Why I’m Just Not a Fan of Tiki.

_MGL8349{ Photo by Lindsey }

Well, here goes nothing! I’m sure I’m going to get a ton of side eye for this but the truth is…  I’m just not into Tiki. Like, at all. I’ve been to my fair share of tiki bars across the country, some incredible, some not so incredible. I’ve done my research on the history and origins. I’ve sipped numerous tiki drinks, some reasonably complex, some down right awful. And I have to say, I have a really hard time getting behind this trend. Trend? Fad? Culture? Lost Era? Cult? I don’t even know exactly what to call it. I’m sure it’s in some way all of those things, but for me, Tiki just doesn’t have the allure the general (bartender?) public seems to think it does.

Let’s first address the origins of Tiki so we’re all on the same page. Inspired by the Polynesian travels of one Donn Beach, a.k.a. Ernest Gantt, what would eventually morph into Tiki culture originated at Donn’s Hollywood establishment Don The Beachcomber circa December 1933. (As if I didn’t find Tiki frustrating enough, even this opening statement is not quite true. If you have an imagination, you can somewhat trace Tiki’s earliest origins back to pre-prohibition “bamboo bars,” where island kitsch and escapism were the name of the game).

Now I’m all for a good island-themed bar, an oasis that can transport you to a simpler, more relaxed vibe simply by walking through a palm frond-lined threshold. I think it’s important to note here (if you’re still reading this blasphemy) I’m not necessarily bashing the tropical, vaguely Hawaiian aesthetic. I mean, palm print accessories all day. It’s more the *braces for backlash* drinks I have a problem with…

As a Distiller, the backbone of any cocktail is the spirit it’s built upon. Cocktails should be created to highlight, enhance, punctuate, elevate, and SHOWCASE thoughtfully made spirits. Additional ingredients like syrups, cordials, fresh juices, citrus, modifiers, liqueurs, etc. are welcome and necessary of course but the spirit should always be treated with a certain dose of dignity and I just don’t see how Tiki does that. Even the simplest, most paired-down versions of ALL classic Tiki Canon cocktail recipes boast upwards of six ingredients. Once you layer beautiful high proof rums, gorgeously funky Rhum Agricoles and even gins and brandies with that many flavors, what are you really tasting? I feel myself making enemies as I type this, lol, but it’s kind of just a glorified jungle juice at that point, is it not? And even worse, as Tiki culture has ebbed and flowed over the years, it’s become less and less of a guarantee those ingredients are fresh (not to be a dick, but the jungle juice call is pretty accurate when you’re sipping a concoction of coco lopez, canned pineapple and/or blue curaçao, am I right?).

Additionally, I take slight issue with the recent explosion of tiki-themed “craft” cocktail bars or newly released Tiki-themed cocktail menus at formerly respectable cocktail establishments. We all know (or maybe we don’t) you’re just using the fleeting popularity of Tiki as an excuse to pad margins with your “proprietary,”  or “house” blends of extremely low cost rums. If I am going to enjoy a tiki drink, that rum better be good and it better come through loud and clear over those seven other ingredients your shaking it with. Side note: I’m also just now realizing that some of my indifference towards Tiki could be due to my extreme aversion to crushed ice. But I digress…

The escapism of Tiki, however, I can get behind. Who doesn’t want to walk into a bar and be immediately transported to a warm weather vacation? Just as dingy dive bars have their well-earned place in the world, so should a good island themed watering hole. And as with any bold, polarizing statement, there are always exceptions. I faintly remember having an exceptionally good time at Three Dots and A Dash on a girls trip to Chicago, getting down to the tropical house DJ between Rangoon Gimlets. This is all to say that all categories of drinks deserve respect, but at least now you know why you won’t find Tiki drinks on the menu at Y&Y anytime soon. 😉

What about you? What are your thoughts on Tiki? Love it? Hate it? If you’ve miraculously made it this far through the post, please leave me a comment below and let me know what you think of Tiki culture!

Share this post!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *