Brighton’s home-grown Tiki bars
With the summer drawing to a close, there is one type of drinking establishment that aims to keep that holiday vibe alive throughout the colder months – welcome to the Tiki bar.
Themed around South Pacific decoration, with bamboo furniture, wooden Tiki god carvings and serving rum-based tropical cocktails, these hut-style bars became popular in California in the post-war years and have such become associated with the Americana culture celebrated at numerous annual events in the UK as well as the USA.
Trader Tark the Tiki Carver
It was at such meet-ups that Brighton-based Tiki carver Trader Tark first fell in love with the style. “I’ve been going to Hot Rod and American car shows for many years and Tiki culture seems to go hand-in-hand with Kustom Cars and Hot Rods, mainly because of the Southern Californian association”, Tark explains.
With Tiki bars somewhat thin on the ground in Brighton – the city has only the chain Lola Lo, a club that is popular among students and Bali Brasserie’s Tropical Bar, which has changed little since the 1980s – Tark decided to build his own.
“Several years ago my friends and I built the first version for a new year’s eve party” he says. “It was cool and got used for so many gatherings that four years ago I rebuilt it as it is now, with my own carvings and art made and donated by friends.”
Tark takes inspiration for his carvings from original Polynesian art, explaining that rather than true representations of actual deities, these have more in common with the Pop Art versions of the 1950 & ’60s.
Tark’s Tiki carvings have been used in window displays at Dollydagger and Vin Mag in the North Laine, and are also in residence as part of the Hotel Pelirocco’s Rockabilly-themed room.
So what is it about the style that Tark finds as intoxicating as the rum cocktails? “It’s that element of escapism and fun”, he says. “The Tiki scene originated in the US after the war and Americans are the best in the world at building theatrical environments and themed restaurants.”
Las Vegas in the lounge
It was on an American holiday that fellow domestic Tiki bar owner, Brightonian Andy Dawson first came across the phenomenon. As he recalls: “On a trip to Las Vegas for the High Rollers Scooter Rally many of the guys were meeting up in a Tiki Bar and their stories of the decor and extra strong rum cocktails made me put it on my bucket list.”
Several trips to Las Vegas’ famous Frankie’s Tiki Room later and both he and wife Nicola were hooked: “The atmosphere in Frankie’s is great, the service good and the decoration brilliant and after a particularly drunken night in there during the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly weekender two years ago, we had the idea of fashioning our own Tiki bar in house we were moving in together.”
“We trawled a few retro shops and found a set of bamboo bar furniture – a screen, a drinks trolley and a barrel shaped bar and an antiques shop in Hastings sold us a nice sputnik style coffee table. Garden centre bamboo screening was cheap and easy to fit on the windows and I already had a pineapple ice bucket and some novelty glasses and mugs, many of which we bought from Frankies.”
Indeed, most Tiki bars sell their own bespoke and collectable mugs, so even if you don’t have room for your own exotic watering hole you can bring a taste of the tropical home with you.
Find out more about Trader Tark on Facebook.
View from the Vintage City Network
If you’re a fan of Tiki but don’t have the funds to travel to Las Vegas, October sees Manchester host its very own week-long Tiki festival – head over to www.vintagemanchester.com for your chance to win tickets. Elsewhere within the Vintage City Network, www.vintagenorwich.co.uk showcases some of the best Tiki bars the north east has to offer and www.thevintageguidetolondon.com a Tiki-based nail bar in the capital.