By M. Carrie Allen, Washington Post
From their origin in California in the 1930s, first with Don the Beachcomber, then Trader Vic’s and countless imitators since, tiki bars have long been a kind of tropical fantasia, a rum-soaked refuge from postwar anxieties and the daily grind. But they clearly provide no refuge from the age of trolls. …Within every subculture — be it Star Wars buffs, vinyl aficionados or lovers of Siamese cats — there is a sub-subculture so obsessed with arguing about the subject that they’re willing to risk ruining enjoyment in the name of dogma.
Tiki drinks, says Martin Cate, owner of San Francisco bar Smuggler’s Cove and author of a James Beard Award-winning book on rum and tiki, are meant to delight, not challenge. They’re “not there to pick a fight.”
But moreover, tiki culture — the 20th-century American style, not the Polynesian mythology it’s loosely drawn from — is by nature a pastiche, borrowed from other cultures in ways that are sometimes informed and respectful, sometimes problematic. Some argue that certain elements of tiki iconography exploit genuine elements of Polynesian and other “exotic” cultures, turning them into escapist kitsch. These days, one can slurp from a bowl bedecked with scantily clad island girls or vaguely “African” idols for only so long before sensing, beneath the pulse of rum, that these things should make you go “Hmmm” — and give you pause before launching attacks based on tiki “authenticity.”
A fan of real tiki should know the history and be clear about what’s classic and what’s new. But tiki has long taken charming strangers into its embrace, and modern tiki can afford to open its doors — to welcome new and charming guests, and throw some older aesthetic baggage (and some trolls) out in the street.
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