The Tiki Tribe
With mugs, statues, songs and fashion, these kamaaina are carrying the kitschy, tacky, tiki torch.
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On the dive end of the neo-tiki-bar continuum there are places such as Arnold’s Beach Bar & Grill. Hidden down an alley off Saratoga Road, it offers $3 pints of Pabst Blue Ribbon all day long, and free photo ops beside a life-size statue of a topless hula girl. There’s bamboo everywhere you turn and Easter Island moai staring at you from all directions.
As for authentic vintage tiki bars, there’s just one—the famous La Mariana Sailing Club, at the water’s edge in an industrial area off Sand Island Access Road. This is a place that visiting Mainland tikiphiles flock to like pilgrims to a shrine. Dating back to 1955 and filled with a half- century of authentic tiki kitsch—including dusty puffer-fish lamps around the bar and giant clam shells in the leaky lava-rock waterfall—La Mariana somehow manages to be both decrepit and grand.
The closing of Honolulu’s other great tiki temples has only deepened the layers of La Mariana’s decor. You’ll never be able to go back in time to have a mai tai at the old Don the Beachcomber’s in Waikiki, but you can kick back in one of its wicker chairs and set your tiki drink on one of its koa wood tables as you study the sailboats docked in front of La Mariana.
As classical tiki culture slid into decline, its rum drinks went with it, devolving into the bastardized mai tai and other fruity umbrella drinks that nobody takes seriously. But the original tiki drinks were well-balanced, sophisticated cocktails. And they had the best names. Missionary’s Downfall. Vicious Virgin. Cannibal Grog. Cobra’s Fang. Plantation Daze. Strip and Go Naked. Dying Bastard. Hell in the Pacific. Shrunken Head.
The tiki revival has restored some respect for these mid-20th century libations, and much of the credit belongs to Jeff Berry, a self-described “tropical drink evangelist” who likes to be called Beachbum Berry. With scholarly persistence, the Beachbum has dug up recipes for hundreds of forgotten or never-before-published tropical drinks. He shares them in four books, Grog Log, Taboo Table, Sippin’ Safari, and Beachbum Berry Remixed.
Brice Ginardi, a former Arizona department of water employee who moved to Kona and opened a tiki bar called Okolemaluna, drew upon the Beachbum’s work in creating his drink menu. Okolemaluna is now a sort of living museum of tiki drinks, where you can sample long-lost specialties such as the Lovely Lovely, from the Waikikian Hotel’s Papeete bar circa 1964, and the Happy Buddha, from Waikiki’s Red Chamber Bar circa 1960.
“We’re really trying to bring these great tropical cocktails back to the place they were invented and the climate they were invented for,” says Ginardi.
In another nod to the past, Ginardi has revived the communal beverage. Parties of three or more can share a single drink in a large bowl equipped with long, fat straws. “In a lot of the fun photos of vintage times you see people drinking out of these big bowls,” says Ginardi. “The tiki bar was communal. It was about having your neighbors along to see what kind of fun you could get into.”