Tikifying Your Basement Bar

Tikifying Your Basement Bar

This "table topper" might be a little over the top....

This “table topper” might be a little over the top….

Every year, Tiki Month becomes a little more of a MeatSpace thing for me. If you look back, the number of posts each February has fallen off a bit each successive year. While I truly believe that I’ll reverse that trend this year, my focus on sharing my Tiki learning and experiments face to face with my local friends in and out of the cocktail world continues to grow. It is definitely proof that I’m getting the hang of this.

I really think I’ve perfected my process for “skinning” my basement bar as a Tiki den, by now. Most of the time, my basement bar is a sleek, modern, black and silver joint that could not look less Tiki if it tried. The first iteration of the Tiki look was essentially “Polynesia by Party City“. Everything was plastic and bought either at party stores or from Amazon. Still, it was cool, and looked better than it had any right to. I’ll get to why in a bit.


Here’s what the process looked like.

Once I had the vibe, I set out, over the next few years, to replace all the plastic with natural materials, and to flesh out the rest of the space. I replaced the grass skirting and plastic leis with bamboo matting, and the screen-printed vinyl sheeting with real bamboo veneer. A portion of the process now looks like this. It also, despite being a million times better looking, is twice as fast to put up and take down.

Once the bar itself had enough natural materials to make things seem homey, I dressed up the other focal areas of the basement. I created a jungle in one corner that is otherwise useless and gets some natural light during the day. Home Depot and Lowes usually have an excellent selection of indoor tropical plants at this time of year.

A big problem was the focal couch, with it’s metropolitan skyline. It is really not very Tiki.

Merto cityscape skyscraper silhouette wall

And my earlier attempts to dress it up were… lacking.

The solution was Mt Pegu Pegu, which you see atop this post. Here it is in action.

Looks cool, right? Now at last, we get to the secret sauce of Tiki decor: Lighting. Here is what that volcano looks like with regular lights on.

Rule One of lighting your Tiki bar is this: No White Light Anywhere. You can accomplish this two ways: cheaply or expensively. I do it with a little of each. I turn off the halogen bulb fixtures, or dim them to almost nothing. I replace the can light floods with cheap colored floods is a combination of red, blue and green. For extra atmosphere, I splurge on several Phillips Hue lights. Two are inside the Volcano, and two more pair are located strategically around the room. Hue bulbs are expensive, but very cool devices. You can control them individually over your home’s wireless network with a variety of apps on phones or computers. Various apps let you control for time, ambient noise, or with music that is playing through the same phone. After an egregiously long search, I use an app called Scintillator. It allows you to run multiple different programs for your bulbs at once, and has a number of very Tiki-appropriate presets. I have a red-orange rolling glow for the volcano interior, a red-purple sunset for overhead, and a green-umber slow pulsing show over the jungle area. The bulbs are expensive, I want to iterate, but the ever-changing lights has a sense of magic and a little bot of outdoors to the environment.

Lighting does so many wonderful things. Darkness makes for a pre-civilized feel. You can use what lights you do employ to accent what you want to feature. And you can use the darkness to hide whatever you can’t or can’t afford to make thoroughly Tiki. With the right lighting, Polynesia by Party City even looks great.


  1. Tiare

    9 February

    That volcano is so impressive! and you have come a long way with your basement! btw have you seen that there´s a home tiki bar bulding group on facebook? a great place to get and share inspiration, trips and tricks and pictures –

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  2. Jen

    10 February

    That all looks terrific, and I can’t decide whether I like the bar or your volcano more. Very impressive and lots of fun! Once we get into our next place…well, I’m not really sure how tiki fits into a Craftsman bungalow, but it’ll be in the basement, so…it’ll work, yes?

    Very swank, thanks for sharing. 🙂 Hubby & I both enjoyed the lava show.

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  3. Doug Winship

    13 February


    What happens in the Basement, stays in the Basement…

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  4. Brenda Gadow

    27 June

    Awesome! I want a volcano in our Tiki Bar. What fog juice are you using? How are you triggering the “eruption”? And, did you have any issues with setting off smoke detectors?


      (Quote)  (Reply)

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