subjugate and evangelize the local population. What Gaugin had hoped to find, a primitive culture and people, had become a lot like what he was trying to escape in France. His behavior, both regarding his disdain of the local government and appetite for Tahitian girls, put Gaugin at odds with the Tahitian authorities. Some escape!

Tiki’s original downfall in the late 1960s had a similar story. This so-called “escape” was decried by the hippie generation as a completely artificial and unnatural world. There was some truth to this narrative. Original Tiki did borrow from Polynesian culture in a very loose sense, which some people then (and even to this day) saw as an exploitation of these native lands. Was it wrong or disrespectful to appropriate sacred carved Tikis as gods for a new culture of escapism?

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For Gaugin, his desire to get back to a more primitive state of nature had a noble cause: to improve his art. It’s sad that his own baggage dragged him down, and the colonization of Tahiti demoralized him even further. Gaugin was only human, after all, and human nature in both his own case and the French occupiers of this Polynesian paradise ultimately defeated his ideal. Broken, both emotionally and physically (years of STDs had taken a toll on his body), Gaugin relocated to the more remote Marquesan island of Hiva Oa in 1901 before passing away there in 1903.

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The revival of Tiki culture beginning at the turn of the 21st Century also had a noble cause: the rediscovery of a lost culture in its purest form. Yes, Tiki culture is as much artifice as it is art, but we current Tiki enthusiasts don’t make excuses for this or pretend this escape is something more than just that: an escape. In addition, the broad scope of Tiki culture can lead (and has led for me) to a much deeper dive into its various elements. The differences in Tiki carving styles among the different Polynesian islands. The origin of Tiki drinks from humble beginnings in the Caribbean to exotic cocktails painstakingly crafted by expert mixologists. The architecture and design of lush Tiki temples all over the world.

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Again, there is no need to make any excuses for enjoying the Tiki lifestyle. When I was troubled recently by a video mocking the American occupation of the Hawai’ian islands, my friend George Jenkins responded: “Good luck finding a square inch of this planet that doesn’t have some nasty history associated with it.” Truth. We humans have a nasty habit of fucking up our world through our greed and lust for power. But we can still be positive about Tiki and our brand of escapism, as long as we are respectful of others. Added my friend Scott Deeter: “Hawaii has a very complicated history for sure, Andy. But there is amazing beauty in both the land and the culture there. Don’t be an ugly tourist–just like visiting anywhere.” Wise words from my fellow Tiki enthusiasts.

So, while your enjoying a Mai-Tai, think about all of those who came before us in this escape we call Tiki. Paul Gaugin would be happy to join us there!

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Moana

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I had a feeling about this movie. We’ve known for over 2 years that Disney was working on a new, animated, feature-length film with a Polynesian theme. This was good news, as Disney has been a strong player in the Tiki ohana (see Keeping The Tiki Torch Lit).

The last 2 years have been filled with anticipation as the Disney marketing machine built up to the eventual release of Moana this Thanksgiving weekend. There were news releases when they picked the cast. There were previews, which we Tiki geeks faithfully promoted on our Facebook pages. There was the merchandise, which in typical Disney fashion, was available months before the movie came out. There was even a special pre-release event at our local Disney store, which I happily attended with a bunch of small children, not embarrassed at all to join in the fun. I soaked it all up!

So, of course I went to see Moana as soon as it was released, on Wednesday November 23rd. Thanksgiving eve. My wife, son and I donned our 3D glasses as we found our seats in the surprisingly uncrowded theatre. I had to post the event as a check-in on my Facebook page, because, well, this was a big deal. To me.


Now, for full disclosure, we don’t go out to the movies much. I usually prefer to wait for a movie to come out on DVD or Blu-Ray and watch it from the comfort of home. But this was different. I needed to experience Moana on a big movie screen, in 3D, with full theatre sound. I was not disappointed. I love this movie. A lot.

Moana was transformational for me. I’ll leave the reviewing for others (here’s a good one if you’re interested: #PopCulturePundit), but let me just say this was one amazing movie! I found myself getting choked up as the movie ended, with full-blown tears streaming down my cheeks. It’s a little embarrassing to have my 11-year old son see my crying, but I couldn’t help myself, it was very emotional. There was a happy ending, of course, but the message this movie sends you is much more than that.

Moana is a strong female character I would be proud for my daughters to emulate. She’s headstrong for sure, but respects her elders and loves nature. Moana’ attraction to the sea is central to the movie, and her rediscovery of her Polynesian ancestors’ wayfinding skills is key to resolving the plot of the movie.


After I watched this movie for the first time, I rediscovered a modern-day, real-life voyage I had only casually followed previously: the Mālama Honua worldwide voyage of Hōkūle’a. I was originally attracted to the story of this group of explorers because of my love of all things Polynesian, and I followed them on Facebook without really understanding what they were all about. After seeing Moana, I felt inspired to understand Mālama Honua in more depth, and my eyes were really opened. Their mission is to sail the world and find examples of people helping each other and the environment, with the common thread being the ocean that connects us all. What a beautiful idea, come to life! I had to support and share this message with my Facebook family. I hope you will check it out too.


So, apparently art does imitate life. Moana, as it turns out, is based on some actual Polynesian legends, and is pretty faithful to the stories of Polynesian people. Disney has crafted a masterpiece with this movie, and if it could raise the environmental consciousness of at least one person, than it has told a wonderful story indeed. I’ve already gone to see it again, this time with my mother-in-law. It was her turn to see me cry. Oh, well, I’m not ashamed to show my joy and love for Moana. Go see this movie.

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 – Artists, Part Deux

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About a year-and-a-half ago, I kicked off a series of posts on the Tiki ohana, kind of a who’s who in the Tiki world. My first post was Tiki Ohana – Artists, featuring the artists I had come to admire by that time. Well, I’ve grown in my Tiki knowledge over the past 18 months, and “discovered” and met some more pretty cool artists along the way. Here they are, the second wave of artists to grace the Tiki Lounge.

Kevin-john Jobczynski. I got to know this wonderful artist the way I meet a lot of Tiki people: on the Internet. KJ checked out my page, I checked out his, and the rest is history. He was kind enough to appear on my podcast, where we talked about his beginnings as a sports artist, doing commission work for famous athletes and celebrities, before finally becoming a Disney master artist. Kevin-john has branched out into purely Tiki art as well. I got to meet him in-person at Tikiman Steve’s TikiFest 2016, which was held at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at WDW’s Polynesian Village Resort. Please check out KJ’s amazing art for yourself: http://kevinjohnstudio.com/

img_1176Dawn Frasier. Sophista-tiki is the name of this talented artist’s studio in Seattle WA. Dawn Frasier is a multi-faceted Tiki artist, creating everything from water color paintings, rugs, handmade clothing from exclusively designed fabrics, and Tiki decor in many shapes and sizes. One of her watercolors was featured on Page 6 of Smuggler’s Cove, the wonderful new book from Martin and Rebecca Cate. I’m proud to have a print of that amazing watercolor hanging on the wall in the Tiki Lounge. Please check out Dawn Frasier’s wide variety of work here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/sophistatiki

Chaunine Joy Landeau. This talented lady’s art isn’t exactly Tiki (yet), but Chaunine Joy’s work puts her squarely on the periphery. She’s a big fan of Disney and Tiki, and it’s just a matter of time until we get her to drink the Mai-Tai and start painting something Polynesian. Chaunine specializes in whimsical watercolors painted on a page from an actual book, which is pretty cool. She and I are working on a piece of art for the Tiki Lounge, and I already have the wall space ready for it. Stay tuned! In the meantime, please check out Chaunine Joy’s studio here: http://chauninejoy.tictail.com/

Tiki tOny Murphy. Tiki tOny is an artist I’ve just begun to follow. I saw some of his artwork at the aforementioned TikiFest 2016, both on the walls of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto and on t-shirts worn by a few of my fellow revelers. I also covet some of the custom-painted Vans I saw on his website – they will be mine, oh yes, they will be mine! Tiki tOny was just named the official artist for The Hukilau 2017, and some of the initial sketches he’s shared on his Facebook page look amazing. Please check out his website for those Vans and other cool Tiki stuff here: http://www.tikitony.com/

The Wide, Wild World of Tiki.

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Tiki does not exist in a vacuum. It was born out of the need for escape, and it both feeds and is fed by that need.

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I can trace the roots of Tiki culture back at least to the 1890s, when Paul Gaugin left France for Polynesia, looking to escape the constraints of Impressionist painting in search of a more primitive lifestyle to feed his art. The Hawai’ian music craze of the 1920s in America further fueled our desire for a world of faraway ocean breezes and swaying palm trees. The 1930s saw the invention of the Tiki drink and the nautical flotsam and jetsam-themed bars of Don The Beachcomber. In the 1940s Trader Vic’s upped the ante with full-blown Polynesian restaurants and the creation of the greatest Tiki drink of all: the Mai-Tai. The 1950s brought the return of American GIs from the Pacific Theatre of WWII and the rise of backyard luaus and basement Tiki bars. Tiki culture peaked with the admission of Hawai’i as the 50th state in 1959.

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In the Mid-1960s, it all started falling apart. The Summer of Love ushered in the drug and hippie culture. America had a new means of escape, as the children of the Tiki culture banished their parents’ artificial paradise in favor of a more natural (albeit drug-fueled) release. This back-to-nature movement continued through the 1970s.

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Another culture sprung up in the late 1970s to add insult to Tiki’s injury. Jimmy Buffet introduced Margaritaville, moving the tropical escape to the Caribbean and creating a more-accessible and dumbed-down version of Tiki to the world. Well-crafted cocktails were replaced with alcoholic slushies. Hawai’ian and Exotica music faded to catchy tunes about boat drinks and cheeseburgers in paradise. Carved Tikis and authentic nautical decor gave way to parrots and brightly-colored party decorations. It was enough to make Donn Beach roll over in his grave!

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The 1990s saw the beginning of the resurgence of Tiki culture. Like-minded enthusiasts, brought together by the rise of the Internet, resurrected the lost civilization from Mid-Century America in all of its artificial glory. Today, Tiki bars are opening with well-crafted cocktails made from rescued recipes. Basements are once again adorned with authentic nautical decor, lowbrow artwork, and real Tikis painstakingly carved by modern-day savages. New Exotica bands have brought back the music that was the soundtrack to the original Tiki craze.

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It is here that I should introduce the concept of the Tiki purist. Many of the folks who helped bring Tiki back are very protective of their work, and with good reason. We don’t want to see this wonderful escape relegated to the ash heap of history again. As Tiki gains in popularity, it runs the risk of jumping the shark and being watered down, like Margaritaville. This is why the tight-knit Tiki ohana tends to be wary of newcomers to the scene, until they can be vetted for their “Tiki cred.”


I am not a Tiki purist. Although I’ve been descending slowly down this rabbit hole for over 10 years now, I still value the eclectic nature of my journey. A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge has many of the purist Tiki elements I value most, like carved Tikis, bac-bac matting, bamboo, and cool artwork. I also mix up some pretty authentic Tiki drinks using many different rums and fresh ingredients. However, I’m not above mixing in atypical items to my Tiki space, like pink flamingos, a few tacky decorations, and of course the ubiquitous pandas! If my mother-in-law cross-stitches a sign for me that says “It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere”on it, then I display it proudly at the bar.


I belong to several Facebook groups devoted to Tiki ephemera like SHAG’s art, cocktails, exotica music, and home Tiki bar builds. Some of these groups are led by pretty hardcore purists, and that’s okay. I still enjoy being a part of these groups, but I’ve learned through a few intense but civil interactions that folks take their Tiki pretty seriously. It’s all good, as I can appreciate wanting to preserve the traditional elements that made Tiki great the first time around. I just hope that the newfound popularity of Tiki doesn’t lead to its second downfall. That would be ironic, don’tcha think?

Tiki has always been, and continues to be, an escape. It’s not the only game in town. But to Tiki enthusiasts, both purists and serious newcomers, I believe it’s the best. For an artificial creation to become such an all-encompassing passion, through music, art, drink, and decor, it could only happen in America. Happy Independence Day, mahalo and okole maluna!