The Board of Tiki Idols Speak: What is Tiki, Dr. Bamboo?

Now, here’s why I have resisted delving into the world of Tiki until now: Among the impressions I get of doing the Tiki thing is that it is a lot of work. And as a certain semi-famous cocktail blogger will tell you, I’m all about shortcuts and stuff. So, I am cramming my Tiki exploration into one month, making for efficiencies in the process.
And since I am always into making less work for myself, I’m trying to hoodwink and bamboozle others into doing said work for me, which brings me to the:
Pegu Blog Board of Tiki Idols
These good folks are among my favorite Tiki Bloggers, either for their knowledge, their style, or both. You’ll see that they all have their own place of honor this month above the regular blogroll on the left. The first of them that I will introduce is Dr. Bamboo, the cocktailosphere’s greatest living illustrator. I put two questions to my Board of Idols, and the good Doc was first to respond with some very slapdash cogent thoughts.
Whenever I read his name, I always twist things around to hear Endora call out, Calling Dr. Bamboo! Calling Dr. Bamboo!
[Bamf!] Dr. Bamboo, what is Tiki?

To me, what epitomizes tiki (and is possibly my favorite aspect of it) is that it is unrepentantly fake. Sure, there are fundamental elements of authenticity that it draws on, but at it’s core, it’s a big, glorious casserole of tropical fantasy. Back in the 30′s a New Orleans hustler throws together random bits of memorablilia (both physical and conceptual) from his warm-climate travels simply to give his bar an edge in a competitive market…and he ends up starting a cultural movement. What’s not to love? That is American-style bootstrap ingenuity and chicanery at it’s finest, in my opinion.

I think that this is very on point. Some of our greatest cultural institutions have the same appeal and are similarly made up from whole cloth. Someone has an idea, and it just so good, that people replace reality with it in their hearts. The whole idea of such cultural icons of Scotland as the clan tartans, and the kilts made from them, are the Tiki drinks of British fashion. They were invented in Victorian England by a pair of flim-flam artists. These guys came up with something insanely fun, and convinced an entire culture to believe in an alternate reality about themselves. Today, most people, even many Scots, have no idea that sporrans, and kilts, and so on are largely the creation of the English. (Source: Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader)
In another fifty years, the world may genuinely believe that Depression-Era bars in Tahiti really looked and served drinks like a Trader Vic’s.

A second aspect for me would be the spirit of fun. A tiki bar is no place to for crying in your beer. You not only must dress the part and place yourself in the proper surroundings, but you must also have the correct frame of mind. Tiki is not dour, serious stuff. It’s a celebration, and good-natured escapism is the goal.
Plus, all that pagan imagery has a whiff of the blasphemous that is plenty hard to resist for most upstanding, clean-cut types.

This is why I so wanted to try this out for a month. I am sure I will drive the PeguWife nuts shortly by suddenly changing into a Hawaiian shirt every day at five o’clock. But come on, how can you not have fun with this? I’ll show how this concept is proven outside the world of Tiki drinks with this quote from Larry Dierker, back when he was broadcasting for the Houston Astros during a particularly bad stretch of boring, awful baseball:

You know what’s wrong with this team? Not enough Hawaiian shirts. They’re not having fun right now, and how can you not have fun when you’re wearing a Hawaiian shirt?

Alright then, Dr. B., second question: What makes a drink qualify as a Tiki Drink?

I think this is much harder to say. For me, it’s more about flavors, preparation, and presentation than specific ingredients. Tiki drinks have a depth, richness and complexity that sets them apart from other tropical-style drinks. For example, the Daiquiri, Mojito and Caipirinha are all tropical drinks made with rum (or something similar), fruit juice and some form of sweetener. Most tiki drinks have this as their nucleus too, but they have far, far more dimension. Also, tiki drinks evoke something exotic, and are just as much about what’s going on in your imagination as on your tongue.

I’ll be watching this as I try out the cocktails I intend to make this month. Hopefully there will be some good arguments over whether some of what I try even are Tiki drinks.

I also think that the labor-intensive preparation is key. Maybe it’s the whole anticipation thing…tracking down oddball ingredients, squeezing fresh juices, making syrups, etc. And then assembling it all in a stylish vessel and garnishing the hell out of it. You’re not going to find a 9-foot tall stone idol with flaming eyes on every corner, and you’re not gonna get a Zombie at your corner bar either. Each of those things is special, and requires genuine effort to find.

OK, so we are back to all the work I’ve got to do. Great. That’s why I’m doing my internship over a single, concentrated month. I just don’t see myself whipping up Falernum year-round.

And where the hell am I going to find a 9-foot tall stone idol with flaming eyes? Is that even up to Code?

About the author

Doug

I am 48 years old, married with two young daughters. My interests are tennis, reading, computers, politics, and of course cocktails. I run a murder mystery party business that caters to both corporate and private events, Killing Time, murder consultants.

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