When the Glass Globe Light Came On
My Personal Discovery of Tiki
By Darin Mecher
I have been a bona fide card carrying member of the retro lifestyle for as long as I can remember. I came to it from the rockabilly music scene and branched out from there to include beautiful old cars, beautiful rat rods, beautiful pin ups, and of course, beautiful art. My interest in artwork from the golden era of swank, or what I like to call the “mythological swanky life” came not only from my interest in tattoos, but from my boredom with today’s crass and predictable culture. I couldn’t relate to the music or the dress or the lifestyle. It seemed boring and made up and didn’t have any history to give it legs – especially the gorgeous legs of a just out of the swimming pool wahine. My wife came to the retro lifestyle via style and design. We both included the Polynesian Pop scene in many of our modern interpretations of lifestyle, but it didn’t take the forefront until a certain incident in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Every year, my wife and I try to make the pilgrimage to the great Church of Rockabilly, Tom Ingram’s massive Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender in Las Vegas, Nevada. This year was no different and this year we decided to drive – all the way from our quaint little 1940s bungalow in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This year we were determined to make it to the Tiki Pool Party part of the festivities, for we had yet to experience it. We had a great time and really enjoyed not only the Tiki Pool Party, which we attended the last Sunday of the festival, but also the epiphany we had that night, as we prepared to party and to get ready for the drive to L.A. and then for the drive back home. We had not only enjoyed the Tiki Pool Party and the great sounds of the headlining band of the pool party, The Hula Girls, but we got to talking about trying to make the Tiki Oasis in San Diego, California sometime in the near future. We had always wanted to check it out, but never had. So as we were feeling excited about all things Tiki, we made a visit to Frankie’s Tiki Room.
Frankie’s Tiki Room is a small little unassuming building located at 1712 West Charleston Boulevard just north of where the new Vegas strip ends. My wife and I tend to favor the old strip, the Freemont Experience, over the new strip, so we knew our way around the north end. We found Frankie’s easily and had even invited some friends along to check it out. We had no idea that our lives would forever change upon entering that little bar.
The minute you walk in, you take a trip not only thousands of miles away, but decades into the past. Every inch of Frankie’s screams Polynesian Pop! We were greeted by not only a plethora of Tikis, but great works of Tiki art – one that has since become one of my personal favorite pieces – a little piece by an artist known as Big Toe. We ordered drinks and chose our mugs and I was rewarded with not only a great Vegas souvenir, but a genuine Tiki mug – one designed by the artist Big Toe himself! My very first Tiki mug. The collector in me stirred. My passion erupted. My wife chose a different one and our friends chose ones that were different from ours. The libations were poured by a real mixologist who was almost as entertaining as the décor. We drank our drinks and found them to be a great mix of powerful and palatable. A true art!
Late that night, I perused the internet in my motel room and discovered the history of the Tiki mug and I was hooked! I had to have more. I had to have my own Tiki bar. My own Tiki Room. That night was a mere 4 months ago – and now I have 40 Tikis in my very own Tiki Room and 9 of those Tikis are genuine Tiki mugs – several from Frankie’s, a couple from the Tonga Hut in North Hollywood and a prized possession – one from Trader Vic’s from 1963 that I found at a secondhand store. I am hooked! Not only do I love the artwork and the aesthetic, but just seeing people’s eyes light up when they enter my Tiki room – it is worth it all. And for anyone thinking, who has the money or time for this? Let me tell you – I won’t give my tried and true secrets of Tiki shopping just yet – but I have some that only cost 50 cents. The most I’ve spent on one mug so far is $25. I bet my room, furniture and all – mostly found object or thrift store couldn’t have cost me more than around $800 – and that includes a phonograph and a great 1940s chair! Or, if you are a big spender, I can sure help you spend all you want – there is a world of Tiki out there, just waiting to bring the sights and sounds of another world and another time to your world and time.
So, as you can see, I can remember when the glass globe light came on – and I have a feeling I am on a road to even more adventure and more discovery. Suddenly my wife is finding tiki dresses and we are discovering how to mix up libations from Don the Beachcombers from 40 years ago. There is so much to see and do and to become a part of – I desire to make sure that not only this Tiki culture continues, but that it grows and evolves and that a new generation can enjoy what it has to offer.