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In the '50s and ’60s, an epidemic of island fever swept the United States. Brought on by post-war GI’s that served in Hawaii and movies that engrained the thatched roofed Tiki bars and umbrella filled island cocktails in our minds.
Americans couldn’t get enough rattan furniture for their living rooms and basement bars. Millions of American adults wanted their lives to feel more like a never-ending trip to a Maui luau and Polynesian nights became a thing.
As an American design motif, Tiki stretched beyond wooden and stone figures to include anything that was vaguely Polynesian, nautical and handcrafted. This included native crafts like woven palm fronds and block-printed Tapa cloth as well as seafaring bric-a-brac like scavenged ship wheels, glass fishing floats, and scrimshaw. Most of these items can be bought new and made to look old by using The Field Guide to Tiki Decorating. As Western artists started playing with these materials, they added influences from American animation and architectural styles.
One of the earliest and best-known tiki bars was "Don the Beachcomber", and was created in Los Angeles in 1933 by Ernest Gantt (aka "Donn Beach"). The bar served a wide variety of exotic rum drinks (including the popular "Sumatra Kula" and "Zombie cocktail") as well as Cantonese food and displayed many artifacts that Gantt had collected on earlier trips through the tropics.
The other distinctively original bar is Trader Vic's, the first of which was created by Victor Bergeron in Oakland, California, in 1936. The quintessential tiki cocktail, the Mai Tai, was concocted at the original Trader Vic's in 1944. Bergeron expanded the business to eventually include branches all over the world, as well as selling cocktail mixes and other products.
The tiki bar was refined and developed by 20th-century husband and wife team restaurant and bar designers Clif and Lou Sawyer who designed over 360 projects including (most of which are now closed) the Luau in Beverly Hills, Don the Beachcomber in Palm Springs, Pago Pago in Tucson, Arizona, and the Reef in Casper, Wyoming.
These days walls of some bars can be found covered with panels carved by legendary tiki artist Bosko and artwork by Shag, Woody Miller or Thor. Some of the newest bars were designed by Martin Cate whose projects include False Idol, Smuggler's Cove and Whitechapel in San Francisco, Hale Pele in Portland, and Lost Lake in Chicago. He has, quite literally, written the book on all things tiki.
Take a peek below and learn if there is a Tiki Bar in the state you are traveling to, or create a Tiki road trip!
Connecticut - None
Kansas - None
Kentucky - None
Nebraska - None
North Dakota - None
South Dakota - None
Utah - None
Virginia - None
West Virginia - None
Wyoming - None
Email us at email@example.com if we have missed any.