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The history of Tiki Culture

Tiki culture is more than just fruity cocktails and Hawaiian shirts; it’s a fascinating blend of history, art, and escapism that has captured the imagination of people around the world. Originating in the United States in the 1930s, Tiki culture has evolved into a global phenomenon that continues to enchant and inspire.

The Origins of Tiki Culture

The roots of Tiki culture can be traced back to the early 20th century, when Americans became fascinated with the exoticism of the South Pacific. This fascination was fueled by a number of factors, including the rise of tourism to the region, the popularity of Hollywood films set in tropical locales, and the influence of artists such as Paul Gauguin, whose paintings depicted the lush landscapes and vibrant cultures of the Pacific islands.

One of the key figures in the development of Tiki culture was Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, better known as Donn Beach. In the 1930s, Donn Beach opened a bar in Hollywood called Don the Beachcomber, which became a popular hangout for celebrities and socialites. Don the Beachcomber was decorated with artifacts and decor inspired by the South Pacific, creating a tropical oasis in the heart of Los Angeles.

The Rise of Tiki Bars and Restaurants

Following the success of Don the Beachcomber, a number of other Tiki bars and restaurants began to pop up across the United States. One of the most famous of these was Trader Vic’s, which was founded by Victor Bergeron in Oakland, California in 1934. It should be noted here, this wasn’t his first idea, it was originally called Hinky Dinks, a hunting and shooting themed venue. After one trip to the South Pacific (and a few forays to the Caribbean), Trader Vic was born. Trader Vic’s was and still is known for its exotic cocktails, such as the Mai Tai, as well as its Polynesian-inspired decor.

Tiki bars and restaurants quickly became popular destinations for Americans looking to escape the stresses of everyday life and experience a taste of the tropics. Many of these establishments featured thatched roofs, bamboo furniture, and tiki carvings, creating a whimsical and exotic atmosphere that transported patrons to another world.

While distractors may scoff at the appropriation of other cultures, is it really when done respectfully with no true harm meant? This is no different than having “Italian” night or celebrating St. Patrick’s Day or Octoberfest, even if your lineage is defined elsewhere. The point here is you create your own personal paradise which can be an occasional diversion and can quickly elevate to a hobby to elaborate home theming because sometimes we just need a break from the world.

The Influence of Tiki Culture on Popular Culture

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Tiki culture continued to grow in popularity, fueled in part by the end of World War II and the increasing prosperity of the American middle class. Tiki-themed parties and events became popular, with people dressing up in Hawaiian shirts and leis and sipping cocktails out of coconut shells.

But it really means much more than that. This tropical escapism is a welcome departure of the demands in everyone’s life, it is a vacation, even if it is not real. This was the original “staycation.”

Tiki culture also had a significant influence on popular music, with artists such as Martin Denny and Les Baxter creating music that evoked the sounds of the South Pacific. This genre of music, known as Exotica, became incredibly popular in the 1950s and 1960s and is still enjoyed by fans of Tiki culture today.

The Revival of Tiki Culture

While Tiki culture experienced a decline in popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, it experienced a revival in the late 1990s and early 2000s, thanks in part to the efforts of a new generation of Tiki enthusiasts. These enthusiasts were drawn to the escapism and nostalgia of Tiki culture, as well as its emphasis on craftsmanship and attention to detail.

Today, Tiki culture is more popular than ever, with Tiki bars and events popping up in cities around the world. These establishments often feature elaborate decor, handcrafted cocktails, and a sense of fun and whimsy that continues to captivate patrons of all ages.

Wrapping it up

Tiki culture is a vibrant and fascinating phenomenon that has captured the hearts of people around the world. From its origins in the early 20th century to its modern-day revival, Tiki culture continues to evolve and inspire, offering a tropical escape from the everyday.


Beach, S. C., Beach, D., & Evans, J. (2007). Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log. SLG Publishing.

Bergeron, V. (1946). Trader Vic’s Book of Food and Drink. Doubleday.

Denny, M. (1957). Exotica. Liberty Records.

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