4 Fun Facts About Tiki Bars

old tiki statue

The best way to “go native” and get a Pacific island vibe going on in your backyard is to set up a Tiki bar complete with torches and a carved Tiki idol. Fun, relaxed, lively, chill, exotic… These are just a few words you could use to describe a Tiki bar. It’s the perfect spot to plop down with a tropical flavored cocktail and listen to some Island rhythms as you watch the sun go down and get ready for the weekend to begin.

Here are 4 fun facts about Tiki bars you might not have known:

trader Vic's tiki restaurant menu

Old menu cover from Trader Vic’s Tiki restaurant & bar

1. The very first Tiki bar was started in 1933 in Los Angeles by a man names Ernest Gantt. The name of the bar was “Don the Beachcomber,” and it featured a wide selection of exotic rum drinks. They also served Cantonese dishes and decorated the bar’s interior with many native artifacts that Ernest collected during several trips around the South Pacific.

wooden tiki totem2. The first Mai Tai cocktail was created at Trader Vic’s in 1944. Victor Bergeron opened up the first in his iconic chain of Tiki bars in 1936 in Oakland, California. In the language of Tahiti, Maita’i means “good.” The story goes that one day, Victor was mixing up new drinks for some visitors from Tahiti to try. When they tasted his new concoction, one of his friends exclaimed “Maita’i roa ae!” meaning “Wow! It’s go good!” So after that, the name Mai-Tai stuck. A Mai-Tai is made with a mix of rum, Orange Curaçao, and freshly squeezed lime juice.

3. Tiki culture exploded in the US after World War II. It was fueled by the experiences of veterans returning home after serving in the Pacific, along with the addition of Hawaii as the 50th US state. However, the Tiki culture popularized in America was a romanticized version of Polynesian culture—not an authentic expression of it. The Tiki fad continued to enjoy widespread popularity throughout the 1950s and 60s.

4. The word “Tiki” comes from the Maori language. Tiki is the name of the first man in Maori mythology, making him somewhat like a Polynesian version of Adam. From this, the word tiki came to refer to humanoid statues carved from wood that would traditionally be placed to mark the boundary of a sacred area.

The Tiki look is still popular, and makes a great way to create a fun atmosphere in your backyard. You can easily set up your own little Polynesian paradise with a few key props. First of all, you’ll need to get a genuine Tiki bar set. There’s many great quality ones made from bamboo available. Don’t forget to also pick out a set of Tiki torches and a carved wood Tiki totem to create an authentic island feeling for your pool party or backyard barbeque.

South Pacific Bamboo Tiki Bar

Imagine serving a Mai-Tai from your own poolside Tiki bar