Find someone who loves Tiki mugs -- those glazed ceramic vessels bearing evil and funny faces -- and you'll probably discover other Tiki and Polynesian items in their collection, like vintage rattan furniture, Matson cruise line menu artwork and tropical wood-carved statuary
All things Tiki and tropical swept the United States and other countries right after World War II. Soldiers who served in the South Pacific during the war returned home with eyewitness accounts of beautiful, sun-drenched islands lush with flowers, fruit and miles of white sandy beaches and clean, clear water. With his 1948 Pulitzer Prize-winning book Tales of the South Pacific, author James Michener further ignited the lure of the tropics. The adaptation of Michener's book became South Pacific, a Rodgers and Hammerstein Tony Award-winning Broadway musical and film. And, of course, there were the Hawaiian Islands, which collectively became the 50th state in 1959 and an increasingly popular travel destination by air and sea.
The exotic South Seas permeated into many aspects of postwar culture: restaurants, bars, motels, hotels and even bowling alleys were designed in a Tiki architectural style. Suburbanites entertained Hawaiian-shirt and muu-muu-wearing friends at backyard luau parties, where island cuisine and Don Ho on the hi-fi got everyone in a spirited, tropical mood.
Most major cities had at least a couple of nice Hawaiian / Polynesian-style restaurants. One of the first was Don the Beachcomber, started by Donn Beach (yep, that was his name) in California. Exotic, fruit-laden cocktails were served in vessels known as Tiki mugs. Cocktails had tempting tropical names like Planter's Punch, Passionate Rummy, Singapore Sling, Misty Island, Scratch Me Lani, Navy Grog and Sweet Leilani.
Tiki Mug Manufacturers:
The two leading Tiki farms that manufactured these treasured vessels were Orchids of Hawaii (marked on the bottom "Made in Japan" or "Made in Taiwan") and Otagiri Mercantile Company (OMC). Other ceramic, giftware and even some well-known pottery companies did Tiki, including Daga, Franciscan, Frankoma
, Fred Roberts, HF, Haeger, Hoffman, Jard Products, McCoy
, Paul Marshall, Napco
Meet the Tikis:
What is Tiki? Writes Duke Carter in Tiki Quest: collecting the Exotic Past
(2003, Pegboard Press, Chicago): "To a growing throng of passionate collectors, it is the fundamental cornerstone of a lifestyle filled with 'exotic' sounds, even more exotic rum-filled drinks and to memories, either real or imagined, of the bars, restaurants and hotels that had become Tiki temples where revelers could escape the confines of everyday life and 'go native' for the night."
Tiki mug designs vary, and were based on Oceanic volcanoes, art, totems and dieties. There were mugs in the shape of hula girls, skulls, rum barrels, bamboo, birds, monkeys,- warrior masksicte, volcanoes, pineapples and coconuts. Tiki gods were depicted praying, laughing, drunk, screaming, grimacing, and sticking out their tongues. Some were inspired by the art of actual South Seas cultures, like New Zealand's Maori, Easter Island's Moai, Kauai's Menehune and those from Samoa, Tonga and Tahiti. Looking for all things exotic, Far Eastern figures like Buddha, Geisha girls and the Fu Manchu found their way onto Tiki vessels.
Tiki Mug collectors -- headhunters -- place higher value on vessels that are more rare, made by a certain manufacturer or come from a particular restaurant. Favorites vary, but the Easter Island Moai, Fu Manchu and Trader Vic's Suffering Bastard (links to larger images) are coveted.
Many of the more popular Tiki mug designs have been reproduced for a new generation of South Pacific partygoers and throwers who are more interested in the look and theme than where the Tikis actually came from. The artist Shag often depicts Midcentury modern
cocktail culture in his work, and in 2003 produced a line of Tiki mugs and ceramics in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of Disneyland's The Enchanted Tiki Room.
Restaurants and Tiki Bars:
A few of the mugs have a name but no location, and where you buy the Tiki treasure isn't always a tip-off, as many mugs were souvenirs from far-away vacations. Do a little online research or consult this list if you have a mug that is imprinted or has a sticker with something like "The Islander" on its bottom.Some of the Polynesian-themed bars and restaurants that produced Tiki mugs, in no particular order:
- Don the Beachcomber in Waikiki; Las Vegas; Marina Del Rey and Corona Del Mar, California
- Trader Vic's in Beverly Hills, Oakland, Waikiki
- Mai Kai in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
- Aku Aku in Las Vegas
- Kon Tiki Ports in Chicago
- The Castaways in Miami
- Palm Beach Hawaiian in Palm Beach, Florida
- Waikiki Room in Minneapolis
- Pontchartrain Beachcomber in New Orleans
- The Luau in Beverly Hills
- Bali Hai in San Diego
- Lahala House in Corpus Christi, Texas
- Shanghai Lil's in Chicago
- The Tropics in Chicago
- Honolulu Harry's in Chicago
- Shangri-La in Chicago
- The Outrigger on Cannery Row in Monterey, California
- Congo Steak House in Palm Springs
- Islander in Stockton, California
- Outrigger in Denver
- South Seas in Lincolnwood, Illinois;
- Tur Kai Kai in Kalamazoo, Michigan
- Kelbo's in Los Angeles
- Club Bali in Miami
Where to find Tiki mugs online:
Tikimania / Crazy Al's