Year in the rearview: The Top 9 Tiki stories of 2020

Undoubtedly, it was a year many would rather forget – preferably by downing a few Mai Tais. If we take “hindsight is 2020” at face value, perhaps some day there will be positive lessons to be learned from last year’s many tragedies. Despite this, not all the news was negative in the modern Tiki revival. Dispensing with the bad news first, here are The Atomic Grog’s picks for the nine most newsworthy stories of 2020.
Bonus recipe below: The Urban Archaeologist (tribute to The Book of Tiki 20th anniversary and commemorative mug)

1. CORONAVIRUS SHUTDOWNS

Support Tiki bars now by visiting their online stores, contributing to fundraisers

Of all the industries that were dealt a sucker punch by the pandemic, the bar and restaurant world is the one that seems to have suffered the most long-running impact. When the mandatory closings swept across the United States (and the world) in March and April, most were ill-prepared to deal with the consequences. Heroically, the majority were able to survive by pivoting to take-out and streamlined operations. Sadly, others have remained closed with still no ETA on reopening dates. The list of businesses that closed permanently is sobering. But as we look back at the year, we’re proud of the efforts everyone put forth to keep their Tiki bars and related companies alive against all odds. We will continue to pray for their survival and encourage everyone to help as best they can.

Support Tiki bars now by visiting their online stores, contributing to fundraisers
UPDATES: Support Tiki bars now by visiting their online stores
Get updates on closings and openings, plus the latest on mugs and merchandise, plus more resources.

2. EVENTS CANCELED, POSTPONED

It’s hard for a community to thrive and survive when it’s stripped of its ability to congregate en masse to celebrate and boost each other’s spirits. This hit home in the Tiki world in early March, when Inuhele: Atlanta’s Tiki Weekend held the dubious distinction of being the last pre-pandemic event to take place. The summer season’s blockbuster festivals were forced to scramble. Some postponed, some went to a virtual format, others canceled altogether. But there was still no keeping the fervent followers from seeking out their friends and favorite events, even in stripped-down and online-only form. We tip our hat to the organizers who keep the faithful happy and their brands alive, along with their supporters who kept their heads up and their communities alive throughout the year.

The Year in Tiki 2020: Recap the top virtual and in-person events
The Year in Tiki 2020: Top virtual and in-person events
Take a look back at the major happenings, featuring artwork and links plus photos and video.

3. FLOODING AT THE MAI-KAI

In any other year, the closing of The Mai-Kai would undoubtedly be news story No. 1. But 2020 was no ordinary year, full of curve balls and unexpected twists. After closing during April and May, The Mai-Kai reopened under state social-distancing guidelines and was successfully navigating the pandemic through the summer and fall. An inventive take-out program was pushing boundaries and pleasing fans, while the historic restaurant was consistently filling its available seats with guests eager to watch the acclaimed Polynesian Islander Revue. All that changed in late October, however, when massive rains flooded the kitchen and back-of-house after a roof collapsed during the storm. With no functioning kitchen, The Mai-Kai has closed until the extensive repairs can be done. The annual Halloween party became a drive-in movie event in the parking lot and online sales were stepped up. A family-run operation since 1956, The Mai-Kai faces perhaps its biggest challenge, possibly with a new partnership or ownership. Here’s hoping the grand reopening will top the list of 2021 news events.
The Mai-Kai for sale: See the official statement NEW
UPDATES: Owners vow to “preserve family legacy” while continuing take-out drinks and more events

The Mai-Kai celebrates 64th anniversary under the moon as challenges loom
The Mai-Kai celebrates 64th anniversary under the moon as challenges loom
Check out all the details
on The Mai-Kai’s sold-out 64th anniversary party on Dec. 28.
Photos: The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue
News: Extent of flooding damage, closing detailed

4. THE PASSING OF TOTI

Toti Terorotua of The Mai-Kai's Polynesian Islander Revue

In September, The Mai-Kai, its extended family and longtime fans mourned the death of Toti Terorotua, a founding member of the restaurant’s acclaimed Polynesian Islander Revue in 1962. “Toti was not only an outstanding musician and entertainer, he was a great friend and part of what made the Mai-Kai one great big family,” an official statement from the restaurant said. “Toti was a highly regarded musician in Tahiti before coming to the US, creating two classic Tahitian albums with his namesake band Toti’s Tahitians. You can still hear songs from his albums, along with his unforgettable voice, softly playing in the background on the Mai Kai’s nightly soundtrack.” Toti was discovered in the late 1950s by Donn Beach himself, who picked him to be part of his show at the Don the Beachcomber in Waikiki when it opened at the International Marketplace. Toti came to Fort Lauderdale and The Mai-Kai to be part of the original Polynesian show and never left. He retired 2000 after 38 years, but came back in 2006 to play drums at The Mai-Kai’s 50th anniversary at age 71. He continued to perform on stage for another decade-plus. In announcing his death, The Mai-Kai shared a tribute in Tahitian, translated to: “We will miss you so. But dreams will keep us near you. We know we’ll meet again. Farewell for just a while. For just a little while.”
Listen: Buy or stream Lure Of Tahiti by Terorotua & His Tahitians

5. TIKI CENTRAL TURNS 20, GOES DARK

Tiki Central

For 20 years, a simple online message board was the nerve center of the Tiki revival. The website with the URL tikiroom.com – but much better known as Tiki Central – served as meeting place for devotees around the world long before social media existed. It was also a historical archive, much more well-suited for research and sharing of information than any commercial network. Though its popularity had taken a hit in recent years, Tiki Central was still very active when it celebrated its 20th anniversary on Jan. 11 with live events at four Tiki bars across the country. Then, in February, the website went down for technical reasons. Its back-end system was in dire need of modernization of its underlying code. All the data was safe, we were promised, but as the months dragged on it seemed to be yet another victim of a cruel year filled with devastating losses. Finally, a message posted Sept. 24 by founder Hanford Lemoore offered some hope that Tiki Central will be revived with all its data intact. Like the revival of The Mai-Kai, it looks like it will take a lot of work (and a little luck), but we’re still hopeful for a return of Tiki Central in 2021.

6. VIRTUAL HAPPY HOURS, EVENTS, CLASSES

The Tiki Times online events calendar

While the Tiki community was already a very social bunch, taking part in many online forums and making lifelong friendships with strangers across the globe, 2020 presented a challenge. It’s difficult to replace in-person interactions – especially when they involve gathering spots dependent upon vibrant sights, sounds, smells and tastes. But we did our best, taking advantage of new online tools and our cellphone cameras. This long-distance communication actually became more personal, our home bars and living rooms suddenly revealed to the world. Out-of-work industry professionals had a harder time, but many pivoted to presenting classes and videos online. Artists became expert merchandisers, touting their wares to an eager audience. For those immersed in the rum community, an entire network was established with a regular schedule of presentations that continue into 2021. While these new social events may have been born out of desperation, here’s hoping they continue in some form to allow broader access for far-flung enthusiasts across the globe.
UPDATES: The Tiki Times: Exclusive 2021 events guide

7. NEW BAR OPENINGS

Water Witch Tiki and The Bamboo Room Tiki Bar in Savannah, Casa Tiki in Miami, Swizzle in Dallas
New on the scene: Water Witch and The Bamboo Room in Savannah, Casa Tiki in Miami, Swizzle in Dallas.

Fort Worth, Texas, welcomed its first legit Polynesian-style cocktail lair in 50 years when Tarantula Tiki Lounge opened in January. Operated by a team of seasoned local bar owners in a renovated grocery warehouse, the Tarantula space features an exotic and inviting atmosphere and classic Tiki cocktails. Also in January, Water Witch Tiki brought exotic escapism to Savannah, Ga., not expecting to be forced to close its doors just months later due to a worldwide pandemic. The modern Tiki bar and restaurant in the city’s Starland District not only weathered the storm, it walked away with several Best of Savannah awards in October: Best Overall Bar and Best New Bar. The Bamboo Room Tiki Bar, also in Savannah, suffered a similar fate. The highly immersive and elaborately designed Tiki oasis opened March 13, just as the COVID shutdowns started sweeping the country. The grand opening was scuttled until late May, but the wait was worth it when Tikiphiles began flocking to this immaculate space built by Dave “Basement Kahuna” Wolfe and Jim “Woodland Giant” Stacy. By fall, several new establishments braved the pandemic still raging across the country and opened their doors. In Miami’s Calle Ocho, a historic neighborhood best known for its Cuban heritage, an unlikely new bar opened in October. Casa Tiki brings a full-blown South Pacific theme to the area, giving locals more options for rum-based libations. After delaying the opening during the height of the pandemic, Miami’s Homecookin’ Hospitality Group forged ahead and promises to spice up the city’s already vibrant bar scene. Swizzle in Dallas is a long-in-the-works Tiki bar and Polynesian restaurant from the husband-and-wife team of Jen and Marty Reyes. After the success of their long-running pop-up events, they dove head-first into opening their own tropical paradise in November in the city’s Lower Greenville neighborhood. Swizzle, which features hand-crafted cocktails made with love and served in a reverent environment, is already garnering much local press and glowing reviews.

8. SIPPIN’ SANTA BRIGHTENS THE HOLIDAYS

Beachbum Berry's Sippin' Santa

Just when we thought 2020 was going to be devoid of all celebratory Tiki bar experiences, the team behind Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Santa holiday pop-up bars delivered an early holiday miracle. Featuring intoxicating beverages from Tiki cocktail author/historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, the winter wonderland is the Tiki alternative to the long-running Miracle concept. In a year filled with depressing news, the arrival of these two festive craft cocktail overlays was just what we needed. Dozens of locations across the United States and Canada ran from November through the end of the year. Operating under local restrictions and social distancing guidelines, they nevertheless provided a healthy shot of holiday cheer. Some even offered take-out merchandise and cocktails, lightening the mood of any Grinch.

9. THE BOOK OF TIKI ANNIVERSARY AND MUG

The Book of Tiki 20th Anniversary Mug by Shag
Photos by The Atomic Grog, Surf City Tiki, Resident Modernist

Even though (or maybe because) it has long been out of print, The Book of Tiki (2000, Taschen) by Sven Kirsten has a achieved mythical status in the Tiki revival. It’s widely recognized as one of the seminal events (along with Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log and the launch of Tiki Central) that kick-started 21st century interest in the mid-20th century pop culture phenomenon. Kirsten, a cinematographer with a keen eye for retro style, introduced the concept of “urban archaeologist” – a role thousands of followers took on with gusto in the ensuring decades. To mark the book’s 20th anniversary, longtime mug-maker Tiki Farm enlisted the genre’s most acclaimed artist to create a mug worthy of the occasion. Designed by Shag, aka Josh Agle, the giant 30-ounce mug is a cannibal-style tiki, naturally taking a bite out of The Book of Tiki. Released in September, the mug’s multiple editions quickly sold out and now join the book as an eBay obsession.
Resident Modernist: 20 Years of The Book of Tiki – Reflections With Author Sven Kirsten

In honor of this whopper of a mug – and the year that deserves a nice stiff drink – we present a cocktail that may make you forget 2020 just a bit …

Beachbum Berry's Grog Log

The Urban Archaeologist
(By The Atomic Grog)

* 2 ounces fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1 1/2 ounces fresh orange juice
* 1 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
* 1 1/2 ounces passion fruit syrup
* 1 ounce orgeat
* 1 ounce simple syrup
* 1/2 ounce orange curacao
* 2 ounces Spanish-style lightly aged (white) rum
* 2 ounces Demerara rum ***
* 1 1/2 ounces dark Jamaican rum
* 6 dashes Angostura bitters

Pulse blend with 2 cups of crushed ice and pour unstrained into The Book of Tiki 20th Anniversary Mug by Shag. Add more ice to fill and garnish with a mid-century swizzle stick or other vintage accoutrement. Note: Any 30-ounce bowl or mug will work fine. If necessary, use two double-old fashioned glasses (or a half-sized version in one glass).

If these ingredients seem familiar, it’s because they’re among those featured most often in the 80+ recipes in Jeff “Beachbum” Berry‘s influential Grog Log (1998), the go-to resource for creating cocktails while we studied The Book of Tiki.

*** Note: Feel free to split the Demerara rum into two parts, including both a standard proof rum and a more potent 151 rum from Guyana, to temper the sweetness and boost the strength.

Not surprisingly, The Urban Archaeologist tastes exactly like Grog Log should taste like. There’s a ton of flavor, with an emphasis on the tart and sweet, but it’s also perfectly balanced with the requisite bold and rummy backbone.

Okole maluna!

PLEASE DRINK RESPONSIBLY!

MORE: Atomic Grog Cocktail Recipes, A through Z

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