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Tiki Oasis Heads Into Space For 2015

The biggest tiki weekender ‘in the solar system’ launches Thursday night

Bartender and bitters maker Ram Udwin concocts a tiki style cocktail.

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Above: Bartender and bitters maker Ram Udwin concocts a tiki style cocktail.


Tiki Oasis 2015 Program

Tiki Oasis 2015 Program

Complete Tiki Oasis 2015 souvenir program book.

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Tiki Oasis 2015 Marketplace

Tiki Oasis 2015 Marketplace

Map of the Tiki Oasis Marketplace, which is open to the public.

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Tiki Oasis boasts that it’s the biggest Tiki Weekender on the planet — actually that’s been amended to “in the solar system” since this year’s theme is Yesterday’s Future Today.

Tiki Oasis is a 15-year-old convention that draws 3,000 people, runs four days, and has some 60 hours of symposiums. Each year, event organizers Otto Von Stroheim and Baby Doe pick a theme. In the past it’s been beat, hulabilly, exotic espionage, south of the border and surf city. This year the hype has grown hyperbolic to fit the space age theme: “Tiki Oasis is the Class M hypergiant of the Tiki scene, the biggest Tiki Weekender in the solar system,” according to organizers.

Tiki Oasis also serves as a mecca for people into tiki style. Ram Udwin is a bitters maker and he said tiki is all about fun and 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,” Udwin said.

Space age theme defined

This year attendees can reach for the stars and escape to outer space. The website explains the rationale behind this year’s Tiki Oasis theme:

The Space Age ran parallel to the modern primitivism of tiki culture. While technology propelled modern man to the moon, the common man celebrated isolated islander cultures that were equally unattainable.

Whether it was a World’s Fair or Disneyland’s Tomorrowland (1955), it seemed that the interest in other worlds, in outer space was equally as intriguing as our curiosity of primitive cultures. All World's Fairs had "International" exhibits displaying exotic and primitive cultures alongside the most modern aspects of technology. Similarly, with a short walk across Disneyland's Main Street, tourists traveled from the advanced technologies of Tomorrowland to the wilds of Adventureland's Polynesian garden - The Tiki Room and the Jungle Cruise.

In 1947 the world listened and read about the Kon Tiki raft sailing across the South Pacific toward the most remote island on earth - Easter Island.

Ten years later the Western world watched as Russia’s Sputnik sailed into outer space to begin the space race. Soon thereafter Apollo jettisoned the first men to the moon.

The Telstar satellite (1962) inspired Joe Meek to pen the number one surf instrumental tune of the same name using cutting edge recording techniques (the single was backed by B Side "Jungle Fever"). Pull on your jet pack and jump into the air; grab your ray gun and become a space invader; or just relax poolside soaking in the sights and sounds of your own moonage daydream.

What's new

At Tiki Oasis you can learn how to hula hoop, throw a luau, or play ukulele. Or you can just sit by the pool and drink exotic cocktails. That’s where Udwin comes in.

This year Udwin introduces an intoxicating new addition. (Thanks to Jason Lee and the R.I.P. Tides for the music in the second part of the video above.)

"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," Udwin explained.

Bartenders had to submit a video demonstrating their tiki cocktail entry and that raises the question of what qualifies a cocktail as tiki?

"The primary element that makes tiki is the element of spice," Udwin said.

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.

"The true tiki drink is more than just a bunch of sweet juices," Udwin insisted. "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 stepped 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. He fills the lime boat with over proof rum and then sets it on fire.

"Flipper’s hot date is what we’ll call it," Udwin said of his improvised tiki cocktail.

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.

"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," Udwin said. "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.

Photo caption: A tiki-style cocktail that Ram Udwin improvised at the Cat Eye Club to demons...

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

A tiki-style cocktail that Ram Udwin improvised at the Cat Eye Club to demonstrate what defines a tiki drink. It needs spice, usually rum, and a garden on top.

Tiki Oasis is sold out Thursday (opening night is at the Bali Hai) through Saturday. Limited tickets are currently available for the Sunday evening event.

Symposium and special event tickets are still available in limited quantities at the door of each symposium and/or special event. Tiki Oasis runs Thursday through Sunday at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Mission Valley (formerly the Hanalei Hotel).


Tiki Oasis 2015 Schedule

Tiki Oasis 2015 Schedule

Schedule of Tiki Oasis 2015 events and symposiums.

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Free events

Below are free events open to the public during Tiki Oasis at Crowne Plaza on Hotel Circle in San Diego.

All weekend:

Tiki Oasis Marketplace

2015 Pop-Up Artshow

Tiki Tot Playroom

DJ’s and bands: Poolside, Sushi Bar, Car Show


Tiki Oasis Yoga

Sing-along with King Kukulele

Out of this world Fitness Class

Oblong Box Shop – Poolside Fashion Show

Tiki Oasis Book club: A Wrinkle in Time

Miss Tiki Oasis – Poolside Strut


Let's Get Hip to Hula!

Tiki Oasis 2015 Book signing with Merrell Fankhauser, Domenic Priore, Jeff Chenault, Danny Biederman, Java from Bachelor Pad, Neil Norman

7th Annual Car Show


Tiki Tots Tour with King Kukulele

Hula Hooping with Szandora

7th Annual Car Show

Uke Jam

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.


KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando previews Tiki Oasis 2015.



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