The craft cocktail movement has made tiki cool with the kids.
Although the average TikiCat customer is 40 to 60 years old, bartenders Mai-Ven Katikii (Mandi Murray) and Puka Pumba (Trenton Bottles) are 27 and 34, respectively.
And they’re having a blast learning to make their own orgeat, squeeze fresh juices and muddle mint. Everything at TikiCat is made from scratch and reflects the same attention to detail that made exotic drinks created at Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s the tiki gold standard.
“We just want to become tiki superheroes,” Murray says.
Which doesn’t seem an outlandish goal when your education starts with some of the legends in the tiki bartending business.
“Having that time with Martin Cate to sit down and have that history lesson has instilled a lot of the fire that we have,” Bottles says.
Cate, a rum expert and James Beard award winner for his book “Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki,” co-authored with his wife, was hired to consult on TikiCat’s drink menu and train the bartenders.
“The craft cocktail movement has recognized the value of these old recipes, (and) some people have made their reputation creating new tiki drinks, even though they might not sling behind a tiki bar,” says Paul Hutinett, a member of private Facebook group MOKANtiki.
Meanwhile, in a culture where the bar is the star, even the matchbooks, coasters and cocktail napkins are providing a rush of inspiration.
Bryan Azorsky is a rum enthusiast, a member of the Kansas City chapter of the US Bartenders Guild and a graphic designer with a keen eye for memorable tiki imagery and “island-friendly”-type fonts.
That combination of skill and interest has led him to create the Tiki Bar T-Shirt Club, which features a limited-edition monthly design using vintage images, such as his most recent, a hula girl leaning against a palm tree. The design is a nod to The Tropics, a “pre-tiki” tropical lounge on the third floor of the historic Hotel Phillips that opened in the early ’40s and closed sometime in the ’60s.
The Tropics’ tagline: Kansas City’s Atmospheric Cocktail Retreat.
“The lounge was famous for an hourly tropical storm,” Azorsky posted on Facebook. The hotel flyer described the event as follows: “The sound of thunder was piped in and the lights fluttered and went out. A mechanical hula girl would emerge from behind the bar and dance in a grass skirt while it rained behind the bar.”
Hard to say if retro T-shirts will make him the next Alfred Shaheen, the famed tiki fashion designer. “It’s mostly a passion project,” Azorsky says of the T-shirt business, but it serves as his passport to “meeting people and having a connection to tiki.”