It all started by theft.

How do you combine an obsession for industrial goth music, an appreciation for mid-century modern design, a German sensibility, a love of rat pack music, and a fascination for tiki together into one cohesive space? Ask Frank – aka DJ Hans 242 – who created the Texas Tiki Room in San Antonio.

The Texas Tiki Room sits on the 28th floor, high above the San Antonio Riverwalk. Frank mixed a rum old fashioned for me as I took in the view of the city at sunset. DJ Hans 242 readily admits that tiki might be his mid-life crisis obsession. I tended to believe it is his mid-life awakening.

Frank’s journey began with a digital theft.

Frank was hosting a backyard tiki party and wanted to pull a cool image off the net to create an invitation. Obsessed by the image he used, he later did research and learned that it was Shag’s famous “Idol” image. His love for the artist Shag took off at that point. And, Frank appears to have aptly made amends, since he’s now the proud and legal owner of seven Shag prints. The collection keeps growing.

Frank grew up in Wiesbaden, Deutschland and developed an awareness of tiki as a 6 year old through his uncle Bill’s Vietnam headhunter artifacts. Frank’s obsession grew to an outdoor tiki bar a decade ago, followed by his current mid-century modern leaning version looking over the San Antonio skyline. The Tiki Room Texas is quite the contrast from other home bars – clean lines, curated art, subtle use of natural texture, and tiki touches that come together with a Palm Springs vibe.

When DJ Hans 242 deejays for his goth and industrial shows, you can expect go-go dancers, pyrotechnics, and an occasional Sinatra song thrown in. Apparently the goth crowd has come to expect the jarring shift. They know it’s DJ Hans 242’s signature.

Apparently, it’s how he steals the show.

The Doodler abides.

Jason is the Boozy Doodler. A gifted tattooist. Black velvet painter. Menu graphic artist. Tiki cartoonist. Cocktail tinkerer. Prop master craftsman. Tiki bar glass designer. If it’s tiki, he’s doing it.

Jason and Casey Straughan invited me to stop by the Taboozy Lei, their home bar located in New Braunfels, Texas for a Jungle Bird. Once I stepped inside, I didn’t want to leave.

The bar has amazing vibe. Classic tiki. Jason and Casey’s creation has layers of collectibles, an A-frame thatch feature, beautiful large tikis, and masks from local carvers. It also features Jason’s own creations of skulls, motion activated ships in bottles, and art; as well as Casey’s touches of leopard and zebra prints to the vintage lounge furniture.

When I asked Jason how tattooing and painting black velvet were similar or different, he didn’t hesitate to answer. You can’t make a mistake. You’ve got to get right the first time. Black velvet is not forgiving, and certainly you have to get a tattoo right from the start.

It all started for Jason by getting hammered on tiki cocktails and drawing (doodling) drunk people. Jason grew up seeing the old UPA cartoon styles, and he was drawn to the jazz album styles of artists like Jim Flora and Cliff Roberts. But later, Jason and Casey’s adventures translated into a love of everything tiki. The Taboozy Lei is the third home bar for them.

Jason calls himself one of the world’s oldest juvenile delinquents. So that’s what you call him: The Boozy Doodler. That, or uh, His Doodlerness, or uh, Doodler, or El Boozy Doodlerino if your in not into that whole brevity kind of thing.

For me, the Doodler abides.

The princess has a hollow leg.

When Caroline travels to Chicago, she arrives early at Three Dots, orders her first drink, has a PuPu platter dinner, keeps the tiki cocktails coming until the crowd and music gets clubby, and walks out in a straight line.

The Three Dots and a Dash bartender took notice once, and told Caroline – you must have a hollow leg.

Caroline has a long history with tiki. She kidnapped her sorority sisters at the Kahiki when she was in college. Her graduation party was at the Kahiki. Sadly, the Kahiki (a grand tiki supper club located in Columbus, Ohio) would be demolished by the time she returned.

Friends told me that the Moai Icehouse – Caroline’s home bar – would be the palace of home tiki bars, and they were not exaggerating. Unlike most home bars built in rooms in an existing house, the Icehouse is a separate building with 23 foot ceilings designed from the ground up with the artistic expertise of Bamboo Ben, a longtime tiki acquaintance. It houses an amazing collection. Caroline has original shell and seahorse lamps from the Kahiki. She has enormous tikis and original furniture from the Chicago and Berlin Trader Vic’s procured from auctions. She has Fraternal Order of Moai memorabilia from 13 years of being a Moai. Simply put, the Moai Icehouse is a tikiphile’s dream bar.

Princess Pupule is now one of the backbones to the Fraternal of Moai (FOM). For several years, Caroline has gone above and beyond to help organize Ohana, FOM’s annual tikicon event at Lake George, NY as well as work to sustain FOM’s Foundation, which sponsors scholarships to young people from Rapa Nui to attend college. She defines how to have fun with a purpose.

And for my fellow Moai, I can assure you that Princess Pupule’s ad-visor reputation is quite intact. As I scanned the vast collection of amazing tikis, there was no Ohana sunvisor to be found. You might find many a tiny hand in an inappropriate place, though.

Need a break from the Texas heat?

Princess Pupule has plenty papayas
She loves to give them away
And all of the neighbors they say … you’ve gotta try-ya the Icehouse ok!

Je suis Formikahini.

Yma Sumac pulled Alice around the side of her table at the Hukilau and told her she had a beautiful voice. The photographers noticed the moment, flashing bulbs commenced, and Formikahini’s status as a famous exotica singer was confirmed.

Her exotica career happened by chance. Alice went to hear Clouseaux, a fourteen piece exotica band complete with a firebreather in her hometown of Houston. After the concert, she casually mentioned that if they ever needed another singer, she’d love to be considered. Just so happened that there was an opening. That next Wednesday, Alice was performing exotica.

She’s sung at Tiki Oasis in Palm Springs. She’s a voice on Voodoo III. She was a member of Hillbilly Frankenstein. She was invited to do a live performance of Voodoo – Robert Drasnin’s classic exotica recording – with members of Waitiki, the Miami Symphony, and members of Gloria Estafan’s Miami Sound Machine.

Alice may be the only tiki person around who visited the Houston Trader Vic’s (sadly, long gone) in the Shamrock (the hotel built by Glenn McCarthy, the Texas legend that was the basis for James Dean’s character in the movie Giant). In fact, her grandparents attended the hotel’s opening night.

If you hang out long enough in Alice’s Almost Always Lounge, you might also get a chance to try on Albert Gee wife’s fancy white cowboy boots, complete with leather tikis on the side. What could be more Texas tiki than a pair of tiki boots? Albert Gee was the owner of Houston’s Poly-Asian restaurants, which served tiki cocktails. Visiting the Poly-Asian West is one of her earliest memories as a child.

At the end of “Chic Alors!”, a Clouseaux song in the style of Esquivel’s Mucha Muchacha, Tomás asks (in a good French accent) “Comment vous appellez-vous?”

“What is your name, ma cherie?”
“Oh, Formica Dinette!”
“Mademoiselle Dinette? Then you are French?!”
“Mais oui, monsieur; je suis French!”

Which Alice pronounces Fray-ench.

Do you guys know anything about tiki?

Matt Pietrek and I met at Latitude 29 and were deep in discussion about his experience with writing and publishing his amazing home bar book, when the guy to my left interrupted.

I like the look you guys got going on. Do you guys know anything about tiki?

I couldn’t help myself, so I blurted out: This is Matt Pietrek! He wrote a book on tiki called Minimalist Tiki. He’s an expert!

I don’t think the guy at the bar believed me. He spent the next several minutes quizzing Matt to check his knowledge base on who he’d met, what cocktails he knew, all with a sense of suspicion. What he said next wasn’t that much of a surprise.

Minimalist Tiki sounds like an oxymoron.

I bet Matt wishes he got royalties on how many times he’s answered that question; but he calmly explained the purpose of his book – to help home tiki bartenders make sense of the complexities of rum and other common ingredients in a way that maximizes the flexibility for making tiki drinks.

Matt offered the following question as his final argument: What if I gave you $500 and told you to go buy the ingredients that would let you make the most classic recipes – would you call that … Minimalist Tiki?

I don’t think we ever convinced the guy, but I was just grateful to be sitting in the middle of that conversation – sipping on a Beachbum Berry concoction.

Just don’t forget the limes.

When Mo offered me Spam Musubi and apple crisp with whipped cream for my brunch, and Justin started talking about mixing up some Navy Grogs, I knew it was going to be a good day.

When you set foot in Justin and Mo Bird’s house, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the early 1960s. Think mid-mod oranges, olive, aqua. It’s stunning. But when Justin invites you to follow him downstairs to the Hale Manu, you’re gonna need a few minutes to take it in. The Hale Manu is phenomenal. As Justin tends to do when he visits a tiki bar, you’re gonna get a little “giddy” when you see this space.

Justin’s passion for all things tiki is evidenced with an amazing collection of Papau New Guinea art, tiki mugs, vintage exotica LPs, Witco, and more. But equally exciting is the evidence of his craftsmanship. He’s built doors and structures that rival movie sets. He’s constructed hidden doors with tiki levers, painted black velvet works of art, and stenciled tapa patterns on the walls.

Justin’s advice? When we were admiring his lighting over the bar, he asked me to note that there were no wires to be seen. A simple tip he offers is that bar owners can use roped wires – the kind used to wire pendants – to wire tiki lamps. Who doesn’t love some nautical rope additions?

Apparently, the Hale Manu also serves as an emergency shelter. Mo and Justin’s liquor storage shelves, right behind the bar, are the best spot structurally to be in the house when there’s a tornado.

So, when the emergency notifications go off, head for the Hale Manu. Just don’t forget the limes.

For how many hours?

When I arrived at the Drifter Motel and told the woman at the front door that I had a reservation, she asked me “for how many hours?”

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond.

“Oh, you’re staying at the hotel. I thought you were here for pool time.“ Apparently, the Drifter Hotel is the spot for Gen-Z sunbathing in NOLA, and she mistook me (me?) for a sun worshiper.

After I breathed a sigh of relief that this wasn’t an hour by hour hotel, I checked in and made my way past the throngs of half naked 20-somethings to relax in my poolside room before my next visit.

One of my goals for the expedition was to find lodging that gave me a visual sense of a bygone era, the roadside motel. It proved to be quite difficult to find what I remembered from my childhood. Most roadside motels have either been bought and sold to a Super 8, or turned into expensive swanky boutique motels.

The Drifter Hotel had just the right vibe. Still vintage, a little frayed at the edges, but chock full of liveliness and midmod references.

The next morning, I had the pool and the motel to myself. I was in retro heaven.

Color me mermaid.

If it’s possible to be deeply in love with a color, I am. I’ve had a passionate love affair with aqua (or turquoise or cerulean or teal) for most of my life. Any shade of that beautiful oceanic combination of blue and green will do. So, when I stepped into BlonDi (Diana) and Vance’s Mermaid Lounge, I fell in love with the color all over again.

Vance described that the most recent modification to the Mermaid Lounge was to select the best shade of blue to paint the lounge. There is no question that he chose perfectly. The combination of the aqua color, the under lights in the cabinets, and the video playing underwater ocean scenes creates the feeling that you are deep in the ocean. I kept waiting for a mermaid – perhaps MeduSirena – to swim behind the bookcase at any moment.

BlonDi, a beloved member of the Fraternal Order of Moai, is a gracious and welcoming host. When I arrived, the Mermaid Lounge and the adjoining pool were filled with friends, hearty food, and choices of cocktails. It was a joy to hear Diana exclaim “Another mermaid’s got her tail!” as guests enjoyed the gathering.

BlonDi’s advice? Let your heart be the guide of what you choose to display and how. Not every tiki bar has to be traditional. Put out the things that make your heart sing.

One thing is clear in these ocean waters … this mermaid’s heart is singing a beautiful siren song at the Mermaid Lounge.

Curiosity thrills the cat.

Kuku Canukoo – aka Chuck – has a insatiable curiosity for creating cocktails. With 103 bottles of rum, all catalogued and printed in a menu for his guests, you might say he’s serious about his rum. He’s also thrilled with the process of coming up with new tiki drink recipes based on specific flavor combinations.

When we sat down to talk about the Tangaroa Tavern, his newly completed bar located in the basement of the home he grew up in, he served us his signature bar drink: “Half a Bubble Off Plum” a delicious concoction using a mix of rums, lime, ginger liquor, plum wine, plum simple syrup, and a splash of club soda. He spent three months trying different combinations, challenged by how to best combine plum and ginger as the key flavors. When a fellow mixologist friend suggested he try plum wine – the recipe fell into place.

Chuck’s advice for those building a home bar? Paint the walls a dark color if you plan to install Lauhala or other matting on the surface. Unfortunately, he learned this the hard way and wanted others to avoid this challenge.

Chuck has a picture wall that documents his visitors to Tangaroa Tavern. Within a few minutes, Chuck served me a cocktail, took my picture, printed it, and invited me to add it to his netted wall with a tiny clothespin. It was a fun and engaging way to become a part of his bar’s history.

Jojo and Lulu – sweet sister kitties – provided feline companionship and occasional pinup models for my visit. They were curious cats indeed.

But the real curious cat is Kuku Canukoo.

And you will note, there’s a lump in my throat.

Although the Mona ‘Roa Lanai is intended to translate to House on Monroe, you’d easily think it truly means – lanai built from love.

When The Tikimen – Pat and Dwayne – first met, each had a substantial collection of tiki artifacts, including authentic Polynesian art, headhunter items, Disney, and nautical items. When they combined households, they were faced with a decision. Would they find extra storage or figure out how to display the doubled collection? I’m glad they chose the later. Their decision was the birth of the amazing space in their home called the Mona ‘Roa Lanai.

When I asked what advice The Tikimen might give to others who want to create their own lanai, Dwayne immediately offered: plan the lighting in advance. Given the complexity involved with wiring multiple lamps or considering lighting colors and schemes, the last thing you want is to install lighting after the bones and finishes of your build have been set in place.

Pat did have a lump in his throat as we talked about the items that sat around us, including a ceremonial lei from their wedding on Bora Bora, a gifted carved tiki of their recently departed and much loved golden retriever Bailey, artifacts from his family’s tiki room when he was a child, and countless other treasures.

As our enchanted evening drew to a close, Dwayne shared that he had sung the lead role of Emile in the musical South Pacific. As such, my mind couldn’t help but start singing those songs in my head as I sipped on Pat’s delicious “Tikimen Zombie.”

As the South Pacific musical lyric reminds us, love is a grand and beautiful thing. You feel it here at the Mona ‘Roa Lanai.