Week/Month in Tiki (May 1-31, 2016): Recap Tiki Caliente; preview Tiki Kon, Tales of the Cocktail and Tiki Oasis; plus Tiki bar news and more!

The Week in Tiki As usual, May kicked off the Tiki event season with Tiki Caliente in Palm Springs. Check out a recap and photos, plus previews of Tiki Kon in Portland, Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, Tiki Oasis in San Diego, and more upcoming events. We have news on South Florida Distillers joining Kreepy Tiki Lounge in an expanded location near Fort Lauderdale’s airport, plus lots more Tiki bar news. Regular features spotlight the godfather of pop surrealism, artist Mark Ryden; Sven Kirsten’s 2010 compilation, The Sound of Tiki; the Palm Springs outpost of the venerable Tonga Hut; plus the Modern Tiki Lounge website. Our featured rum, the inventive Santeria, is included in an Atomic Grog original cocktail, Koko Kahuna.
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* More below: Artist | Band/music | Bar | Website | Rum | Cocktail | Events

EVENT RECAP: Tiki Caliente expands to four days of wall-to-wall Poly Pop parties in Palm Springs

The Tiki Caliente tribe gathers poolside at the Caliente Tropics resort in Palm Springs. (Photo by Kari Hendler of Poly Hai)
The Tiki Caliente tribe gathers poolside at the Caliente Tropics resort in Palm Springs. (Photo by Kari Hendler of Poly Hai)

Like the first major college football bowl game (but a lot more colorful), Tiki Caliente kicked off the annual Tiki event season in style with its eighth gathering of the tribe in the tropical mid-century splendor of Palm Springs on May 12-15. Expanded to four days at the historic Caliente Tropics resort, the intimate, sold-out event also featured a pre-party at Tonga Hut as well as more symposiums, an eclectic lineup of performers, art shows, vendors and the usual festive room parties. Tonga Hut also served as Tiki Caliente’s on-site bar all weekend, keeping the party going with authentic Polynesian-style cocktails from 11 a.m. until 1 a.m.
* See below: Tonga Hut, bar of the week/month

Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid joins Marty Lush for his Don Ho tribute show at Tiki Caliente 2016. (Photo by Kari Hendler of Poly Hai)
Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid joins Marty Lush for his Don Ho tribute show at Tiki Caliente 2016. (Photo by Kari Hendler of Poly Hai)

Performers included Creepxotica, Ding Dong Devils, The Do-Its, The Jimmy Psycho Experiment, Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid, Martini Kings, Surfbroads, TikiTronic, and Voodoo Organist. Organizer Rory Snyder ratcheted up the kitschy fun with a yacht rock party co-hosted with Marty Lush (aka Digitiki of The Quiet Village podcast). Lush also performed a rum-fueled Don Ho tribute show, “Suck on This.”

Symposiums featured some of the most creative minds in Tiki cocktails, including “From the High Seas to High Tiki: Rum’s Cocktail Voyage” by Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, “Finishing Touches” by Marie King of Tonga Hut, and “Punch and the History of the Communal Cocktail” by Chad Austin of Bootlegger Tiki in Palm Springs.

Tiki Caliente organizer Rory Snyder (front) enjoys a Zen Tiki Lounge room party. (Photo by Kari Hendler of Poly Hai)
Tiki Caliente organizer Rory Snyder (front) enjoys a Zen Tiki Lounge room party. (Photo by Kari Hendler of Poly Hai)

While not officially part of the event, the room crawl has become a fixture and allows guests to meet and mingle as well as show off their mixology skills. Many participants go all-in with full-blown Tiki decor, DJs, live music and more. Organized by the crew from the Zen Tiki Lounge podcast, this year’s crawl spanned three days and featured 15 rooms. Among the more noteworthy parties were hosted by Zen Tiki Lounge (celebrating their 10-year anniversary), Kevin Upthegrove of the 5 Minutes of Rum podcast (serving a riff on the Cobra’s Fang/Cobra’s Kiss called The Snakepit), and the faculty and students from Poly Hai (serving the “Wake Your Tiki Ass Up Coffee Grog” with sponsor Deadhead rum at 9:30 a.m.).

Artist Tiki Ray Kieffer sees one of his tikis installed at the Caliente Tropics in Palm Springs during Tiki Caliente 2016. (Photo by Kari Hendler of Poly Hai)
Artist Tiki Ray Kieffer sees one of his tikis installed at the Caliente Tropics in Palm Springs during Tiki Caliente 2016. (Photo by Kari Hendler of Poly Hai)

Commercial Tiki bars got in on the act on Saturday night with a Tonga Hut bash followed by the finale, hosted by Huntington Beach’s Don the Beachcomber in the Caliente Tropics lobby and featuring live music from Jason Lee and the R.I.P. Tides. The room crawl judges gave the best cocktail award to John and Janet Mulder of Eekum Bookum for their gin Saturn. The award for best decor/theme went to artist Doug Horne for “Swampfire Ball.” The judges choice award went to Stephen Holt’s Kraken Hunter Bar.
* Room crawl photos on Facebook | Tiki Central discussion
Live at Tiki Caliente: Listen to the Zen Tiki Lounge podcast

The Mulders collaborated with Horne on the Tiki Caliente 8 War Club, one of the most creative event mugs we’ve seen in a long time. Horne also created the official event limited edition print and limited-edition war club pedants. The art of Shag was also featured in a special reception and party for the massive “Trousdale Twist” painting. Shag, who owns a mid-century modern home in Palm Springs, was on hand to meet guests and soak in the Polynesian Pop atmosphere.

More from Poly Hai: Gallery of 400+ images from Kari Hendler | Videos
* Official sites: Tiki-Caliente.com | Facebook page

EVENT PREVIEW: Step back into the WWII era at Tiki Kon in Portland

Tiki Kon

The northwest Tiki scene is gearing up for the 14th annual Tiki Kon, happening July 8-10 in Portland. Themed to Polynesian Pop’s roots in the post-World War II era and the USO, the eclectic event is centered at a new host hotel, the Red Lion Hotel On The River. Guests can enjoy Tiki-themed music, art and fashion, with a rollicking camp show, surf and lounge bands, educational symposiums, themed food and drinks, vendors from around the world, and the longest-running home bar tour of its kind.

Here’s a look at the schedule and highlights of the vintage weekend. Unless noted, all events are at the Red Lion Hotel. Some individual events have tickets available at the door, while others are free and open to the public. Check the online schedule for details.

Continue reading “Week/Month in Tiki (May 1-31, 2016): Recap Tiki Caliente; preview Tiki Kon, Tales of the Cocktail and Tiki Oasis; plus Tiki bar news and more!”

The Week in Tiki (Feb. 24, 2015): NYC’s Miller takes Emeril’s Tiki showdown, Bacardi seeks new classic cocktails

The Week in TikiTiki, rum and cocktails are making news this week. We have the results of “The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown” hosted by Emeril Lagasse at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, plus coverage of The Mai-Kai’s “secret cocktails” event. We preview the Legacy National Cocktail Competition, sponsored by Bacardi and held in Miami. Other news includes the Instro Summit surf music fest lineup, two special concerts in Tampa Bay, Chicago Area Tiki Tour tickets, and the auction of a massive collection of Tiki artifacts from Disneyland and Disney World. Our weekly features spotlight LeRoy Schmaltz of Oceanic Arts, The Pegu Blog, Double Crown Records, and Hale Pele in Portland. The rum of the week, Ron Zacapa 23 from Guatemala, is featured in the Zacapa Hurricane cocktail.
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* Weekly features: Artist | Website | Band/music | Tiki bar | Rum | Cocktail | Events

LAST WEEK IN REVIEW (Feb. 16-23, 2015)

Brian Miller wins Emeril’s Tiki showdown

Brian Miller (Tiki Mondays With Miller, New York City) accepts the top prize, the Judge’s Choice award, from Emeril Lagasse.
Brian Miller (Tiki Mondays With Miller, New York City) accepts the top prize, the Judge’s Choice award, from Emeril Lagasse.

The big news out of Friday night’s “The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown” during the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, besides the Judge’s Choice award won by Brian Miller, was the New York City bartender’s announcement that he wanted to leave the Big Apple for Los Angeles. Grasping his $5,000 prize, Miller said he hoped to “take a seat at the big boys’ table” and “hopefully pick up where Don (the Beachcomber) left off.”

However, Miller later had a change of heart, and said he realized that “New York City is where I want to be right now.” Miller wowed the judges with his Pain Reliever cocktail, served up during a three-hour party at the Shore Club on South Beach. Miami Beach craft cocktail bar The Broken Shaker won the People’s Choice award for the creative Paradise Found. The event was hosted by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, who was joined at the judging table by Tiki luminaries Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and Martin Cate, plus rum ambassador Lynnette Marrero. World-class chefs provides small bites as more than 700 attendees made the rounds of booths that featured some of the country’s top Tiki mixologists.

Other participants were The Mai-Kai (Fort Lauderdale), Frankie’s Tiki Room (Las Vegas), Royal Kona Resort (Hawaii), The Rum Line (Miami Beach), and Sunny’s (Miami). The win is just the latest feather in Miller’s cap. With his change of heart, a crucial loss to the New York Tiki scene has been averted.

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (Feb. 24, 2015): NYC’s Miller takes Emeril’s Tiki showdown, Bacardi seeks new classic cocktails”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Drink like a native with the deadly Shrunken Skull

The Mai-Kai's Shrunken Skull, from ancestor to tribute

Updated May 2019
See below: Our Shrunken Skull review | NEW: Ancestor recipe | Official recipe
UPDATE: Tribute recipe | Bonus recipe
Related: The history of 151 rums at The Mai-Kai
Demerara Rum – The Mai-Kai’s Secret Weapon | Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Our expedition through the mysterious tropical drink selection at The Mai-Kai takes a dangerous turn with another mid-century classic from the menu’s “STRONG!” offerings.

The Shrunken Skull, served in the Abelam mug in May 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Shrunken Skull, served in the Abelam mug in May 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Tongue-in-cheek drinks lionizing primitivism were common during Tiki’s golden age. The ominous Shrunken Skull and its variations were among the most infamous. The idea was to conjure up a sense of danger lurking in your local tropical getaway. Classic Tiki bars offer the ultimate escape from the mundane day-to-day existence, and every island adventure needs a little bit of macabre yet kitschy risk-taking.

In this case, the danger lies in the strong rums that permeate this deadly concoction. The Shrunken Skull is one of only two current Mai-Kai drinks that feature a rum floater (a shot of rum added to your drink as it’s served). Not coincidentally, the other also comes with an element of danger attached to its name: the Shark Bite.

The Shrunken Skull is also one of only a handful of Mai-Kai cocktails to come in its own custom mug, originally a vintage shrunken head design that can fetch more than $100 on the open market. It was replaced by a modern version that is not quite as rare but can still reach $50 or more for older versions.

The Shrunken Skull mug, as seen in The Mai-Kai online store
The Shrunken Skull mug, as seen in The Mai-Kai online store.

The above links and info come courtesy of Ooga Mooga, the premiere website for Tiki mug collectors. This highly recommended resource lets users track their mug collection while showing it off to others. Loaded with photos of great vintage mugs, it’s worth checking out even if you don’t register as a collector.

The Shrunken Skull also often comes in an Abelam mug (average price: $30), which features a mask-like design of the Abelam people who live in the East Sepik province of Papua New Guinea. A vintage Abelam mug is typically priced in the $100 range.

All of the above mugs have a handle, which is atypical of most Tiki mugs. It’s usually an indication that the mug does double-duty on the dessert menu as a vessel for hot coffee drinks. At The Mai-Kai, the current Abelam mug also can be enjoyed with an after-dinner classic, the flaming Kona Coffee Grog. The shrunken head mug is also used for the Tahitian Coffee.

I picked up both mugs in the gift shop, aka The Mai-Kai Trading Post. I’ll be monitoring their prices on Ooga Mooga like any good mug investor.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Drink like a native with the deadly Shrunken Skull”