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Tiki Culture

Discussion in 'The Golden Era' started by Tiki Tom, Oct 15, 2015.

  1. Tiki Tom

    Tiki Tom Practically Family

    Many say that "Tiki Culture" started when Don the Beachcomber opened his restaurant/bar in Hollywood in 1934. In 1937 Trader Vic opened a tiki-themed restaurant/bar and it quickly grew into a chain. In 1937 the famous Hawaiian Room opened at the Lexington Hotel in New York City and was a frequent hang-out for celebrities. The tiki trend caught on further when the theme of the 1939 California Worlds Fair was "Pageant of the Pacific". Of course, with the coming of WWII, millions of American soldiers and sailors passed through Honolulu. After the war, many of them had nostalgic feelings about Hawaii. This nostalgia for paradise and all things Polynesian was fed by James Micheners book "Tales of the South Pacific", and by the musical "South Pacific" which was based on the book. Michener also gave his name to the hit 1950's TV show "Adventures in Paradise" staring Gardner McKay. From 1934 until 1975 "Hawaii Calls" was a popular radio show broadcast from the courtyard of the Moana Hotel in Waikiki and, at its height, it was heard on 750 stations. Finally, when Hawaii became a state in 1959, the resulting wave of tourism gave a final boost to the tiki culture craze. Tiki culture was most notably marked by the rise of the tiki bar, exotic drinks, the popularity of Hawaiian and exotica music, the longing for a more relaxed lifestyle under palm trees, and tropical prints. The Mai Tai remains the signature drink of tiki culture. Tiki Culture probably reached its zenith in the late 1950s or very early 1960s and has slowly faded away ever since.

    Tiki Culture is a unique subset of the Golden Era. It is rarely mentioned and only occasionally celebrated. Fortunately it is not completely gone: surviving, classic old tiki bars can still be found with a little effort.


    Any other tiki aficionados out there? Any classic tiki bars that need to be shared with fans of the Golden Era? Here's where you can talk tiki.


  2. Big J

    Big J Call Me a Cab

    That's an awesome OP!
    Thanks TT!
    Mai Tais remind me of my honeymoon :)
  3. Great post Tiki Tom.

    Growing up in the late '60s / '70s, I caught the embers of the Tiki culture. As a older teenager, sneaking into Trader Vics in the Plaza was part of the excitement of coming into NYC with friends and, in general, you'd still see Tiki bars and restaurants around, but they were all tired and run-down by then.

    Several years ago, I went to the Hurricane Club (not a real club, just a restaurant and bar) here in NYC that had an updated Tiki bar / restaurant feel. The few times I was there, it was busy (it was in a large space with is always challenging in this city as the rents require a ton of business), but I believe it closed a few years back.

    Everything comes around again, so my guess is we'll see a revival - with some twist on the Tiki theme - in the next several years.
  4. Since I got into jiving, I've become aware of Tiki aesthetics. The venue for Hula Boogie (sadly not currently running as a monthyl night) was the South London Pacific, a Tiki Bar just south of the Thames. Lovely decor, though sadly the few nights of the week it is open (Fridasy and Saturday, mainly), it's naught more than a pretty back drop to a very mainstream, very bland nightclub night, from what I'm informed. The only other Tiki bar I know of in London is Mahiki, which is much the same, save for the fact that it's not for the likes of me.... Mahiki is, famously, where the Wales boys spent six grand (GBP) on one round, if memory serves. It's a very pretty, very expensive bar for the very well-heeled. If you like expensive drinks and spotting minor royalty / aristocracy, it's probably very nice, but hardly the authentic tiki experience.
  5. When I was a kid whenever we went to Bangor we'd go to a place called "Sing's Polynesian" for lunch, complete with the tiki heads and fake South Seas ambience. We were a non-drinking family, so nobody ever drank anything, but I remember looking at the menu and thinking "Suffering Bastard" was the funniest thing I'd ever seen. My mother would always get egg-foo-yung, I'd have shrimp with "lobster" sauce, and my aunt would have a toasted cheese sandwich.


    Here in town there used to be a place called the "Mai Tai" which was the last gasp of the Polynesian style around here. It went out of business when the fact that it was staffed entirely by illegal immigrants came to light. The sign in the window afterward was memorable: CLOSED DUE TO INTERNATIONAL LABOR PROBLEMS.
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2015
  6. Went to a Tikki bar in Acapulco.

    Underneath the wooden floors were live :croc:

    Not sure what the motive was behind that,

    unless it was to :beer: so that you didn’t mind them after a while.
  7. Inkstainedwretch

    Inkstainedwretch Practically Family

    Don't forget the influence of surfer culture, with its Hawaiian origins. When I was a kid in California in the '50s-early '60s, every beachside junk shop sold tiki pendants and other surfer paraphernalia, most of it tiki-themed.
  8. We've already witnessed something of a revival, modest as it is. I attribute it in large part to the baby boom generation growing a bit misty-eyed over what was fashionable during their early years.

    Mid-century styles in general have been hot for a solid decade or more now. "Tiki" stuff is of that era, although it differs stylistically quite dramatically from much of the rest of it. Mid-century is mostly spare, clean, relatively unadorned. Tiki is generally much more rustic and rough-hewn. I see interiors in which the styles are mixed and it just doesn't work for me. It's not that all furnishings must be of the same era or hew to but one stylistic convention (living spaces can be so "authentic" or "period accurate" as to feel more like a museum), but they should "talk" to one another in ways that a Tiki mug and an Eero Saarinen tulip table just don't.
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2015
  9. Hey, everybody loves Tiki!

  10. mikespens

    mikespens Call Me a Cab

    As a teen in the late 60's early 70's there were several Tiki/Polynesian themed apartment complexes around Tacoma. If you look hard enough, you can still see some archaeological evidence of their existence in the form of decaying Tiki totems. Also a strip bar my friends and I could only dream of getting into but it didn't prevent us from loitering at the entrance and milking endless coffee refills in the restaurant lounge while hoping a dancer would take her break there. Although past it's heyday, Tiki culture was an important part of my youth. Still celebrate in my cocktail choices and by wearing Aloha shirts as weather permits. I love the whole fantasy escape and lowbrow art styling of the culture.

    Judging by magazine stand copy, it appears there is some interest in it's revival only this time around it's called "Kulture" and is connected to hot rod "Kars".

    There is also another thread here that's related:

    Last edited: Oct 15, 2015
  11. vitanola

    vitanola My Mail is Forwarded Here

    Clean and relatively unadorned, yes, but the 1950's/early 1960's popularity of the French Provincial, Italian Provincial, "Colonial" and "Duncan Phyfe" styles is sadly forgotten by moderns when they attempt to re-create "Mid-Century" interiors. Shame, really for although all of these styles were loosely (VERY loosely) based upon their historical antecedents, the fiurnishings, fabrics and wall coverings were used in distinctly modern ways. The bold use of saturated colors in the mid-1960's might be profitably copied by the pallid hipsters with their whitewashed Danish Modern interiors.
  12. Stanley Doble

    Stanley Doble Call Me a Cab

  13. And the contemporary takes on that mid-century "high style" (think Eames, Saarinen, Neutra, Mies, et al) was rarely seen so exclusively when that stuff was new. In recent years I've seen numerous open-plan, post-and-beam houses with walls of glass, etc., furnished almost exclusively in archetypal modernist pieces whose designs (if not the pieces themselves) date from decades before the well-heeled yuppie occupants of those houses were born. Nice stuff, and I wouldn't mind having some of it myself, but it sometimes borders on cliche.

    Nope. What seemed most prevalent among the people my people associated with back then, what they found "tasteful," was what is now called Colonial Revival but what was then called Early American. So they bought new (or used) furniture in that style and filled out the spaces with hand-me-downs and whatnot. Many pieces you and I would pay good money for today -- radios, sofas, scratched-up tables, etc. -- was put on the curb back then.
  14. Yup. I picked a stack of House Beautiful magazines from the early sixties out of the dump a while back, and you'd go blind from the reds and the oranges and the other bright "hey, that's the seventies not the sixties, dood" color schemes in the big home-fashion spreads. And while there were some modernistic pieces here and there, most of the furniture was the dark maple Colonial stuff, but upholstered in loud red and orange plaids.

    My parents were young married folk in that era, and the only "moderne" piece they had was one of those spindly star-shaped wall clocks they'd gotten for a wedding present. It looked mighty Eamsey hanging on the blue Kem-tone wall in our cold-water walkup.
  15. My parents had decorated the living room of their house with a bit of a Tiki theme--the couch, end tables, coffee table, and two chairs were bamboo/rattan with naugahyde cushions, and one wall of the dining room was covered in wallpaper with some sort of bamboo print. The couch looked very much like this...


    ...except that the cushions were completely turquoise. Sadly, my idiot sister and her husband rented the house from Mom for about 10 years after Dad passed away in 1987, and they got rid of it all except for the end tables and one chair, which my wife and I are still using. I suppose you could say I have Mom and Dad to thank for my affinity towards all things Tiki, and growing up in that environment is probably the reason I feel very much "at home" in restaurants, bars, lounges, or anywhere else with even the slightest hint of a Tiki theme.
  16. Tiki Tom

    Tiki Tom Practically Family

    Thanks, mikespens. That link has some pretty neat tiki stuff. I too have a collection of tikis and a couple of period Hawaiian shirts. Whenever I wear them I get complements. The best was "love your shirt. That's old school." Somewhere in the link, someone mentioned Thor Heyerdahl. I should have mentioned him in my chronology of tiki. Big influence. Strangely enough, lately I saw an article that points out that Thor's theories were not all wrong.


    If you really want to go deep tiki, read "Fatu Hiva" by Thor Heyerdahl. I read it when I was about 13 years old and recently re-read it. As enjoyable now as it was then... Just the thing for a wanna-be tiki adventurer in the South Pacific.

    My own infatuation with all things Tiki started when I was about 12. It must have been around 1970 and I was running errands with my dad in the family's giant Rambler station wagon. Anyway, about mid-afternoon my dad decided to make a very uncharacteristic pit stop. We stopped at a (long since gone) Trader Vics and sat at the bar. I had a Roy Rogers (non-alcoholic, off course) while my dad had whatever he was having. I remember being entranced by the décor... for me it was the next best thing to being on the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland. Have been a fan of tiki ever since. I'm sure my mom would not have approved of dad's pit stop. :)
  17. Reading Vitanola's, tonyb's and Lizzie's post makes me think that Don Draper's house from the early years of "Mad Men" got it pretty right as that home had more elements of Colonial Revival (kitchen and den) and bold colors (master bedroom) than mid-century modern (which there was much more of in the later seasons' offices and Don's Park Avenue apartment).

  18. The rockabilly and various associated cultures seem to be where tiki is still flourishing these days.
  19. MikeKardec

    MikeKardec Practically Family

    There's a lot of vaguely Tiki/south pacific influenced architecture in LA. I'm guessing that few even notice the milder influences caught in the roof or window lines of some mid century houses. Tiki bars have survived here but the great Polynesian restaurants have pretty much been reduced to just Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach.

    There used to be Trader Vics and The Luau in Beverly Hills and The Islander on West Hollywood's Restaurant Row (La Cienega Blvd.). The Luau in particular was a childhood favorite in the 1960s. It was a dark and mysterious theme park of a place with little bridges and running streams and a waterfall (behind the bar ... I don't remember), there were outrigger canoes and drums and big scary sculptures. All the tables had an isolated feel, both the darkness and the complicated architecture helped with that. My sister and I would make a meal of the appraisers and my father (who other times rarely drank) would order a drink caller The Volcano which, somehow, used dry ice to make a special snifter spew steam. He did this mostly for his kids enjoyment. All in all to a child it was just short of getting to go on The Pirates of the Caribbean.

    It's too bad it has tended to disappear, as goofy as it all was it was a reminder that far beyond Hawaii the United States has deep ties to the Pacific and it's rare you meet someone today that remembers that The Philippines was once a territory and that a great many of the more off the beaten track Pacific Islands still are. The people there don't forget, but we do.
  20. It's funny. My parents had a collection of Tiki mugs. About 10 if I recall correctly. All with the simple stamp of "Japan" on the bottom. I think that it was my Dad that had collected them in the 50's & 60's. When they had passed, My sister & I each kept 1 and sold off the rest. Now I kick myself for letting those mugs go. Doh! There was some killer variety there.



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