The Birth of the Tiki Bar and Tiki Culture

The Birth of the Tiki Bar and Tiki Culture

Guest Post by Tiki Ray

Tiki and Tiki Pipup

Tiki and Hawaiian Style Pipup

Trader Vic’s, Don the Beachcombers, The Bahooka, Tiki Ti, The Tonga Hut, Purple Orchid, Mr. Tiki, La Mariana , Frankie’s Tiki Room (my personal favorite)and many other commercial establishments plus thousands of home tiki bars all have one thing in common . Escape to an enchanted, relaxing, dark yet colorful room filled with bamboo, glowing puffer fish lights, colored glass Japanese fishing floats, unusually shaped tiki mugs filled with the finest rums and intoxicating syrups garnished with pineapples, mint and drink umbrellas or plastic orchids .Top that off with fine exotica music from Martin Denny, or the Tikiyaki Orchestra as you are surrounded by ominous tiki carvings, masks and idols to give you that taboo feeling. Sit back, relax and just enjoy life and forget the troubles of the world for a while. For a few hours with your friends conversing……you have found paradise!

Where did the idea for this kitschy type of bar start, you ask? Few people know that WWII kicked it off without even trying. So many sailors, infantrymen, Marines and Air Corps men enlisted to fight in this war to protect us all. My father and his 2 brothers were 3 of thousands who were shipped to the South Pacific during these times.

Even though they were at war, they couldn’t help noticing the swaying coconut trees on the beach of these small Polynesian islands, the volcanoes bursting with lava and the small tiki huts in the villages where the spirit of ohana (family) rules the land.

Some villagers were kind and giving and some were headhunters but they shared one common ground. They believed that the land would take care of them if they took care of the land. This was a tranquil and beautiful way of life that many of our servicemen knew nothing of. These brave souls grew to adapt and love this way of life.

Tiki and Baby Tiki

Tiki and Baby Tiki

When the war was over and they returned to their loved ones and a promise of a new life, new births, new jobs and affordable homes, they still felt something was missing. 1 year ago these men were in a Polynesian paradise with topless wahines, swimming in the surf, eating roasted pigs cooked under the sand and drinking rum as they looked at the full moon reflecting on the Pacific waves.

This way of life and stories he brought home were in his blood now. But he looked up one day and realized he was stuck in some small town in Kansas or some other non exotic place. He remembered the small bar they had built on base and thought maybe he could recreate this and the feeling it gave him in that extra room or basement in his home he had financed with his G.I. loan .

He would be obsessed with finding just the right additions to his rec room, a never ending quest. Magazines such as Popular Mechanics picked up on this and published plans to build a tiki bar, friends visiting the islands would bring home knick knacks, coconut monkeys, shark jaws, fish traps and such, anything to remind us of the Pacific Islands.

A few entrepreneurs with extra cash decided to open a Polynesian restaurant or a neighborhood tiki bar. That’s where famous drinks were invented by mixing rums, secret syrups and serving them in signature tiki shaped mugs. The Grog, the Volcano bowl, The Zombie and of course the ever popular Mai Tai and so many others were created and to this day are still iconic drinks that one feels naturally compelled to drink at the tiki bar .

Tiki Ray

Tiki Ray

I’ve been carving Tiki since 1995 and usually sell to private collectors. I have the only tiki on Malibu Pier, a tiki in the Luau restaurant in Beverly Hills, 3 tiki’s in Frankie’s Room in Vegas plus one of my favorites in the owner’s house. I’ve done tiki’s for Monster Garage, West Coast Choppers, Tiki Oasis, Viva Las Vegas, plus I’ve been the featured carver for Tiki Magazine. I’ve even had tiki’s in a photo shoot for Hustler Magazine.

Carving is just fun for me but I get the most enjoyment when people include my work in their idea of tiki bars, home bars or public displays. I’ve vended and attended many, many tiki bar events over the years and I simply can’t recall one fight breaking out, one broken chair over the head or any of the other typical bar fight scenarios.

It’s just a different kind of bar that everyone seems to know that there is an unwritten law that you are there to just leave your attitude at the door, sport your newest Hawaiian thrift shop shirt, order a big blue drink and relax with friends and listen to the calming tunes .

If you are compelled to create your own home tiki bar, give me a call (info on I’ve had so many people contact me and show me pictures of their newest neighborhood tiki bar and to half of them I have to ask one question, “Where’s the tiki “?

They get so caught up with filling it with Polynesian décor that they forgot to get a tiki. Or at least get something better than a Home Depot production tiki with its big white choppers for teeth and yellow spray painted eyes. They need to have that feeling of mystery and taboo looking down on you. What you need is having a tiki worthy of toasting your drink to.

Mahalos, Tiki Ray

Tiki Ray has been carving Tiki for 15+ years now and has been featured in such magazines as Tiki Magazine and had tiki’s placed in Prestigious Tiki Bars and Lounges around the world.

For great galleries of Pretty Girls and Awesome Tiki’s, or if you want to reach him, do so at: TikiRay.Com

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One Response to “The Birth of the Tiki Bar and Tiki Culture”
  1. Lynne Westphal says:

    Nice article….Unfortunately I have several cheaper style Tikis, gotta get something from you one of these days! But love the tiki!

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