Tiki Road Trip: A Guide to Tiki Culture in North America
by James Teitelbaum, Sven A. Kirsten
Santa Monica Press
No, seriously. If you've got a Jones for the Tiki, this is the book for you.
Tiki Road Trip is the logical extension of James Teitelbaum's fascination with Tiki culture, which culminated with the launch of the "Tiki Bar Review Pages" in 1994. While the book is essentially a compilation of the data compiled over the years by Teitelbaum, a touring musician who must have boxes of cocktail napkins with notes on them, it's also a good manual for hipsters and other cultural sponges to take along on road trips.
The author starts out with a strong yet tight introduction to the world of Tiki, first popularized by Don The Beachcomber in the mid-1930's. Donn Beach was the one who first introduced the kitsch décor to the bar and began a long history of grass skirts, Tiki mugs and other south seas aesthetics that still dot the American landscape from obvious places like Las Vegas to the streets of Chicago. Teiltelbaum also traces the disintegration of the original artifacts into knockoffs from Hawaii as well as the fad's initial fall into obscurity (after 30 years!) and its recent renaissance. He also tracks the integration of the idea into music by legends like Les Baxter, Authur Lyman, and Martin Denny, who blended the Tiki idea through jazz and other smoky substances to create the "Exotica" genre that still enjoys popularity today.
The bulk of the book, though, is committed to listing the various homes of Tiki culture by state, primarily bars and other dives. The trouble with the concept is that like any other travel book, there are places you would make a destination purely out of its entertainment value (the Kopakavana bar on Easter Island), and there are others that just don't seem worth the effort (the antiquated and refurbished Tiki rooms at the Disneyland resorts).
The book is well-organized, however, with a classification system that identifies classic Tiki Bars, Polynesian restaurants, and Tiki Meccas and judges them on the all-important criteria: drink quality, architecture, entertainment, food, and the TiPSY Factor (Tiki's Per Square Yard). While the Tikis are vital to the experience, I would stick with drink quality, if I were you.
However, for every cool place like the Bahi Hut Lounge in Sarasota, Florida ("the most lethal Mai Tai on the map" since 1954), there are states with apparently no Tiki influence whatsoever. "We have no evidence of any Tiki bars, past or present, in Arkansas," reads one entry, which while it comes as no great surprise, doesn't offer much hope for seekers in the Midwestern states. There are also additions to each state of site that are permanently closed, which might be interested to the author as the keeper of the web site archives, but is completely useless to the traveling Tiki fan who needs their thirst slaked.
Despite a dearth of Tiki bars in some states, the guide is a fine addition to any trip to California, New York, Las Vegas, or Florida, and includes a fine selection of international destinations as well. While the Tiki Tiki Monona in Yokohama, Japan might not be your first destination in traveling to the ancient orient, it's definitely one of the best recovery rooms. I can tell you from personal experience that a place like Trader Vic's in the basement of the London Hilton is a fine establishment in which to recover from jet lag and let a 9 a.m. Mai Tai get you over the hump of initial culture shock.
Let's face it, too; the book is worth the cover price alone for the drink recipes. One appendix includes a variety that includes everything from the original Trader Vic's Mai Tai Roa Ae recipe to other retroactive spirituals like the Scorpion, first ignited in 1946, as well as Don The Beachcomber's Missionary's Downfall, the Zombie, The Blue Hawaiian, and the Singapore Sling. Another section includes a glossary of Tiki-related terms such as Googie Architecture, the American artist Edward Leeteg, and Long Pig, the cannibal term for human meat.
So lay down some swingin' Les Baxter tunes, break out the DaGa mugs, brew up a pitcher of Planter's Punch and roll out the maps. It's time to trip.