Mix the mai tais and light the torches — it's tiki time!

Tropical Drinks
Photo by Meredith

If you want to throw a party with a tiki lounge vibe, it helps to get to know a little about tiki culture. To get a taste of it, search tiki on Pinterest and brace yourself for a tidal wave of all things tiki. Then somewhere in the scroll it'll hit you: There are lots of roads to tiki town, from mid-century modern purist to neon-colored plastic tourist.

You just have to decide in what direction your inner tiki god wants to go.

Backyard Tiki Bar
Photo by Meredith

Tiki Tidbit #1

A mai tai takes its name from the Tahitian maita'i, which literally translates as "good," which is how you'll feel after a couple of mai tais.

A Brief History of Tiki Time

Tiki Sculptures
Photo by Meredith

Tiki culture all started with the ancient Polynesians, who drank rum-laced cocktails out of mugs carved in their fearsome likenesses and feasted on pu-pu platters of crab rangoon, rumaki, and beef skewers.

Or so you might think if you did your cultural anthropology coursework at Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic's. In the post-World War II era — with G.I.s returning from the South Seas and Hawaii achieving statehood — these restaurants fostered tiki culture by dishing up romanticized versions of Polynesia. The entertainment industry did its part, too, with movies like South Pacific and Blue Hawaii. On the small screen, TV swept you away to Gilligan's Island, while Disney sealed the mainstream pop-culture deal with its Enchanted Tiki Room.

Taka Tiki Break
Photo by Frank Schulenburg via Creative Commons

Over the decades, tiki culture has influenced food, drink, and design for better or for worse; it was once the height of middle class chic to have a tiki bar in your rec room. And though its flame may dim from time to time, the tiki torch still burns brightly in many corners of the universe, as proved by these Star Wars Geeki Tiki drink mugs.

Tiki Tidbit #2

All kitsching aside, tikis do exist outside of the fantasy world of faux tropical bars. In Maori culture, Tiki was the first man, from whom all other beings sprang. More widely, the word "tiki" refers to carved wooden or stone sculptures representing deities in Polynesian culture from New Zealand to Hawaii.

Tiki Party Decor

Hula Figurine
Photo by Meredith

Whether you're doing a tiki dive bar or Fantasy Island, if you're not quite up to springing for serious tiki bar trappings, you can still rock the tropics with:

  • Bowls of shells
  • Fishing nets on the walls
  • Glass floats and floating candles
  • Beaded curtains in doorways
  • Pink flamingos in all iterations
  • Tropical prints
  • Bold greenery like palm fronds, ferns, and hosta leaves
  • Bamboo everything
  • Strings of lights
  • Tiki torches (battery-powered or gas-flame)

You could go retro with vintage prints like this cool but colorful tablescape:

Tropical Tiki Decor
Photo by Meredith

Or maybe you're all about this modern take on tiki chic:

Modern Tiki Bar
Photo by Meredith

How to Stock Your Tiki Bar

Porco Lounge and Tiki Room
Photo by Edsel Little via flickr / Creative Commons

You could put a serious dent in your finances if you tried to stock everything that was ever put into a tiki cocktail. So unless you're actually opening a bar, the best approach is to choose two or three tiki cocktails and limit your initial purchase to those ingredients.

First, let's shake up a Sunset Rum Punch to put you in the proper bar-stocking mood.

Ready? Here are some supplies you might need for your tiki bar:

Rum. The base ingredient of tiki cocktails. There are many styles of rum, and some recipes call for a mix of them. For starters, just stock the kind of rums your chosen cocktails call for. After that, you can add more styles as your tiki cocktail repertoire expands.

Spirits. Your recipes might call for liquors like gin, brandy, or scotch.

Liqueurs. You might need citrusy curaçao or triple sec, and a variety of bitters.

Syrups. Another layer of sweetness and flavor could come from plain simple syrup, almond-laced orgeat syrup (pronounced "or-zsa"), hibiscus syrup, grenadine syrup, orange syrup, pineapple syrup, cane see why you have to stick to some basic tiki cocktails first?

Fruit juices, purees, and whole fruits. Orange, lime, pineapple, grapefruit, mango, guava, coconut, coconut milk, coconut cream.

Fizzy mixers. Ginger beer, club soda, tonic.

Garnishes. Maraschino cherries, mint leaves, tropical flowers, pineapple wedges, and on and on.

Tiki Party Cocktails
Photo by Matthew Wencl

Here's what you'll need to give your cocktails that signature tiki touch:

  • Glassware in various sizes until you're ready to commit to ceramic tiki mugs
  • Blender or cocktail shaker
  • Tiny paper umbrellas
  • Fancy swizzle sticks
  • Straws
  • Cocktail napkins in tropical prints
  • Ice. Lots of ice

Tiki Tidbit #3

As tiki culture caught on with the drinking public, bartenders concocted increasingly elaborate tiki drinks with frightening names like Scorpion and Zombie, and closely guarded the recipes.

Tiki Bar Food

Coconut Shrimp I
Coconut Shrimp I | Photo by Yan
| Credit: Yan

Recipe shown: Coconut Shrimp I

Menus at the first tiki restaurants and bars favored Americanized versions of Chinese and Hawaiian food, such as shrimp, chicken wings, and egg rolls. You can dish up all kinds of appetizers and snacks in that vein, but the rules of tiki culture say you should have fun with your food:

Tiki Tidbit #4

Tiki culture has its own musical genre called Exotica. You could describe it as a cool fusion of fantasy tropical jazz sprinkled with 60s surf and space-age atmospherics. Or not. Lucky for you, Tiki Room has compiled some great suggestions you could spin at your party.

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