Then, They Came for the Tiki Bars | National Review

Then, They Came for the Tiki Bars | National Review

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File this under the category of “finding a reason to be offended and try to destroy something, just because we can”:

But amidst all this supposed fun, there have been lingering questions about the genre. For example, is the whimsical use of Pacific Island terminology and iconography —particularly religious imagery like tiki carvings and moai, Easter Island statues—in these establishments sufficiently respectful of actual Polynesian cultures? And does this lighthearted take on Oceania inappropriately gloss over the more uncomfortable aspects of the region’s history and modern-day reality?

When the cocktail lounge Lost Lake opened in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood in January 2015, my sense was that its owners, who are white, were mindful of these issues. While the place was branded as a tiki bar—for example, its website was—and served the traditional drinks in a beachcomber setting, the decor and drinkware were nearly devoid of tikis.

In the wake of the George Floyd police murder and renewed calls for addressing past and present racial injustices, tiki venues have come under increased scrutiny, with some people arguing that the format may be irredeemably flawed. Leading the charge has been the Pasifika Project, “an organization founded by and created for individuals of Oceanic descent within the hospitality and spirits industry,” which has a reading list of tiki criticism on its website.

“The drinks genre itself is rooted in colonialism and imperialism,” argues cofounder Samuel Jimenez, a Californian of Samoan and Mexican-American ancestry, in a conversation last year on the beverage website Punch. “To me, there’s no way around it. To me, non-appropriative tiki doesn’t exist. It’s not a thing. It can’t be a thing.”

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.