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!

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!

Aloha Spirit: Sunset Beach

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As I mentioned before, I believe karma introduced me to Tiki, and it continues to swim in my bloodstream. I’ve seen many signs in my travels that have confirmed this for me. Here is an example of what I’m talking about.

Montego Bay, Jamaica, June 2012. Jess and I eloped here 9 years earlier, and we decided to bring the whole family back for our second trip. I wasn’t sure how the kids would do at the Sunset Beach resort, which is family-friendly but has limited entertainment options compared to, say, Walt Disney World. I needn’t have worried – everybody had a great time! It turns out Sunset Beach had made some improvements in the 9 years since our first trip, the biggest of which was a new pirates’ castle with a dual water slide and a lazy river connecting to one of the swimming pools. Add this to the existing swim-up bars (one of my earliest bucket list cross-offs!) and you have fun for the whole family. The kids loved going up to the bars and ordering themselves (virgin) Strawberry Daiquiris, and Jess & I partook of many a (high-test) Strawberry Daiquiri and Piña Colada.

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So what’s the Tiki connection? Well, I never really thought of any before, until I read a recent article by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry promoting his new book, Potions of The Caribbean. Mr. Berry is the world’s foremost expert on Tiki drinks, and he posits that all of the popular Tiki drinks made famous by Don The Beachcomber and Trader Vic in the 1940s-50s in California actually originated in the Caribbean, where rum was king going back to the days of Christopher Columbus. These early drink pioneers simply took recipes popular in, say, Cuba, dressed them up with tropical garnishes, gave them fancy Polynesian names, and voila: Tiki drinks. The most basic of these, Planters Punch, is a simple mixture of rum, lime juice and sugar syrup, and originated in…Jamaica!

But there’s more to this Jamaica-Tiki connection than just booze. During this trip, we were introduced to the Jamaican concept of Irie. I had gotten a sense of this spirit when we first came here to get married, whenever the locals working at the resort would say “no problem” or “ja mon” or just always be smiling, as if the abject poverty outside of the resort boundaries couldn’t get them down, when in fact they had every reason to be bitter about being a very poor nation, but regardless, the Jamaican people we interacted with seemed very happy.

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So what is Irie, anyway? I found a few cool definitions:

  1. adj powerful and pleasing;
  2. adj excellent, highest;
  3. noun the state of feeling great;
  4. noun a state of peacefulness or harmony either with oneself or the world in general.

Wow, sound familiar? Irie and Aloha Spirit are physically worlds apart but spiritually quite close. Although I had never heard the term Irie when we first came to Jamaica, it was everywhere on this trip: t-shirts, posters, signs; some marketing genius must have decided Jamaica’s pleasing spirit needed a brand name! Wasn’t Bob Marley enough of a goodwill ambassador? He surely embodied the Irie spirit of Jamaica.

So, in retrospect, I feel there’s a strong connection between our choice to elope to Jamaica years ago, the joy of of our recent family vacation there, and the spirit of aloha I feel exploring Tiki culture. It was karma that we were introduced to Irie. Mahalo, people of Jamaica. Respect!

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