Tiki Kon carries torch for Polynesian Pop

What started as a pub crawl will bring hundreds to Vancouver hotel this weekend

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



If you go

• What: Tiki Kon, celebration of Tiki culture with exotica music, art, fashion, vintage cars and cocktails.

• When: 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. July 12; 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. July 13; 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. July 14.

• Where: Red Lion at the Quay, 100 Columbia St.

• Cost: Varies by event. Multi-event passes available too.

• Information: http://tikikon.com/

Tiki Kon hails back to the bygone age of the 1930s and 1940s, when a love of exotica music, strange cocktails and Polynesian art appeared as a growing trend across the United States.

It also hails back to a bunch of friends who went on a makeshift bar crawl 11 years ago in Portland, said Craig Hermann, one of the event’s founders.

“It was actually a bunch of guys that got together and went on a tour checking out each other’s home Tiki bars,” Hermann said. “We stayed small for a long time, since we’re a collection of flaky creatives, but in the past few years we decided to grow.”

Last year, about 500 people showed up to the event, which was held at a Portland hotel.

This year, Tiki Kon decided to move to the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay, because the organizers fell in love with the Quay Bar and its nautical theme, said Greg Clapp, event producer.

“That bar is amazing,” Clapp said of the shipboard design.

Tiki Kon’s festivities include a marketplace with vintage shirts, art and jewelry, a car show and beer garden and parties with music and specialty cocktails on Friday and Saturday night, all of which are open to the public. Some events are private or sold out, such as Sunday’s Tiki Kon VIP Home Bar Tour, which will bring guests on a bus tour of lounges and home bars in Portland.

Organizers hope Clark County residents will come check and out the events. It’s a great place to learn more about the Polynesian Pop phenomenon that dominated many restaurants through the 1960s, Clapp said.

“For me, Tiki is about recreating these tropical environments where they don’t usually exist,” Clapp said. “It’s both an art form and a lifestyle.”

The fascination with Tiki began in the 1930s in California, spearheaded by the Don the Beachcomber bar in Hollywood, which opened in 1934. Three years later, rival Trader Vic’s opened in Oakland, and eventually grew to a worldwide chain.

Hermann’s favorite Tiki eras are the ’30s and ’40s, before the culture went fully mainstream, he said.

“I like the earlier days, it’s a little more foreboding, forbidden,” Hermann said. “The art was more original Oceanic, with a lot of the lounges using pieces that were a few hundred years old.”

Cocktails like Zombies, Scorpions and Mai tais dominated the scene, and the old-school

recipes are much better than the sugary sweet versions that were more commonly known in the second two decades, he added.

“Back in the early days the drink recipes were top secret,” Hermann said. “The originals weren’t so syrupy. They’re balanced, tart, they’re really great.”

Part of the festivities will be the chance to try an array of original Rhum Rhapsodies, the larger category for those drinks, he said.

Hermann said he fell in love with Tiki culture as a kid growing up in the 1970s, when the trend started a slow decline.

Visiting Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland in California fueled both Hermann’s and Clapp’s fascination, they said.

“A lot of kids were influenced by that,” Clapp said. “For me it was also, in the ‘70s being a lad and driving by all these old establishments that were being torn down or remodeled. I always wanted to know what was in there.”

Tiki culture had a moderate resurgence in the 1990s and has slowly been regaining popularity, the two said.

“If you’ve ever been interested in Tiki, there are people who will be more than happy to talk your ear off about it -- me included,” Hermann said. “I’m eager to meet people from Vancouver. We’re always searching for more people who have home bars.”