Tiki Bars Not New to Hawaii, Despite What Journalists Say

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Lately in the consumer media, there’s been some brouhaha about Oahu “finally getting its own Tiki Bar”… and other exclamations leading some to think this is a new thing. May I remind the journalists; Oahu has been graced for decades, with what they term “tiki bars.” Since at least the 1930s, Oahu has enjoyed the likes of Don the Beachcomber, Trader Vic’s, and many others before and after them. Later the Waikikian’s Tahitian Lanai and the Papeete Bar. As these slowly closed and made way for the implementation of that devil’s motto chanted by developers and politicians; “Highest and best use,” these restaurants and bars were supplanted by chain stores, large corporate chain fast food joints, high end designer wear stores and others that could handle the heftier lease rates. So, as these Polynesian palaces slowly went the way of the wind, our friend at la Mariana, Annette, began acquiring many of the authentic artifact and decor pieces to fill her growing Tiki bar and grill; La Mariana. This has been in almost continual operation since 1955. We hear “didn’t we pioneer tiki culture back in the 1950’s?” We certainly did, although it was not known as such. Basically, it was Polynesian Restaurants, Tropical drinks, Old Hawaii style decor. The Polynesian islands were both the origin and the inspiration and the influence of this original “Theme Restaurant,” which was replicated and scattered through America in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, and even around the world. This current emphasis on the word “tiki” being ascribed to food, decor, drinks, has had somewhat of a warped effect on the genre to the point we have lost touch with the authentic, the source, the originators, much of which is still with us. We are scolded; “… we’re the last in the pool. Something’s wrong when Portland Ore. can beat us.” No, Portland did not beat us. After a visit to our islands in the late 40’s some fella named Roy bought a horse and buggy stop and turned it into an old style Polynesian restaurant. We here in the islands, have had the “real thing” for many years antedating this. Why allude to Portland at all, as “beating us”? Donn Beach started his chain in Calif. in the 30’s after travelling all through the tropics; Polynesia and the Caribbean, learning of rum and exotic food in numerous original “tiki bars” and Polynesian restaurants. We hear and see things like: “Why it took so long to get our own tiki bar I’ll never know” tells us maybe a particular journalist oughta get out more often, or do a little research on this intriguing genre. And please don’t act surprised that there are and were more authentic “tiki bars” around, ones that use real thatch and prefer no foam tikis. There are “tiki bars” all through Oahu, if one is really interested in knowing them. Heck; if you have any attachment to, or interest in the old style Polynesian restaurant, you can’t help but stumble upon them now and then. ”Allen StJames is a resident of Honolulu and can be reached via email at:” mailto:tiki@tikitrader.com