Entries in the 'Perfect Tiki Bar' Category

August 25, 2010

Ordinary Bars, Extraordinary Tiki Drinks

Filed under: Continental Europe,Drinks,Houston,London,Los Angeles,New York,Perfect Tiki Bar,Portland,Seattle,Tiki,Washington, D.C. — Humuhumu @ 2:23 pm

Bartender Michael Bertrand tends to his fire at Vessel in Seattle,
photo by Rocky Yeh

First, let’s get this out of the way: the outstanding bars on this list are not ordinary by any measure, but one… they are not tiki bars. These establishments are part of a new class of cocktailing, where constructing a beverage is paid the same attention as that given to preparing a meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

But they are not tiki bars.

You won’t find them in Critiki, and they may very well be off your radar. They may not even be able to make tiki drinks any time, any day, as the ingredients required are notoriously numerous and fussy. But each location on this list has at least one bartender on staff who shares your passion, and wants to make your Nui Nui dreams come true. Some have regular or periodic tiki nights, some even have dedicated tiki sections of their menu. When it comes to tiki drinks, frankly these places are going to deliver better than most any tiki bar out there. Encourage them, won’t you?

Drink – 348 Congress St., Boston, MA
Drink keeps a number of flavored syrups around just for making tiki drinks–prepared for them with love and care by none other than Randy Wong of Waitiki!

Death & Company – 433 East 6th St., Manhattan, New York, NY
Though Brian Miller, a driving force behind Death & Co.’s tiki drinks, has moved on, his imprint lingers. Tiki drinks, and tiki-leaning beverages, can still be found on the menu.

Please Don’t Tell (PDT) – 113 Saint Marks Pl., Manhattan, New York, NY
There are reports that you may be able to snag a high-quality tiki drink at the world’s worst-kept-secret bar.

Flatiron Lounge – 37 W 19th St., Manhattan, New York, NY
Joe Swifka: ask for him by name. He’s gotten to have a bit of a reputation as the go-to bartender for tiki drinks in New York. Tiki drinks make frequent appearances on Flatiron’s rotating menu.

Clover Club – 210 Smith St., Brooklyn, New York, NY
Clover Club has the same owner as Flatiron Lounge, Julie Reiner. Reiner grew up in Hawaii and plans to open a tropical (but not tiki) restaurant in Manhattan later this year. Clover Club is Victorian in style, but if you ask nicely, they may be able to hook you up with the good stuff.

Dram – 177 S 4th St, Brooklyn, New York, NY
Dram’s rotating menu often has tiki items on offer—at this writing, it’s a Jet Pilot.

Dutch Kills – 27-24 Jackson Ave., Long Island City, NY
Dutch Kills is from the same team that opened New York’s latest tiki savior, Painkiller.

Rum Bar – 2005 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA
Rum Bar is, well, all about rum. Most of the cocktail list is Caribbean-focused, but a few traditional tiki cocktails are also on offer.

Embury – 2216 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh, PA
Embury has a Tiki Tuesday event, and they’re game for tackling the complicated drinks.

Farmers & Fishers – 3000 K Street NW, Washington, D.C.
Zombies, Fog Cutters, Grogs… all part of their regular menu!

Anvil – Houston, TX
Anvil is perhaps most notable for their “100 drinks everyone should try at least once.” Naturally, tiki is part of the prescription, and Jeff Berry’s Grog Log is a heavily-thumbed reference behind their bar.

Vessel – 1312 5th Ave., Seattle, WA
Spur – 113 Blanchard St., Seattle, WA
Tavern Law – 1406 12th Ave., Seattle, WA
My hometown may be lacking in the tiki bar department, but I’m proud to say that when it comes to the drinks, it’s “ya sure, ya betcha.” All three of these establishments have the materials on-hand to whip up traditional tiki drinks, and each has periodic tiki nights. Vessel even serves some drinks out of tiki mugs.

Teardrop Cocktail Lounge – 1015 NW Everett St., Portland, OR
Teardrop hosts periodic Tiki Nights, typically with the involvement of local tikiphiles and cocktail obsessives Blair “Trader Tiki” Reynolds and Craig “Colonel Tiki” Hermann. The next one is on September 12.

Caña – 714 W Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA
Caña is dedicated to all things rum, so of course this means some tiki representation on the menu.

Lewers Lounge – Halekulani Hotel, Waikiki, HI
It’s tragically difficult to find a decent drink in Hawaii. You may have heard good things about the House Without a Key in the Halekulani Hotel, but the better bet is actually the Lewer’s Lounge in the same hotel.

Paparazzi – Laurinská 133/1, Bratislava, Slovakia
Paparazzi’s Stanislav Vadrna knows his way around a tiki drink… he’s even hosted a tiki drink seminar at his bar.

Cotton’s Rhum Shack – 55 Chalk Farm Rd, London, UK
Cotton’s Rhum Shack in Camden has a very long rum list, and a smattering of tiki cocktails to match. There is a sister location, Rhum Jungle in Islington, that may be worth trying, too.

The Merchant Hotel Bar – 16 Skipper Street, Belfast, Ireland
Crowned as the Best Bar In the World, the Merchant Hotel Bar’s menu is more of a book. The menu is exhaustively thorough, and tiki drinks do not get short shrift. On the contrary: Bar Manager Sean Muldoon takes tiki drinks so very seriously that he has the last remaining bottle of the true original Mai Tai rum: vintage 17 year Wray & Nephew. This is the only place in the world you can have a truly old-style Mai Tai—though it’ll cost you about $1,000.

Mahalo nui loa to the following for their assistance in compiling this list: Peter Andrijeski, Alice Berry, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Dan Budiac, Robert A. Burr, Nicole Desmond, Boris Hamilton, Liz Lang, Kiki Lenoue, Georgette Moger, Ben Wagner, Doug Winship

October 4, 2008

WSJ Prints the Perfect Tiki Article

Filed under: Events,History,News,Perfect Tiki Bar,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 9:24 am
Forbidden Island, by John Lee/Aurora Select for The Wall Street Journal
Forbidden Island, by John Lee/Aurora Select for The Wall Street Journal

We’ve done this time & again… an initial rush at the news that a major publication has written up an article about this nutty tiki craze thing… followed by an immediate let-down that the article was sloppily researched, full of inaccuracies, misses the point, and doesn’t really understand that this isn’t just a tacky, ironic thing to us, that there’s real quality and history here.

But over the past year or two (going back perhaps not-so-coincidentally to about the time that Forbidden Island opened) these articles have been improving, both in the quality of their research, and in the authors’ ability to find a bit of true appreciation; they’ve been coming closer & closer to seeing what we see.

Today, finally, comes the zenith of Polynesian Pop journalism. You can tell right from the title, “Tiki Doesn’t Have to Be Tacky,” that this article isn’t going to be the same old quickie, filler, throwaway article that confuses or even damages the public perception of Tiki.

The impetus for the article is the upcoming annual San Francisco Tiki Crawl, but the article touches on much more than that — aside from giving mention to several Bay Area tiki hotspots, it also explores the very essence of Polynesian Pop. It points out the difference between good tiki and bad tiki (yes! yes! oh, thank you, yes!). The author, Eric Felten, even mentions something I’ve long held to be true — that while yesterday’s PolyPop escapism was about eschewing formality, today’s escapism is more about eschewing informality.

So, thank you Eric Felten, thank you Wall Street Journal, and thank you to anyone and everyone who helped him write this beauty. You’ve done us all a great service, and I’d like to buy you a drink.

June 11, 2008

Another Woodworker Comes to Tiki, With Lovely Results

Filed under: Art,Atlanta,People,Perfect Tiki Bar,Shopping,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 10:36 pm
Tiki bar by Wes Bailey
Tiki bar by Wes Bailey

Tiki bar construction is a bit weird — it’s an effort to intentionally create something that looks a little haphazard, a little goofy, and frankly… a little ugly. Now of course, I find it beautiful — and you probably do, too — but you have to admit, it’s not likely to wind up in the pages of House Beautiful.

I just got a really nice email from a professional woodworker who normally specializes in a much more conventionally refined style, and was asked to create one of these delightful little monsters for the first time:

My name is Wes Bailey, and I am a furniture maker in Atlanta, GA. A few months back, a client came to me and requested that I design and build a Tiki Bar for his basemant renovation. I must confess that, at the time, I was woefully unaware of the well-established sub culture of the Tikiphile. So I did some internet research and came across your terrific site, which helped give me the requisite inspiration to deliver the goods! It turned out great, the customer loved it and hasn’t been sober since, so I view that as a real success.

I have to admit, it makes me warm & squishy. I get lots & lots of really wonderful emails along the lines of this one, and they always make my day… but this one is a favorite because, well, I just really like the bar he built. A lot of credit goes to the owner, who has done a great job decorating the room. But the bar itself is really nice, especially for a right-out-of-the-gate effort. Tikis: check. Not too clean in the design, but still with a sense of balance: check. Organic feel: check. I especially like the detour from the standard thatch roof: wood slats that look like they’ve been through a hell of a storm, and loved it. It floats my outrigger.

September 9, 2006

Deluxe Custom Lamps by Kahaka

Filed under: Art,People,Perfect Tiki Bar,Shopping,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 3:51 pm
Volcano lamp by Kahaka
Volcano lamp by Kahaka

Bay-area artist Kahaka makes some of the best lamps for tiki bars out there. He makes them custom, and uses bamboo and tapa cloth, re-creating some of the best traditional styles, and also coming up with some of his own. His lamps have been hung in professional and home tiki bars around the globe, including the Kahiki Moon in Vermont, the Tabou Tiki Room in Berlin, Kona Club in Oakland and Forbiden Island in Alameda. This lamp is in a volcano shape, with tapa cloth sides, and crosscut bamboo rings for the base, and can be seen hanging at Forbidden Island.

Eight-sided lamp by Kahaka
Eight-sided lamp by Kahaka

Like the ones mentioned in my post about Orchids of Hawaii lamps, Kahaka’s lamps are very much in line with the lamps I mentioned in my Perfect Tiki Bar: the Lighting article; unlike Orchids of Hawaii, which is long out-of-business, Kahaka’s lamps can be purchased today. Lamps like these go a long way to setting the perfect, exotic mood, and are a must-have item for a good tiki bar. A photo gallery of Kahaka’s work can be seen on Yahoo, and he also has a thread of his creations on Tiki Central. If you’d like to have Kahaka create one of his wonderful lamps for your home or restaurant, you can contact him at jchadgreenwood@aol.com, or by sending him a PM on Tiki Central.

March 15, 2006

Perfect Tiki Bar: The Music

Filed under: History,Music,Perfect Tiki Bar,Shopping,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 11:54 pm
The Exotic Moods of Les Baxter, a CD compilation (out of print)
The Exotic Moods of Les Baxter,
a CD compilation (out of print)

This is the third installment in my ongoing series on what makes the Perfect Tiki Bar; my earlier entries addressed The Lighting and The Drinks. The Music… this one’s a bit of a tougher nut to crack.

You see, as far as I’m aware, we don’t really have a record (pardon the pun) of what music was played. We have postcards, photographs, menus, and in some cases still-standing restaurants to give us an idea of what the decor, food and drinks at these places were like, but when it comes to the music that was played, it mostly comes down to rememberances of patrons and employees. And apparently, the music wasn’t really memorable, as it’s not something you hear a lot about. The music of the era gets relatively little coverage in Sven Kirsten’s Book of Tiki.


December 27, 2005

Lamps by Orchids of Hawaii

Filed under: History,Perfect Tiki Bar,Shopping,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 4:54 pm
Orchids of Hawaii lamp, from the collection of tikijackelope
Orchids of Hawaii lamp, from the collection of tikijackelope

There’s an excellent thread on Tiki Central about Orchids of Hawaii lamps, thanks largely to tikijackalope, who travels to and photographs tiki bars nearly/perhaps as much as I do. Most are familiar with Orchids of Hawaii’s many mug designs, but OOH was also used by Polynesian restaurants for other elements of decor, most notably the lamps. OOH produced a broad variety of designs, many using bamboo, tapa, shells, and brightly colored resin panels. Tikijackalope has acquired many lamps, and has also posted scans of an old Orchids of Hawaii catalog showing some of the designs they had available. Another Tiki Central thread also has great OOH lamp images; recently, the Kahiki in Columbus, Ohio got rid of much of their remaining decor, including a number of lamps. Many of them have been posted on Tiki Central by tikiskip. Today, Orchids of Hawaii is no more, but similar designs can be purchased from Oceanic Arts in Whittier, California, and several crafty folks have made their own. Lamps of this sort are exactly the sort of light fixture I had in mind when I wrote my Perfect Tiki Bar: The Lighting article.

December 24, 2005

Perfect Tiki Bar: The Drinks

Filed under: Drinks,Perfect Tiki Bar,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 4:12 am
A tasty & delicious tropical drink, courtesy of Martiki
A tasty & delicious tropical drink,
courtesy of Martiki

The previous installment in my Perfect Tiki Bar series touched on the importance of lighting; today I’m going to try to tackle the primary raison d’etre of tiki bars — the drinks. I will not succeed, but perhaps a nice dent will be made.

First, some tropical drink fundamentals. Tropical drinks, by and large, use rum as their base liquor. This is becuase during the rise of the tropical drink, rum was inexpensive and widely available. Unlike other liquors like gin and scotch, it tends to not lend itself to straight sipping (though there are some rums that make good sipping rums). A few fruit juices, a few dashes of flavored syrups, and a little (or a lot) of rum, and the result was a drink that was inexpensive in materials (if not in labor), and uniquely tasty. It was a delicate art, and when made by the right hands, a tropical drink was divine — it’s no wonder the demand for them swept the nation.


September 29, 2005

SimFlame Flicker Lights

Filed under: Perfect Tiki Bar,Shopping,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 2:24 pm

In “Pefect Tiki Bar: The Lighting,” I briefly touched on how to make light bulbs look like flame:

Flame-look flicker bulbs can be purchased, but their wattage is so low that they really are not useful for light at all. Disneyland uses special trickery to allow bulbs of any sort to flicker like flame. The electrical controls can be expensive, but someone who knows what they’re doing can tackle the project for under a hundred dollars.

I’ve learned of an electrical control called SimFlame that can be purchased for just over a hundred dollars, and it is essentially three control boxes in one: one box will control three bulbs (up to 100 watts each), with each one getting a different flame pattern. That’s important, because if you have more than one bulb controlled by only one source of “flicker,” then the bulbs look more like they’re throbbing. That can look great if the effect you’re shooting for is a room lit by a rusty old generator, but it looks a little creepy if you’re trying to make it look like fire. I don’t have one of these control boxes yet myself, but the website has video of them in action, and they look very promising.

August 28, 2005

Perfect Tiki Bar: The Lighting

Filed under: Perfect Tiki Bar,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 1:44 pm

I am often asked what defines a good tiki bar. It’s a question I love to answer, but it’s not one I love to answer in a brief soundbyte, for there are a myriad of elements that have to come together for a tiki bar to be ideal. I’ll address them individually in my Perfect Tiki Bar series, starting today with Lighting.

A good tiki bar doesn’t have much light. A tiki bar should feel exotic, mysterious… like the visitor isn’t quite sure what he’s stepped into, and even how to step back out again. The room should feel intimate, and yet should also feel like there is no end — low lighting is the only way to make that happen.

The way to achieve this is through the use of flame, low-wattage bulbs, colored lights, and fixtures that restrict much light from getting out.

Flame is a risky endeavor in a tiki bar, where flammable organic elements abound. People who are drinking are not to be trusted with candles, but flames in drinks — now that’s good sport. Some locations have had grand tiki fireplaces, and fire dancer shows are also part of the tradition. Flame-look flicker bulbs can be purchased, but their wattage is so low that they really are not useful for light at all. Disneyland uses special trickery to allow bulbs of any sort to flicker like flame. The electrical controls can be expensive, but someone who knows what they’re doing can tackle the project for under a hundred dollars.

Low-wattage bulbs are the most effective way to produce good tiki bar lighting. 15- or 30-watt bulbs will often do the trick. The key is to have enough light fixtures to make the low wattage work. A good tiki bar will have a ceiling that is nearly encrusted with low-wattage light fixtures.

All these light fixtures would look a bit dull without some variety, and that’s where colored lights and unusual fixtures come in. Any color of the rainbow will look right in a tiki bar, as long as the light level is low. Reds in particular will make everyone in the room look more attractive, and moody spots of green and blue add mystery.

Good tiki light fixtures look unconventional, and give off a restricted amount of light. The most prized tiki light fixture is a glass float — these large round glass balls were used on ships, and used to drift onto shore with their sides nicely blasted into a frosted look by the elements. They were once plentiful, but are now rare, with original floats going for well over a hundred dollars. Today, faux-floats are produced without light fixtures. Drilling one for use as a lamp can be tricky without proper equipment, many opt to instead mount the light on the outside of the float, and mask it with bamboo. Another popular tiki light fixture is the pufferfish lamp. It is not difficult to make a pufferfish lamp yourself, but it can be messy and smelly. Other lamp styles include old fish traps, bamboo bird cages, and frames wrapped in tapa cloth.

When crafting a moody, low-light environment, it becomes especially important to consider how bright light can affect it. Windows of course kill the scene, at least until nightfall. Neon is the scourge of the tiki bar, it’s far too bright and harsh. The worst offender is that mighty false idol, the television set. Nothing can ruin a tiki bar quite like a television set can. Even when showing supposedly tiki-friendly tropical scenes, like an old surf movie or a Hawaii travelogue, the screen is too bright. Even a television showing scenes that are dark is surprisingly bright. Worse, the moving scenes distract the visitor, and remove any sense of the exotic. Savvy tikiphiles are equipped with a device like TV-B-Gone, a small keychain device that works like a television remote, and can turn off virtually any television set.

There are lots of projects relating to lighting that can be done at home inexpensively, and in the future I’ll spotlight some places where you can learn to do that.

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About Humuhumu
Humuhumu is the creator of several tiki websites. She is a designer and programmer based out of San Francisco.

- Website Design and Programming

- A Worldwide Guide to Tiki Bars & Polynesian Restaurants

- Tiki Mugs & More: Track & View Collections




Arkiva Tropika
Mimi Payne’s massive Polynesian Pop collection

Barefoot Bloggin’
A surfin’, ukein’, freewheelin’ monkey boy

Beachbum Berry
Author of Grog Log and Intoxica!, and one of my dearest drinkin’ buddies

Blog from the user interface designer extraordinaire

Worldwide Guide to Tiki Bars & Polynesian Restaurants

Dumb Angel
A look at the 1960s Los Angeles mod, pop, surf, and music scene

Eye of the Goof
Pop culture with a tiki tinge

Forbidden Island
My Wednesday hangout, the Bay Area’s best tiki bar

Humuhumu’s Life in Photos
Pictures of my adventures

I build websites

Junkyard Clubhouse
Random interesting things from Humuhumu & Hanford Lemoore

Kevin Kidney
Kevin loves tiki, I love Kevin, you will too

Tiki links galore

Mai Tai Online
Montreal-based tiki ‘zine

Tiki Mug Collection Organizer

The Jab
Follow the way of the jab

Tiki Bar TV
Public Access meets Modern Drunkard

Tiki Central
Community forums

Tiki Magazine
Periodical publication covering the wide world of Tiki

Tiki Talk
Hot Lava’s Tiki Blog