Six ways to celebrate Tiki, today and all year long

Updated Tuesday, Sept. 6

Over the past decade, the second Saturday of August has become an annual day of celebration in the world of Polynesian Pop culture: International Tiki Day.

The holiday was created in 2002 by Kevin Bullat, the steel guitar player for The Hula Girls, as a day of fasting and quiet prayer. No, wait. It’s a day dedicated to colorful aloha shirts, tropical drinks, and tribal revelry.

It’s touted as a great day to host your own backyard luau or visit a contemporary Tiki bar in your area. Most Tikiphiles need no special day to partake in such activities. It’s a year-round, 24-7 lifestyle for many. Newbies may need a little help, however.

So in honor of International Tiki Day, we present a list of things you can do today – and every day – to immerse yourself in the island lifestyle, no matter where you live. Sticking to our mantra, we’ve tried to include activities that include all of our favorite things: Events, music, art, cocktails and culture.

1. ATTEND A TIKI EVENT

Tiki Oasis

The Atomic Grog covers cool South Florida events, but the best place to stay in the loop on the latest happenings around the world is, of course, Tiki Central. The message board includes announcements on tons of Tiki-related events, including parties, shows, swap meets, and more. If you can’t make it to an event today, make plans to attend one of the many upcoming festivals.

Over on the right sidebar of this blog you’ll find a list of the major seasonal Tiki events, with links to the official sites. The grand daddy of all Tiki events takes place next week (Aug. 16-19) in San Diego. Tiki Oasis, now in its 12th year, has grown into a massive themed party that becomes the center of the retro culture universe every August. There’s always a cool theme, and for 2012 it’s “spies, secret agents, and villains.” There’s lots of live music, dancers, DJs, educational seminars, and much more to tickle your fancy.

We’ll be celebrating tomorrow at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale during the the Fraternal Order of Moai’s Meet and Greet, which will feature a “retired” cocktail from the archives of the 55-year-old Polynesian palace.

2. BUY A TIKI MUG

This is crucial. It’s fine to enjoy a summer Tiki party, but if you’re drinking from a nondescript glass or (god forbid) a plastic cup, you’re just not getting into the spirit of things. And if you go anywhere near decor from Party City, your Tiki card will be revoked immediately.

The Mini Mai-Kai Mystery Bowl

The Mini Mai-Kai Mystery Bowl features an inner ring to accommodate an ice volcano. (Swank Pad Productions)

We’re talking vintage-style mugs and bowls, popularized by the great Polynesian restaurants of the mid-20th century. Though the booming interest over the past decade has dried up the supply in thrift stores, there’s a vast market on eBay and among traders. The best place to browse is the Ooga-Mooga website, where members have posted 70,000 photos from their collections. After seven years, the site will be getting an overhaul, so look for enhancements soon.

More likely, you’ll be buying a mug from one of many contemporary companies and artists riding the crest of the Tiki revival. There’s a list of great mug producers on the lower right area of this blog’s sidebar, such as Munktiki and Tiki Farm. But by far the coolest item to hit the market in a long time is the Mini Mai-Kai Mystery Bowl from Swank Pad Productions. This 12-ounce bowl is a smaller version of the massive bowl used for the legendary Mystery Drink. The bowl is also available in The Mai-Kai’s gift shop if you’re lucky enough to be in the area. There’s nothing quite like enjoying the Mystery Drink at The Mai-Kai, but this bowl will get you closer.
More: Mini Mai-Kai Mystery Bowl offers scaled-down version of a classic

3. LISTEN TO TIKI MUSIC

Exotica, hapa haole, surf and lounge are the genres of choice for today’s Tikiphile. There are many great active bands and artists to enjoy, but if we had to pick one that is best suited for International Tiki Day it would have to be Tampa’s Crazed Mugs. “Spreading aloha” is the band’s mantra, and the new Find Forbidden Island CD is the perfect soundtrack for a carefree summer party.

The Exotic Tiki Island podcast

The other cool thing about Tiki music is there’s a vast, 50-plus-year catalog of material to choose from. Dig out all those classic vinyl exotica LPs and give them a spin to really get in the right frame of mind. What’s that, you don’t have any vinyl albums, or a turntable to play them on? Then we highly recommend checking out podcasts that specialize in vintage music.
* Click here for newly updated reviews of seven of our favorite podcasts

A great recent addition to the podcasting scene is Exotic Tiki Island, produced by vintage vinyl collector Tiki Brian and featuring shows that take you on a trip to a fantasy land we all long for. It’s full of adventure, cocktail lounges, and lots of music from his collection of more than 1,000 LPs. You can also visit Brian’s online store to buy some old albums for yourself. And he’ll include a digital copy for those who want to hang the LP on the wall of their Tiki bar and play the music on one of those newfangled devices.

4. GO TO A TIKI BAR

By this we mean a real Tiki bar. Not some poolside shack with a thatched roof serving slushy blender drinks. If you live in some parts of the world, this isn’t as easy as it seems. If you’re lucky enough to be in California, where Tiki culture abounds, there are many choices. Florida is particularly frustrating. We have The Mai-Kai and a few other locations, but most tourist traps that advertise having a Tiki bar are more likely to boast none of the features that we love: Dark interior, vintage cocktails, Polynesian and/or nautical decor, a quiet and relaxing atmosphere, etc.

 The Mai-Kai's Molokai bar in Fort Lauderdale

The Mai-Kai's Molokai bar in Fort Lauderdale. (Courtesy of The Mai-Kai)

The book Tiki Road Trip: A Guide to Tiki Culture in North America is a great resource, but it hasn’t been updated since 2007. Fortunately, there’s Critiki, the mid-century Polynesian Pop enthusiast’s essential resource with info and ratings of more than 800 bars, restaurants and other sites. Looking for a site near you? Just click on the destinations map and narrow down to your location.

Then there are the rankings, where users rate their favorites in categories such as decor, drink quality, mood, music, vibe, and “Tikiness.” The Mai-Kai currently sits atop the rankings for “Top 25 Overall,” with a 9.8 out of 10. But Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco is close behind at 9.7. There seems to be some ballot stuffing going on, but you’re still going to get a good representation of the best authentic Tiki bars around the world today.

5. MAKE A TIKI DRINK

This doesn’t need to be as daunting as it seems (see Mystery Bowl photo above). There are, of course, many resources online. Among the list of links to the right of this page are our favorite “Rum sites & blogs,” which give great insights into this essential liquor, plus how to best use it in Tiki cocktails. Tiki Central is also a useful resource, with its Tiki Drinks and Food forum.

Special Reserve Daiquiri tribute by The Atomic Grog

Special Reserve Daiquiri tribute by The Atomic Grog.

Then there’s our own Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide, which now features 67 recipes that range from simple (Special Reserve Daiquiri, Piña Colada) to elaborate (Jet Pilot, Black Magic). We’ve compiled all our Mai-Kai recipes onto one handy resource, or you can browse all the cocktail recipes we’ve posted.

There are several other good daiquiri recipes listed. For many, this is the basic template for all rum cocktails. It’s just rum, fresh-squeezed lime juice, and sugar syrup. The proportion I prefer is 2 ounces of rum, 1 ounce lime, and 3/4 ounce sugar. But feel free to adjust those to taste. You can also experiment with aged rums and different sweeteners (agave nectar, honey, demerara sugar syrup, etc.). Just shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass for the authentic taste of Tiki.

6. SUPPORT A TIKI ARTIST

An essential part of any Tiki enthusiast’s home and lifestyle is the appropriate artwork. This can range from paintings to pendants to furniture to Tikis themselves. A person’s taste in art is quite subjective, of course, and there are so many great artists working in the Tiki scene today that there truly is something available for everyone.

Hurricane Hayward and his newly purchased Warrior Tiki with artist Wayne Coombs in December 2009 in Cocoa Beach

Hurricane Hayward and his newly purchased Warrior Tiki with artist Wayne Coombs in December 2009 in Cocoa Beach.

Some of our favorite artists are listed among the links on the right-hand side of all pages on this blog. You’ll meet many of them at events around the country, and their websites offer a glimpse at some of their stunning work. If you’re unsure what you like, attend gallery exhibits and check out museums, if traditional art is more to your liking. Find an artist who specializes in the style you like. The Atomic Grog regularly previews exhibits around Florida.

Not all artists offer this perk, but there’s nothing like visiting them in their own workshop or gallery. I had the pleasure of doing both several years ago in Cocoa Beach, Fla., home of the legendary Wayne Coombs and his Mai Tiki studio and gallery. Coombs started carving Tikis in 1967, pioneering what’s become known as the distinctive Florida style of carving. You can find his work in bars, restaurants and public spaces all over the state, including The Atomic Grog’s home bar (see photo). I was looking forward to seeing Wayne again at his gallery or event. Unfortunately, tragedy struck on Sept. 4, 2012, when legendary Florida tiki carver Wayne Coombs died of a suspected heart attack. To say his death leaves a void in the Florida and worldwide Tiki community is a vast understatement. Wayne will never be forgotten, his legacy of carvings and artwork leaving an indelible mark on the culture.

About Hurricane Hayward

A professional journalist and Florida resident for more than 30 years, Jim "Hurricane" Hayward shares his obsession with Polynesian Pop and other retro styles on his blog, The Atomic Grog. Jim's roots in mid-century and reto culture go back to his childhood in the 1960s, when he tagged along with his parents to Tiki restaurants and his father's custom car shows. His experience in journalism, mixology, and more than 20 years as an independent concert promoter make him a jack-of-all-trades in the South Florida scene. A graduate of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications, Jim is a longtime web producer for The Palm Beach Post. In his spare time, he has promoted hundreds of rock, punk, and indie concerts under the Slammie Productions name since the early 1990s. In 2011, he launched The Atomic Grog to extensively cover events, music, art, cocktails, and culture with a retro slant. Jim earned his nickname by virtue of both his dangerous exotic drinks and his longtime position producing The Post's tropical weather website.
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