For some, summer is a time of sweet rum drinks with tiny umbrellas and exotic-sounding names. For Tiki culture enthusiasts though, the luau is year-round and liquid aloha fills glasses in a precise combination of quality booze, fresh juices, ingredients almost entirely reserved for these cocktails, and even ice specifications.
But Tiki is more than a cocktail culture populated by Zombies, Mai Tais, Painkillers, Singapore Slings, Fog Cutters, Scorpion Bowls, Blue Hawaiians, and the like—an extended family of colorful drinks fathered in 1930s California by the likes of Donn Beach and Trader Vic.
Tiki culture is an aesthetic, a state of mind, and a way of life inspired by factual (and at times culturally appropriated) visions of Polynesia and larger Oceania, as well as the Caribbean. Summed up thusly in the 1953 Fritz Lang crime noir, The Blue Gardenia: “These aren’t really drinks. They’re trade winds across cool lagoons. They’re the Southern Cross above coral reefs. They’re a lovely maiden bathing at the foot of a waterfall.”
Beginning almost immediately following the repeal of Prohibition and exploding after World War II into Cold War-era 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s—thereby lasting longer than the disco craze that supplanted it—the Tiki movement infused not only drinks, but décor, fashion, music, and movies. Notable names ranging from Howard Hughes to Clark Gable, to Elvis Presley, to Frank Sinatra were into it, and Tiki palaces—fully immersive experiences with faux waterfalls, volcanoes, and streams—became oases across the nation for those wanting to escape the mundane with the drinks, food, and dinner shows (and a few still exist out there, such as the stunning Mai Kai in Fort Lauderdale, Florida).
Sven Kirsten wrote, in 2000’s The Book of Tiki, that during the back drop of the Cold War and the menace of nuclear weapons, Tiki bars became the “emotional bomb shelter of the Atomic Age.”
The influence of Tiki culture can be found in films such as South Pacific (1958), Abbott and Costello’s Pardon My Sarong (1942), and Blue Hawaii (1961), and television shows like Hawaii Five-O, The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island. It’s in Bing Crosby’s Favorite Hawaiian Songs and the exotica music of Martin Denny, Yma Sumac, Les Baxter (whose music was amongst the tunes Neil Armstrong played on the Apollo 11 mission); Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room, and Jungle Cruise, and Walt Disney World’ Polynesian Resort still celebrate Tiki. Simply put, for nearly 50 years, Tiki culture was popular culture, dominating even more so than super heroes of today.
Then it all faded, or at least went underground. From Trader Vic to Sailor Jerry, Tiki went punk and picked up followers in outsider scenes of rockabilly and tattooed rebels—that is before the 21st century Tiki Revival.
(For me personally, Tiki resonated before I even knew what it was. As a kid, I loved The Muppet Show’s Hawaiian War Chant, the Enchanted Tiki Room, and gravitated to Elvis’ Hawaiian phase. Hell, I even found a kindred spirit in Chunk’s from The Goonies because of his fashion choice—as represented in an early school photo of mine—and always thought the Hawaiian-shirt-wearing Chuckles was an underrated G.I. Joe. Now, I promote Tiki by traveling the world documenting it via my #TonightWeTiki.)
But Tiki is undoubtedly back and firmly re-established in pop culture, where it frequently crosses over with the geek and horror scenes. At fan events such as San Diego Comic-Con or Star Wars Celebration, Geeki Tikis release sought-after Tiki mug exclusives. Nerd fashion routinely includes aloha/Hawaiian shirts where Ewoks (or Deadpool, Captain America, Critters, Cthulu, etc.) hide amongst tropical flower prints. Disney has the family friendly and theatrical, Trader Sam’s Tiki bars are both in Orlando and Anaheim; Quentin Tarantino nods to Tiki nostalgia in Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood; Disney’s Moana is a celebration of Polynesian culture with Dwayne Johnson, who is half-Samoan, serving as something of a living Tiki totem whose heritage is on display with his Pe’a tattoo (and reflected in other work, such as the new Fast & Furious film, Hobbs & Shaw, which celebrates his Polynesian traditions).
Additionally, modern Tiki culture appropriates less while also honoring its retro roots. And Tiki bars again rank high as top destinations in major cities such as New Orleans (Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29), New York (The Polynesian), San Francisco (Smuggler’s Cove), Toronto (The Shameful Tiki Room), Las Vegas (Frankie’s Tiki Room), Washington D.C. (Tiki TNT), and many, many more across the globe.
So to celebrate Tiki culture as pop culture, I’ve assembled notable names and friends from within the Tiki world to offer up their favorite Tiki-themed movies, as well as some beverage suggestions with which to pair them.
(Unless otherwise noted, each recipe below has been created from the following kahunas, skippers, and traders.)
Donovan’s Reef (1963)
JEFF “BEACHBUM” BERRY
(Tiki historian, owner of Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29)
“Aside from the not inconsiderable pleasure of watching Lee Marvin punch out John Wayne in a tropical island bar, there’s the bar itself—which features two Tikis guarding the entrance, and another hiding behind the piano (a wise decision, as just about everything in the bar is destroyed except him).”
Cocktail: Donovan’s Reef
.75 oz fresh lemon juice
.75 oz pineapple juice
.75 oz Crisp Apple Re’al (Re’al green apple puree)
.75 oz triple sec
1.5 oz bourbon
Method: Shake with ice cubes. Strain into a cocktail coupe.
Garnish: Long strip of thin, channel-cut lemon peel, coiled on top of drink.
The Blue Gardenia (1953)
(Owner of Smuggler’s Cove)
“Anne Baxter stars in 1953’s The Blue Gardenia, a classic film noir from director Fritz Lang featuring a perfect Tiki bar scene. Even though it’s a film set, Raymond Burr rhapsodizing about the lyrical and romantic qualities of the drink menu and its perfectly garnished exotic cocktails reminds you of the enchantment of the Golden Age of Tiki bars. Eight minutes of boozy amusement bookend a beautiful performance of the title song by the incomparable Nat King Cole.”
Cocktail: Mr. Prebble’s Downfall
(Based on Don the Beachcomber’s Missionary’s Downfall)
5 (1-inch-square) chunks fresh pineapple
8 mint leaves
1oz fresh lime juice
.5oz 2:1 demerara simple syrup
.5oz Mathilde Apricot liqueur (or Giffard)
1.5oz Smith & Cross rum or Hampden Estate 46% rum
1 dash Angostura bitters
Method: Muddle the pineapple chunks in a drink mixer tin. Add the remaining ingredients and 12 ounces of crushed ice and flash blend with drink mixer for 10 seconds. Double-strain into a chilled coupe glass.
Garnish: Float a large mint leaf on the surface of the drink or rest a small cluster of mint sprigs against the side of the glass to garnish.
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
(Owner/Operator of The Shameful Tiki Room Toronto)
“Imagine you’re cruising down the Amazon in a snappy little white swimsuit. You look fresh, you catch the eye of a local green scaly humanoid river monster, he’s the coolest monster you’ve ever seen. You invite him aboard your boat and pop another straw in your drink to share. Gulp, it’s gone. Gillman was thirsty.”
Cocktail: Gillman’s Gulp!
1oz Plantation 3 Star
1oz Novo Fogo Cachaca
1oz fresh lemon juice
1oz fresh pineapple juice
.75 oz matcha syrup
.5 oz honey
Method: Add all ingredients into a shaker tin. Add cubed ice. Shake vigorously. Pour onto pebble ice.
Garnish: Fresh mint, and dehydrated lime wheel.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
(Pirate Captain/Co-Owner of The Polynesian)
“Here’s a drink that was on the opening menu here at The Polynesian called Fiddler’s Green. But the original name was Greedo in Paradise. I’ve always thought this drink would be perfect for Rogue One, because Hell-O! Fighting the Rebellion is thirsty work!” [Author’s note: For the uninitiated, the film introduced Scarif, the lush tropical planet and home to the Death Star plans.]
Cocktail: Greedo in Paradise
.5oz lemon juice
1oz pineapple juice
.5oz Orgeat Works Latitude 29 orgeat
1tsp Don’s Spices #4
.5oz Boiron mango puree
.5oz Giffard blue curacao
2oz Barbancourt white rhum
Method: Flash blend for 5 seconds with a half measuring cup of crushed ice, pour into a Geeki Tiki Greedo mug & top with crushed ice.
Garnish: With an orchid, pineapple wedge & a cherry, skewered with an umbrella.
Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)
(Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum Brand Ambassador)
“I don’t know what’s more Tiki than escaping a boring life by traveling to a tropical island to jump in a volcano. A journey to paradise with matching luggage, chanting and a lot of laughs. You can practically taste rum while watching it.”
Cocktail: Joe Banks
2oz Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum
.5oz Liquid Alchemist orgeat
.75oz fresh orange juice
.5oz lime juice
1 dash angostura bitters
Method: Shake all and strain into your volcano bowl filled with fresh ice.
Garnish: With every umbrella you can find, orange wheels and cherries.
Bird of Paradise (1951)
“Starring the then-bombshell Debra Paget, Bird of Paradise practically screams Tiki. In it, a character named Andre (Louis Jourdan) travels to a Polynesian island with his college roommate, who is from there. He decides to live the Polynesian life and falls in love with his roommate’s sister. Add in a volcano explosion, a mystical shaman, and a return to ‘civilization,’ and you’ve got all the markings of a classic Tiki movie.”
Cocktail: Jungle Bird
(Originally created at the Kuala Lumpur Hilton’s Aviary bar in 1978.)
1.5oz Dark rum
1.5oz pineapple juice
.5oz lime juice
.5oz simple syrup
Pineapple slice, for garnish
Method: Fill a shaker with ice and add ingredients. Shake well. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice.
Garnish: Pineapple slice.
The Goonies (1985)
(President, Geeki Tikis)
“‘Hey You Guys!’ Although the Goonies and ‘Tiki’ don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, the movie is chock-full of action, swashbuckling adventure, and a pretty iconic Aloha shirt from the Chunkmeister himself. We suggest pairing our One-Eyed Willy’s Grog Log with a Kraken Geeki Tikis mug, because we just haven’t gotten around to releasing our Sloth Geeki Tikis mug (just yet!)
Cocktail: One-Eyed Willy’s Grog Log
(A shivering take on the Sailor’s Grog)
2oz White rum
.5oz 151 proof Demerara rum
.75oz fresh orange juice
.75oz fresh lime juice
2 dash Angostura bitters
3 oz Ginger beer (add after shaking)
Voodoo Island (1957)
(Owner of Tiki TNT)
“My grandmother loved Boris Karloff movies and she and I used to watch them together! The horror film takes place in the South Pacific and is set in Hawaii. It may not be full blown Tiki, but it has the feel of Tiki (complete with zombies!)”
Cocktail: No One Goes To That Island
1oz spiced rum
.50oz peach liquor
.50oz coconut cream rum
1oz lime juice
1oz honey syrup (1:1)
Method: In a blender cup, add all ingredients, add ice blend for 20 seconds, put into a Tiki mug add cobbled ice.
Garnish: With swizzle stick, shredded coconut, parasol, and an orchid.
(Owner of Aku Aku)
“This is an amazing adventure film about the true story behind the 1947 expedition of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdal. He attempted to prove the Polynesian islands could have been populated by South Americans by creating primitive boats from balsa wood. In a raft dubbed “Kon-Tiki” [another name for the Incan sun god Viracocha], Heyerdal floated off to sea to travel 4,300 miles, hoping to end up where he theorized.”
Cocktail: Message in a Bottle (aka Blackbeard’s Ghost)
1oz Flor de Caña 4 yr
1oz Blackwell Jamaican
1oz Giffard Apricot
1oz lemon juice
1oz guava juice
Method: Shake all ingredients with ice and strain over crushed ice into a glass
Garnish: 151 message in a bottle vial
Drink responsibly while traveling to the world of Tiki, and continue the adventure by visiting the bars listed above and following #TonightWeTiki online.
Read and download the Den of Geek SDCC 2019 Special Edition Magazine right here!