When I moved to the Bay Area, I was pleased to find there were quite a few Tiki restaurants. But of course! California’s the birthplace of Tiki culture.
With the opening of Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt’s Don Beachcomber restaurant in Hollywood, CA in 1933, Tiki culture was born from his tales of rum-running with his father in the South Pacific. Not specifically focused on any one culture, Tiki is Gantt’s fusion of many South Pacific cultures with a bit of Hollywood flair. Known for stiff rum drinks like the Zombie, and over-the-top decor, Tiki restaurants soon became popular night spots for people looking for a fun place to escape.
Tiki saw a spike in the late 1940’s with the return of servicemen from the Pacific who brought with them firsthand knowledge of the region and numerous souvenirs. Add to that the release of Thor Heyerdahl’s 1950 film Kon Tiki and the success of James Michener’s novel Tales of the South Pacific, and soon Tiki torches were everywhere. Tiki began to influence almost every part of mid-century culture from fashion to home decor to architecture.
Today, if you want to experience Tiki culture, you’ll need to look a little harder. But there are still some places that hold true. One of those is Kon Tiki in Oakland, CA. Boasting exotic drinks and fine food, easymodern husband and I decided to give it a try. While the food may not have been as fine as advertised, the rum drinks were exotic and stiff. And the decor is what you’d expect from an excessive Hollywood version of the South Pacific with rattan huts, tropical greenery and Tiki statues. In the end we got into it enough to check out the Kona Club — another Tiki-themed bar in Oakland. I’ll say that even if the decor wasn’t as outlandish, they did have an erupting volcano. And the Mai Tai’s were very good.
Where’s your favorite place to go for an escape?