A spirit may have been born in the back of a Miata.

It’s debatable when the Hideaway’s Semangat Rumah came into existence.

In Malayo-Polynesian beliefs, the spirit of a house – called the “semangat rumah” – is created as the the walls and roof are fitted together. A house spirit is born in the process. It begins to exist in interdependency with its builders. The house protects its inhabitants, and the inhabitants protect the house. Its creators are its soul. The efforts of the builders in crafting the decorations, carvings, and features transfer mana (i.e. spirit, energy) into the house.

I bet the Hammerhead Hideaway’s Semangat Rumah existed earlier than that point in time. In fact, I suspect it was the moment LuRu rescued a fiberglass hammerhead shark from the curb and took it home. Regardless, I do know this. The semangat is strong at the Hammerhead Hideaway, LuRu and Don’s large, open-air tiki hut in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

LuRu was cruising around Fort Lauderdale in her Miata one day when she eyed two guys hauling a huge fiberglass shark to the curb. Within seconds, she’d stopped and asked the men if she could have it. LuRu wasn’t the only one who’d stopped. Another person began to inquire, but LuRu’s enthusiasm and quick wit won the bid. Next, she was figuring out how to fit a nine-foot shark into a very small convertible. Head down? After a successful and precarious drive, LuRu triumphantly hauled the hammerhead in the living room. Moments later, Don emerged from his institutional researcher’s zoom cocoon, took one look, and immediately accepted the fact that they now had a huge hammerhead for a spirit guardian. It was life as normal.

I like to think it’s actually the Hammerhead who found LuRu. What spirit wouldn’t want to exist in interdependency with an creative artist and a merman researcher? It’s a perfect match. As soon as the Hideaway – a large thatched meeting style house built by local Seminole crafts people – was finished, the shark swam to its high place of honor among four spirit tikis that adorn the ceiling.

The Hammerhead Hideaway is a creative and artistic feat. LuRu has designed and brushed tapa to adorn the walls. She has hand-crafted ceramic tile mosaics. She has painted the hammerhead with tattoo symbols. Don has built and sanded and stained the structural elements. They have learned to tie ropes that honor old ways. They have collected and researched the original (and sometimes shocking) cultural uses for their Papua New Guinea art. And it’s only the beginning years for this beautiful space.

The Hammerhead Hideaway is also a welcoming space to all spirits. It sits in a mature tropical garden called the “Land of Many Yards,” which has been cultivated over the last sixteen years from what was originally a simple grass lawn. Twenty-eight trees and numerous tropical varieties of plants were planted over the years and have matured into a tropical oasis. The house cats, lizards, and iguanas coexist, albeit not so peacefully at times. Wild parrots, mostly descendants of escaped parrots from zoos, feed from the sea grapes next to the tiki hut when the trees bear fruit. Friends often sit together and share stories to connect their spirits.

I too felt welcomed. The temperate tropical warmth of the winter season only strengthened the feeling of escape. With Don’s well-crafted libation in my hands and friends all around, I sensed the semangat surrounding me. With a quick look up to the hammerhead, I offered a quick moment of gratitude and life moved on.

Henchmen need a little love too.

If you want to date a henchman, start with a classic American Italian dinner, then move directly to the Mai Kai Trial of Fire.

Leon and John are The Henchmen. Leon is “Right” Henchman and John is “Left” Henchman, to be exact. If you don’t believe me, you’re clearly behind on the Tails of the Merman serials. You might want to catch up.

They haven’t always been an infamous couple. Several years back, both men were single. Leon checked his Facebook account one day, saw this handsome friend of a friend suggestion called John, and chatted him up. John had that handsome henchman joie de vivre, and Leon was hoping to ask him out on a date. After a sufficient attempt at chat, Leon mustered up the courage to ask him out.

John said no.

A henchman is not easily dissuaded. Leon chatted up John again. I imagine there were even longer talks about poison tiki umbrella darts, how to slowly smooth oil on your gun, etc. You know, it’s the usual henchman chit-chat. Eventually, Leon took his best shot again, and asked John out.

John said no.

John had reached that “henchman-who-is-tired-of-all-the-nefarious-toxic-relationship-disppointment-crap” stage that many people reach at some point in their lives. He just wasn’t having it. There were other evils in life, right? But Leon was not giving up.

The winning ticket was a classic Italian dinner for two. Leon had heard that the way to a henchman’s heart is through his stomach, so when Leon made his third ask and tempted him with pasta, classic red sauce, and garlic butter, John said yes. First date was down.

It wasn’t over, though. The Mai Kai Trial of Fire was next. You’ve heard of it, I assume? A tiki lover asks a neophyte to go to the Mai Kai for dinner as a final date test. The tiki lover watches his date’s eyes for any sign of disinterest. He closely monitors the reaction to each tiki drink. He listens for any disingenuous comment on the food or the fire dancers. He scans for signs of impatience as the tiki lover lingers in the giftshop. Any misstep and the date will fail the Mai Kai Trial of Fire and be banished to eternal singledom.

Thankfully, Leon passed the test with flying colors. The rest is henchmen history.

How do I know this is true? The henchmen cornered me in their lair, less than a mile from the scene of their final exam at the Mai Kai. Decked out in custom-made silk jackets from long away shores and surrounded with exotic treasures in their secret hideaway, they began their story by tempting me with a taste of rum from a vintage bottle of Lemon Hart. Why should I resist? As they finished the tale of the Mai Kai Trial by Fire, the henchmen told me they had to kill me. I knew too much.

It was then that I remembered what henchmen are known for – poison rum punch. I was getting very sleepy. As I faded into nonexistence, all I could hear was the heinous sound of laughter – and henchman love.

Bwa ha ha ha ha … awwww.

Will you tiki out my place?

“Hark, the jungle drums are calling.”

That’s how Walt Disney introduced the Tahitian Terrace dancers from Disneyland in an episode of the Magical World of Disney television show many years ago. If you’re curious, you can still see the old clip. You will hear the drums, watch the Tahitian hula dancers, and catch the ooos and aaahs of the guests. Moments later, a dancer walks on fire to the amazement of the crowd.

That fire dancer was none other than Tahiti Gil’s uncle.

Tahiti Gil is the man behind the Faré Mananui, the all-out tiki AirBnb located in Kissimmee, Florida. Designed and built with the expert eye of Typhoon Tommy, this tropical hideaway is minutes from Walt Disney World. It all started with a call from Gil – “Will you tiki out my place?” When Typhoon Tommy first heard the question, he thought it was one room, but when Tahiti Gil responded with “no, a whole house,” it became clear that something phenomenal was about to take place. Tommy’s reputation as the designer of the Suffering Bastard and other tiki spaces was well-established. Tahiti Gil had an amazing collection of tiki-era family heirlooms. By combining forces, the two men could create a perfect escape for Disney and Tiki Ohana. And that, they did. Today, the Faré Mananui is one of the most popular destinations on AirBnb. Like Disney, you better make your reservations early.

Tahiti Gil is an artist and tattooer, a man of nostaglia, and a lover of all things tiki, Disney, or mid-century modern. He’s the third-generation owner of Tahiti Felix’s, the second oldest tattoo shop in the United States, which dates back to 1949 and has tattooed many a GI. Gil’s father worked for Disney Studios. Tahiti Felix, Gil’s sister’s father in law, was the tattoo artist and the leader of the Regal Tahitians. Gil’s uncle was fire dancer at Disneyland’s Tahitian Terrace, and his sister was a dancer at the grand opening ceremonies at the Polynesian Resort.

Typhoon Tommy is a master craftsman and designer. Tommy’s parents were Disney lovers, and he has carried on that tradition. His parents honeymooned at the Polynesian. Tommy’s birth was announced at the Polynesian. Many years later, Tommy proposed to his wife at the Polynesian. Growing up in California, he remembers being inspired by the details on the set design of the Matterhorn, which likely led to his career in design. Furthermore, Typhoon Tommy’s chosen tiki name is a nod to the song “A Whale of a Tale” from Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

When you stay at the Mananui, you’ll quickly realize that you’re surrounded by family stories and memories. You’ll see the drum that was played in the Regal Tahitians. You’ll see pictures of uncles and sisters who danced at the Tahitian Terrace. You’ll admire tikis that were carved for Tahiti Felix. There is a strong sense of Ohana.

You’ll also share Tahiti Gil and Typhoon Tommy’s deep love for Disney. You’ll notice the sheet music for all the songs that are sung in the Enchanted Tiki Room surrounding your bed. You’ll find hidden clues (do not pull!) that reference Disney rides and attractions. You’ll take a selfie in the bathroom that is a replica of the selfie spot bathroom in Trader Sam’s, complete with the identical mirrors, lamps, and wallpaper. There are layers upon layers of Disney memorabilia.

I felt fortunate to spend a few days at the Faré Mananui. Tommy shared that one of his father’s favorite things to do when visiting is to sit and watch 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea on the (made to look like) vintage television set. The idea sounded perfect, so I had to do the same. After my long and fun day at the Magic Kingdom, I poured myself a drink, curled up on the sofa and watched Captain Nemo avenge the wrongs of the world one more time.

I knew I was in a happy place – I had Ohana all around me.

Cause you’ve got – serentikity.

Serentikity (noun) ser·​en·​tik·​i·​ty | \ ˌser-ən-ˈtē-kē-tē \ : the occurrence and development of tiki events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. // “They found the carving by pure serentikity.”

I’d venture to say that Rob and Trish have excellent serentikity. They’ve been in the right place at the right time to score some amazing tiki collectibles on more than one occasion. Step inside the Cannibal Lounge, their home bar in Orlando, Florida, and you’ll agree with me. It’s a paradise.

When Rob and Trish began to design the Cannibal Lounge, they decided to attend a carver’s gathering hosted by Benzart, a.k.a. Ben Davis, a famous tiki artist and carver based in Port Saint Lucie, Florida. Although Rob and Trish were not carvers, they wanted to soak in some tiki vibes to get inspired for the home bar build. What could be better? They were surrounded by aspiring artists armed with chainsaws and chisels who had come to learn the art of tiki carving. As they soaked in atmosphere, they met Will Anders, a “small guy that carves big” from South Florida. Those familiar with the Mai Kai know that Will is also a famous carver who has crafted many of the tiki carvings and sculptures in the gardens of the Mai Kai. Best yet, Will happened to have brought one of his large carvings to the gathering. It was a stunning root ball tiki casually propped up against a tree.

Rob took one look at the root ball tiki and thought: “You know. That might work.”

They purchased the tiki on the spot. Did they measure it? Nope. Did they consider how they were going to transport it home? Nope. Didn’t matter. They’d figure it out. It was one of their first moments of serentikity. It was the right tiki at the right time in the right place. Trish confided to me later that it barely fit in the SUV. With the tiki’s feet on the dashboard, and Trish sitting underneath, they made it work. Once home, the carving became the focal point of the Cannibal Lounge.

Serentikity has struck this couple more than once. Another example? Rob and Trish were admiring the vintage handcrafted sea creature lamps while sitting at the bar with Jeff “Beachbum”Berry two weeks after Lattitude 29 opened. Rob had to inquire of their origin. Jeff replied “Funny you should ask that. I got these from a tiki collector here, just across the river in Metairie. I think she may have more to sell – would you like her number?” Rob, attempting not to fall all over himself, answered with enthusiasm: “yes, please.” You have one guess where they were the next day.

Rob and Trish have many wonderful stories to tell. There was that time when they acquired a Leeteg. There was that moment when they acquired Mai Kai chairs. Or, that time when they acquired a vintage shell lamp as a finder’s fee. Or the Witco. Or their most recent collaboration with Typhoon Tommy to refurbish their bar. Serentikity happens, and often for this passionate collector couple.

Trish summed up what many tiki people know well: “You ask one person something, you make a connection, and that leads to new friends and new finds.” I can bear witness. Tiki people are known for being resourceful, welcoming, and friendly. It’s a community that shares its knowledge, skills, and connections with aloha nui loa.

As Rob poured me his “Danger Island” (a tasty daiquiri-inspired concoction with a combination of OFTD, Doctor Bird, Falernum and lime), I appealed to the tiki gods that the trade winds might also push me toward a few islands of serentikity as well.

The tiki’s in the details.

When you step into the Hala Kahiki Hideaway, you’ll suspect it might be a Disney Club 33 bar tucked into a secret grotto at the Polynesian Resort. I did. And I loved it.

It was intentional. Scott and Kim designed the Hideaway with the Polynesian Resort as their inspiration. It reminds them of their nuptials, which took place among family in the Bora Bora Bungalows at the resort. It reminds them of when friends gathered to celebrate their wedding and watch the fireworks across the Seven Seas Lagoon. It brings back memories of Scott and Kim’s college years of working at the Magic Kingdom, a work legacy that continued with one of their daughters. In short, the Hala Kahiki Hideaway is a place that grounds Scott and Kim’s family with memories of joy.

The Hala Kahiki Hideaway is emblematic of the Polynesian’s aesthetic in every detail. The focal point behind the bar features dark-stained wooden slats arranged and painted with identical orange and white colors as those found on every building – and many tiny tucked away places – at the Polynesian. How did they recreate the look? Scott and Kim approached the build as modern urban archeologists. There were field trips to the resort with digital protractors to measure the angles, paint chips to match the colors, cameras to picture the details, and notebooks for reminders. The result is stunning. The Hideaway has the same clean lines and welcoming feel of the iconic 1971 Polynesian Resort. In addition to the framework of the Hideaway, Scott and Kim have meticulously curated a selection of tiki mugs, carvings, and vintage lamps. Several lamps are Orchids of Hawaii originals on long-term loan from an avid collector and friend.

“Would you like a Hawaiian Eye?”

Scott tempted me with one of two magic potions as we continued to talk. In addition to a classic 1944 Mai Tai, Scott loves to make a 1963 Hawaiian Eye, a drink that Beachbum Berry credits to Tony Ramos at the China Trader restaurant in Burbank. The drink was inspired by the actors of the television series “Hawaiian Eye.” Apparently, the cast would take over the China Trader four or five late nights a week after filming the classic show. Scott’s love of the drink started with a gift of a bottle of Falernum and a listen to Vegas Vic’s Tiki Lounge (a podcast from almost two decades ago), which introduced him to the elixir.

Scott had similar experiences with tiki drinks in Chinese palaces. As he mixed the lime juice, rums, and Falernum, Scott regaled me with early memories of growing up in New England. Many towns had a large and ornate Chinese restaurant with a Hawaiian name, elaborate water gardens, and immersive decor. He remembers taking dates to these exotic temples to make a good impression. They were open late at night, often until 2 a.m., and provided a tropical harbor from the cold Nor’easter winds. Little did Scott know that he’d eventually be the creator of a similar hideaway with the true love of this life many years later.

“How about a toast to Vegas Vic and the Polynesian?” offered Scott. I was all in.

He’s somewhere in tiki time.

“Remember that old movie ‘Somewhere in Time’?”

George didn’t have to say another word. We both exclaimed next – “the penny!” and our flash of empathic resonance was complete.

For those that might not remember or have seen the film, it’s a story about a man who falls in love with a woman from the past, so much so, that he attempts to time travel back to her. He creates an environment in the room around him that is completely authentic to the time period in which she lived. He is eventually successful, transports himself into her time, they fall in love, and all seems well. Well until he finds a penny in his pocket with a date of 1979 on it. Immediately, the time-travel spell is broken, and his love screams in agony as he is whisked away from her.

What does this film have to do with a tiki bar? George is that man. He – like many of us – has created an immersive and authentic environment in a room that transports you to another place and time. George fell in love with the romantic period of a past paradise. But unlike many, George did not forget about the pennies in his space that might rip the illusion away. For some tiki people, it’s natural light in a tiki bar, for others it’s a misplaced choice of music. For some, it may be carvings or art that were not authentic to the tiki period of the 40s – 60s, and for others, it’s seeing all the wires for the lights. Whatever the penny might be, it’s important to consider how to rid it from your pocket.

George understands that challenge well at the Nui Keoki’s Enchanted Grotto, his home bar in Jacksonville, Florida. I felt as if I’d landed at a trader’s outpost when I entered George’s Grotto. His getaway is filled with vintage memorabilia, tikis, carvings, art, and includes touches of nautical whimsy and creature danger. After hearing some stories about thoughtful gifts that have been traded back and forth with Scott, his closest tiki friend, I was even more convinced that Nui Keoki’s Enchanted Grotto embodies a true trader spirit. When Scott had a special event coming up, George reached out to a local artist to have custom Peanuts-style drawing made of Scott and his family. When George had a special day coming up, Scott found an artist who recreated an advertisement from The Garden of Tiki, a vintage, local restaurant that was a favorite for George. In fact, George got a little emotional as he talked about their friendship and the wonderful gifts traded over the past years. It was clear to me that George and Scott’s passion for tiki has cultivated a lasting bond.

I loved getting lost in time at Nui Keoki’s Enchanted Grotto. There wasn’t a penny in sight. And, just like that famous line from Somewhere in Time, the Grotto is already calling … “Come back to me.”

Ohana means family.

If I were trying to woo the love of my life, I’m not sure I’d ask that person to run miles with me while I recounted the detailed history of the Anglo-Zulu War. It wouldn’t be at the top of my list of fifty ways to woo a lover. Out of breath discussions of military history? Naw. But, that’s just me.

It worked for Scott and Beth. While in medical school together, Scott had a longstanding crush on Beth. After spending lots of time studying together, Scott marshalled the courage to ask Beth to run with him. Beth was not an avid runner, but she agreed to join him under one condition: Scott had to tell lengthy stories to keep her mind off the run. Apparently, it worked quite well. Scott recounted military history, and Beth was wooed. As an homage to their romance from years ago, you’ll find a nook in the wall of the Papa Nui with a collection of vintage British Navy memorabilia. It serves as a reminder to that wonderful decision to run together.

The Papa Nui, Scott and Beth’s home tiki bar and guest house, is named in honor of their grandfathers and fathers. Scott and Beth’s family served in the military. Scott’s grandfathers both served in the Army and were stationed in the Pacific during World War II. Scott’s PaPa, the inspiration for his tiki interests, served at the 80th General Hospital in Papua New Guinea. Beth’s father was in the Navy and served during the Cold War. Scott credits his good friend Shannon Brunner, his brother-in-law, and Beth’s dad with the success of the build. Together they built an amazing tiki house from the ground up, complete with a home bar, a gathering room, and a full bath. Their collection of vintage lamps, tikis, carvings, and PNG masks is one of absolute envy.

To me, the real magic of the Papa Nui is the integration of family lore and history into the design and build of the space. When I first arrived, Beth took time to describe how she had painted traditional tattoo symbols on the support beam for the girl’s loft area. The tattoo symbols form a pictograph that begins with the story of Scott and Beth’s families, then honors their journey together to the present. and continues to a future filled with love and hope for Victoria and Beatrice, their girls. As you look around the bar, you’ll be grounded in the family’s past with multiple photographs of PaPa from the years he served in Papua New Guinea. Art from Victoria and Beatrice adorn the walls, and lamps have been crafted from family art projects. Beth and the girls have even hand sculpted a series of cannibal tikis, similar to those found in the Mai Kai. As I admired the family items, Scott emphasized – the Papa Nui belongs to the whole family, and all have inspired its creation. Ohana means family, and that is quite evident at the Papa Nui. Throughout the night, Beth and Scott continued to tell me wonderful stories of how they surprise each other with thoughtful gifts – either thrifted or created – that now find their home at the Papa Nui.

As the evening got late, we said our goodnights, and I crawled into the Murphy bed under the watchful eye of the iconic Kon Tiki Thor Heyerdahl mask. As I lay still, I noticed that the world was now in motion. I figured it was the gentle rocking of the Pacific Ocean waves, as I was now on the Kon Tiki. Then, I realized – it might just be my head spinning from the five (yes) expertly crafted cocktails that Scott had made that night. It didn’t matter. I was soon asleep on the Papa Nui raft, dreaming of the Zulu conflict.

Howard heeds the siren.

The Hukilau organizer looked right at Howard and exclaimed – “Someone stole all of the top-shelf rums from the tasting this afternoon. Can you believe it?” Howard gulped, paused, and finished off the top-shelf rum in his glass. He might have some splaining to do.

Howard likes rum. If you visit Bull Tiki, his and Jennifer’s wonderful home tiki bar in Durham, you’ll likely be treated to a rum tasting. If Howard visits someone else’s bar (oh, like mine, just a mile or two away), he’s not shy to suggest that there might be rums on your shelf that he hasn’t yet tasted. It’s a not-so-subtle but quite-welcomed hint that you’ve got an opportunity to taste rum with your FOMbro. Whether at home or abroad, when there’s top-shelf rum just sitting around that appears to be at risk of neglect, Howard springs into action.

That’s exactly what happened at the Hukilau.

Howard attended the rum tasting seminar at the Hukilau a few years back and had some lingering questions for the presenter. He waited patiently after it was over, after everyone else had asked their questions, so he’d have the presenter all to himself. What could be better than a rum enthusiast getting personalized attention from a rum expert? Not much – but wait for it. After talking rum for a bit, Howard couldn’t get his mind off the fact that there were some awesome rums, sitting in bottles, only half empty, just next to him. So, he had to ask:

“What will happen to all this rum?” The presenter said – “I don’t know. It’s not mine. You should take a bottle.”

So, Howard did. Well, he took three bottles. I mean, he had not driven to Florida, so he figured that three bottles might be all he could finish off prior to flying home. But, when he got back to his room, the other neglected rum bottles – still sitting in that conference room – were like a siren, calling to him. His mind began to wonder what might happen to the rest. He imagined some waitstaff person pouring top-shelf rum down a sink, and his heart began to race. So, he rationalized that the heroic thing to do was to take all of the bottles of rum. A few minutes later, there were a dozen plus bottles of high-end rum in this room. He smiled, took stock, but then started to feel a little guilty. All this rum for him? It was tempting, but his conscience got the best of him. His final plan? He’d offer shots of the most-excellent rum to others around the pool. It was perfect. The rum would be put to good use by those most likely to love it, and Howard would be a popular guy for doing the right thing.

As he was sharing his bounty at the pool, he struck up a conversation with one of the Hukilau organizers, who mentioned that she’d just heard that all of the expensive rum had been stolen from the seminar. Howard froze for just a moment, imaging what sounded like a completely different kind of siren (the blue light kind), and quickly confessed. Thankfully, the organizer understood, and they laughed off the incident (likely over some more good rum).

One of my favorite features of Howard and Jenn’s Bull Tiki is the levered bar top. Using a simple method of rocks in a bucket tied to a rope that’s hidden from sight, the bar top swings up via a pulley with the perfect counterbalance, giving a practical and nautical touch. In addition to this ingenious feature, you’ll find a marvelous collection of artifacts at the Bull Tiki. Built from what used to be a carport off their mid-centry home, Jennifer and Howard’s sunken home bar houses a beautiful collection of tikis from regional artists like Tiki Rancher, original Witco paintings, vintage oil lamps, and other mid-century treasures. Outside there’s a tropical garden with banana trees that provide a stunning backdrop against the handcrafted jade tile and bamboo screens on the windows. There’s a repurposed stained-glass window from a local factory close to where Jennifer grew up. When you step into the kitchen and living areas of the home, you’ll be treated to Jennifer’s vast collection of vintage Pryex and have the opportunity for some loving from Clover and Violet, the canine kids.

Over the past couple of years, Jennifer has commissioned craftspeople and artists to create specialized items for the bar. There’s now a custom wooden bar menu. Jeff Poe of Phunco, who built the beautiful jade and bamboo window screens, also designed a Bull Tiki graphic logo, which you’ll find on a sign at the entrance and printed on their coasters, as well as a unique fabric for Bull Tiki. Jennifer commissioned Rocket Betty to transform Phunco’s fabric design into an aloha shirt for Howard, which he proudly wore for our visit.

In short, if you’re with Howard when he hears the rum siren, you should follow – don’t run. You might get in trouble, but it’ll be worth every sip.

You must choose, but choose wisely.

But if you had to chose, which one? Don the Beachcomber or Trader Vic’s cocktails?

It all started innocently, but Ashleigh had asked a question that I’d never considered. We were having a simple conversation about the origins of tiki drinks, but she’d cut right to the dramatic climax, that final cliffhanger before a final series of bad commercials that leave you in a mix of horrid suspense for way too long.

How would I answer? How should I answer? How could I answer?

Scott and Ashleigh just opened The Royal Tot, a wonderful new tropical bar in Charlotte, North Carolina that serves some amazing tiki cocktails, and I’d been invited to “talk tiki” and sample the mastery of their beverage director’s classic and modern creations. When I started by ordering a Mai Tai, Ash asked me if the Mai Tai was the “first” tiki drink. So, I launched into a brief explanation (it might have bordered on mansplaining, I admit) of Don the Beachcomer and Trader Vic’s creations of the original cocktails. I stressed the importance of Beachbum Berry’s amazing work to catalog and establish cannon for what we now know as tiki drinks.

But which one is your favorite? Don the Beachcomer or Trader Vic?

There must have been an awkward pause as I imagined all of the air had left the room. She really wanted me to choose between them.

I couldn’t speak. It felt something akin to becoming Meryl in the final scene from Sophie’s Choice, or that moment when Kirk is faced with the Kobiashi Maru, or when Indiana Jones has to chose the right chalice, or when your least favorite child asks you who is your favorite child, or worst ever, when some unsuspecting well-intentioned friend asks you what your favorite tiki bar is. Amiright? God forbid we’d ever have to select just one!

So, I answered “both.”

Ashleigh was not dissuaded. She looked at me, intent, quietly waiting for my answer.

So, I considered the question for another moment, and I said “Trader Vic.” My rationale was that he introduced more flavor profiles and additional options of ingredients that expanded tiki offerings. Of course, it could have also been that I was sipping on a Mai Tai, which was Trader Vic’s creation.

But, as soon as the words left my mouth, I felt guilty. It was my horrible choice at the train, my failure of the Kobiashi. I was worried I had picked the wrong chalice. I could just see Earnest Gantt, in his iconic hat, in the fog down the train station platform, shaking his head, so sadly.

Was it too late to take it back?

Thank goodness we really don’t have to choose. Pour me another Mai Tai.

What are you doing New Year’s Eve?

When the bells all ring and the horns all blow
And the couples we know are fondly kissing
Will I be with you or will I be among the missing?

Maybe it’s much too early in the game
Ah, but I thought I’d ask you just the same
What are you doing New Year’s, New Year’s eve?

Jessie and Jason’s answer to Loewe’s 1940s lyrical question was that they would be home, building a tiki bar. I mean, what could be more romantic and stress-free on the eve of a new year in the midst of a pandemic than sawing bamboo, hanging lauhala, wielding a glue gun, avoiding bodily harm from a power stapler, and having to re-do half of your work because your spouse thinks it didn’t come out just right? Might there have been a lover’s spat that fateful night?

I hear on good authority that it didn’t matter. It was a labor of love. Jason summed it up quite nicely: ‘The best stories are not about the drinks you had or the collections you amassed. The best home bar stories are the ones you create as you build your private paradise.”

The Likelike Lounge, Jason and Jessie’s special island, sits just down the road from his parents home (and the Enchanted Honu Tiki Lounge, their home tiki bar) in Mint Hill, North Carolina. Built over the past two years, you’ll find handsome touches of structural elements, including bamboo mat walls that house a collection of vintage photographs, a console ripped out of an old local hotel to form a bar, a wood beam ceiling that makes you feel that you’re in the belly of a great ship, and a beautiful Japanese screen that provides an alluring pattern yet fits just perfectly over the window to diffuse the dim, natural light. Jessie has cultivated a collection of items from her family and her childhood trips to Hawaii. There’s an original Tiki Bob mug from her parents. There’s a hula skirt and coconut bra from her original Cabbage Patch doll adorning a wicker monkey. There’s a picture of Mom doing the hula. Leilani (salvaged from a Sailor Jerry hula girl display) anchors the corner. And, there are carvings of exotic birds throughout, which serve as a homage to Jason’s earliest memories of the Enchanted Tiki Hut, back when – as he puts it – it was still spooky and scary.

To be clear, Jason is not discounting the positive impact of a good tiki drink to ease the edge off those stressful home bar builds when he creates his stories. In fact, I sampled one of Jason’s creations while visiting, a tasty mix of Pyrat rum, pineapple juice and cinnamon syrup (among other ingredients) that he had originally created for the family’s St. Nicholas Day gatherings. Jason is no stranger to good mixology. He received the gift of a bartender’s guide, and it’s inspired him to keep crafting and shaking.

It’s truly a family affair. Jason and Jessie invite the family over often, and the evening might include a sip on one of Jason’s concoctions, a listen to the sounds of the exotic 40s tunes, a long stare at the layers of tiki collectibles, or a chance to curse a bit while installing a new feature in the Likelike Lounge. It doesn’t matter. It’s just the eve of a new story they will soon tell passerby sailors like me.

Maybe I’m crazy to suppose
I’d ever be the one you chose
Out of the thousand invitations you received

Ah, but in case I stand one little chance
Here comes the jackpot question in advance
What are you building New Year’s, New Year’s Eve?