It was mai night at Mai Tiki Bar.

“Hand me that passionfruit syrup.”

Mixing a tiki cocktail is an iterative process. Each cocktail informs the next. Bob and Wendy know this process well. Bob likes his drinks a little boozy. Wendy aims a little sweet. Choices of rums greatly influence flavors. Home elixirs can be created to push a cocktail in one direction or another. Wendy makes her own Falernum, a wonderful spiced syrup with limes, allspice, ginger and more. There’s an art to creating just the right balance of spices, and Wendy’s perfected that art. She likes her homemade version much better than those on the market because she can punch up the spice. Is Falernum hard to make? Wendy said it can be a bit challenging, but once you’ve made it that first time, it gets easier.

“Speaking of Falernum, did I put it in the drink? … oh, yes. I did.”

I was fortunate to witness Wendy at work making some amazing concoctions when I visited Bob and Wendy’s Mai Tiki Bar (get it? … “my” tiki bar?), their beautiful home tiki bar in Indianapolis. As she was mixing, Bob shared that he considers Wendy to be the first bartender in the Indianapolis tiki renaissance. It’s a claim that’s easy to substantiate, especially since it was Bob and Wendy that re-invigorated the tiki scene in Indy a decade ago.

“Do I need to get the cinnamon syrup? Is it upstairs?”

Creating a tiki community is also an iterative process. Each event builds on the one before it. Bob and Wendy started with bartending classes to learn the basics of glassware, spirits, and such. Inspired to make top-notch tiki drinks, they hosted a Tiki Night at the Melody Inn (a local dive) on a monthly basis, making a variety of concoctions from various base spirits. Wendy made every drink. They ran out of surf and rockabilly bands after the first 3 – 4 events, but that didn’t deter them. They made friends with ukulele and steel drum players and kept the event going for more than a year. More and more locals got a taste of tiki, and the community began to grow.

“Should I use crushed ice in this drink too?”

Bob and Wendy joined the Fraternal Order of Moai as a next step. Then, they joined forces with other fellow Moai to create an event Wendy named “Makahiki: A Night of Tiki” as the premiere social event for the Indy tiki crowd. The first event was held around harvest time, and the name evoked a sense of gratitude for the bounty of the year. It was a huge success. Bob also helped to form and provide leadership to Indy Tiki, a gathering group for the Indianapolis tikiphiles that thrives today.

“I think it’s a little too tart. What’s different?”

Bob and Wendy took to tiki quite naturally. Bob loves vintage cars. Wendy loves 1950s pinup magazines. Bob carves tikis. Wendy loves punk rock. Bob’s parents took him to Disney World and the Enchanted Tiki Hut when he was a kid. Wendy’s parents had a vintage antiques booth. Bob threw his first tiki party before he even met Wendy. But once they met, there were trips to the Hukilau, custom aloha wear, and ultimately, a home bar to build, first in their previous home, and now in their current midcentury ranch.

“Did you use the Doctor Bird in this drink?”

Mai Tiki Bar is quite beautiful. From the black speckled tile floor to the midnight blue ceiling, there are collectibles, carvings that Bob lovingly created – even while his arm was in a cast, hundred of tiki mugs on a top shelf around the perimeter of the room, a secret door with a hidden back room, an impressive and well-stocked bar, seating nooks, mural paintings from tiki tattoo artists, and so much more. Like many great tiki bars, it’s hard to take it all in. You want to return for more. Many people have visited Mai Tiki Bar, including some famous tiki folks like Martin Cate, a master mixologist, and Mattias from the well-known exotica band Ixtahuele. I felt honored to be invited to this space.

“Should I use this dark rum? It might be a bit too spicy. Let’s try the Coruba.”

Wendy served me a 1950s Zombie, and life was suddenly, exceptionally good.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s