Craig Hermann is a systems administrator for TriMet, but after his clock's been punched, he becomes Craig Hermann, Tiki anthropologist. He's a known mixer of classic cocktails—he belongs to the Oregon Bartenders Guild—and he does IT work for Tiki Kon, the annual gathering of locals and far-flung pilgrims who this month, for the ninth consecutive year, convene in Portland to celebrate the culture of Tiki and its rebirth.
This culture, Hermann says, began with a temperance-era rum-runner named Don, who, after Prohibition's repeal, opened his eponymous Hollywood club, Don the Beachcomber, introducing Polynesian decor, food and tropical drinks to the continental U.S. for the first time. A few years later, Trader Vic's promptly followed suit, and the birth of Tiki culture began.
Twenty years later, Hermann says, Tiki went "mainstream" as Americans, inspired by their Caribbean vacations and honeymoons, returned home and began building Tiki-style wet bars in their basements, where they'd entertain friends while listening to swinging, orchestral Afro-Cuban rhythm-driven Exotica LPs.
But, he says, those honeymooners had kids who effectively grew up and killed the subculture. "Tiki is a caricature culture," Hermann says, and it came to be seen as "un-hip" and "embarrassing," and was sometimes accused of "cultural appropriation."
"It was a done deal," he says.
But then the 1990s happened. Swing was revived and reborn. So, too, began the rebirth of the Exotica genre and the return of Tiki had arrived. Twenty years on, it's still a subculture, but it's still around.
And despite Portland's—or perhaps to spite its—forever granite-colored skies, some Portlanders have carved out their own world of Tiki. Hermann says there are probably 100 Portlanders who are dyed-in-the-wool like he, personifying Tiki itself, and estimates that another 500, and "likely more," are casual fans.
But heading for the palms and the beaches can wait till January, because right here, right now, you host your very own Tiki party in your very own home.
How to Tiki at Home
To Tiki, one must first verbify the word Tiki. Once you've done that, take a look around and dream a little.
Troy Susan has lived in Portland since just before enrolling to the Pacific Northwest College of Art from which he graduated in 1992 with a bachelor's degree in fine arts. In 1999, he founded Bamboo Craftsman in Kenton, which doesn't just import hand-crafted home and garden decorations but will build them for you, too. Susan says Bamboo Craftsman builds decks, installations and wet bars, and will hand-carve Tiki statues, as well.
Of course, to give your Tiki bar that last bit of oomph, you might want to surround it with one or more works for sale at Elroy Artspace. Elroy, which puts the "mod" in modern, is presenting this July Scootiki: Mods & Gods, a gallery show featuring locally and nationally made Tiki-inspired artwork.
Located along Portland's Distillery Row, Deco Distilling is owned and operated by Bill Adams, a software engineer, and Lenny Gotter, a professional photographer. Since 2008, the pair have been dreaming up and bottling rum recipes, including an award winning coffee-flavored variety made with locally roasted fair-trade coffee beans.
"The coffee rum inspiration is from my own experiments making coffee-chocolate liqueurs," Gotter says. "[W]hat really stayed with me was the rich coffee flavor from using real coffee, not flavorings that most commercial products use."
His experiments paid off. The coffee-flavored rum was blindly tasted by a panel of judges at this year's San Francisco World Spirits Competition and placed second, winning a silver medal.
So, in a town known for it's vodka distilleries, why rum?
"Well that question seems to answer itself," Gotter says. "I love rum, and I love whiskey, [and] rum is easier to start with."
In 2003, Blair Reynolds started making syrups for his own use at a bartending gig at a pizza joint in Petaluma, California. But he and his wife got that Pacific Northwest itch, which they scratched by settling in Portland in 2006. But it wasn’t until 2009 that Reynolds realized his newly adopted city might support a niche syrup business. That’s when he began in earnest making (the recently re-dubbed) B.G. Reynolds' Hand-Crafted Exotic Syrups.
At present, Reynolds offers 11 handmade syrups, which he says are made with a "unique combination of sugars, juices and spices, not just a sugar base with 'flavoring.'"
"One of the inspirations for making the syrups was to make tropical drinks easier to make, so that everyone could enjoy them," Reynolds says. And people are enjoying them. You can find drinks made with his syrups at Clyde Common, Teardrop Lounge, Pope House Bourbon Lounge, BlueHour and The Bent Brick.
Sample such a drink next time you're out. If you like it, for a few dollars, Reynolds will send some bottles your way via his "webstore."
So your bar's been built, and you've purchased all locally made rums and syrups. Now all you need is the right glass from which to sip. And everyone knows that you can't host a proper Tiki party without Tiki mugs. And that's where Muntiki comes in.
Muntiki originally began as Nielsen Ceramics, a father-and-son team from Monterey, California, which, according to Miles Nielsen, "produced items such as dishes and bathroom ware to department stores like Stroud’s and Macy’s" before finding creative opportunities in hand-crafting ceramic mugs for the Tiki set.
In January, 2010, the family moved the business to Portland, setting up a studio on Klickitat Street where they continued to focus solely on Tiki, coming up with as many as 15 designs each year and annually hand-producing about 1,000 mugs.
The only catch is that you can only find Muntiki online, where they've published an extensive catalog of their mugs and other "oddities."
Now light a torch, spin a Martin Denny record (CDs will suffice, but no MP3s! They'll spoil the mood), gather together some friends and raise a glass to the rum-runners who made it all possible and the craftsmen they in turn inspired.
Craig Hermann's pahoehoe (pa-HOY-hoy), made with Deco Coffee Rum and B.G. Reynolds' Hand-Crafted Exotic Syrups
1 oz lime juice
0.5 oz pineapple juice
0.5 oz B.G. Reynolds vanilla syrup
0.5 oz B.G. Reynolds passion fruit syrup
1 oz Coruba Dark Jamaican Rum
1 oz Deco Coffee Rum
dash of bitters
dash of absinthe (Herbsaint, recommended)
Shake with 8 oz crushed ice and pour into Hurricane glass.
Garnish with a pineapple wedge and mint sprig.