Create Your Own Backyard Escape
Here is a new project to help you escape from your COVID19 limbo–create a Tiki Bar at home! The original Tiki craze began in the 1940s. Soldiers returned from WWII. They sought an escape from their memories of war and the pressures of modern corporate life.
Many military men fought in the Pacific Theater and had seen exotic locales like Hawaii, Philippines, Solomon Islands, Borneo, Dutch East Indies, and New Guinea. The soldiers romanticized island living. Visiting Tiki Bars and creating backyard luaus and Tiki retreats tapped into…
Jason Henderson and Adam Foshko
“…the rising desire for escape, the need for Americans of the time to be transported somewhere exotic, somewhere exciting–somewhere else.”
Many of us today feel an urge to escape the unending negative news cycle, the division in our nation, and our anxiety about the future. To help you plan your own Tiki Bar, I’ve reached out to two Tiki fans. They have generously opened the bamboo doors of their own retreats.
In San Diego, California, Katie Curtis and her partner, Martin, started with a small backyard that was mostly concrete. After years of maintaining potted plants, she decided to turn it into a living space.
Katie already had a collection of tiki mugs and 1950s barware so the Tiki Bar theme was a natural fit. She created a nautical seating area on the patio. Great accents like nets, barrels and Tiki mugs carry the theme.
Getting the Tiki Bar was synchronicity. Her chiropractor bought a new house and it came with the bar. He wanted to find it a new home and Katie was happy to take it in. She cleaned it up, lacquered it and put the rope around the edge.
The bar became the centerpiece of a second seating area. She found many of her items at estate sales. A special treasure is a velvet painting of Katie’s two favorite things, Tiki and jackalopes.
Twice a year, the Bali Hai Restaurant in San Diego has a Tiki Trader MarketPlace. The artist, Doug Horne had the painting at the Tiki Trader and her partner knew Katie had to have it. (The event was canceled in 2020 due to COVID19.)
“Go with what you like. Make sure you have fun nautical stuff like japanese fishing balls, glasses with swizzle sticks and paper umbrellas. Have fun, that’s the whole point of a tiki bar.”Katie Curtis
Located in Granada Hills, California, Tiki Palace is the ambitious creation of Alex, Melissa and Nick Palazzo. The bar is in the covered patio on the back of the house.
To help reduce winter winds and dust, they built a movable sliding wall. Alex also closed the front with a big cutout window and door. Enlarging the patio pad further reduced dust and expanded the entertainment space.
The custom built bar seats seven and there is an adjacent seating area. A key component of Tiki Bars is “tiki texture.” Create this through floor to ceiling bamboo, rattan, or tapa cloth. Alex obtained the texture through the use of bamboo, thatch, abaca cloth and reed.
The Palazzos like to keep their guests intrigued. They loaded up the bar with photos, tikis and other Polynesian accents. The family also likes to add their own artwork. Alex’s favorite piece is a New Guinea Mask that they hand-painted. The side wall has paintings by his daughter, inspired by The Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland.
One of Alex’s favorite resources is Oceanic Arts, in Whittier, California. The store was founded in 1956, by Bob Van Oosting and Leroy Schmaltz. They spent time learning island crafts in Tahiti and New Caledonia. The store offered rental and retail tropical designs for thousands of Tiki Bars, restaurants and film sets. They are still the go-to source for Tiki, tropical and Polynesian decor.
“There is no greater thrill for me than when someone visits Tiki Palace for the first time and…they stop and look around. The look on their face makes it all worth it.”Alex Palazzo
The Tiki Palace has created a new living space for the Palazzo family. Once an unused patio, the Tiki Palace has become the place where they always want to hang out. Additionally, it is a perfect party space. To accommodate extra guests, Alex built a Tiki Hut in the yard with a fire pit. Their last party, on Valentine’s Day, had about 60 people.
What About Those Tiki Drinks?
The staple of Tiki drinks is rum. Ironically, rum is not from Polynesia, it is from the Caribbean. The history is interesting.
Don the Beachcomber opened in Hollywood in 1933. Ernie Gantt, the owner, took the cheapest alcohol available–rum–and created “Rum Rhapsodies.” Gantt invented most of the Tiki drinks we know today, including the Zombie, Kumatra Kula, Cobra’s Fang, and Navy Grog. His menu had 60 different cocktails.
Victor Burgeron Jr. opened Trader Vic’s in San Francisco, in 1934. Vic expanded the variety and flavors of Tiki drinks. He invented the Mai Tai, the most classic of Tiki drinks. The name came because Vic’s Tahitian friend declared the drink, “Mai Tai Roa Ae!” Tahitian for “out of this world–the best!”
For the Tiki Bar at Home, our contributors recommended Beachbum Berry and Trader Vic’s books. They also suggested taking online bartending classes. Seven Caves Distiller has a Tiki Cocktail class that features gin, as well as rum-based drinks. Acey Deucey Club offers immersive cocktail experiences.
“Sometimes we watch bartenders at Tiki Bars and then try and replicate recipes at home. We make all our own juices and some syrups for a better flavor.”Alex Palazzo
Once you start making Tiki drinks you will realize that they are time consuming. Alex suggested limiting your party menu to four or five drinks. He also makes them in batches and is looking into making pitchers for a self-serve option.
Ready to Create Your Own Tiki Bar?
The Tiki community is fun and welcoming. Here are some resources to help you get started.
Mytiki.life website has descriptions of home Tiki Bars, items for sale and links to other resources.
Facebook has several Tiki lover groups. They include: TIKI for EVERYONE, The Hukilau, and The Original TIKI MarketPlace.
I will close with a quote from California Tiki: A History of Polynesian Idols, Pineapple Cocktails and Coconut Palm Trees, by Jason Henderson and Adam Foshko.
“Fantasy knows no one community. Tiki is always inauthentic except in its capture of dreams…any person can be lost in the hypnotic mix of cocktails, rhythmic music and shadowy, enticing atmosphere. Tiki…has reemerged as an escape from new anxieties and a modern world as alienating as postwar suburbia ever was. Tiki is for everyone.”Jason Henderson and Adam Foshko