The Golden Age Of Tiki…Now?

Visitors ready to go into The Green Bamboo Lounge

It’s been said that many people consider right now to be the golden age of television. Reason being is that television programs have never been as great as they are now. This would have started with The Sopranos, then Mad Men, then Breaking Bad. The list goes on and on. I have to agree with this statement. Hill Street Blues was cool, but it doesn’t come close to The Wire.

I may be going out on a limb, but I think that we are in the golden age of Tiki right now, and here’s why…

I got the chance to spend an evening talking Tiki history with Humuhumu, creator of the website Critiki and I learned a couple things.

Humuhumu at The Alta Tiki Lounge
Humuhumu at The Alta Tiki Lounge

Tiki was at its highest popularity back in the ’50s and ’60s and started to die out in the ’70s. There was the first Tiki revival that started in the early ’90s and a second Tiki revival that has been going on more recently.

Let’s go back to the Mid-Century. Yes, the Tiki craze was in full swing. Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s had locations all across the country. There were Tiki bars in every city. Many houses had home bars and some of those home bars were Tiki bars. This sounds like a Tiki utopia, right? But I’ve got one word for you: oversaturation. Could it really have been a big deal to go to a place like Don the Beachcomber when a Trader Vic’s was down the street, let alone countless other Tiki places scattered throughout town? I’m guessing not. It’s a total “don’t know what you got till its gone” situation. I’m sure people went to Tiki establishments all the time and never gave it much thought.

Outside Don The Beachcomber
Outside Don The Beachcomber

Let’s talk about Tiki mugs. Back then, a mug was simply a souvenir from the Tiki bar you visited. You’d take it home, put it on the knick-knack shelf beside your snow globe of New York City, and never think about it again. Tiki mugs weren’t worth anything. The proof of that could be found in thrift stores across the country. If you paid more than 3 bucks for one, you probably paid too much. That was until the early ’90s when the fist Tiki revival started.

Aaron's Tiki mug collection

Thousands of people travel to San Diego for Tiki Oasis each year, but there wasn’t thousands of people leading the first Tiki revival. In reality, the numbers were smaller—much smaller. The first Tiki revival was led mostly by punk rock types. Some of those punks broke off and discovered surf, lounge, swing, and exotica. I’m talking about a subculture of a subculture. Many of these pioneers liked Tiki because it was kitschy and their interest was ironic, to say the least. And how were the Tiki drinks back then? I’m guessing pretty terrible, but at least they got you drunk!

Picture an old Tiki bar that somehow survived the ’70s and ’80s and hasn’t been cleaned since. It’s 1993 and there’s a few older people sitting at the bar staring into their drinks. The only reason why any of the patrons are there is because it’s walking distance from their house. Back in the corner sitting in a thatch covered booth is a small group of five people. They are half as old as everyone else in the bar and totally stand out. Why are they drinking in this old Tiki bar? One reason: because they think it’s cool. That’s how I picture the first Tiki revival.

Tonga Hut

Let’s jump up to present day. Here’s the line to get inside Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco. The bar isn’t even open yet!

People waiting for Smuggler's Cove to open
People waiting for Smuggler’s Cove to open

The interest in Tiki that started in the ’90s never went away; it just kept growing and growing. The ironic interest in Tiki turned into a true passion for many. Some sought out to learn the history of Tiki culture…

Rod Moore with Tiki Ti's Mike Buhen
Rod Moore with Tiki Ti’s Mike Buhen

Some wanted to learn how to make some of these classic Tiki drinks correctly…

Martin Cate and Jason Alexander at Tiki Kon 2016
Martin Cate and Jason Alexander at Tiki Kon 2016

Most importantly, new Tiki bars started to open up! These new Tiki bars are totally being made with love and ideas from the past are being used and expanded upon!

Smuggler's Cove

Forbidden Island long bar

All these new Tiki bars need Tiki mugs and Tiki mugs have become an art form. Are they collectible? Totally! People will pay top dollar for some of these mugs…

Horror In Clay Tiki mugs
Mugs by HorrorInClay.com
Munktiki TIki mug collection
Munktiki TIki mug collection

When I walk into a place like the Mai Kai, I’m truly amazed and in awe…

Molokai Bar at The Mai Kai
Molokai Bar at The Mai Kai

It makes me happy when a new Tiki bar opens up. It may be the only one in that city!

Shameful Tiki Room Toronto
Shameful Tiki Room Toronto

When I drink a 1944 Mai Tai, I sip it slowly knowing that I’m tasting a piece of history.

1944 Trader Vic's Mai Tai
1944 Trader Vic’s Mai Tai

Think about all the people that fly to Tiki Oasis or Hukilau. They are taking time off from their jobs and throwing down tons of cash for flights and hotel rooms. Actions speak louder than words. Thousands of people will be going to Tiki Oasis next year and I can assure you that none of them will be taking it for granted. There is a true love for Tiki that is bigger than ever…

Now is the golden age of Tiki!

Ray with a Philadelphia Fish House Punch

 

2 thoughts on “The Golden Age Of Tiki…Now?

  1. Hurricane Hayward Reply

    Nice overview of the current state of Tiki. You may be on to something. But I would say the explosion of craft beer and macro-breweries is more analogous to television since there’s a both a huge quantity and quality. To use a similar comparison, Tiki could be considered to be more like high-quality animation, which is flourishing but is still hard to find.

  2. TikiBobby Reply

    If it’s hard to find, Hurricane Hayward, that means it’s not on the Internet. Much of what is Tiki can be found easily on the WWW. If you want to locate Tiki in your area (or anywhere else in the world), check out critiki.com (the creation of Humuhumu, mentioned at the top of this post). I would, however, venture to say that the “Golden Age” of Tiki had passed us long ago (1950s-60s)–consider the “Golden Age of Hollywood.” But IMHO, we are in the midst of a NEW Golden Age of Tiki, and with the many revivals that have taken place in our contemporary culture (due to the informational access that the Internet provides), the second (or perhaps third, as you suggest) coming is clearly cooler, more fun, and better than that of the past. Ray, I enjoyed your perspective on this topic, and I believe your premise holds a lot of weight. Thank you for the piece. Cheers!

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