Minneapolis may be one of the coldest cities in the country. People have to plug in their car radiators to keep them warm so they don’t explode! This is where Lucas Mark calls home. Lucas is the man behind the Meek Tiki, his blog which chronicles his adventures into the Tiki lifestyle in his neck of the woods and beyond! Let’s get to know Lucas a little better…
What is the Tiki scene like where you are located?
Lucas– The Tiki scene in Minneapolis is very light, as far as I can tell. I don’t know that it ever saw a big surge here during the heyday and most of what did rise up I think died off in the early part of the decline. Minnesota is a land of North European immigrants that only brought with them the clothes on their backs and an infallible work ethic. And that’s carried on through the generations, so the spirit of relaxation and escapism is lost on us I guess. I always say that seems so strange in an area where over half the year is spent with snow and freezing temps. You’d think a tropical escape is just what we’d need around here. We do have our one big hold out: Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge, which is really great, but still on any given evening is filled mostly with your average patron just looking for a pizza and a beer and maybe a little ironic kitsch. I’ve heard of a couple of pop-ups in recent years trying to capitalize on the Tiki resurgence, but they never quite “get it” and they’re gone before anyone even notices. I guess there’s the new Tilted Tiki in nearby Stillwater, which I’ve heard getting pretty good reviews. I haven’t been yet, but have been planning to go with some friends just as soon as I can get some free time from work (see what I mean?).
What brought you into the “Tiki lifestyle” and how long has it been part of your life?
Lucas– This really isn’t a fantastic story, but I can trace it back to a couple of key events throughout my life. I’d say it started on a subconscious level when I was younger and my family vacationed on Maui a couple of times. Even back then, I can remember being completely taken by the island lifestyle. The tropical air, palm trees and sugar cane fields, ukulele music, and especially the laid-back vibe of the locals. No one was ever in a hurry and everyone just seemed so welcoming. So that was always in the back of my mind. Fast forward to adulthood. My wife and I got heavily into vintage and MCM and started going to out-of-state events like Viva Las Vegas, which is where I first became familiar with the concept of “Tiki” and fans of Tiki. So I started developing an interest, but it wasn’t until visiting Frankie’s Tiki room in Las Vegas that I had this a-ha moment like “Oh, this is actually a thing!” Like, a lifestyle thing. And then some friends took us to the Golden Tiki, also in Las Vegas and I was like “Okay, there’s really something to this and I am absolutely into it.” So, it really escalated pretty quickly from there.
When and what made you decide to start blogging about Tiki?
Lucas– I need to preface by pointing out that I’m a furniture maker and artist by trade. Most of my adult life I’ve been making unique things and there’s a constant flow of creativity in my mind. So, after visiting a couple of Tiki bars, I naturally got really fascinated by the decor and imagining what my ideal Tiki escape would look like. The cocktails were equally as rife with inventiveness. So I started doodling and thinking to myself “Man, it would be cool to create my own Tiki bar…” So I decided kind of all at once that I was going to start learning everything I could about exotic cocktails, decor, and lifestyle. I’m not one to half-ass anything and realizing what an extensive and important history Tiki has, and really wanting to respect the people who have dedicated a lot of years to upholding the genre, I didn’t dare come in like some newbie with a plastic coconut mug and a repro aloha shirt saying I was into Tiki.
The blog was really just meant to be for me in the start, as much for fun as just a way to kind of force myself to keep pushing the boundary of my learning and document it. The awareness that my posts were available for critique kept me honest and motivated to have it be relevant and entertaining. It ended up quickly taking on a life of its own though. Soon it felt like it was becoming my new persona. I’ve become obsessed with cocktail craft and rum production. I now spend more time on my Tiki-related social media than my personal. And I find myself planning vacations around what Tiki bars I can access nearby.
What is your favorite Tiki drink? What do you think makes the perfect cocktail?
Lucas– That’s a harder question than I feel like it should be. I’ve barely scratched the surface of cocktails I’ve personally created and each new one I feel like I enjoy as much if not more than the last. I’m always bouncing around on menus trying the drinks I haven’t tried yet, especially ones with recipes that I’m not familiar with. The ones I’ve enjoyed the most though are ones that really feature the rum. I’ve had some drinks that claim three different rums that just taste like fruit punch and that’s not my thing. I prefer the kind of flavorful drinks that elicit an audible “Mmmm…,” but you have to stop and ponder where all that flavor is coming from. I definitely prefer drier and spicier over sweet and fruity, but honestly it all depends on my mood. I seem to be drawn to things with cinnamon and nutmeg. Some of the most memorable ones I can recall are Smugglers Cove’s Parisian Blonde, a Jet Pilot I had at Three Dots and a Dash, and a Poisoned Spear at Psycho Suzi’s. But of course a good Mai-Tai or Zombie I’ll never turn down.
What is your favorite Tiki bar? Why?
Lucas– Again, I find myself wishing I had a better answer. I’ve only had the fortune of visiting a sparse few Tiki bars so far. Something I will be rectifying soon with a big trip I have planned to California where I’ll be stopping at as many well known spots as I can fit in. I have to give cred to my local spot Psycho Suzi’s. It really deserves a lot of credit for being so good while existing in an area where it’s probably vastly under-appreciated. There’s a much more extensive review on my blog (shameless plug). I recently had a chat with their new general manager Andy Marson at an event and he mentioned that part of his goal was to bring back some conventional Polynesian aspects to Psycho Suzi’s. I think he took a look at the Tiki trend resurgence and said “We have the unique position to separate ourselves from the posers by really celebrating Tiki tradition.” (My words, not his; he had a much more eloquent way of saying it.) But with a recent rum tasting event, and then in just a week I’ll be attending maybe their first ever traditional luau event, complete with a pig roast and a floor show I’m really excited about, it seems to me like they’re heading in a good direction that I hope brings them more recognition.
Outside of great drinks, what do you think are essential elements in creating the perfect Tiki environment?
Lucas– For me, I love the ones that take the atmosphere to eleven. Go big or stay home. If a joint doesn’t put their heart into the ambiance, it shows and it kills the whole vibe. If your decor looks like it came from Party City, forget it. A good Tiki bar should tell a story. It should feel like you wandered into a pirate squatter village on a deserted island. I hesitate to say “theme,” but whether it’s more nautical, or voodoo, or tropical, if they really own it, it captivates you. Mostly, I love when you go into a place and feel completely enveloped by it. Like you completely lose track of walls and ceilings and time and you’re just there in the moment with your friends.
Do you feel that music has an important role in creating a great Tiki experience? What would be some of your favorite artists and albums?
Lucas– Absolutely! It goes hand-in-hand with atmosphere. I appreciate a pretty broad spectrum of music from rock and roll, to punk, classical, exotica, metal, even contemporary indie music. But not all of those inspire the same sense of chill as the right mix of exotica, surf, Hawaiian, and lounge music. I wouldn’t say it has to be cut and dry. There’s always room for embellishment. But hanging at a Tiki bar for me is about relaxing and kicking back with friends. So if I have to shout over top 40 hits, I’m already gone. I’m hardly an expert, but I was actually just putting together an upcoming blog post about some of my favorite artists. Cal Tjader is one of my favorites. Of course the classics: Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, Les Baxter, Robert Drasnen, Ethyl Azama. But I like a mix of jazz and soul, too: Frank Sinatra, Anita O’ Day, Billy Holiday. But some down tempo and Latin grooves are great as well. Basically, anything that fades into the background and inspires kicking back and whiling away the hours. There’s plenty of great contemporary groups that I’m slowly becoming familiar with, like Kitty Chow and the Fishermen is one I’m really intrigued with.
What does the future hold for you and your blog?
Lucas– As for the blog, I plan to keep adding to it and hopefully expanding it into more of a lifestyle blog. I’ve got this big trip coming up which is going to give me a ton of new content to talk about. There’s about a million more cocktails for me still to learn. And it just keeps stirring up new adventures I want to be a part of. As I said, I didn’t imagine how this little hobby blog would blossom into its whole own context. In a relatively short amount of time I’ve discovered so many cool things and encountered great bunch of really excellent people. More importantly, it inspired something in me that I think must’ve been just under the surface all along and that’s an aloha spirit I want to continue to share with more and more people. I’ve become a big critic of tacky Tiki and bad cocktails, but really eager to share my knowledge and build on the history. It has me seriously considering what my place is in the Tiki community. I think I’d like to become a conduit for enriching Tiki culture into the next generation with emphasis on respect for the roots. Because the truth that I think a lot of these bandwagon hoppers are missing today is that Tiki is something that was actually culturally significant to entire civilizations. And while I’m not trying to condemn my generation for the way it was appropriated, I do think it’s necessary to understand and respect the history before you can hope to do it justice moving forward. I think the balance of ritual and the kitsch needs to be copacetic.
After that, I’d love to someday get connected with some of the current cocktail gurus of our time and see how the pros make it look easy. My wife and I are already talking about maybe doing Tiki Oasis this year. And I hope to finally meet some of the people I’ve gotten acquainted with through the blog and Instagram and such because they just seem like such great people! It really is Ohana.
Anything else you would like to add?
Lucas– If anyone is ever planning a visit to Psycho Suzi’s, don’t hesitate to hit me up! I’ll always take an excuse to have a Tiki drink with a fellow Tikiphile and swap stories!
Head on over to The Meek Tiki now!