Make Mine a Mai Tai – The History of Tiki Bars

You’ve seen it before on a night out: a bar with a Polynesian flair, adorned with carved wooden statues that watch as you throw back quad-rum cocktails and yearn for the South Pacific.

But where did they come from? What is the history of tiki bars?

It all started in 1930s America when bootlegger Ernest Gantt, aka Don the Beachcomber or Donn Beach, brought his vast knowledge of Polynesian mythology and, most importantly, rum to the States.

The so-called founding father of tiki, Don opened up a self-titled bar, Don the Beachcomber, in L.A. in 1934 and started the tiki movement.

Tiki bars were an ideal addition to post-Prohibition nightlife in America, with the fun and exotic interior the perfect tonic to a gloomy day of work. As Martin Cate, author of Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki, explains, “They were an attempt to recreate the sense of escape and paradise of the islands on American soil.”

Seeking authenticity, Don began collecting refuse from the beach with a neighbour, hunting for bamboo, trinkets, masks, and whatever else they could find to make Don’s bar look more like the islands that influenced the tiki movement.

And it worked, as tiki bars today still can be found decorated with old fishing nets, driftwood and all sorts of abandoned wharf ephemera.

With the success of the tiki bar came two of the most popular rum-based cocktails of all-time, the Zombie and the Mai Tai – with the former especially popular when lit on fire to impress any nearby drunken patrons.

While the popularity of the tiki bar has enjoyed various peaks and troughs over the years, the rise of the home bar and pub sheds has seen a significant revival in interest for exotic-themed back garden bars that are serious about not being serious.

As lockdown forced many pub-goers to seek alternative watering holes, and with the seemingly constant grey cloud that hung over the nation, what better way to bring the fun and rum to your home than with a tiki bar?

Decking out your own tiki bar couldn’t be easier. A wooden sign up top (telling everyone you’re “getting tiki with it”), a mirror behind the bar to help adjust your Lei, and a few tiki masks or wooden statues dotted around to keep an eye on you after your second Zombie of the night.

However you plan on kitting out your home tiki bar, you can be sure that Barsigns.uk has got you covered with everything that you could need to bring a pseudo Polynesian flair to your back garden.

If you’ve created your own tiki bar at your home with the help of Barsigns.uk, make sure to send us a photo of it as we love to see how everyone has gotten freaky with their tiki style!

Now if you don’t mind, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, so make mine a Mai Tai…

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