Want to escape to a tropical paradise with your favorite people? Invite your friends to a tiki party. Inspired by two original venues—Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vics—tiki bars and their signature high-octane, fruity cocktails have made a comeback. Hallmark Designer and tikiphile John Dunne gives us a few hints for turning a suburban patio or downtown kitchen into an island getaway.
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The most familiar tiki is a wooden carving of a Polynesian god. Tiki bars may take their cues from South Pacific cultures, but are idealized, exaggerated American interpretations. “Tiki culture” is a mash-up of island-inspired décor, flavors, and attitude.
(For a little more history and a few recipes, take this tour of Hallmark Stylist Betsy Gantt’s amazing tiki collection.)
The centerpiece of your island-inspired party is the tiki bar.
“The secret to making it believable is to be clever and cheap,” John tells us. “Don’t break the bank—you’re not opening a real bar.”
To create the focal point of your retro lounge, look no further than your local home and garden store.
—Wrap a length of bamboo garden fence around the front of a kitchen island or console table.
—Hang grass skirts or raffia table skirts overhead for a thatched-roof look.
—Look for Hawaiian party or luau decorations on Pinterest to find more inspiration, from paper lanterns to DIY tikis.
—And, because you’re in the tropics, surround yourself with real or artificial plants. The more, the better.
“Tiki cocktails call for a lot of different kinds of exotic liquor,” John advises. “If you don’t want to spend your whole night mixing drinks, I’d recommend batch-making a signature cocktail or punch.”
(He adapted this Tiki Party Punch just for us.)
To make any tropical cocktail even more impressive, set it on fire. It’s as simple as putting a crouton or piece of white bread in half of a hollowed out lime, spritzing it with lemon extract, and lighting it up (carefully, and away from the thatched roof of your tiki bar, please).
To play up the the theme, you can use luau party or tiki themed barware.
“Traditional tiki bars each had their own swizzle stick,” John says. “That, and matchbooks or coasters. You could make your own—let that be your signature thing.”
Tropical, Hawaiian, or tiki-themed drink stirrers are a quick Amazon-search away. Bamboo straws and paper umbrellas are easy to find. Or you can make your own with bamboo skewers—like this flamingo drink topper by our own Will Brown.
And, of course, it’s not an island beverage without fruit and flowers. Skewer some cherries and pineapple chunks. (Use hollowed-out pineapples to serve appetizers.) Have a bowl of edible orchids, Sweet William, or pansies at the ready.
“Lighting is half of a Tiki experience,” John tells us. “The whole appeal is to cross the threshold into a different world. And colored lights are the easiest way to get a tropical vibe.”
—Turn off the overhead lights.
—Hang strands, ropes, or strips of LED lights on the walls, mount them under the bar, and wrap them around your plants.
—Light candles in mood-setting scents, like tuberose or other tropical flowers.
—If you’re outdoors, light the path with tiki torches, and put your fire pit to good use.
The perfect music for your tiki party is easy to find, too: Just look up Hawaiian channels playlists or search “exotica music” on YouTube. To create your own playlist, search these names:
—New Hawaiian Band
—The Kona Inn Kanes
—The Budos Band
—Lacuna Cuban Boys