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Tiki Oasis Serves Up San Diego Bartenders Tiki Battle

August 13, 2015 5:24 p.m.

Tiki Oasis has extended their boast of being the biggest Tiki Weekender on the planet to being the biggest in the solar system as this year’s theme launches into space. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando explains what tiki culture is and what’s new at the 15-year-old convention.

Related Story: Tiki Oasis Heads Into Space For 2015

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ANCHOR INTRO: Tiki Oasis has extended their boast of being the biggest Tiki Weekender on the planet to being the biggest in the solar system as this year’s theme launches into space. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando explains what tiki culture is and what’s new at the 15-year-old convention.

TAG: Tiki Oasis continues through Sunday at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Mission Valley. Watch for Beth’s TV feature tonight on Evening Edition.

MUSIC Tiki Room

Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room did not give birth to tiki culture that credit belongs to Don the Beachcomber and the opening of his Polynesian themed restaurant in Hollywood in 1934. But when the Disneyland attraction debuted in Adventureland in 1963 it encapsulated the key elements of the tiki lifestyle: fun, escapism, and kitsch.

MUSIC up

Ram Udwin is a bitters maker and author of the blog Boy Drinks World. He sums up tiki like this:

RAM UDWIN: “Tiki is about escapism. Tiki is about living in Chicago in the middle of winter and walking into a tropical paradise and being handed a giant frothy delicious drink that might be on fire. It’s escapism in the best sense of the word.”

Tiki Oasis has been serving up an island escape from urban living for 15 years, providing what founder Ottot Von Stroheim calls a a mecca for the tiki tribe.

OTTO VON STROHEIM: This event like tiki culture has every element that you can think of from the arts, we have fine arts, we have an art show, we have book signings from authors with new books during the year and during the day we have seminars, we call them symposiums and in the symposiums you can learn about cooking like how to throw luau, you can learn about cocktails, music… so we focus on history and all the elements of the arts. You can learn dance, you can learn ukulele, we have something for everybody from age 6 to 60.

This year Udwin introduces an intoxicating new addition.

RAM UDWIN: So this year for the first time Tiki Oasis is hosting a competition for tiki cocktail bartenders, a bartenders battle if you will. We really wanted to reach out into the community and find some bartenders out there that are doing great tiki things but aren’t necessarily involved in Tiki Oasis.

Bartenders had to submit a video demonstrating their tiki cocktail entry.

CLIP I’m Amber Reihman from Cat Eye and this is the astro chimp…

This raises the question of what qualifies a cocktail as tiki.

RAM UDWIN: The primary element that makes tiki is the element of spice.

Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and all spice can bring out the tropical flavor of fruit juices but Udwin warns that the drink doesn’t need to be sugary sweet.

RAM UDWIN: The true tiki drink is more than just a bunch of sweet juices, it should be balanced in flavor, it shouldn’t be too sweet, it should really celebrate it’s presentation in a cocktail so it should be in a pretty glass, there should be a garden on top, and sticks and twigs and all kinds of fun stuff. So with Tiki drinks there’s an element of presentation, and element of art.

As proof, Udwin steps behind the bar of the Cat Eye Club downtown to mix a tiki cocktail and he starts by carving a banana into a dolphin and turning a half a lime into a boat…

RAM UDWIN: A little over proof rum…

And he sets the lime boat on fire for an improvised tiki cocktail.

RAM Flipper’s hot date is what we’ll call it.

The heat comes not just from the flame but also from the addition of Serrano bitters that Udwin makes. That lets the drink go out with subtle infusion of heat in your mouth. For his passion old fashion the finishing touch on the drink actually enhances your olfactory experience before you even take a sip.

RAM: I’m gonna take a little of my passion fruit bitters and add a few drops to the ice so it gives it a big aroma impact when you put your nose down to the straw to sip it those aromas from the passion fruit bitters will come off the ice, it won’t affect the flavors but that’s what you want your garnishes to do is enhance the experience.

Attention to detail is also part of the tiki experience. If you attend the San Diego Bartenders Tiki Battle you will not only be able to watch the four finalist compete on stage and display their tiki skills, but you’ll also get to sample some of their tiki concoctions for what Udwin calls a “little vacation” from the real world. And that ultimately sums up tiki, it’s all about escape.

Beth Accomando, KPBS News.