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.

Meet the masters of groove.

Will you dance with me on the main stage?

The Fisherman were churning out their vibraphonic jungle exotica when Crazy Al scanned the crowd for someone brave enough to join him on stage. It would take someone uninhibited to match his renowned level of energy. Roxanne was the obvious choice, and she quickly responded “yes” before allowing her nervousness to take the main stage instead. In that short moment in the early aughts, Roxanne became one of the first official-unofficial Tiki Oasis dancers.

The tradition was born back in the first years of Tiki Oasis, back when it was still in Palm Springs, and back when it was small enough for everyone to fit around the pool at the Tropics Hotel. To Derek and Roxanne, the now-famous tiki weekender was something they’d never experienced. It was “the best, most well-funded backyard party” ever imagined. The kinetic energy coupled with a feeling of belonging was palpable. Everyone talked to each other. Every person had a common passion – classic tiki culture. Every attendee felt like part of the event, and every polynesiac could be found pitching in to make the gathering a success.

Thankfully, the kinetic energy and aloha that Derek and Roxanne felt at the Tropics has been recreated at The South Pacific Room, their home bar – named in honor of the reception hall at the Bali Hai. Over the past decade, Derek and Roxanne have thoughtfully transformed their 70s den and expansive backyard into their own private tiki oasis. The mastery of details is abundantly evident. Derek carefully considered the layout, designed the flow, carved the trim, centralized the tech behind the bar, and planned ahead for ample electrical.

“People often ask me if I do this for a living, when in reality, I’ve just taken the time to figure out the right tool, at the right speed, on the right wood.”

As Derek showed me around the South Pacific Room, I kept trailing behind his lead to closely admire the intricate, bold, and precise carving in the room’s trim, frames, lamps, and center table. It’s easy to understand from the many examples present how he’s developed the reputation of a master craftsman. Derek is a clever problem-solver. He approaches woodworking and lamp-making and other tiki-inspired crafts with a scientific curiosity. He was inspired by earlier tiki revivalist craftspeople like Bamboo Ben, Crazy Al, as well as other home bar enthusiasts like Al Knepper of the Lagoon Room (right down the road).

I’ve always admired people who give their talent forward, and Derek is a good-hearted example. He graciously shares his acquired knowledge to a new generation of apprentices. Roxanne was his first student, but there have been many others since. As a team, they have hosted numerous lamp-making workshops at the South Pacific Room. The workshops are always sold out, and it’s no wonder why. In the span of a single Saturday, occasionally two for a more complicated build, an attendee can assemble a lamp that looks like it’s been rescued from a long-gone tiki palace. Throughout my visits in Southern California, it was quite common to hear home tiki bar owners point to one of their tiki lamps and exclaim with great pride – “I made that at Derek’s workshop!” I suspect it’s equally heart-warming for Derek to visit the homes of others and see beautiful and tangible evidence of his teaching.

As I said my goodbyes for the night, I saw the connection. Roxanne is a master of dance, and Derek is a master of craft. For both, groove is in the heart.

He knows how to wear a Sandwich.

“Would you like to come over for sushi?”

With a lunch invitation, what had been hoped for would come true. Jennifer and Kenn would meet Laurie Foster at her beautiful home in O’ahu, straight up the mountain above Diamondhead. Over sushi, they would soak up as much information as possible about her father, William “Bill” Foster, the original designer of the Sandwich Isle jacket and the man who gave us casual Fridays.

But, I’m jumping ahead of the story.

Jennifer grew up in a neighborhood full of TOPGUN commanders. Kenn’s parents were fashion-forward square dancers who had a wagon wheel saloon in their den. Growing up as thrift store kids in a community where military men were married to women from all over the Pacific, both Jennifer and Kenn developed a keen eye for vintage tiki at an early age. Jennifer’s mom created “Knox’s Knots” – carved tiki beads designed to be used in macramé plant hangers, while Kenn amassed a “ridiculously large” collection of aloha shirts as a teenager. It’s no wonder that the Lumi-La Lounge, Jennifer and Kenn’s home tiki bar, has lots of stories to tell. Ask Brigitte, the beautiful 1960s nude that will command your attention as you approach the bar for a tasty cocktail.

The Lumi-La Lounge is a happening spot both inside and out. Take a look around their newly-completed lanai, and you’ll find examples of Jennifer and Kenn’s eye for beautiful detail. Kenn has learned from friends and mentors to be a carver of tikis and a maker of lamps. Jennifer has planted the garden with Ti plants to ward off evil spirits and tropical flowers to lift the good ones. Their patio has been the stage for parties with local bands including Sea-Base (a four member ensemble with three basses and drummer), The Garners, and Fink Bombs. Throughout the bar, you’ll notice patterns of three lines carefully carved into the trim, representing the three members of their family: Jennifer, Kenn, and their daughter. When I asked how they learned all of the skills necessary to create the Lumi-La, Kenn was quick to answer:

“When I’m interested in something, I dig a little deeper.”

It’s a fitting quote. Kenn is well-known for his thorough and passionate research on one of the most coveted vintage clothing items in a polynesiac’s wardrobe – the Sandwich Isles jacket. Although he’s a bit modest, Jennifer lovingly describes Kenn as one of the world’s foremost authorities on the subject. Stemming from his early love of aloha shirts, Kenn became fascinated with these bold and beautiful jackets after others began misattributing the cut of the garment to the wrong period. Although many thought the style was from an earlier era, his eye told him that the jackets were late 60s in design. He had to know the definitive answer, so a quest was initiated. Out of the blue, he decided to write to an expert, Dale Hope, author of The Aloha Shirt. Dale, like so many tiki folks in our community, responded quickly and was immediately helpful.

“If you want to know about Sandwich Isles jackets, learn about the Foster family.”

Kenn took the suggestion to heart and started his research. Over the next two years, Kenn used publicly-available records and old photographs to construct a biography of Bill Foster, the man who promoted competitive wages in an industry not known for them, introduced Aloha (casual) Fridays, and served as the president of the Hawaiian Fashion Guild. With the help of talented developers like John McMann and additional designers like Akalp Sayin (who is responsible for the coat designs from the 70s), the design team revolutionized aloha styles with a semi-formal style of surf-inspired coats and slacks.

Foster’s Sandwich Isles Sportswear would be groovy for a decade. From the psychedelic 60s until the disco 70s (when Saturday Night Fever-inspired leisure suits became the next must-have), men would wear their bold printed jackets to work on Aloha Fridays or for a night out at a tiki palace. Thankfully, the Tiki Revival brought them back to life and into even higher style. Today, you can show up at any gathering of polynesiacs, and you’re likely find tiki folks wearing the original vintage jackets as well as new, handcrafted clothing in the same style from fabric artists like the talented Rocket Betty.

It wasn’t until Ken finally had the good luck of finding Laurie Foster, the daughter of William (Bill) and Mary Foster, that the pieces of the story were hemmed together. When he reached out, Ms. Foster was happily surprised and quite honored to learn that Kenn had spent a considerable amount of time compiling information about her father. After conversing over email for more than a year, Ms. Foster offered an invitation to sit down and talk over lunch at her home in O’ahu. Since Jennifer’s mom had a condo in Kauai, it was reasonably convenient to make the trip, so they packed their bags with their best aloha wear and headed for the islands.

It ended up being a lunch that Jennifer and Kenn will cherish for a lifetime.

Add a pinch of salt to that story.

Mysterious tales and legends haunt the multitude of islands in the South Pacific. Uncharted destinations rarely sought by travelers. No island has been more shrouded in foreboding intrigue than Makoako Island. Come gather round and heed my warning.

That’s how the backstory for the Lava Flow Inn begins. It’s a detailed yarn that begins with Captain Redgrave and his nefarious crew raiding a Spanish Galleon and absconding some treasure. The pirates end up shipwrecked on Makoako Island sometime in the 1700s. After a single marauder escapes on a rowboat from a chieftain’s curse during a volcanic eruption, the story fast forwards to a party of early twentieth-century explorers. They seek the pirate’s treasure on the fabled island only to find a distasteful demise. The final chapter finds Matt with his wife Patty stumbling into a tiki hut deep in a jungle and finding an explorer’s skeleton clutching a map of hidden treasure.

None who have entered beyond this outpost have returned. Well, that is, returned in one piece. Some were maimed and some driven insane by the horrors they experienced in the jungle beyond. You see, this outpost is the last stop. Beyond this point are savages, ghosts, zombies, pagan rituals, voodoo rites, and cannibalism. Those of you with a taste for adventure enter at your own risk. You have been warned.

Although it might sound a bit unbelievable, all of the elements of the story came to him in a dream, long before Matt built his immersive tiki bar – The Lava Flow Inn – and the surrounding zombie camp in his sloping backyard. Matt’s dream turned into a backstory that focused his vision for a home tiki bar build.

In addition to being a long-time tiki enthusiast, successful lowbrow artist/illustrator/painter, master builder for many of the sets for Tiki Oasis, and prolific tiki mug designer, Matt (aka Reesenik) is an advocate for developing a backstory as an essential component of a tiki bar build. To him, the history of the space – either real or make-believe – helps guide the work and the collection. Using a detailed story to influence every element of a home bar helps the builder avoid “jumping the shark,” that is, going off in a direction with your collection or inclusion of structural elements that does not ultimately align with your vision. Does the story need to be completely finished before anything else happens? Not necessarily, but Matt did it that way. He encourages story development as an essential part of the design process, equal in weight to the more commonly-considered technical, electrical, and construction elements. Matt also understands the need for organic flexibility in the story. Details of your yarn may deepen as you find unusual collectibles or consider the constraints of your space. Regardless, the process of dreaming, imagining, and crafting your story is an important early step to the process.

“It’s hard to recapture the wonder and magic you had as a kid. When you’re an adult and want a place to fully escape, it’s important to make it as believable, as real, as possible.”

Matt loves the challenge of creating an environment so immersive that you feel, quite literally, lost. Once you’ve read the Lava Flow Inn’s story, you begin to see the narrative’s elements all around you. You may even feel a little uneasy, imagining you might become the yarn’s next character. To heighten the edginess, Matt has printed tongue-in-cheek liability release forms for his guests, asking them to acknowledge via signature (print your name here!) that their lives might be at risk when entering the Lava Flow Inn. To add to the fun, he’s developed a list of cannibal kitchen rules:

Don’t eat clowns; they taste funny. Sailors do not require salt. Divorced people taste bitter. Never stew missionary priests; they are friars. No staff children in the Boucan; they always play with their food.

It’s all part of creating the adult version of a kid’s sense of wonder and magic. He’s even developed the script for a yet-to-be-filmed mockumentary with a cast of zesty characters to portray the lengthy and foreboding history of the Inn.

Aubrey Mahoney sought the pirate’s treasure in the 1920s, but his party of explorers were never heard from again. It is said that his servants were all turned into zombies and his fellow treasure hunters, botanists, archeologists, and scholars were “dinner guests” at Chief Nekbudu’s celebrations over the “course” of several weeks. Rumor has it that the sailors who accompanied them were simply killed (as they were far too salty).

If you’re lucky, you might get to play a zombie in a pith helmet. I’m auditioning for the role of the bearded archeologist. I mean, I’m a natural for that character, right?

Kali Ma! Kali Ma!

When you hear the “Kali Ma!“ at The Headhunter, be prepared. You’ll feel an immediate urge to go shirtless and drink from a skull bowl.

Give in. Shed your shirt. Drink from the cup. Everybody takes part. The goddess of time, death, and change doesn’t care if you’re straight, gay, bi, or questioning. She doesn’t care if you’re non-binary, cisgendered or transgendered. She just demands bare skin from the waist up. At least, that’s what Jonny and Ilze have been told. It’s their home bar, but they didn’t come up with the ritual.

In fact, Jonny still isn’t quite clear how the practice began. Based on his slightly-impaired memory after several strong drinks at a late night party, it started with a heady, intellectual conversation:

“Dude! Let’s take shots out of the ceremonial bowl!”

Intrigued, Jonny reached up to the shelf, pulled down the kapala – a Tibetan copper-lined, silver, and turquoise-encrusted ceremonial skull bowl – and awaited further instruction. The idea sounded cool from the onset.

“We’ve got to take our shirts off!”

It was this statement that gave Jonny a moment of pause. Why did they have to take their fucking shirts off? Before he could voice his inner reservation, everyone around was chanting “Kali Ma! … Kali Ma!” and getting naked from the waist up. He quickly looked around the bar, expecting to see the spirit of Indiana Jones rising incarnate from the torches. Truth be told, the place was starting to look more like a B-movie bathhouse. Shirts were flying, and the partygoers were restless. Quick to appease the gods, Jonny shed his shirt, poured an elixir into the bowl, and passed the drink around.

Evidently, Kali was pleased that night, but not for too long. Word at the bar is that she demands a repeat sacrifice on a regular basis.

Why Kali got a front-and-center ritual at The Headhunter will remain a mystery. If anything, Mr. Bali Hai would be a better candidate for center stage. Over the past few decades, Jonny has established what is likely the world’s foremost collection of vintage mugs from Bali Hai, the iconic 1954 Polynesian restaurant located on Shelter Island in San Diego. Jonny has more than seventy vintage “Mr. Bali Hai” mugs, including three flat-bottomed originals (you can detect first runs by looking at the shape of the bottom), many vintage concave-bottomed mugs from the early days of the restaurant, and a so-extremely-rare-that-he-didn’t-think-they-really-existed lighter. All of the mugs were found “in the wild” or collected from various in-person hunts. The collection forms a brotherhood of headhunters as an apropos backdrop to the bar, serving both as an impressive display of vintage tiki culture as well as a beautiful reminder of his and Ilze’s wedding day at – yes – the Bali Hai.

Jonny and Ilze’s love for classic, period-authentic tiki is evident. Given his work as a vintage collectibles dealer in Southern California, Jonny has come across some amazing finds over the years. He’s collected (in weight) tons of fern tikis at estate sales from GIs who settled in the area after coming back from the Pacific theater. He’s obtained original lamps from “The Islands” the restaurant at the Hanalei Hotel, a local but long-gone tiki palace. One of Ilze’s favorites is the Tangaroa-Ru Baby from Disneyland. It is dated 1964 Walt Disney Productions and signed by Rolly Crump, who created it for the Enchanted Tiki Room set in those early days. Ilze found it for pennies, but it is worth an immeasurable amount more.

As Jonny describes it, The Headhunter is ninety-percent classic tiki, ten percent tiki revival. Almost the entire collection, both inside and outside, is vintage, while the a-frame structure and elaborate interior was crafted by Jonny and regional tiki artists. When Jonny and Ilze decided to build The Headhunter, they worked with some exceptional revivalists to ensure the space would have a soul of authenticity. Jonny designed the exquisite a-frame structure. With the help of his friend Chad, a general contractor, together they built a hut that appears to have been airlifted from the islands. When they needed a true tiki artist/craftsman to tie together the look and feel of the space, they reached out to a pillar of the Tiki Revival movement. Bosko Hrnjak designed and carved elaborate wood framing, trim, poles, and plaques throughout the space. And, when they needed tiki décor experts to act as consultants, they went to the very best. Bob Van Oosting at Oceanic Arts provided clear and critical recommendations to choose the right mix of materials. All this set the stage for Jonny and Ilze to kick their critical eye into hyperdrive. They have expertly arranged their extensive collection in a way that keeps you coming back to see something different with each visit. As I took in the layers of lamps, the schools of pufferfish, and the acquisitions of tikis, Ilze reminded me, “We’re adding things here and there. A tiki bar always has to evolve.”

In case you’re wondering, no shirts were removed during the making of this story. Kali was apparently off visiting Shiva during my visit with Jonny and Ilze, and thus, there were no unexpected chants to allure me into fractional streaking.

That doesn’t mean I’m not prepared, though.

Crows of a feather drink together.

A murder of crows is likely smarter than a potation of polynesiacs.

Crows outsmart children up to age eight on simple tasks. Studies have shown it. Extrapolating from this, I figure that once a group of tiki peeps get to our third or fourth drinks, we’re likely operating around the same mental age. Perhaps we should keep some crows around for cognitive support during last call?

Speaking of smart, it’s not fair that a group of crows got coined a “murder” from some fifteenth century quick-wits. Consider the other archaic group names: an ostentation of peacocks, a turn of turtles, a shiver of sharks, a smack of jellyfish, a pandemonium of parrots, or a knot of frogs. At least a potation of polynesiacs makes perfect sense.

Susan agrees that crows get a bad rap. She has loved crows as long as she’s loved tiki. When she was younger, Susan rescued injured crows from her cat. She’d doctor up their claws or immobilize their broken wings and give them time to heal. She became so good at it that she developed at-home methods to test when a crow would be ready to return to the wild. She’d set up an old bicycle pump, pull the handle up to the top position, and gingerly place the crow on it. Once there, the handle would slowly descend given the corvid’s slight weight. If the bird flew, she knew it was time to set it free. If it didn’t, the bird got some wing aerobics in for that day. It normally took about a week. During rehab, the crows didn’t seem to mind living in the garage rent-free with a steady diet of unsalted crackers, watermelon, tomatoes, or bread crumbs.

Knowing this history, it’s no surprise that Susan and Michael’s home bar is named The Crow’s Nest Lounge. It’s a place where smart birds gather to temporarily dull their wits, and Michael’s just the guy to effectively assist with this treasured transition. Our collective conversation that evening was cacophonous, much like a gathering of crows. Jim (aka Gone Tiki, an amazing tiki carver and close friend) was sharing pictures of his beautiful and bizarre moon-faced creations and his giant Ku carving at the Devil’s Reef, while Ray (aka Tiki with Ray) was asking me to find the “holy grail” of tiki mugs (it’s an inside joke…), and Susan was pointing out her Dawn Frasier Moodxotica original painting and multiple Bosko carvings. I was listening intently and asking a sporadic question while staring at the corner tiki. The carving was a beauty by Jim dubbed King Crow that holds a smaller tiki called Cameron Crow(e). As we chatted, Michael mixed his own cocktail creation, the “Crow’s Nest Mai Tai,” a blend of the classic 1944 recipe with a nod to the Hawaiian version of the same name. Using a rum combo, including Appleton 12, he added a bit of Plantation Pineapple and substituted coconut rock candy syrup to balance the sweetness. The result was delectable.

Susan is originally from Garden Grove, California. She’s always lived with tiki in her peripheral vision and polynesiacs in her family. She’s Big Al’s cousin. In addition to being a frequent patron of Sam’s Seafood (which later became a Don the Beachcomber’s location), she would often take ski trips up to Reno and visit Top of the Wheel at Harvey’s Lake Tahoe and Trader Dick’s in the Nugget. Trader Dick’s was one of only a few places that, when you bought an eight dollar drink, the mug came with. Apparently, you could even get a beachcomber hat with the Cha Cha cocktail. Later on, Susan and Michael lived right down the road in Gardnerville, Nevada for several years, and the visits became more frequent. After three decades of visits and a sizable collection of mugs, they were present on that sad, final night in February of 2014 when Trader Dick’s closed to become Gilley’s Saloon, a country-western nightclub. There is a bright spot, though. Two artifacts from Trader Dick’s now have a safe, second home at The Crow’s Nest Lounge.

I’m grateful Susan is still making friends with her backyard crows, other tiki folks, and wayfaring strangers like me. I may have not had a broken wing during my visit, but I’m thankful I got to perch on that bar stool for a night of rehab to prepare me for my flight back home.

Joey’s way cooler.

“Nothing says class like a monkey with a fez.”

This axiom is Stephen’s creed. The quip has even been written on his birthday cake. But, the original utterance was a retort to Heidi’s question “why the hell are you buying all this monkey with fez stuff?” To Stephen, the answer was obvious. The fezzed primate is the perfect lowbrow ambassador for the Rockin’ Jellyfish Lounge, his Pan-Pacific Pop Surrealist home bar.

What is Pan-Pacific Pop Surrealism? I asked the same question. I was familiar with the concept of Polynesian Pop. I even had a sense of Surrealism in art, but this was my first saunter into a Pan-Pacific Pop Surrealist setting. What should I expect?

Stephen gladly explained. Although he loves the classic tiki style, Stephen wanted his home bar to include art and carvings from additional places that bordered the Pacific, including South America, the Pacific Northwest, Central America, as well as Asia. Hence, the scope of his collection is wider than Polynesian. It’s Pan-Pacific. This latitude, combined with his love of low-brow art and surrealism – inspired by the collections at La Luz de Jesus Gallery (where the Art of Tiki show was held in 1996) – defines the look and feel for his Rockin’ Jellyfish Lounge. Well, that, plus he’s got actual mid-mod rocking chairs to lend authenticity to lounge’s name.

Stephen is not the first to contemplate a Pan-Pacific view of art and culture. In fact, obtaining a limited-edition print of Miguel Covarrubias’ Pageant of the Pacific: Art and Culture mural inspired Stephen to become as knowledgeable as a docent on the artwork. Stephen owns a set of the original 1940s era prints and loves to encourage others to learn more about its influence and origin.

Miguel Covarrubias was commissioned in 1939 to create six large murals for the Golden Gate International Exposition to be held on the recently constructed Treasure Island in San Francisco. The six murals were oversized, finely-illustrated maps of the Pacific featuring art, flora, fauna, people, economy, dwellings, and transportation. Take one look, and you’ll see exquisite examples of how Covarrubias’ Art and Culture mural included images of tikis, totems, and other indigenous carvings from cultures throughout the Pacific. In addition to being an accomplished muralist, Covarrubias was an ethnographer known for his studies of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican art, Olmec culture, the Islands of Bali, as well as a caricature artist of jazz personalities during the Harlem Renaissance.

Speaking of renaissance men, it’s apparent that Stephen is one as well. An aerospace-lawyer-docent-journalist by day, Stephen also knows how to mix an expert cocktail and is a regular guru on Tiki with Ray episodes. I was happy to sample his “Cobra Got Punchy,” a combination of six rums including Rum Fire, Doctor Bird, Kiyomi Japanese rum (that he said tastes more like cachaça), as well as some funky step-children rums (that he didn’t know what to do with). The drink claims the ideal sweet/sour spot between a Cobra’s Fang and a POG (passionfruit-orange-guava). As I sipped on my tasty adult beverage, I also heard Stephen’s lore of the three poor drinks — trying to replicate the great Tiki Ti’s Ray’s Mistake — that, when combined, became his once-in-a-lifetime drink. Sadly, he didn’t write down the recipe as he was making it and has yet to successfully recreate that perfect mix. Happily, Stephen saved the recipe for his “Stripper’s Mistake” also a nod to Ray’s Mistake and to the Strip-and-Go-Naked (a tiki drink with beer), which Stephen considers a success.

By the way, it’s clear there is only one thing cooler than a monkey in a fez. It’s Joey, Stephen and Heidi’s Cavoodle. Check out the Nour Noir painting of Joey wearing a fez and pawing a tiki mug. It’s on display in the lounge. Joey’s a high-class, low-brow, up-in-your face, sweet-as-can-be canine with surrealist puppy dog eyes for days.

You can agree with me, right? Joey’s way cooler. It’s ok. I won’t tell the monkey.

In between the geoduck and geocaching, you’ll find the smudge.

“It’s ninety percent her fault.”

Mark looked directly at Debbie as if to place responsibility for their extensive collection on her shoulders. I assumed the other ten percent had to be attributed to that time when Mark brought a tiki carving back from Tonga in 1978. Plus, Mark is the proprietor of the Fuzzy Smudge, their home tiki bar. Mark was giving me a house tour while Ray (Tiki with Ray!) kept Debbie company. She was putting the finishing touches on lunch, and chimed in from the kitchen.

“I started collecting Hawaiiana, and it blew up from there.”

Debbie is a collector by nature. She always has been. Her compilation of hawaiiana, tiki, classic horror, pin-up, sci-fi, taxidermy, and other wonderful oddities is impressive. From the souvenir pillows and flamingoes in the sunroom to the Betty Page figurines in the bedroom or the Moai-mosaic shower (designed and hand-tiled by her) in the master bath, every room in the house has multiple items to evoke wonder. What did I think was the most odd of the oddities? There’s a taxidermy geoduck. What’s that? A geoduck is the largest burrowing clam and one of the longest living species in the world. They can live up to 140 years.

Ray and I were excited to be there. We’d been invited over for a home-cooked Sunday lunch. As we enjoyed coconut cake for dessert, Debbie and Mark regaled us with stories of their four trips to Hawaii. The first expedition was on their tenth wedding anniversary. To prepare, Debbie read every single book on Hawaii from the local public library, made lists of what to see, and checked them off by including each stop in the itinerary. She was determined to get her money’s worth. By their fourth trip, they decided that they wanted to cruise to the islands rather than fly.

“It was just about as much fun as watching paint dry.”

Mark’s opinion of the cruise wasn’t exactly sunny. Although it was a great once they got to Hawaii, it took seven days on sea to get to the islands and seven days back, which made for much too much down time. To make things worse, the cruise line they had chosen was catering to an older, less active crowd. As if to prove the point, they found themselves reprimanded for being too rowdy while putting together a puzzle. From that point forward, they decided that if they ever cruised to Hawaii again, it would be on a cruise line that doesn’t cater to – in Mark’s words – the old and nearly dead.

Regardless, Debbie remained enthralled: “I just love the whole aura of Hawaii.”

Although Hawaiian souvenirs and artifacts are quite at home in tiki environments, “tiki” and “hawaiiana” are two distinct styles. What’s the difference? As we talked, Ray provided his definition to assist: “Tiki is a imagined vision of the South Pacific which borrows from all the islands of the South Pacific, including the orient, whereas Hawaiiana is literally just items and images from the islands of Hawaii like hula girls, tikis, and souvenirs that feature the islands of Hawaii.”

You might then ask the obvious. With all the aloha flowing around their home, how did Mark and Debbie’s bar get named the Fuzzy Smudge?

When they bought the house many years back, they found a spot in the shop that contained nothing more than a leftover smudge of fur and grease. An oddity in its own right, they decided to stanchion it off for awhile and allow private viewings for special friends. Debbie thought it might be the remains of a wombat, but Mark refuted her geographically inaccurate theory. As headmaster of his domain, he proclaimed it to be the last remaining smudge of a bygone squirrel. Once the spot was christened, it only seemed natural to name their tiki bar the same. There’s even a Fuzzy Smudge tiki mug, which I was lucky to score as a gracious gift.

“We do whatever we want, whenever it tickles our fancy.”

Mark’s words resonated with what I saw. I remembered the taxidermy geoduck and beautiful vintage leis from upstairs. In the Fuzzy Smudge before me, I gazed at a toothless shark, various tikis, girly mugs, a collection of more than 2,000 geocaching coins, a batman lampshade, an extensive collection of vintage menus, and a plaque with the vestiges of fuzz proudly displayed.

As I took it all in, I celebrated that Mark and Debbie do exactly what tickles their fancy.

For a brief moment, I was the Quiet Birdman’s brother.

“Are you LeRoy’s brother?”

Although I could tell that Orlando was joking, it was a huge compliment nonetheless. To be told I might resemble LeRoy Schmaltz, co-founder of Oceanic Arts is a huge compliment. LeRoy has well-documented shirtless and bearded swagger, and is likely the most prolific tiki carver of our time.

“I used to show up here and make Q.B’s for Bob and LeRoy in the afternoon.”

Apparently, although Orlando never worked at OA, he’d come and act as bartender to the men for many years. With rum and ingredients in hand, he’d mix up a batch of Q.B. Coolers – the Don the Beachcomer drink with a Mai Tai mystery past – and provide the crew an end-of-day distraction from the never ending carving demands and shipping orders. The drink seemed a fitting choice, given the name. Q.B. stands for “Quiet Birdmen,” a reference to the fraternity of aviators from the first World War. Orlando, LeRoy, Bob, and the crew seemed to have created their own fraternity over drinks at Oceanic Arts. Who wouldn’t have wanted an invitation to the Q.B. gathering for one of those afternoons?

“Bob didn’t like me showing up too early, but he’d eventually join us at the table.”

Orlando had come to the Oceanic Arts farewell event to say goodbye to a place he called a second home for many years. Decked out in his beachcomber hat, aloha shirt, and multiple tiki pendants, he showed me one of his prize possessions, a beautiful ceramic flask in the shape of a huge shark tooth. Orlando held it out for me to take. I held it gingerly, worried of the unforgiving cement floors of the warehouse below us, admired it, and gave it back. Orlando placed it in the leather holster for safekeeping, and I felt honored to have been trusted for a brief moment with his treasure.

I could see how drinking with Orlando would put a man at ease. Within a span of a few minutes, and despite my nerves for the presentation I was about to give, he treated me like a friend. He took me on a quick tour to show me some of his favorite carvings, noting that if he had the money, he’d want another one of Bob’s New Guinea masks to complement the intricately painted war club that Bob had done for him years ago. I told him about my home tiki adventures, and he was genuinely excited to hear about my travels. After a spell, I thanked him for his kindness, and made my way to the outdoor stage to prepare for my talk.

Within a few minutes, Orlando had found me again. But in this encounter, he had a new home tiki bar owner in tow. He wanted to connect the two of us to talk, and was so excited that he’d rushed out and kindly insisted that we meet. He introduced us, we started talking, but the homeowner began with sad news.

“Orlando just broke his prized flask.”

In his excitement, Orlando had quickly gotten up from his seat. When he rose, the flask fell out of its leather harness and onto the floor. What I had held only moments before was now in pieces.

Sadly, it seemed connected to the ethos of the evening. Here we found ourselves in a place that held so much history, so much creativity, so much excitement, and so much fraternity. Soon this hallowed place, like the flask, would never be the same.

Sometimes you want to hold your breath and make the world stop spinning just long enough to take it all in before it slips away. I’m still holding my breath.

I’m in the mood for phthalocyanine.

If tiki were to adopt official colors, I’d nominate Phthalo blue and Phthalo green and include every luxurious and exotic shade in between.

Dawn is the undefeated champion of Phthalo colors. She has spent her career crafting alluring works of art using the juicy watercolor and acrylic tints of copper phthalocyanine (CuPc). Take one look at her Moodxotica paintings, and you’ll fall deep into a pool of intense blues and greens surrounded by a tropical paradise. Or, wrap yourself in one of Sophista-tiki’s designed fabrics or aloha shirts, and you’ll feel immediately at peace in any mid-mod affair. With degrees in color theory and graphic design (pre-computers) as well as a masters in museum studies, she is a hue maven.

“I like Phthalo colors because all other blue and green pigments have white in them. Phthalo colors are really pure. You get so much depth and translucence. I want to live in the worlds they create.” When another artist scolded her, telling her she’d never be able to paint for long periods of time using just these blues and greens, Dawn’s response was “watch me!”

Dawn, like many of us, was taught early on to be afraid of intense color. Growing up in a world of beige, she remembers people commenting on her preference for colorful clothing. “Is it a special occasion?” “You’re wearing something loud!” “Are you going to a party?” Good thing she conquered that fear. Today, she continues to go bolder and bolder with color. It’s highly likely you’ll find her looking at paint chips for pure delight.

When Dawn invited me to visit the Bamboo Grove at Westwood, I knew the visit would color me tiki. It’s not one or two rooms, it’s a polychromatic paradise. Built in 1954, the Bamboo Grove feels 70s groovy. The look is inspired by her teenage years, when she was surrounded by art nouveaux mixed with a hippie vibe. The Bamboo Grove’s mid-century modern furnishings, Sophista-tiki shag rugs, Moodxotica paintings, vintage vinyl, and hand-carved tikis harmoniously come together in every room in the house. Dawn has done all the interior design and renovation work herself. She knows how to restore antiques. She’s not afraid to use her construction skills to fix what needs to be repaired. She grew up in Montana where her parents were always fixing something around the house. And, as a woman who was into tiki even before the renaissance of the 90s, she knows a thing or two about the tiki life.

Her current project? Although there’s always twenty or more art projects happening simultaneously in her home studio, Dawn and her kitties revealed a newly remodeled downstairs apartment decorated in a chinoiserie-tiki style. The contrast of the Chinese red lamp shades mixed with the black glossy embellishments and beautiful blues are sumptuous. The quite familiar painting of Monika Sing-Lee served as an anchor to the room.

That’s when it struck me. Dawn’s mastery of color could make even Tretchikoff’s Green Lady blush with envy.