Basement Bar Overhaul: Dressing for Tiki Month

Basement Bar Overhaul: Dressing for Tiki Month

Or, as we call it in the house, "Tuesday"
Most all pictures in this post can be embiggened by clicking.

That is me, slaving away meticulously in my lab, working to bring you the most rigorously researched cocktail knowledge imaginable, eleven months out of the year. But February is Tiki Month, and my beautifully appointed and equipped Basement Bar just doesn’t seem right, now does it? During the first few Tiki Months, I made do with the transformation provided by a nice Aloha shirt, and maybe some Martin Denny on the Hi-Fi iPod. Last year, I had the guts to do my first Tiki party, and I made a first pass at decorating the place. The overwhelming majority of what I used was from Party City, i.e. vinyl, plastic, and cardboard. For my non-Tikiphile buddies, it looked great, and I was happy with it. But face it, an initiate of the Fraternal Order of Moai would have taken one look, patted me on the head and said, “isn’t that nice!”

This year, I really wanted to step up the game, especially since I plan to have a steady stream of guests all month. The results are far more impressive, with lots of natural materials. It still isn’t up to the magnificent home Tiki bars you can find in this forum at Tiki Central, alas. But I really love my Basement Bar, and want to have it back unchanged at the end of the month. I restricted myself to reusable decorations that do not damage my walls, cabinetry or fixtures. Nothing permanent but the memories.

This post is for someone who wants to spruce up a standard bar as a Tiki Bar for a season, or a major party event. Let’s go, shall we?
Bamboo Lauhala Cabana Matting
The panels across the front of my bar, as you can see in the first picture of this post, are not very Tiki. I purchased a 3’x 6′ panel of woven bamboo, or Lahala, matting. It was about thirty bucks from a place called Tiki Shack Importer. As an aside, I was very pleased with the service and speed of Tiki Shack. Their website is easy to read, with good thumbnails. The prices are in line with others, and the shipping cheaper. And my stuff arrived far faster than I expected. The matting is also commonly available in 4’x 8′, and in 50′ lengths as well. It looks like awesome stuff, but I must warn you it has a number of problems I wish I’d been better prepared for.
First, it is extremely heavy for its looks, which required a lot more adhesive support on a vertical surface than I had expected. I used the magical Command Adhesive Strips to securely but removably attach most of the things I’m going to talk about, including this panel. But Command Adhesive has its limits and it is not cheap. I had to use a lot more than I’d budgeted to keep this panel up securely. (I hope it is secure) This meant that I had to go back to Home Depot in the middle of the project. Those of you who are married know how terribly excited this makes your spouse….
Second, the matting comes tightly rolled up, and really wants to stay that way. Worse, I could not find any sources on the web for how to get it to soften and flatten out. I laid it out and weighted down the edges for three days, and it relaxed… not at all. I’d appreciate any insights from readers on how to get it to lay flat without force for future reference.
Third, the matting is woven “on the bias”, meaning that diamond pattern that looks so Tiki. The problem with bias weave is that it makes it hard to manufacture and hard to manipulate while keeping the panel in square. I wanted to avoid making cuts (unraveling would be a fourth problem) so I used the whole panel. In the end, it looks fine, but you can see it isn’t perfect.
One end of my bar has a huge, round, black pillar that doesn’t look very Tiki. Last year, I put up a garish colored Tiki wall cling to dress it up… And it was lame. This year, to improve and feature the pillar, I bought a box of bamboo wainscoting “wallpaper”. It consists of thin slats of bamboo glued onto a loose woven backing. It looks far better than I expected. At $70 for a 4’x 8′ panel, it is a bit expensive, but you could use it tomcover flat walls, curved surfaces, and even go around corners with a little finesse. A DremelDremmel cutting tool was great for making small, precision cuts, and a circular saw, set to just over 1/8″ depth, does a good job of long, straight cuts. To ensure that the visible surface is undamaged by the saw, be sure to cut the panel with the backside up. If you don’t, the exposed edges of the bamboo will chip along the cut line.“>
Bamboo Wainscoting Pillar Process
Unlike the matting, the wainscoting was far easier to work with than I expected. The notch for the bottom pillar was cake to cut, and the strip I removed turned into a great Tiki table runner! Because it lays so nice and flat, it actually, despite its weight, connected to the pillar pretty easily, with fewer Command strips than I expected. For lots of Tiki bar applications, the 4′ panel would be great along the bottom half of the wall, topped by bamboo half-rounds or even large rope. I chose to wrap the pillar all the way to the ceiling. It looks amazing.
Bamboo Wainscoting Pillar and Lauhala matting
Beyond these two main, expensive overlays to the bar, I employed some visual distraction/sleight of hand to cover other modern design elements of my bar. I wrapped the curving front edge of the brushed aluminum bartop with cheap, medium quality flower leis, twisted and taped to the edge.
Flower Lei edging
I then draped leis over the wine storage area, adding a riot of color, and distracting from a central focus that doesn’t look like a Tiki bar. It looks better when not photographed with a flash, as we’ll see below.
Similarly, I blocked off the opening to my storage area with a couple of flower door curtains. These don’t really block the view, but when the light is brighter in front of them than behind them, they make the eye slide right away from the pile of non-Tiki decorations and backup supplies behind them.
Flower Lei Room Divider Door Curtain
Another major feature of my Basement Bar is my “metro wall”. It’s a series of skyscraper silhouettes behind the couch. It is, to say the least, not Tiki.
Merto cityscape skyscraper silhouette wall
Time for some more misdirection. I replaced the lamps with larger, pre-lit fake palm trees. These aren’t all that realistic, but they were on clearance, and they are so fake as to turn the corner back to kitsch. I then draped the wall in netting, a Tiki standby, and hung seashells all over that. Then I ran two strings of Tiki lighting across the top. Here’s the initial, not-impressive result:

Note to self: Never photograph Tiki decor with a flash….

Now we come to the last item on the list: Lighting. Dark, colored lighting, in the blues of dusk, greens of the jungle, and reds of fire and lava is essential to the Tiki vibe. It also is the beer goggles of Tiki decor.
Tiki Lighting
Cheap 25 watt incandescent bulbs in red, blue, and green (and purple and blacklight) are about three bucks at your local Home Depot.

And as a bonus, they haven’t been outlawed by the Federal Government!

Here is what that insipid wall looks like with all the halogen lighting turned off and replaced with a soft mix of red and blue.
Tiki Wall
Do not get carried away with this reduced, colored lighting, or it will get so dark you will mix up your ginger and vanilla simple syrups when making drinks. This has never happened to me, so laugh at someone else. Someone hypothetical.

Finally, the approach to your bar is important too. Get your guests into the Tiki mood before they even order their first drink. I line the walkway when I’m expecting guests with flaming Tiki torches.

Disclaimer: The South Pacific-transporting effect of this is somewhat reduced when there are four inches of snow on the ground….

I also added some nifty decor on a ledge overlooking the stairs leading down to my basement. I covered the wall above it in left-over bamboo wainscoting, covered the ledge in sea-green fabric, covered that with beach sand, and added some shells, a Scorpion Bowl, a lava lamp, and a message in a rum bottle. I’ll be updating this as the month goes by, as it doesn’t seem finished.
So here is the finished product, lit well and set up for service. It isn’t perfect, but it is pretty wonderful for a temporary Tiki installation, don’t you think?
Basement Tiki Bar

And hey! This post is part of Tiki Month 2013 here at the Pegu Blog! Be sure to look around for LOTS more Tiki stuff all February!


  1. Tony Harion

    7 February

    Looks awesome Doug!!

    Well done!!

    The netting did a pretty good job w/ the shells and all.. impressive!


      (Quote)  (Reply)

  2. DJ HawaiianShirt

    14 February

    I’m really enjoying that you have a bottle of MD 20/20 in your bar (is that new? I never noticed it). But one problem: you haven’t drunk it yet.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  3. Doug

    14 February

    That is my “Sherlock” bottle. Kudos go to whomever notices it. I do try to get it in frame for photos so web visitors can see it if they are observant.
    That bottle has been on that shelf since about 2006. It may age enough to be drinkable one day….

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  4. DJ HawaiianShirt

    14 February

    Much like I was drawn the the fruitiest and wildest drinks on the supermarket shelves when I was a kid, so too was I drawn to the bumwines when the age clock struck 21.

    MD 20/20 makes a Red Banana flavor. You should aim to swap your Sherlock bottle to Red Banana for Tiki Month 2014.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  5. Uchenna

    21 May

    Well, you know what they say, no pain, no gain.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

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