This router is just right!

Every bar needs a story.

Kim asserted this truism as a matter of fact as she poured the six of us a grog. The rains had finally taken a break, and the recent floodwaters had subsided. Mixed with the sounds of Delstroyers surf and the Kentiki Jungle Box bird calls, I could hear the lapping of the waves against the boathouse walls and feel a gentle rocking as the hideaway floated on the lake. We settled in for story time.

Once upon a time, there were three headhunters that lived in a boathouse on Summit Lake near Olympia, Washington. There was Papua headhunter, Mama Vic headhunter, and Baby Doe headhunter.

One morning, the three decided to head out on a tiki bar expedition. With so many offerings in the Pacific Northwest, they’d be gone for days. While they were out, a couple of enthusiastic tiki folks – Kim and Mark – discovered the hidden boathouse. The adventurers had been to several public tiki establishments and needed a permanent place to hang their heads. They knocked on the door, and when no one answered, stumbled inside.

On the table, they saw three freshly crafted cocktails: a Mai Tai, a Honey Nut Glazed Punch, and a Patton’s Grog. They were quite thirsty and figured it’d be ok to taste a sip of each. When Kim tasted the elixir from the first tiki mug, it was clear the headhunters had made it too tart, so she adjusted up the sweet. Mark tasted some from the second tiki mug, but it was too sweet, so he added a little sour and a float of overproof Rum Fire. Then they tasted the third grog, and it was just right! It was so delicious they drank it all.

Kim noticed the headhunters had some routers in the boathouse shop and felt the sudden urge to create an entire set of intricately freehand-carved trim in less than three days. She thought it would frame up the hut quite nicely. She designed a pattern, made photocopies, traced them with carbon paper onto the wood, and plugged in the router to get started. Sadly, the first router was too big! She couldn’t see anything she was carving. The second router too small and hard to control. To make matters worse, she had a blow out. So, she headed out to the local bamboo shack and procured a third one, and it was just right! She started carving, burning, and staining and didn’t sit down until the entire hideaway was decked out – bow to stern and port to aft.

Mark admired the collection of Papua New Guinea headhunter’s masks. The first mask was just perfect. The second mask was just perfect. And the third one was too! When he asked Kim which one they’d save if the hideaway flooded, Kim got confounded and said – “All of them!” Mark was more practical and suggested the one closest to the door, but Kim would have none of that. She loved the eyes of every mask. It was definitely her aesthetic. In fact, she was so enamored by the carvings that she called up Tiki Tony and asked him to create a home bar sign inspired by the collection. Tiki Tony took a few pictures of the masks, came up with a design that honored their travels to Adventureland, and the Headhunter’s Hideaway was aptly charted.

A short time later, the three headhunters came back from their tiki expedition. They saw at once that someone had been inside. Papua headhunter looked at his collection and said, “Somebody has been admiring the ceremonial masks!” Mark responded, “I did, and they are all awesome!” Mama Vic headhunter said, “Somebody has been using my router!” Kim responded – “I did! Doesn’t the trim look fabulous?” Baby Doe headhunter said, “Somebody has been drinking my tiki, and it’s all gone!” Kim and Mark answered in unison this time – “Yes! We drank all three! Want another?”

They enjoyed a good laugh together and started squeezing white grapefruits for another round. All was well in the jungle, and Kim, Mark, and the three headhunters cohabitated peacefully in the hideaway happily ever after.

As Kim drew the story of the Headhunters Hideaway to a close, I was suddenly feeling a little uneasy about losing my head. No, it wasn’t the alcohol. I had to admit, I’d never shared space with three headhunters before. I found myself sitting a bit nervous between Mama Vic and Baby Doe on the bamboo lounger as they sipped quietly and stared intently at my neck.

Kim immediately offered another grog to take the edge off. As the rum soaked in, she reminded me of their family motto: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

The Dao of Aka.

The Chinese Village has quite a nice afterlife at the RiKa Tiki Reef.

It seems quite yin-yang to me. Childhood meals at elaborately decorated mid-century Chinese-American restaurants inspired many grown-ups to become home tiki bar enthusiasts. It’s fitting that the bamboo from yesterday’s temples should live on in today’s tiki residences. The Daoist circle is complete. Balance is restored. The chi (energy) migrates from one immersive environment to the next.

Lest you believe it was all quite serene and spiritual, Katrina and Rich will quickly confess that the migration didn’t come without backbreaking work. When they lucked into finding the 82nd Street restaurant’s bamboo at Hippo Hardware for only $100 (OMG!), the set included intact panels, dark red from years of nicotine, covered in dirt. Why had it been ripped out? When the City of Portland went non-smoking for all public restaurants, the Chinese Village decided to start fresh. Hippo Hardware had sequestered the smelly sticks to the basement and wanted to get rid of it. The red tar did not dissuade Katrina or Rich, so they packed the panels on top of their Durango, and headed for home. After a multitude of good scrubs and repairs, the bamboo now forms a stunning foundation for their subtropical hideaway.

The RiKa Tiki Reef gets its creative name from the first two letters of Rich (Ri) and Katrina’s (Ka) first names. Add Tiki – of course – and alliterate with Reef, and the name rolls off the tongue. Situated in the basement of their 1950 mid-century home, the Reef was first inspired by their honeymoon trip to Maui, but soon became influenced by their fathers’ and grandfathers’ military life experiences in Hawaii and the South Pacific. Rich’s grandpa even had a basement home tiki bar in Missouri back in the 60s, decorated with a fake palm tree. Katrina has populated the Reef with an splendid collection of mugs, carvings, nautical details, surfboards, and sentimental items from their parents, family and friends. Every item tells a story.

For the longest time, Katrina and Rich thought their tiki bar obsession was rare. It wasn’t until years after starting that they realized they weren’t the only “crazy people” who built home tiki bars. After connecting to other locals at Tiki Kon, they found their people, and the RiKa Tiki Reef now has the honor of being a coveted stop on conference’s home tiki bar itinerary.

Rich’s design of their space expertly creates the illusion that you’ve been shipwrecked on a isle. On one side you’ll find the Captain’s Quarters Bar, crafted from what appears to be the wooden remains of a ship’s galley. On the other side, you’ll sit under a thatched roof in a tiki hut and sip drinks in the glow of a titian orange sunset. In the corner, you’ll likely find Aka, the cat curled up on the director’s chair, purring to the rhythmic sounds of exotica.

Inspired by all that Rich and Katrina had created at the Reef, I resolved to be just like Aka when I transition – but with one of Rich’s pineapple daquiris in my paw. I like my yin with a good measure of yang.

Uncle Cliff and the Temple of Deceit

“Mister, mister! Come here. I found relic in temple.”

It was 1950. At an ancient Mesoamerican temple in the Yucatan, a kid was holding a small idol fashioned from stone. He had just emerged from the base of a Mayan pyramid covered in dust, parched, and a bit out of breath. Uncle Cliff approached with caution and intrigue.

“I sell to you. $20 dollar.”

Could it be legit? Uncle Cliff decided it was worth the risk, produced the cash, and the idol found a new owner. Uncle Cliff was now a jet-setter travel agent with an ancient relic. He imagined telling the story to his friend Bugsy Siegel when he got back to Vegas. It would only clinch his reputation as a worldly ladies man. Beaming, he began his descent to the village when he happened to notice a tent with wares at the entrance to the temple. Curious, he made his way over, where his short-lived dreams of notoriety were dashed.

His one-of-a kind Mayan idol had 100 identical twins. It was a cheap souvenir. The savvy mid-century archeologist had tumbled into a tourist trap.

You can still visit that little idol. Half a century later, you’ll find he’s taken up residence at the Cosmos Lounge, Chris and Tanya’s home tiki bar in Salem, Oregon. Uncle Cliff’s treasure hunt inspired Chris’ early love of mysterious idols, so it’s the perfect habitat for a tiny stone god. He’s equally at home with Chris’s geocaching treasures as well as Tanya’s seamstress creations.

The Cosmos Lounge is otherworldly. It’s a nook where underwater meets outer space. Located in the basement of their 1920s home, the lounge is anchored by a bamboo bar, a pool table, and a surf board chandelier. If you take a closer look, you might find a few hidden surprises as well. The Millennium Falcon flies around the subterranean jungle vines, and monsters live above the surfboard.

As Tanya was mixing us a lemon and bourbon-based tiki concoction, the sudden sound of rushing water filled the room. Chris smiled at me and wailed, “wipe out!” in his best Ventures voice. I quickly learned that water, in its various forms, is an ever present element in the Cosmos. In addition to the occasional septic sensations from the house above, the possibility of an occasional flood in the basement is an important planning consideration when you live in the Pacific Northwest. Everything in the Cosmos Lounge is mobile. It better roll, float, or drift when the rain gods get pissed.

Chris and Tanya shrug it off. Their motto is “embrace the worst.” It’s just another karmic day in the Cosmos. Tanya finished mixing the cocktail, which she baptized “the Sump Pump” with a touch of humor. The three of us laughed and raised our glasses to toast.

To Uncle Cliff and the Temple of Deceit! (… and please no more rain).

‘Til tiki do us drop.

In sickness and in health, to love and cherish, ’til tiki do us drop.

I could swear that phrase might have been an alternate wedding vow for Heather and Don. In the past two years, they have completely built three (yes, I said three) home tiki bars and a tiki bedroom in their 1970s house in Happy Valley, Oregon. I had lucked into a three-for-one. The Uncharted Waters, the Backside of Waters, and the Hula Hideaway can be visited by simply moving from one part of their house to the next. Together with the tiki bedroom, they form the Waters House of Tiki. Even more amazing than the short time frame involved, the work on these three spaces was accomplished in moments of sickness and in health.

Don had just been admitted to the Emergency Room when Heather saw a message from a tiki friend. Keith was selling a significant stash of beautiful bamboo that would be perfect for Hula Hideaway. Heather didn’t want to lose the opportunity, so she called him back immediately:

“I really want your bamboo. My husband is in the ER and might be dying, but I really want that bamboo.”

You might guess the outcome. Heather got that bamboo, and Don survived. Later, when Keith saw the completed bar a mere two months after the purchase, he flipped off Heather, and exclaimed there was “no freakin’ way” they had done this so fast. Yet, they did. They worked on that install through thick and thin. And, it wouldn’t be the last time that there was a quandary involving tiki procurement and healthy living choices.

Heather saw a post for a beautiful set of vintage rattan lounge chairs from a woman about three hours north. It was a urgent sale. The woman was putting up the set piece by piece, and Heather was in a panic. She wanted the entire lot. If Heather didn’t jump on it immediately, she might lose her chance. She called the woman, bought the set, phoned Don at work, told him to rent a truck like it was yesterday, and mapped the six hour roundtrip. It would take both of them to lift this heavy furniture.

It might be important to mention that as this was all happening, Don was experiencing swelling and pain in his legs. Don is stoic when it comes to pain, so he didn’t mention it. He complied, but couldn’t find the right truck for the job. He needed a Sprinter for adequate leg room, but none were available that day. So, he rented the best truck he could find, and they headed out.

Two exits into their trip, Don started to cry. Now, let’s be clear. Don is not a crying kind of guy, but his legs were giving him so much pain that tears spontaneously erupted. He couldn’t sit in this truck without bumping the steering wheel, so it was agonizing in more ways than one. Heather noticed and asked what’s going on:

“I can’t do this. I seriously can’t do three hours of driving.”

They turned back, dropped Don off, and Heather drove to Washington on her own. You know that scene where the momma is filled with endorphins and lifts an entire car to save her baby? That’s Heather. She hauled that entire set of heavy rattan furniture into that truck and made it home, no looking back. The furniture now sits re-covered (in a beautiful Sophistatiki fabric) in the Hula Hideaway. There is no trace of its troubled transport history. Moreover, Don and Heather tell these stories with infectious laughter and healthy gusto.

How did they outfit three home tiki bars in two years? Heather is the huntress of thrifting deals. On her lunch hour she would hit two or three vintage stores. After work she would do the same. No lingering or long visits were required. It would be a quick trip to scan for anything new. Once she established her reputation as the “tiki lady,” store clerks started to save things for her. Two years later, the collection she has pulled together is phenomenal. According to Don, they still have enough in their garage to build a fourth tiki bar at the house. I bet they will.

Why not? There’s got to be a place for the stuffed hyena.

Over here we have three toucans.

I went to get a drink from the tiki bowl and had to queue behind a Jungle Cruise skipper, a creepy monkey, an Elvis impersonator, and three toucans. I thought to myself …

This is a really funny punchline.

Keith is a Jungle Cruise skipper turned Elvis impersonator. Sissy grew up with a grandfather who told stories of military service days in Hawaii. Keith remembers flirting with the dancers of the Tahitian Terrace. A native – and often cold and wet – Oregonian, Sissy grew up dreaming of the warmer climes of the South Pacific. With all of these influences, the couple feels quite at home with a creepy monkey and three toucans in the Enchanted Jungle Room, their home tiki bar. As you might deduce, the Enchanted Jungle Room pays tribute to two tiki influences, the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland and Elvis’ Jungle Room at Graceland. You’ll find shag carpets like those from Graceland. You’ll notice toucans that might start singing at any moment. You’ll see an impressive collection of black velvet paintings including (of course) an Elvis. You’ll sit in booths from the (now gone) Trader Vics of Portland and admire tikis from Thatch Tiki Bar (the predecessor of the world-famous Hale Pele). You’ll catch a sparkle from rhinestone Elvis capes and belts. You’ll notice a stone wall that looks suspiciously reminiscent of the back side of water at Schweitzer Falls. All together, the vibe is perfect for Sissy and Keith’s 1950s home escape.

As we toured the Enchanted Jungle Room, I stopped at the glass case with the sign “Break in case of hippo attack!” and felt the sudden urge for puns. In case you don’t know, I love puns. Give me a dad joke any day. I will laugh loudly and inappropriately at the worst of them. And, I knew that a former Jungle Cruise Skipper would have a few up his sleeve. I didn’t think that Keith could up that ante, but he did. What would be better? Forbidden puns. I was beguiled when Keith starting sharing his favorite taboo puns. These were the one-liners that Disney would not allow him or other skippers to tell on the ride:

Over here we have three toucans. Y’all know what toucan plus toucan plus toucan makes? …. A six pack.

Oh, my. Scandalous. It suggested a six-pack of alcohol. Taboo.

And over here we have the African Bull Elephant, the second most feared creature in the jungle. On the other side, we have the first-most feared creature, his mother-in-law.

We don’t want to frustrate the mom-in-laws in the crowd. Taboo too.

Or, was it? Back in the day, when Keith was unloading his boat, a mother-in-law got close to Keith and called him out: “You did not do the mother-in-law joke. I’m very upset.” Keith quickly responded: “Ma’am, please, my name is Keith. Go to City Hall. Complain that I did not do the mother-in-law joke. We love the mother-in-law joke. We want it back. If you complain, it might just come back.”

Apparently, mother-in-laws rule. I understand that it’s ok to joke again about mother-in-laws at Disneyland.

I was also surprised to learn that Keith is not a fan of rum. He’s a tequila and bourbon kind of guy, and he makes an amazing margarita using top shelf tequila. He served me one in an Enchanted Jungle Room glass commissioned and designed by Tony Canepa. As I took a closer look, Keith pointed out the design elements on the glass including the background from Elvis’ Aloha from Hawaii, Sweitzer Falls, three toucans, a creepy monkey, and lighting bolts from Elvis’ “TCB” logo, (taking care of business).

I took one sip, grinned, and resisted the urge to respond with “thank you, thank you very much.”

Fortunato escapes the Lalotai.

Librarians love literary tiki mugs.

Sometimes tiki mugs resonate with an unexpected crowd. Jonathan and Allison have seen it happen. When librarians see their Cask of Amontillado mug, they quickly make the short-story connection, let out an oh-so-restrained glee, ooooh and aaaah a bit, and make a quick purchase. Once the mug makes it home, the hope is that it will hold tasty elixirs, not pencils or vengeful poisonings. Nonetheless, it’s a fun moment for Jonathan and Allison, who designed and produced the mug out of a love of classic horror literature combined with tiki.

Cthulhu was the inspiration for Jonathan’s first tiki mug design. To say it was an instant success would be an understatement. Truth is, Jonathan just wanted to create a cool mug for his home bar out of his own pocket. Allison, being the business-minded partner that every artist needs in their life, demurred. To compromise, they decided to try it as a community effort. It was the perfect way to move forward. Jonathan designed the prototype and found a sculptor. Having recently helped a friend do a campaign on this new thing called Kickstarter, the pair created a project to fund the startup costs. The day the campaign was launched, they expected a slow beginning, so they put it up online and headed off to the movies. Two hours later, when the phone ringers were turned back on, there were too many pings to count. Within that short timespan, the project was funded. $15,000 had been raised, and this figure would eventually rise to almost $80,000. Clearly, there was a thirst for combining horror and tiki out there, and Jonathan and Allison had quenched that blood-thirsty lust. Horror in Clay was born.

When Jonathan and Allison go into something, they go in fearless, and they go big. After successfully expanding into tiki glassware as well as continuing with seven more mugs (to date), they sought a way to bring the local tiki community together to learn and celebrate. After partying with friends and customers at their respective home tiki bars, Jonathan and Allison organized a home bar tour around Atlanta. The first Inuhele -“cocktail journey”- was a huge success. Based on this success and inspired by years of fun attending Dragon Con, friends quipped that the couple should start a tiki con. It didn’t take long to turn that casual suggestion into a reality. After securing a hotel, deciding on a venue, energizing a team of dedicated volunteers, and pairing the con with a new home bar tour to accompany the event, Inuhele: Atlanta’s Tiki Weekend was created.

I was an eyewitness. Jonathan and Allison’s Inuhele Weekend was my first tiki conference, and it holds a place of honor in my heart. In addition to the amazing people I met, the wealth of information I learned, and the skills I developed, Inuhele connected me to my own home tiki community. As such, you can imagine I felt quite fortunate to get the opportunity to visit Jonathan and Allison’s home tiki bar: Lalotai, Den of Monsters at Horror in Clay’s World Headquarters. Yes, it’s their family’s hideaway, but it’s also the place where mugs get boxed, décor for Inuhele gets built, or a sundry of other Horror in Clay business gets conducted.

Speaking of feeling “fortunate,” the parallels of my experience and the story found in Edgar Allen Poe’s Cask of Amontillado did not occur to me until much later. Here I was, quite like Fortunato, sipping on one of Allison’s elixirs in a subterranean hideaway, being led around by Jonathan, a master of horror, to observe macabre oddities. Slowly, I was becoming intoxicated and could have easily found myself chained to a tiki, completely unaware.

Yet, my camera, my recorder, and I made it out safe and happy. Anyone who knows them knows that Jonathan and Allison are not the vengeful type. In fact, they are the perfect examples of aloha. Otherwise, I might have found myself walled into a home tiki bar.

It would be a likely and appropriate demise for me. Someday, it will happen when I least expect it.

Create an army of tikis!

Will and his friend jumped off their bikes and ran toward the Mai Kai. It wasn’t long before the manager yelled at them to stop climbing on the tikis.

The year was 1966. The Mai Kai was a decade old. The Federal Highway was a two lane road, and the gardens extended from the tiki palace out to the street. The outrigger canoe and featherstone tikis welcomed guests in the front yard. Will was nine years old, living just a few blocks away with his parents. His family, like many others, were Jersey transplants. For Will, it was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with tikis at the Mai Kai.

One of Will’s first jobs was to replenish the cigarette machines in the reception area. The Mai Kai was a smoking place in more ways than one, so Will was there twice a week to keep the machine full. By the early 80s, Will struck a deal with “Mr. Mattei” (Kern Mattei Sr., the general manager) to install Will’s own exclusive cigarette machine. This one would remain in operation for forty plus years. In fact, those that know the Mai Kai well might remember where it used to be – on the wall next to the phone booth on the way to the gift shop. Week after week, Will would fill the machine, chat up the staff, and enjoy a routine trip to paradise.

A few years later, Will took up carving. He’d become fascinated by the many amazing tikis around Mai Kai, and wanted to try his hand at the craft. He reached out to Benzart to learn carving and quickly became his mentee. When you meet Will, you’ll learn he’s not shy. He tells a good yarn. On his next trip to restock the machines, he talked to Hazel at the Mai Kai gift shop.

“Hey Hazel! I’m carving tikis!”

Hazel was quick to respond. “Why don’t you bring one in?” Will brought in two. And when he came back a week later, they were gone. Turns out, the Mai Kai bought his work rather than selling them to their guests. Over time, the existing tikis were disintegrating and replacements were needed. These two tikis would be the first of many.

Next, Will was told that there were several rubber molds of the original tikis in the gardens stored in the warehouse. The original tikis had been created by carvers, likely Barney West, based on photographs by Friedrich Hewicker found in the 1954 book Oceanic Art. Will asked permission to take a mold home to make a tiki, but it took a year to convince the Mai Kai to make that happen. After getting the right 1-2-3 mix (1 part cement, 2 parts sand, a little less that 3 parts of gravel to get fine details), he cast the tiki, painted it, and brought it in. Over the next 10 – 15 years, Will would methodically check out each of the molds, produce the tiki or war club or paddle of that one mold, and bring them back. Over time, he fully replenished the gardens of the Mai Kai with more than 200 tikis.

Today, Will is a prolific carver. He has taught carving at the Hukilau for the past five years. Will dreams big and carves big. When I jumped out of my truck to greet him, the first carving I saw was a behemoth. Will had recently carved a giant tiki in the likeness of Rarotonga and his three sons standing on top of a Mai Kai Rum Barrel base. Rarotonga and the tiki next to him will join the three “Barney West size” (as Will likes to call them) tikis already at the Mai Kai. He hopes Rarotonga might sit on the pedestal that once held the beloved Barney West carving when the Mai Kai opens again. As we toured his yard and home, I saw hundreds of examples of his work with wood, cement, and Royal Palm fronds. As someone who loves the Mai Kai, I felt immediately at home. Familiar tikis surrounded me.

Will has his own copy of the book Oceanic Art to use as a reference for his craft. Inside his copy, you’ll find an inscription from Sven Kirsten which reads “For Will, who made the tikis in these pages come alive again! Create an army of tikis!”

That, he did.

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.