We remain thankful for every bit of good news. While a few of the stories below are frustrating (No. 4) or bittersweet (No. 1), they’re far out-numbered by the explosions of creativity and collective talent that drove most of the year’s activity. For that, we toast the entire Tiki community with a new cocktail and The Atomic Grog’s picks for the 10 most newsworthy stories of 2021. Bonus recipe below:The Tiki Lover
1. ALOHA AND FAREWELL, OCEANIC ARTS
As sure as the sun rose in the east and set in the west, there was one enduring creative force over the past six decades of Polynesian Pop style. In November 2021, there was a total eclipse and extended period of mourning when it was announced that Oceanic Arts would be closing its doors as its 80-something-year-old founders embark on a well-deserved retirement. Established in 1956 in Southern California by Robert Van Oosting and LeRoy Schmaltz, the company was always the go-to provider of original and imported pieces of South Seas art and decor for everyone from home enthusiasts to theme park giants including Disney (the doors to Trader Sam’s in Disneyland are Schmaltz’ handiwork). Art and woodwork originating from Oceanic Arts has been featured in nearly every legendary Polynesian palace, from Don the Beachcomber to Trader Vic’s to The Mai-Kai. The company put together movie set pieces and provided the distinctive style of many of the mid 20th century’s Tiki-themed hotels and motels, bowling alleys, and countless other establishments. Buoyed by the Tiki revival, the small shop in Whittier became a mecca for Tikiphiles from around the world and inspired a new generation of carvers and artists in the 21st century.
While the closing seemed to have come out of the blue, Van Oosting and Schmaltz had been planning their retirement for some time. They joined forces with longtime friend Jordan Reichek, owner of Peekaboo Gallery in nearby Montrose, for an epic career-spanning retrospective coming in 2022. In the spring, look for what’s being called an “experiential Tiki exhibition” featuring art and artifacts from Oceanic Arts paired with special events that include live music and performances, panel discussions, an “epic Tiki bar,” and more. The events will culminate with the “ultimate Tiki auction” art show and sale. In the meantime, the gallery is taking pre-orders for a mammoth Oceanic Arts history book compiled and written by Reichek, who worked closely with Van Oosting and Schmaltz. Oceanic Arts: The Godfathers of Tiki is a 500-page opus that documents the rich history of Oceanic Arts via thousands of photos, original artwork and historical documents from the archives. After 65 years, Oceanic Arts leaves an indelible mark on pop culture that is likely to last for many more decades to come.
The entire Tiki community heaved a sigh of relief in September when the announcement came that The Mai-Kai – the historic, 65-year-old restaurant in Fort Lauderdale that has been closed due to storm damage since October 2020 – was saved from extinction by a new ownership team that will pump millions of dollars into a restoration and refurbishment. The year started with much concern after press reports emerged about the roof damage that destroyed the kitchen. A “Save The Mai-Kai” petition gathered more than 10,000 signatures in less than a month as devoted fans united online to share their support and concerns. The skeleton crew of owners and staff continued to offer regular takeout cocktails and began a series of events in the expansive parking lot. The highlights were The Mai-Kai’s first-ever Tiki Marketplace in April featuring vendors, entertainers, cocktails, rum tasting and more. A follow-up event in July kept the momentum going while behind-the-scene negotiations were likely starting to ramp up.
The big announcement came in September, just after hundreds of Tikiphiles from around the country finally returned to Fort Lauderdale for the 19th edition of The Hukilau. Then, a week later, the long-awaited news dropped. The founding Thornton family released details on social media on Sept. 28, outlining the joint venture with a South Florida-based real estate investment and development company known for working with legacy businesses. Its sister hospitality company already operates several vintage venues in Miami’s Little Havana. “We’re looking forward to working closely with the Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality to sustain The Mai-Kai the world has come to know and love,” the announcement said. “We’re excited to bring back The Mai-Kai better than ever before — and for you to be a special part of it!” Check out links to our in-depth report above and latest updates below.
The crushing blow of the pandemic was not easy to overcome for event organizers, but we slowly came out of our homes in 2021 and began to gather again in safe and physically-distanced environments. Longtime online meet-ups – most notably Tiki Trail Live and Spike’s Breezeway Cocktail Hour – continued to thrive. But many longed for live human interaction, and a handful of key (mainly outdoor) events delivered that experience in the year’s early months. Then, when vaccines became widely available, we saw the return of several major Tiki events starting with Arizona Tiki Oasis on April 22-25. Carefully organized by Baby Doe and Otto von Stroheim, the event paved the way for an active summer, including the couple’s flagship Tiki Oasis on July 28 -Aug. 1 in San Diego. Momentum slowed in the late summer and fall as the first of several coronavirus variants emerged, but Tikiphiles still flocked to scaled-down events including Ohana: Luau At The Lake in upstate New York, The Hukilau and Tiki Fever in Florida, and Tiki Caliente in Palm Springs, Calif. Rum aficionados around the world also were able to get back into the swing of tasting events, from the Jamaica Rum Festival in March to the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival in November. See the full list of major 2021 events below.
Most bars and restaurants across the country (and world) have been embroiled in a long and painful process of returning to “normal” after nearly two years of dealing with coronavirus restrictions. Just when things were beginning to turn the corner, however, the omicron variant has thrown them another curveball. As a result, many establishments near and dear to us are still going through rough times.
We feel strongly about supporting the owners, managers and employees as they deal with this turbulence in their chosen profession. Please do all you can to help them out by whatever means possible. One easy way is to frequent their online stores, buy merchandise and gift cards, and put some cash in their coffers.
Also note that many areas of the country have made permanent the emergency rules that allow take-out and delivery of alcohol as well as food, so check with your local establishments for more info. It may be their lifeline. We’ve noted some of these services below.
We also urge you to also support the artists and merchants who are key parts of the industry, designing and producing many of the products listed below. You can find links to our favorites in the right rail of this blog post. You can also support them at events that are making a comeback around the world.
SUPPORT TIKI BARS ONLINE
The following establishments are offering online ordering. If you find any broken links, please let us know and we’ll update. Also, please send us any additions to this list via email or as a message on our social media pages (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram).
Aku Aku, Orlando – This small and inviting mid-mod Tiki oasis near downtown has an online shop featuring gift cards, T-shirts, stickers and mugs. Artist Doug Horne signed his newest mug release, Invisible Man, on Jan. 22, 2022. It quickly sold out, but more were released in early March. Follow the Aku Aku pages onInstagram and Facebook for updates.
Archipelago, Washington, D.C. – The online merch shop for this island-themed neo-Tiki hotspot features a small but well designed assortment of glassware, including snifters and Mai Tai glasses along with a signature mug from Tiki Farm. Gift cards are also available. After operating outdoor patio seating for months, the bar closed in late December 2020 for a winter siesta. Takeout service resumed in February 2021, followed by patio seating. In mid-June 2021, Archipelago resumed indoor seating after 452 days. Reservations are recommended. Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Santa returned for the 2021 holidays with special themed merchandise.
Bahi Hut, Sarasota – This historic (est. 1954) but underappreciated Tiki landmark has shirts, pins and mugs available in its online shop. Recognized as the oldest Tiki bar in Florida, Bahi Hut is also site of the annual Tiki Fever event, with version 2.5 held Sept. 30 through Oct. 3, 2021. The bar reopened in October 2020 with both indoor and outdoor seating. In January 2021, a collector’s edition Tiki Fever mug featuring both Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid and The Disasternauts was released. The mug was designed by RoboTiki crafted by Eekum Bookum.
Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29, New Orleans – The bar and restaurant owned and operated by author and Tiki revival pioneer Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and his wife Annene Kaye is well represented in the BeachbumBerry.com store, including syrups and barware. While you’re there, pick up the Bum’s books so you can make the hundreds of tropical classics at home. Latitude 29 reopened in September 2021 after closing in the wake of Hurricane Ida. Before the storm, Latitude 29 had been open consistently since October 2020 in the wake of the pandemic. An exciting new mug release commemorated Spookilau 2021, when Oakwash produced 150 limited-edition Cursed Coconut mugs. Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Santa also returned again for another winter holiday season. The bar closed after ringing in 2022 but returned on Jan. 6. Before you visit, reserve a seat via Latitude29Nola.com.
Clifton’s Pacific Seas, Los Angeles – Closed since the early days of the pandemic, the Tiki bar inside the legendary Clifton’s complex was pouring drinks again in February 2022. While it was closed, the bar’s parent company opened a vast online shop, Exposition Marketplace of The Neverlands. It featured many exclusive items, including artifacts to “create your own Tiki paradise” (nautical anchors and bells, mixology tools and books, rope buoys, and much more).
Esotico Miami – This tropical hideaway in the Magic City, led by noted Tiki mixologist Daniele Dalla Pola, offers mugs and shirts in its online store. The restaurant reopened indoor dining under social distancing restrictions in August 2020 after offering outdoor dining as well as takeout, curbside pick-up and delivery throughout the pandemic.
False Idol, San Diego – Consortium Holdings, one of the partners (along with Tiki bar guru Martin Cate) in this over-the-top throwback to classic Tiki hidden inside the Craft & Commerce bar, offers mugs and gift cards for sale online. After closing durng the height of the pandemic, False Idol reopened at limited capacity, serving cocktails and food via reservations only. The bar got back up to speed during the annual Tiki Oasis in August 2021 with a full slate of events. These included a fifth anniversary mug release as well as the release of a a new limited-edition glaze of Bosko’s Maori mug.
Forbidden Island, Alameda, Calif. – You can buy apparel, mugs, and gift cards directly from one of the Tiki revival’s first shining beacons. After being closed for more than four months, Forbidden Island opened a socially-distant Tiki garden and patio for limited hours in late July 2020. New restrictions in December limited Forbidden Island to take-out service, but outdoor seating was fully open again in February. Indoor dining returned in March, when Forbidden Island announced the arrival of their long-awaited Turquoise Kapu mug, the eighth glaze in 15 years. Also from Tiki Farm, a limited-edition version (in brown and green) of the Tamuaki mug designed by carver and artist Benzart Davis, embossed with the FI logo. A new 15th anniversary limited edition mug designed by Brad “Tiki Shark” Parker and produced by Munktiki made its debut at a special event on May 23 before becoming available online in the official website merch store.
Frankie’s Tiki Room, Las Vegas – A wide variety of mugs, glassware and apparel fill the online store of this beloved Tiki bastion in Sin City. New mugs are released often, so check back. You can also pick up gift certificates and a copy of the 2013 book, Liquid Vacation, which features recipes for 77 of the bar’s famous cocktails. Frankie’s has returned to being the world’s only 24-hour Tiki bar, open seven days a week. On Dec. 4, 2021, Frankie’s celebrated its 13th anniversary with the release of the limited-edition Lady Luck anniversary mug designed by Bosko Hrnjak, who was on hand to sign mugs.
Fuchsia Tiki Bar, New Paltz, N.Y. – This small tropical escape hidden away in Ulster County, around 70 miles north of the Big Apple, survived the pandemic by offering merchandise, gift cards and cocktails to go. Fuchsia reopened in June 2020 with indoor dining and limited seating capacity. After closing in December for a short hiatus, the bar reopened at the end of January 2020 with a new menu and Squid’s Rum Barrel mug by Bauer Pottery.
Hala Kahiki, Chicago – The historic Tiki bar and lounge, established in 1966 in the suburb of River Grove, has an extensive online menu available for pick-up. The family owned and operated establishment is open to guests with socially distant indoor seating plus a covered “tropical patio.” There is also a vast array of food and drinks on the to-go menu for hungry guests, along with many items from the in-house gift shop. Locals can pick up Hawaiian shirts, glasses and mugs, even an assortment of spirits. The regular Lowbrow Aloha art shows also Hala Kahiki guests to pick up even more cool merch.
Hale Pele, Portland, Ore.– The Pacific Northwest’s long-running Tiki paradise has an array of merch in its online store, from mugs to glassware to shirts to pins to gift cards. There’s also a virtual tip jar for the staff. While you’re there, sign up for the email blast to get news and updates. After initially offering cocktail mixes for pickup, Hale Pele was finally permitted to sell take-out cocktails (with food) in January 2021. Hale Pele re-opened with indoor dining in late May.
Hidden Harbor, Pittsburgh – This popular Tiki revival craft cocktail bar celebrates its sixth anniversary in February 2022 with two weekends of fun (and mug releases). In advance of the events, check out the online shop for custom merch, including pendants and glassware. On Feb. 5, the bar’s first-ever Cobra’s Fang mug, designed and produced by Bosko, was released during a special return of the Cobra’s Fang pop-up. On Feb. 12, the official anniversary party featured the release of 100 new Suffering Banana mugs by VanTiki. The remaining 50 mugs were sold Feb. 14 in the Hidden Harbor online shop. Throughout the pandemic, Hidden Harbor has featured indoor and/or outdoor seating, whichever the current situation allows. Currently, guests must follow a new vaccination policy for indoor service.
Laki Kane, London – The acclaimed craft Tiki bar from mixologist and author Georgi Radev has taken its online store offline, but you can still help out by purchasing vouchers to spend on cocktails, food, experiences (including rum tastings and cocktails classes), plus merchandise sold in-house at Laki Kane. You can also support Radev by picking up a copy of his book, Let’s Get Tropical, at various booksellers, including Amazon. Laki Kane reopened in July 2020 by reservation only under strict new guidelines, but was forced to close again in December. It was allowed to reopen again for outdoor drinks, dining and takeaways in April 2021. Indoor seating eventual returned under the latest guidelines.
Last Rites, San Francisco – Dubbed “Polynesian noir,” this unique and modern take on Tiki with a backstory revolving around a plane crash has had to battle its own takedown by coronavirus. After being down for more than a year, the bar reopened in June 2021 under San Francisco’s strict vaccination and mask guidelines. You can buy gift cards at LastRitesBar.com.
Lono, Los Angeles – This Hollywood Boulevard haunt has a new online store offering several versions of its signature mug along with glassware, pins and hats. While Lono remains closed, a selection of cocktails are available for pickup and delivery via owners Umbrella Hospitality Group. The bar remains closed as of early December 2021.
Lost River, Detroit – The Web store of this rum-focused tropical neighborhood bar on Detroit’s Eastside features gift cards, plus an assortment of merchandise (mugs and glassware, plus shirts and pins). There’s also an option to “tip your bartender.” While indoor service was closed, Lost River featured ambitious to-go cocktail program. In January 2021, a new limited edition lavender glaze of the bar’s house mug was released online. Lost River fully reopened in May 2021.
UPDATED:The Mai-Kai, Fort Lauderdale – After closing in late October 2020 due to a back-of-house flood, The Mai-Kai re-launched its online Trading Post. The digital version of the historic restaurant’s on-site gift shop features custom mugs, apparel, jewelry, tikis, artist prints, menus, and more. The site is temporarily closed, but it’s expected to return when it gets closer to the reopening. After closing in the early months of the pandemic, The Mai-Kai’s bar and dining rooms reopened to the public under social distancing rules in late May 2020, remaining open until a massive storm hit just before Halloween. But that didn’t stop The Mai-Kai from holding its annual Hulaween bash as a drive-in movie party in the parking lot. The restaurant’s 64th anniversary party was also held on the sprawling property in December 2020. After announcing in early 2021 that they’re looking for potential partners and buyers to help with the repairs, The Mai-Kai family continued to offer their popular tropical drinks to go, sell merchandise online and host ongoing events in the restaurant parking lot. A second Tiki Markertplace was held in July 2020 after the success of the initial event in April. In September, The Hukilau returned to Fort Lauderdale and The Mai-Kai for its 19th Tiki weekender at a nearby beachfront resort. Sept. 18 included a cocktail party in The Mai-Kai parking lot, where it was announced that a deal was in the works to reopen the restaurant. The founding Thornton family released details on Sept. 28, outlining the joint venture with the Barlington Group, a South Florida-based real estate investment and development company focused on growing unique and eclectic legacy businesses that give their communities character; and Mad Room Hospitality, the proprietors of iconic Miami establishments such as Ball and Chain, Los Altos and Taquerias El Mexicano. “Our search came to an end when we met their team and recognized the passion they share for honoring and preserving the legacy of The Mai-Kai,” the announcement said. Guests of The Hukilau will get a sneak preview of the plans when the event returns to the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach in June. The new ownership group will present a symposium on June 11 exclusively for passholders. The Mai-Kai will also operate a pop-up bar, treating the event’s villagers to some of its signature cocktails all weekend. In May and June, four to-go cocktails (by the quart and gallon) will be available on three holiday weekends for takeout at the restaurant. A soft launch that included three signature drinks was held over Easter weekend, much to fans’ delight. Follow The Mai-Kai on Facebook and Instagram for the latest updates.