The other day a young couple asked me where the new “Tiki Bar” is here in Put-in-Bay. I was pondering this thought when an iconic Doors tune (Alabama Song) popped into my head. “Show me the way to the next “Tiki”(whiskey) bar, oh don’t ask why…”
It occurred to me that the proverbial “Tiki Bar” has made a recent resurgence of popularity right here on South Bass Island. Every establishment with a hint of an outdoor service area has either adopted the name or at least has casually used the “Tiki” moniker to describe their outdoor bar area.
Wikipedia.org describes the “Tiki Bar” as an exotic–themed drinking establishment that serves elaborate cocktails, especially rum-based mixed drinks such as the “Mai tai” or “Zombie Cocktail”. “Real” tiki bars are defined by their “tiki culture” décor and based on a romanticized concept of primitive tropical cultures, mostly Polynesian.
In case you were wondering, the first tiki bar was created in 1933 by Ernest Gantt in Los Angeles and was named “Don the Beachcomber”. Gantt went off to serve the US in World War II, and the Beachcomber flourished expanding into a chain of 160 restaurants. When Gantt returned from the war, he moved to Hawaii and created “Waikiki Beach”, one of the most revered tiki bars. The bar was located on the beach, and was lit by tiki torches. A garden hose showered a gentle rain on the roof and a myna bird was trained to shout “Give me a beer, stupid!”. . For me when I went to Hawaii with my parents in 1973 the Waikiki tiki motif became synonymous with my lasting permanent impression of Hawai’i.
Of course the other well known, albeit iconic tiki bar, is Trader Vic’s created by Victor Bergeron in Oakland California in 1936. He created the quintessential “Tiki” cocktail “Mai Tai” in 1944. I can tell you that I personally don’t remember spending a wonderful long afternoon one vacation sipping Mai Tai cocktails at a tiki Bar in Honolulu. Perhaps you may not remember a similar experience yourself with a Mai Tai.
So the beloved tiki bar flourished from the 30’s to the 60’s then it fell out of vogue. But not before leaving us a wonderful contribution to the music world, which you can find in one unique musical CD collection called Ultra Lounge-Mondo Exotica. It features songs like Hypnotique by Martin Denny and Les Baxter’s Voodoo Dreams. The exotic lounge music of the 50’s and early 60’s certainly owes it success to the tiki culture created by Ernest Gantt and Victor Bergeron.
Here on South Bass I know we have included the tropical “Key West” motif into a few of our local establishments but I have not spent any time in a restaurant or bar with an interior or exterior that included “Tiki god” masks, grass cloth skirts, torches, bamboo plants, lava stone, hula girls, palm trees, waterfalls or even lagoons.
Actually we do have torches, palm trees, a tropical lagoon and a bar with a large tropical mural. Perhaps we are becoming just a little bit Polynesian, right here in the western region of Lake Erie. Now, there are people who will tell you that our island has lost its real identity, trying too hard to mimic the breezy laid-back feeling of the Florida Keys. (Just ask a Key West resident if they have a bar with maple trees, walleye and a picture of ice shanties…)
Well I am glad to report that is just not true, we are a collection of cultures and we now proudly can say we are heading much further south than Key West, we have brought a little Fiji to PIB. Add that to a snug, a brewery, a bistro and a bier garten. All we need is a brasserie, and a grog and we will truly be “cultured”. So back to our young couple, I pointed them towards the nearest establishment with an outdoor service area, and suggested that while enjoying the short walk that they hum along to the tune “Show me the way to the next Tiki Bar….”