Lady luck smiles on the nomad.

Todd is a nomadic polynesiac, but not by choice. Blame Lady Luck and her fickle smile.

Todd hit the jackpot during a tiki crawl raffle a few years back. He’d bought several tickets in hopes of upping his odds for some top-notch tiki loot. The organizers pulled the first ticket, and Todd was a winner. Huzzah! The second prize was also Todd’s. Huzzah! The organizers kept pulling a ticket and calling out a new number. Each time it was one of Todd’s tickets. Two or three prizes? Sure. No one would question those odds. They’d say it was just a fun coincidence. When the sixth, seventh, and eighth prizes were all Todd’s, the crowd got a little edgy. When all was said and done, Todd had won almost all of the raffle prizes offered. Yet, Todd had no space at home for what he’d won. His vision for a home tiki bar was still a dream. Lady Luck didn’t care. She knew Todd was destined for a home tiki build, so she bestowed a toothy ear-to-ear smile on him to give him a jumpstart. Besides, it would be awhile before she’d throw a smile in his direction again.

Todd built his first home tiki bar out of a repurposed backyard shed. Thankful that he finally had a place to show off his loot and a growing collection, he held a grand opening party and settled in. Little did he know it was the beginning of his nomadic period. Within a few short years, Todd and his family moved down the street to a larger house. Undismayed, Todd figured he would make the second one even better. He would build the next one from scratch on a stripped foundation in his backyard. After an entire year of sweat investment, he finished the build for tiki bar two. Shortly after, without even one tiki party in his new space, Todd and his family had to move again. Todd may be a nomad, but he’s no quitter. He immediately set his mind to tiki bar number three. This go-round, he stood in a room with four white walls. He could repurpose pieces from his previous two bars and go even bigger. He could build a fourteen-foot working bar. It would be the best yet.

Yes, Todd built three home tiki bars, one after another. Each was built from the remains of the previous. It wasn’t his plan, but it happened that way. Despite his determination to have a home tiki bar, his house kept changing. Each bar was progressively bigger than the last. Each bar was progressively better than the last. As one who sees his tiki mug as half-full, Todd used his questionable luck to learn. He now knows first-hand how to avoid pitfalls and make a build even better.

“What’s been the most challenging task?”

I’ve asked this question many times to home bar builders, and the answer has quite frequently been associated with the same challenge: hanging lauhala or bac-bac matting. For those new to the tiki aesthetic and its materials, lauhala is made from dried hala palm leaves and woven into a checkered matting. Bac-bac is similar in look but woven from banana bark with more variance in tones. Matting is one of the fundamental and quite beautiful textures found in authentic tiki environments. It’s traditionally hung on walls with a trim of split bamboo or carved wood. However, the material has a lot of flexibility due to the weave. It can be a challenge to hang, especially for a first timer.

Polynesiacs are quick to offer helpful advice to those taking on the challenge. Friends don’t let friends do matting alone. Tuck the staples behind the weave. Paint a dark color behind it. Don’t worry if it’s not completely straight, it’s part of the look. With all the great suggestions, I’m kind of surprised that a matting support group hasn’t popped up as a trending option on social media.

Todd did all these things. His close friend Doug – a tiki guy himself – helped him. He painted everything black and hid the staples. He even learned to appreciate the natural patterns as part of the look. All that, and still there were issues. He found that the material would often peel or sag when attached to drywall. All that work and the matting wasn’t reusable. Moreover, Todd had to do a lot of patching and painting to repair the walls when it all came down – twice.

By the time his third build came along, Todd was not too excited by the prospect of doing it all again. This time, Todd decided to take it one step further. Rather than attach the lauhala directly to the wall, he created panels. Starting with light-weight 4×8 laminate panels as a base surface, Todd used contact cement to glue the material firmly to the laminate, then cut each panel to fit his design for each wall. This made the entire process less frustrating. The matting could be applied to the laminate on a flat horizontal surface avoiding the vertical challenge when applying directly to a wall. The end result has a tight, polished look and can be easily removed and reused if – don’t say it out loud – he has to do it all again.

I suspect that Lady Luck is bestowing her fickle smile once more. Todd’s third bar – The Hidden Tiki – is a charm. For him, lighting is everything. Although he owns a few vintage lamps, including a beautiful one from Trader Vic’s of Chicago, the remainder of his lamp collection is handcrafted from various tiki revival artists. To supplement the ambient glow, Todd highlights his art using black pen lights that strategically disappear into the black ceiling and create what appears to be a starry night sky. He uses candle-flame lights to cleverly accentuate his extensive collection of mugs from favorite artists including Tiki Diablo, Woody Miller, Tiki Rob, and more. It all works together to create a space that is luminous.

They say practice makes perfect. I’ve even heard that third time’s a charm. So if there’s an award out there for a perfectly charming nomad who won’t let constant challenges get in the way of building his dream home tiki bar, Todd’s got my vote. He sure as hell deserves it given Lady Luck’s abandonment.

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