I had lunch with my brother this week and I was telling him about my recent trip to Manhattan. When I mentioned I had gone to a really great tiki night at Goldbar, he asked me, “What is tiki?”
I couldn’t answer him. I rambled on about Hawaiian shirts and mentioned Don the Beachcomber and the 1950’s but I found I couldn’t really answer him. He, a surfer and cocktail lover, is likely way more tiki than I am. I should, however, at least be able to describe tiki… even if it is only to describe tiki as a drink category. Tiki-philes will describe tiki as a lifestyle that includes architecture, fashion music, food and of course cocktails. You might describe all of these things as Polynesian, but it really isn’t that simple. In my mind tiki is a Americanism; it is the beauty of Polynesian culture filtered thorough the machine that was post World War II America. It was in many ways a fad and a passing fancy. Our fighting men had brought back something new and fun and exotic from their time in the South Pacific. Soon we had tiki bars and luaus popping up everywhere. Currently I think for most Americans tiki is lumped in with rockabilly, pin-up and even the fascination with “Mad Men” culture. Post WWII America was a boom town, a brave new world that was growing and changing at a furious pace. The world was distilled through an American point of view and tiki was one of the results.
What is tiki? I am still not sure that I know, but start with some rum and add some juice and some bitters and relax.
In San Diego we might be the perfect place for tiki to rise again. We are a beach town and a Navy town with a rich tiki history and some pretty cool tiki architecture. We also have an improving cocktail scene and are home to one of the worlds few tiki festivals, Tiki Oasis. Now all we need is a decent tiki bar.
Here are some modern pics from tiki night at Goldbar, as well as some vintage tiki photos to help you get in a tiki state of mind.