This year Tiki Oasis celebrates the Caribbean Islands and their influence on Tiki subculture with the theme of “Trip to the Tropics.” Caribbean flavors, rum, dance and music have all shaped the Polynesian pop scene and will be highlighted at this year's event.
For more than two decades the convention has drawn people from all over the globe to revel in Tiki culture. For five nights and four days, attendees can enjoy live music, dancing, pool lounging, sunset dinners, disc jockeys, educational seminars, a marketplace of more than 150 artists and makers, tropical cocktails curated by top mixologists, an art show, and Pooch Parade.
In case it is not clear from that list, Tiki Oasis is all about escape. Yes, there are horrible things going on in the world from COVID-19 to Monkeypox to the war in Ukraine, but we don’t always have to think about those things. For those rough times, when you want a break from the real world, there is Tiki Oasis.
"There's nothing too serious at Tiki Oasis and I think that we've had a few serious years," said Sassy Stiletto, Miss Tiki Oasis 2016. "So it's really nice to kick back with your friends, have a few drinks and get to hang out by the pool. It's like a vacation within a vacation."
But Tiki Oasis acknowledges some of the criticism it has received. On Sunday, it’s holding a free-to-attend seminar called Talking Tiki presented by the Tiki Oasis Diversity and Inclusion Council. It will address appropriation versus appreciation of cultures as it discusses minority cultures, Tiki culture and mid-century Americana with the goal of providing a forum for education, knowledge and conversation.
Last year, Tiki Oasis returned from quarantine to celebrate its 20th year at the newly renovated Town and Country Resort, which boasts a lot of the mid-century décor that Tiki Oasis adores. So for the room and suite parties, you won’t be seeing people moving out the beds and furniture as much as they used to.
"So things have changed now. We're a little bit mature now. We're not taking everything out of the rooms and redecorating them for three days," Dottie Deville said. "We're actually incorporating all of the Mid-Century furniture that are in the rooms. So you won't see everything taken out. You'll see a lot of the furniture still in there, which is nice, so it makes it cozy."
"Our suite parties are sponsored by all of our different liquor sponsors and some distillery, some beer and cider companies," she added. "So they decorate their rooms, they have a theme, they bring in different bands, artists, DJs, performers. They will set up a bar and you go in, you experience the livelihood of Tiki Oasis nighttime parties. You grab a libation and you mosey on to the next party."
Libations are important to Deville who is co-hosting the bartender battle. The final round will be done Iron Chef style with Sassy Stilletto adding some flare to the proceedings.
"She is going to rip open a bag where we're going to display the secret ingredient," Deville said. "And they have, I believe, 10 minutes to battle it out and make a cocktail for all six judges."
Bartenders get points for creativity, taste and the story behind their cocktail. That’s because backstories are important. They can provide insight into how people get into Tiki Culture. Take Kris Kraus.
"I grew up in Buffalo, which is probably the least tropical place in America," Kraus explained. "My grandparents met in the Philippines and I heard all these stories about what was then called the Orient. Sven Kirsten says in his 'Book of Tiki,' when the veterans came back after World War II, after being in exotic locales in the Pacific, they wanted to relive the positives of that experience. There were so many negatives, and they came back to whatever small town they were from in Middle America, and these Tiki bars and other establishments started popping up. It was a way for them to escape."
Kraus escaped the Buffalo winters watching mid-century spy shows such as "The Saint" and "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." and James Bond movies, which introduced him to fezzes, those short, cylindrical and brimless hats with tassels.
"I'm interested in exotic and esoteric things, and fezzes are both exotic and esoteric. They're esoteric in that they represent a secret society, a fraternal organization. And they're exotic in that Hollywood used it as shorthand whenever they wanted to present a different locale," Kraus said. "The bad guy always wears a fez. And it's shorthand for 'the other,' something we don't understand to describe a place that we've never been."
Kraus, who has been collecting fezzes since he was a teenager, will be doing a seminar all about the history of the fez, which is Tiki adjacent.
"The Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mahmud II in 1825, banned the turban. He was trying to be more European. He wanted to move away from what he saw as archaic old ways. And so one of his admirals came back in 1825 from a trip to Europe and had a fez, or what looked like a fez, and he made that the national headgear of Turkey," Kraus explained. "Now, 100 years later, the first president of Turkey, when the Ottoman Empire was abolished, he outlawed the fez and actually made it punishable by the death penalty to have a fez because he wanted to go even more Western. He looked at the fez the way Mahmud looked at the turban. So we associate this headgear with a certain country, but it's outlawed there, and I'm not sure if people know that."
But fezzes are welcome at Tiki Oasis as are immaculate vintage outfits and perfectly coiffed hair. For Sassy Stiletto the convention was about finding a community.
"Instead of being the person that stands out in a room, you're in a room of people that are all standing out," Sassy Stiletto said. "And the great thing about Tiki Oasis is that everyone's happy and cheers on other people in their outfits and loves them and notice the new sunglasses, new hat, whatever."
A relatively new addition for people to cheer on is the Pooch Parade, which Kraus oversees.
"Lucca [Kraus's dog] is sort of famous because I took a picture of her a couple of years ago with her suitcase filled with her Tiki outfits and posted it on the Tiki Oasis Facebook page, and it got 400 likes," Kraus recalled. "Then everybody wanted to meet Lucca, and the whole Pooch Parade thing just kind of exploded from there."
The Pooch Parade is an opportunity for people to show off their dogs and their dog's outfits at Tiki Oasis and win prizes.
In addition to the Pooch Parade, Tiki Oasis offers dancing, seminars, live music, an art show, tropical cocktails and a marketplace of more than 150 artists and makers. It’s a lot to take in.
"I went there the first time as a hair model, thinking that I was going to drop in and drop out. That was 11 years ago and I've been every year since so I'm pretty sure you'll get addicted," Sassy Stiletto said. "You'll be overwhelmed. It will be amazing. So check it out."
So escape to the tropics this week with Tiki Oasis.