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Top 10 Tiki stories of 2022 include legends lost, hope for the future

Top 10 Tiki stories of 2022 include legends lost, hope for the future

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse than 2020 or 2021, along came 2022. The past three years have been rough, any way you slice it. But for the Tiki community, things turned tragic last year with the devastating loss of multiple legendary figures. But rather than mourn their passing, let’s take the opportunity to remember and reflect on their great impact. And while we’re at it, let’s also give thanks for the positive news that made it into our annual list of the most impactful stories of the year.
Related: The Year in Tiki 2022 – Take a trip back to the year’s top events
Bonus recipes below: Harry Yee’s Tropical Itch | Stephen Remsberg’s Planter’s Punch

1. A FAREWELL TO KINGS: OCEANIC ARTS CELEBRATION AND AUCTION

Oceanic Arts celebration and auction

The top story of 2021 – the retirement of Robert Van Oosting and LeRoy Schmaltz – continued into 2022 with the epic events that marked the true end of an era. Spread over three weekends in April, Aloha Oa! 65 years of Oceanic Arts Celebration took place at the Whittier, Calif., headquarters of the longtime purveyors of South Seas decor. Tikiphiles from around the world came to pay tribute to these two men and their legacy, which can be found in not only Tiki bars and restaurants but also in theme parks, hotels and motels, apartment complexes, and countless other venues built over the past half century. It’s heartening that both were able to be there to see the appreciation for their decades of work on behalf of an artistic style that often is overlooked. Thousands attended the events that featured live music and entertainment, presentations and history lessons, plus an array of tropical libations. And, of course, the opportunity to meet Bob and LeRoy and peruse their vast warehouse of historic Ocean Arts lamps, floats, carvings, and many more items that were cataloged for auction.

Part 2 of the extravaganza was The Oceanic Arts Vintage Tiki Collection Auction, held April 23-24 and featuring likely the most extensive collection of mid-century Polynesian inspired decor and artwork ever offered for sale at one event. Curated by Jordan Reichek, a longtime friend and owner of nearby Peekaboo Gallery, the auction drew bidders large and small seeking to take home a piece of Tiki history. A portion of the proceeds from the event were donated to humanitarian aid and relief for Tonga, which was hit by a volcanic eruption and tsunami in January.

The monthlong celebration proved to be a fitting farewell for Oceanic Arts, providing both great memories and a unique opportunity to pick up items that will never be made again. For those who couldn’t make it to Southern California, three was a gigantic 500-page book compiled by Reichek featuring artwork from the auction along with archival photos and insightful conversations with Van Oosting and Schmaltz. Oceanic Arts: The Godfathers of Tiki tells the story of not just the small studio that influenced generations of artists, but also the entire Polynesian Pop movement in America.

2. LEROY SCHMALTZ, THE PAUL BUNYAN OF TIKI, PASSES AWAY

LeRoy Schmaltz, 1935-2022

Less than two months after the Oceanic Arts celebration, the Tiki world lost a legend when carver and artist LeRoy Earl Schmaltz passed away on June 17, not long after celebrating his 87th birthday. The amount of art and woodwork created by this one man was awe inspiring. The Paul Bunyan of Tiki will loom large for generations to come. Schmaltz joined with business partner Robert Van Oosting in 1956 to create Oceanic Arts – a bar, restaurant and entertainment design firm that continued to have an over-sized impact on the industry, even after the pair retired in late 2021.

While Van Oosting ran the business and guided its creative efforts, Schmaltz did the heavy lifting with the workmanlike precision of a lumberjack but the sensibilities of a fine artist. The men had a true affinity for authentic Polynesian art, traveling there often for inspiration in their youth. They also imported and sold the work of artists from across the Pacific Rim. But it was the original works created by Schmaltz (and the many other artists Oceanic Arts employed) that drove the company forward though lean times. Eventually, new fame (and business) arrived with the Polynesian Pop revival in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Beyond Tiki-carving, Schmaltz was proficient in many other disciplines: Mosaic work, watercolor, pastels, charcoals, assemblages, sculptures, architectural design, and much more. Always a humble artist, when Schmaltz was asked what his greatest accomplishment was, he answered without hesitation: “My family.” He was a devout and church-going family man who left not only an artistic legacy but also a vast clan including six children, 10 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren.

3. COCKTAIL AND MUSIC LEGEND BROTHER CLEVE DIES

Brother Cleve made several apperances at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale in recent years as a guest mixologist (2018) and DJ (2018, 2019). Credits (left to right): The Atomic Grog, Jim Neumayer, Vincent Minervino
Brother Cleve made several appearances at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale in recent years as a guest mixologist (2018) and DJ (2018, 2019). Credits (left to right): The Atomic Grog, Jim Neumayer, Vincent Minervino.

The influence of Brother Cleve was as vast as his interests. When the craft cocktail pioneer died suddenly in September at age 67, the tributes poured in from across the entertainment world. As a testament to his importance and status as a fixture on the East Coast scene, he was eulogized by writers from the Boston Globe, New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal,.

According to The Journal, Cleve (born Robert Toomey) was in Los Angeles to appear at a Tiki-themed bartending event when he died of a heart attack. His first claim to fame was music as a keyboardist in the 1980s. He played in countless bands, including stints touring with the Del Fuegos and Combustible Edison. Then, he had a revelation. As the obituary tells it: “One day in the mid-1980s, at a diner in Cleveland, he noticed scores of cocktails listed on the menu. He began searching thrift shops for cocktail-recipe books and learned to mix and tweak classic drinks.”

Continue reading “Top 10 Tiki stories of 2022 include legends lost, hope for the future”

Minimalist Tiki

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.
* Keep up with The Week/Month in Tiki: Facebook page | RSS feed | Past blogs | Archive
* 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.
* 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

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 October 2023
See below: Our Shrunken Skull review | Ancestor recipe
Official recipe | Tribute recipe | Bonus recipes
NEW: Shrunken Pumpkin Head is a sinister, seasonal spin on the classic
Related: 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 by Al Kocab. The artist had his hand in many projects at The Mai-Kai, from furniture to advertising design.

It was replaced some time in the 1980s by a modern version based on Kocab’s design that remains to this day. The modern version features the details painted under the glaze, while the vintage version has the details painted over the glaze.

Our collection includes Mai-Kai Shrunken Skull mugs from the 1960s (left), 1970s and 1980s. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Our collection includes Mai-Kai Shrunken Skull mugs from the 1960s (left), 1970s and 1980s. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The above links and info come courtesy of My Tiki Life, a website featuring a user-generated database of mugs past and present. This highly recommended resource is so robust, in fact, it lists nearly 300 mugs (as of October 2023) with a tag of “skull.” Featuring photos, designer and manufacturer info, plus a full description of the mugs, mytiki.life is essential even if you don’t register as a member.

In recent years, the Shrunken Skull is also often served in a modern Abelam mug, which features a mask-like design of the Abelam people who live in the East Sepik province of Papua New Guinea. The original was also designed by Kocab.

Both 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 Skull mug is also used for the Tahitian Coffee.

When the restaurant reopens in 2024, look for both mugs in the gift shop, aka The Mai-Kai Trading Post.

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