by Vanity Kills
Ditch the arctic freeze for a tasty slice of your own private tropical paradise. No passport necessary.
Winter! If you live in the north eastern US like myself, it’s a dreaded time chock full of monstrous heating bills, frostbite, and crappy driving conditions that would make anyone long for a tropical retreat somewhere completely devoid of freezing precipitation. Moreover, this is the season of shortest days and lowest temperatures which cause many to experience seasonal depression. It’s quite tempting to cash in all of your holiday time immediately, ditching this frozen hell hole, and boarding the next plane to Bora Bora. Thanks to the tanking US economy, paying for a vacation nowadays is comparable in cost to an organ transplant. If you can’t go to the Garden of Eden, bring the Garden of Eden to you! Fortunately, you don’t need the vast fortunes of an oil Sheik to do so.
Allow yourself to get swept away by the winds of island madness and surrender to the deliciously kitschy world of Tiki.
Despite it’s roots in Polynesian and Hawaiian mythology, Tiki came to signify all manner of miscellaneous paraphernalia of the Pacific islands. The most iconic of which are the carved representations of Pacific island gods. Depending on the carved Tiki in question, the authenticity might vary. Some are depictions of actual deities while some are created solely for the purpose of being sold to tourists as souvenirs. All of these carvings are prized and highly sought after by collectors of “Polynesian pop”.
Tiki first cast its infectious south seas spell in the 1930s when Donn Beach opened “Don the Beachcomber” and Victor Bergeron opened “Trader Vic’s” on the California coast. Copycat establishments soon followed and by the 1950s, mainstream America officially adopted the Tiki bar as a means to escape from life’s everyday headaches. Envision a dark windowless room (the outside world spoils the fantasy of an island getaway) lit by puffer fish lamps hung in excess over the bar and placed above each booth. Looking around you will see exotic foliage, fishing nets, black velvet paintings of nude oceanic lovelies seducing you from the walls, while Les Baxter’s “Ports of Pleasure” plays unobtrusively in the background. Gorgeous women wearing next to nothing serve you tasty rum and fruit juice infused concoctions with campy names like “Mai Tai”, “Singapore Sling”, and “Suffering Bastard” garnished generously with fresh fruit, tropical flowers, and colorful paper umbrellas. Sometimes one would get “lei’ed” with a flower garland upon being seated at their table. In the higher end establishments, it was not uncommon to be treated to a full blown Polynesian floor show which included live music and the traditional dances of Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii, and New Zealand. A performance of the fireknife dance was always a crowd favorite! Nobody cared about a late car insurance payment or an unfaithful spouse (if only for a moment) when watching the enchanting hips of a wahine rhythmically swaying as she danced the hula just a few feet away.
By the mid 1970s the Tiki phenomenon became yet another passé trend and many of the legendary bars, nightclubs, and restaurants went the way of the dinosaur, falling victim to the wrecking ball.
Fortunately a Tiki Renaissance bloomed in the mid 1990s and a fresh crop of Tiki bars have been steadily popping up in the last 10-15 years. Some became successful, others flopped, while several never closed to begin with. There’s no telling if one will open up in your area in the near future so beat luck to the punch, tell winter to suck it, and host a fabulous Tiki soirée in your very own living room.
Living Room Luau
Turn off those harsh overhead lights. Invest in a few strands of Tiki-themed party lights and string them up in strategic locations around doorways, on the windows, and over the refreshment table. Purchase several coconut and pineapple shaped ceramic cups, light small votive candles and place them inside. Make sure you don’t leave them in areas where they’ll be left unattended for long periods of time. If you can score actual pufferfish lamps, by all means use them though they are a bit hard to find. Unless you only plan on showing Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii (on mute) all night long, don’t dare turn that TV on! For an authentic flair, delight your guests with the likes of Les Baxter, Martin Denny, and Arthur Lyman.
When it comes to Tiki, there’s no such thing as too cluttered. Stick carved wood Tikis in any place you can fit them. Whether they’re on the table, the shelves, or guarding the entrance to the bathroom they’re only bound by one rule: the more, the merrier! Spruce up your walls with tribal war clubs, masks, fishing nets, framed postcards from Hawaii, ceremonial paddles, and velvet paintings. Wooden signs with words like “Aloha” and “Tiki Bar” etched into them are also appropriate.
A pu-pu platter stacked high with spring rolls, barbecued spare ribs, crab rangoons, and chicken satay is sure to be a palette pleaser. Serving elaborate examples of Pacific Rim cuisine is more appropriate for smaller, intimate dinner parties while large groups of hungry drunks are more likely to appreciate the easily accessible finger foods.
The core components of most Tiki drinks are rum and fresh fruit juice. Good rum can cost you a pretty penny, so I suggest that you plan a projected drink menu ahead of time. Google up the ingredients in some classic Tiki bar favorites (listing them all here would take up all the pages of Auxiliary Magazine) such as “Navy Grog”, “Singapore Sling”, “Zombie”, “Mai Tai”, and “Planter’s Punch”. Compile the list of necessary alcohols and e-mail it to all the party attendees. It can function as a “liquor registry”. A boozy potluck is a fun way to have a diverse drink tasting menu at a fraction of the price. Serving your libations in Tiki mugs is a must! Popular Tiki mug themes include but are not limited to: skull, pirate, hula girl, Easter Island head, Fu Manchu, coconut, volcano bowls, and Tiki (duhhh!). Fruit, flower, and mini paper umbrella garnishes are mandatory!
Now get out there and raise some hula hell!
from the February Issue of Auxiliary Magazine