During a break between seasons, the Offshore podcast, an excellent long form podcast that presents stories from Hawaii, put out some smaller episodes. In November they released “The Tiki Bar“, an eye-opening exploration of the complex weirdness of the Tiki fad. Paola Mardo presented the intersection of appropriation, immigrant opportunities, pop culture and race in an immersive and insightful way. For Paola it’s part of a larger project investigating Tiki bars and that engagement with the subject is clear.
Tiki bars became wildly popular in the United States after World War II, and were at the height of their popularity when Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959.
Even though Tiki bars bars draw inspiration from many Pacific cultures, when most people think of Tiki bars they think of Hawaii.
But the tiki bar is actually a product of Hollywood, and part of a fascinating chapter in pop culture and American history.
Offshore looks at the history of tiki bars, why they’re popping up all over the country and even the world today, and finds out more about the immigrants who served up the first tiki cocktails.
For more from Paola on Tiki bars, there’s another short podcast episode, “Why Tiki? A Deep Dive into America’s Fascination with Tiki Bars, Tropical Drinks & the South Pacific” to take in, the pilot of an upcoming podcast that has a newsletter for updates.
Over the last several months, I’ve spent a lot of time around tiki bars – reading, researching, interviewing and trying everything from a Mai Tai to a Bayanihan. This is the first episode of a podcast about our fascination with the South Pacific island dream and the pop culture phenomenon of tiki bars, where race, culture, cocktails, and Hollywood collide. Click here for more on this ongoing project.
This journey started when I came across a photo of Filipinos and other people of color lined up for a movie casting call in 1929, as well as photos of Ray Buhen, a Filipino immigrant who worked at various tiki bars in Los Angeles including Don the Beachcomber, the original tiki bar that opened in 1934, and the Christian’s Hut on Catalina Island, a tropical-themed bar financed by Clark Gable to satiate cast and crew members during the filming of Mutiny on the Bounty in 1935. Buhen is also founder of the Tiki-Ti, the longest-running family-owned tiki bar in Los Angeles, the birthplace of tiki culture.