From the ashes of the Week in Tiki (and, later, the Month in Tiki) rises The Tiki Times. Still ambitious, but more practical, this monthly guide to what’s going on across the world of Tiki culture will hopefully be a definitive resource of where to find special events that touch on topics of interest to many Tikiphiles. You’ll find all the major Tiki festivals, plus smaller gatherings along with events that scratch our itch for rum and cocktails, surf and rockabilly music, mid-century modern design, even Disney. And don’t forget authentic Polynesian culture, the well from which Tiki springs. The biggest will get extended coverage as “spotlight events.” Social media:Follow our Facebook page for daily news updates Pinterest | Coming soon: Twitter and Instagram
May 18-21 – Tiki Caliente returns to Palm Springs, Calif., for its ninth gathering with the theme “Beyond the Reef.” Featuring live music, seminars, room and pool parties, art shows, vendors and more at the historic Caliente Tropics resort.
* Symposiums and special events featuring some of the West Coast’s top Tiki movers and shakers. This year, guests can enjoy “Shag: Amongst the Tikis,” a unique opportunity to join artist Josh Agle as he talks about the influence of Tiki art and culture on his paintings, his childhood in Hawaii and his young adult years chasing vanishing Tiki bars before they went extinct. Shag will also show images of his art, his own Tiki collection and historic photos of Waikiki in the late 1960s. Bartender Kelly Merrell from Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at Disneyland will present “The No-Rum Tiki Symposium” on both Friday and Saturday, delving into the history of exotic cocktails that use whiskey, gin, scotch, tequila and a few other surprises.
Late March was punctuated by upheaval in the Tiki bar world, including a fire at Lost Lake in Chicago and the confirmed closing of Trader Vic’s in Portland. We also have updates on the upcoming Pacific Seas in Los Angeles and False Idol in San Diego, among others. Event previews include The Atomic Grog’s fifth anniversary party, Ohana: Luau at the Lake, and Tiki Kon. We investigate the rumored return of Lemon Hart, the upcoming Midwest Rum Festival, plus more rum news. Quick sips include Thor joining the Tiki Farm team, a new bar at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, a new Tiki-flavored pulp novella, and the aborted end of a re-creation of the voyage of the Kon-Tiki. Regular features spotlight legendary carver Milan Guanko; longtime Tiki entertainer King Kukulele; the historic Tiki bar La Mariana Sailing Club in Honolulu; and the video series Rum Minute. The rum the week, Sailor Jerry, is featured in the Wicked Wahine cocktail. * Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook page | RSS feed | See past weeks | Archive * Weekly features: Artist | Band/music | Bar | Website | Rum | Cocktail | Events
TIKI BAR NEWS: Lost Lake hit by fire, Trader Vic’s Portland closing confirmed; changes coming to South Florida’s Kreepy Tiki, Psycho Suzi’s owner honored
A near tragedy struck acclaimed Tiki bar Lost Lake in Chicago on March 27, when what was originally thought to be a small electrical fire in the kitchen ended up causing extensive smoke damage that kept the year-old establishment closed for weeks. “The Chicago Fire Department put out a fire that was moments away from taking our beloved Tiki bar all the way down – not to mention two apartments upstairs,” Shelby Allison, who runs the bar with Paul McGee, posted on Facebook. “There are lots of very scientific cleaning methods happening at Lost Lake this week, but it could have been so much worse.” According to reports on a A GoFundMe page, the kitchen of the adjoining Thank You restaurant and the front entrance “were completely incinerated” while the bar suffered smoke damage that sadly forced the disposal of the bar’s vast rum collection. Lost Lake, which was recently nominated for a prestigious James Beard Award, received an outpouring of support from the entire Chicago hospitality community in the wake of the fire, from bartenders and bar owners to chefs, distributors, and brands. Bars as far away as Los Angeles also held Lost Lake support events. Allison reported that every member of Lost Lake’s support staff received temporary positions, and many bars hosted special pop-ups to keep the tip-based employees afloat. Special T-shirts were printed, with all profits going to Lost Lake bartenders. The GoFundMe page campaign received 309 donations and raised $20,000 for Lost Lake employee aid. * More coverage online: Critiki | Time Out Chicago | DNAinfo * Lost Lake: Official website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram Don’t miss: McGee and Allison will return to The Hukilau in June, participating for the second year in a row in the sold-out Tiki Tower Takeover at the Pier 66 hotel in Fort Lauderdale. [2015 coverage]
A fire earlier in March had more devastating effects the Portland Trader Vic’s franchise, as reported in the previous edition of the Week in Tiki. The March 2 fire at the medical office above the 8,000-square-foot restaurant burned through most of the ceiling in the bar and dining room, causing damage that would have closed the restaurant for at least eight weeks for repairs, according to reports. Instead, the owner decided that due to mounting debt and high operating costs, he would close permanently. Weeks went by without an official statement from the franchise owner, but on March 21, J. Clayton Hering posted this on Facebook: “It is with a heavy heart that I inform you of the decision to close Trader Vic’s in Portland after four and a half years. This is effective immediately. We can be proud that we provided an excellent entertainment venue to our customers, families, and private parties. Our menu for appetizers, food and drink as well as our atmosphere were a unique addition to the Portland restaurant scene. Our customers enjoyed Trader Vic’s return to Portland because of the fun environment we created which was unique to the city and well received. We thank you for your support over the last four and a half years.” There was no word on what became of the extensive Tiki-themed decor, though in past Trader Vic’s closings most of the major art pieces were returned to the Trader Vic’s corporation. A dozen black walnut dining room tables later turned up on Craigslist. Of the 20 remaining Trader Vic’s locations, only two are in the United States while 18 are overseas. The Atlanta franchise is still going strong after 40 years, while the corporate-owned flagship location has been in Emeryville, Calif., for 44 years. The original Trader Vic’s was opened by Victor Bergeron in Oakland in 1937. * Why Trader Vic’s closed its Portland location (The Oregonian)
Some sad news out of Portland with the unexpected closing of Trader Vic’s. Meanwhile in South Florida, The Hukilau announces an exciting new symposium. Other event updates include the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, Tiki Fest in the Pacific Northwest, Ohana: Luau at the Lake, and Tiki Kon. Quick sips include a Tiki home design show, a new FOM chapter in Atlanta, a space-Tiki lounge in L.A., and a Tiki speakeasy in NYC. Regular features spotlight lowbrow art legend Von Franco; sizzling San Diego surf band Jason Lee and the R.I.P. Tides; and the Luau, a historic restaurant from Miami Beach’s heyday. Learn about rum at the website of the week, RumJourney.com, before sampling the rum and cocktail of the week: Don Q Cristal and Val’s Daiquiri from New York City’s End of the Century. * Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook page | RSS feed | See past weeks | Archive * Weekly features: Artist | Band/music | Bar | Website | Rum | Cocktail | Events
BREAKING NEWS: Fire closes Trader Vic’s in Portland
A March 2 fire at the medical office above the Trader Vic’s location in Portland forced what was originally thought to be a temporary closing of one of the few remaining North American outposts of the venerable Polynesian restaurant chain. But news later leaked out that due to mounting debt and high operating costs, the franchise owner was forced to close permanently, Wilmanette Week reported.
The fire burned through most of the ceiling in the bar and dining room, but a Facebook post on the restaurant’s official page that same day indicated that repairs would be made. After several weeks, however, a manager posted on his personal Facebook account that Trader Vic’s Portland “is now permanently closed” less than 5 years after it opened. In a follow-up, he said that the re-opening would have taken eight weeks and the owner decided to close after struggling to “keep above water” due to the high rent and overhead of the 8,000-square-foot restaurant.
The return of Trader Vic’s to Portland was heralded in August 2011 as the beloved brand joined a burgeoning local Tiki scene that had grown around the annual Tiki Kon and worldwide revival. Portland previously had a longstanding Trader Vic’s in the Bensen Hotel from 1959 to 1996.
The new location in the Pearl District was warmly received by locals and Tikiphiles alike. It was filled with authentic decor, including Tikis, tribal masks, glass floats and outrigger canoes. The food and drinks were also highly regarded, but apparently the costs were too high to stay competitive in one of the country’s top food and beverage cities. The closing leaves only two Trader Vic’s restaurants in the United States: the company-owned flagship location in Emeryville, Calif., and a long-rinning franchise in Atlanta. There are 18 overseas locations in 11 countries. * Trader Vic’s corporate site
EVENT PREVIEWS: The Hukilau, Miami Rum Festival, Tiki Fest, Ohana: Luau at the Lake, Tiki Kon
The Hukilau announces new symposium, sponsors
Some of the biggest names in the modern Tiki revival will gather at The Hukilau for a groundbreaking symposium as part of the 15th annual festivities June 8-12 in Fort Lauderdale. “Raiders of the Lost Tiki Culture” will bring together author and bar owner Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (Latitude 29, New Orleans), event promoter Otto von Stroheim (Tiki Oasis), historian Humuhumu (Critiki), author and bar owner Martin Cate (Smuggler’s Cove, San Francisco), artist Crazy Al Evans, acclaimed artist Shag, and event promoter Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White of The Hukilau for a rousing two-part panel discussion hosted by Hurricane Hayward of The Atomic Grog. Author Sven Kirsten (Tiki Pop, The Book of Tiki) will also participate via Skype. Tickets are on sale now for $15 for passholders, $30 for non-passholders. The symposium will take place on Saturday, June 11, at 1 p.m. in the Panorama Ballroom at the host Pier 66 hotel. * FULL COVERAGE: PREVIEW OF THE HISTORY SYMPOSIUM, MORE
After an exciting year that saw many new Tiki bars open across North America, lots more are in store for 2016. Preview what’s coming, plus get a quick New Year’s event guide. We have news on a new Kon-Tiki sailing the South Pacific, plus a traditional Hawaiian vessel traveling the globe. Quick sips include the Flor de Caña rum controversy, Santas hanging ten in Cocoa Beach, plus help for an ailing Laramie Dean. Regular features spotlight velvet painting master Edgar Leeteg; Tiki party band Ding Dong Devils; Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel; and the Cocktail Wonk website. The Rum of the Week, El Dorado 5, is featured in the Demerara Flip from The Atomic Grog. * Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook page | RSS feed | See past weeks | Archive * Weekly features: Artist | Band/music | Bar | Website | Rum | Cocktail | Events
2016 will welcome new Tiki bars to Pittsburgh, Portland (Maine), Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle
It’s not a stretch to say that 2015 was a landmark year in the 21st century Tiki revival when you look at all the high-profile, authentically themed Tiki bars that opened in North America: Lost Lake in Chicago, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Disney World, The Golden Tiki in Las Vegas, and The Shameful Tiki Room in Toronto all burst onto the scene, along with several others that we’ll recap in our year-end special, The Year in Tiki.
The good news is this was not a freak occurrence. More great bars are on the way in 2016, according to recent news reports, and all appear to have the same commitment to quality drinks, traditional Tiki decor and theming. The craft food and cocktail community is embracing Tiki in a big way, with no let-up in sight. Here’s what we can look forward to next year:
Opening in Pittsburgh in January, Hidden Harbor will feature a 7-foot custom-made Tiki by Crazy Al Evans and authentic Tiki cocktails (including classics such as a flaming Scorpion Bowl) created by co-owner and cocktail director Adam Henry. “The space and concept will be a bit more contemporary than the typical Tiki bar, with an emphasis on original drinks,” Henry said via email. Henry and his partners own The Independent Brewing Company, which sits next to Hidden Harbor in the Squirrel Hill section of the city. The space is small (50 seats) but features a bar area and more intimate lounge, plus a chef-run kitchen serving small, tropical-themed plates. * Follow Hidden Harbor: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook * Press coverage: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | Pittsburgh Magazine
Farther up the East Coast in Maine, where Tiki is rare, a new bar is set to open this winter. Rhum in downtown Portland “will be a refined take on Tiki with a distinctly Portland, Maine flavor,” restaurateur Jason Loring announced in a press release. “Elegant, modern translations of classic Tiki dishes will be bolstered with an impressive raw bar featuring local seafood.” The bar will also feature “contemporary counterparts, and a large format program for team tippling.” Translation: Get ready for more Scorpion bowls. Rhum will also feature skull-themed Tiki mugs handmade by local artists in a variety of shapes and sizes. Look for Rhum as early as mid- to late January. * Press coverage from Maine Eater
On the West Coast, a new Tiki bar is in the works at a recently reopened classic establishment. Clifton’s (aka Clifton’s Cafeteria) in downtown Los Angeles, a landmark that originally opened in 1935, has been undergoing a massive $14 million refurbishment since its purchase by new owners in 2010. After being closed for four years, it officially reopened to much fanfare on Oct. 1. The immersive 47,000-square-foot, four-story space retains its original rustic charm, featuring modernized comfort food and updated decor that still pays homage to its roots as an oasis for the everyman. As part of the renovations, the original 1904 building facade was restored after the removal of an aluminum facade that was added in 1963. The revamped Clifton’s includes multiple dining and drinking establishments, some still in the works. A Polynesian-themed Tiki bar is being built on the fourth floor, to be named the Pacific Seas in honor of the original 1931 Clifton’s location. Legendary Tiki bar builder Bamboo Ben Bassham has confirmed that he will be working on the project beginning in January. “It will be heavily Pacific Seas influenced with a ton of Bahooka’s flotsam and jetsam,” Bassham said. “The floor plan is really fun!” Clifton’s Pacific Seas (1939-1960) was a grand, tropical-themed cafeteria with waterfalls, huts, and lots of tropical decor. Bassham’s reference is undoubtedly to Bahooka Ribs & Grog (1976-2013), another classic SoCal Tiki establishment that was known for its expansive nautical decor. * See all the press coverage from LA Eater
The Hukilau announces more news as the June 10-14 Tiki weekender approaches, including the sellout of the Tiki Tower Takeover. Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 is named one of the Best Bars in America, plus we have details on the sinking of an Easter Island-styled reef off South Florida. Other news includes keeping alive the memory of Florida’s Tiki Gardens and The Kahiki in Columbus, Ohio. Weekly features spotlight artist Bamboo Ben, leading mug manufacturer Tiki Farm, Surf Rock Radio, and The Wreck Bar on Fort Lauderdale Beach. The rum of the week, Wicked Dolphin Florida Spiced, is featured in Martin Cate’s Henry & John cocktail. * Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook page | RSS feed | See past weeks | Archive * Weekly features: Artist | Website | Band/music | Tiki bar | Rum | Cocktail | Events
The Hukilau updates: Tiki Tower Takeover sold out
It’s less than two weeks until The Hukilau, the East Coast’s largest and most authentic Tiki event, hits Fort Lauderale for its June 10-14 gathering, and tickets to many events are selling fast. The first to sell out is the Tiki Tower Takeover, the much-anticipated event featuring the country’s most celebrated Tiki bar owners and drink masters hosting a special cocktail party in the famous Pier 66 revolving lounge 17 floors above Fort Lauderdale Beach. Several hundred lucky attendees will be treated to new signature cocktails from Paul McGee (Lost Lake, Chicago), Martin Cate (Smuggler’s Cove, San Francisco), Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (Latitude 29, New Orleans), and Brian Miller (Tiki Mondays With Miller, New York City). Click here for more on the guest bartenders.
Tickets remain for The Hukilau’s other signature event, the “Three Hour Tour” cruise with Dawn Wells, better known as Mary Ann on the classic TV show Gilligan’s Island. Guests will join everyone’s favorite castaway on Friday, June 12, aboard the Lady Windridge Yacht for a tour of the waterways of Fort Lauderdale. There will be an open bar featuring craft Tiki cocktails and food, plus a costume contest with a $100 grand prize. Wells will help select the best Gilligan’s Island-themed costume. Tickets are $99 for attendees with a wristband, $149 without a wristband. The five-day Big Kahuna pass is sold out, but you can still order four-, three-, and single-day passes, plus tickets to six expert symposiums and Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid’s two special swim shows at the B Ocean Resort. Some of these may not last long, so act now. * Buy tickets now
Sad news this week with the passing of Robert Drasnin, the exotica pioneer who composed the seminal Voodoo album. Other news includes special cocktail flights at The Mai-Kai, Tiki Kon’s Iron Tikitender competition, and Angry Birds fly the coop to a tropical paradise. Weekly features spotlight artist Miss Fluff, the Retro Roadmap website, El Capitan & the Band with No Name, and Tiki bar Forbidden Island in Alameda. The rums of the week, Gubba Silver and Gold, are featured in Trader Vic’s Molokai Mike cocktail. * Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook page | RSS feed | See past weeks | Archive * Weekly features: Artist | Website | Band/music | Tiki bar | Rum | Cocktail | Events
Exotica legend Robert Drasnin dies at 87
Robert Drasnin, one of the last greats of the mid-century exotica music scene and a prolific composer of TV scores, passed away on Wednesday, May 13, at age 87. Drasnin is perhaps best known for his seminal Voodoo albums released nearly 50 years apart.
Voodoo, which came out in 1959, was a touchstone of the mid-century exotica genre. After a new generation of listeners discovered Drasnin’s music in the early 21st century, he amazingly released a follow-up, Voodoo II, in 2007. A composer and performer (sax, clarinet, flute), Drasnin is considered to be one of exotica’s early masters, along with Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman. His songs, such as Chant of the Moon, evoke an almost otherworldly vibe that transcends time and place.
When the Tiki revival brought a new generation of fans to Drasnin’s music, he embraced the attention. He performed at The Hukilau in 2005 and 2007 [Watch: Video1 | Video2] and at Tiki Oasis in 2008 [Watch: Video1 | Video2]. After his 2005 performance at The Hukilau, which included a 16-piece orchestra performing Voodoo for the first time since 1959, he was inspired to write and release Voodoo II.
The outpouring from fans on Facebook was immediate:
“He was so wonderful, talented, selfless and a great friend,” said The Hukilau’s co-founder and organizer, Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White. “I’ll miss him and knowing he’s a part of this world. I’m glad The Hukilau made you smile … one of the greats.”
Vocalist Alice Berry, who sang with Drasnin and his orchestra during his revival shows, posted that it was “hard to express how meaningful it was for me to get to be Robert Drasnin’s vocalist. He lived 87 amazing years, filled with music and love ’til the end – which came all too soon yesterday.”
After coming precariously close to saying aloha and goodbye to The Hukilau, the long-running Tiki event she has organized since 2002, Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White is sure glad things turned out differently. “For me, it was the best event in the history of The Hukilau,” she said of the five-day festival in June that not only marked the 13th annual gathering of vintage culture devotees from around the world, but also a new beginning.
Just months before she planned to close the books on The Hukilau for good, White was approached by two fans of the event who also happened to be experienced businessmen and event organizers who were eager to strike up a partnership. “I consider myself a very lucky person,” she said of the serendipity of the happenstance that led to The Hukilau not only surviving to see 2015, but becoming poised to thrive and reach new audiences across the country.
I sat down with Tiki Kiliki recently at The Mai-Kai, the beloved 57-year-old Polynesian restaurant that serves as the inspiration for the event, to get the lowdown on what she and her new partners, Richard Oneslager and Mike Zielinski, have in the works for The Hukilau and how their mutually beneficial partnership came about. But first, a look back at that memorable event in June that was expanded to five days in anticipation of a last hurrah. Instead, it turned into a celebration of what’s to come.
“This is going to sound really strange, but sort of like Disney, it was kind of like magic this year,” Tiki Kiliki told me. “You can’t really explain it, but everything just fell into place in a magical way. We talked about it afterwards. We don’t really know what the magic formula was, it just happened.”
The magic started on Wednesday, June 11, when what was formerly an informal night at The Mai-Kai became the Unofficial Official Pre-Party. South Florida roots/rockabilly band Slip and the Spinouts jammed in the sold-out Molokai bar while other attendees enjoyed many of the bar’s 47 classic Tiki cocktails and the restaurant’s extensive appetizer and dinner menu in the more sedate dining rooms. Logistical problems at the Sheraton Yankee Clipper forced the cancellation of Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid’s scheduled midnight swim show, but that just gave some attendees the opportunity to begin their room parties early. Disappointed guests were heartened by the fact that there was much more Marina to come.