Why I Miss Tiki Central

In the grand scheme of things, I came into Tiki kind of late. It didn’t help that I was landlocked for so many years, and I didn’t get to enjoy the second incarnation of Trader Vic’s Dallas before it closed for good. But I always knew there was one place I could go find Tiki, and that was Tiki Central.

If you didn’t get a chance to see Tiki Central before it disappeared into the digital abyss, I feel for you. It was the one place you could count on to see all kinds of interesting things about Polynesian Pop history. There were a lot of really helpful folks there who were eager to share urban archaeological finds, old tchotchkes, restaurant/bar ephemera…you name it. And when Sven Kirsten’s books became out of print and more difficult to get, Tiki Central became the repository for the type of content you might find in those books.

But in Spring of 2020, not long after celebrating its 20th anniversary, Tiki Central suddenly went down, and the Tiki community collectively cried out in horror. What happened to it was the subject of lots of speculation until its creator Hanford Lemoore finally posted an update in September 2020 explaining what happened to it. Will it ever come back? I don’t think anyone’s really sure. But goddamn, I really hope so.

I think I speak for more than just myself when I say that Facebook is kind of a horrible place to run a Tiki group, probably more so now than ever. And the more popular Tiki becomes, the more annoying the groups become. Not to say there aren’t people there that post genuinely meaningful things and care about the history, but nowadays, I see post after post of Target/Party City Tiki and tropical-themed stuff that people just lump into Tiki without really knowing what it is.

And this brings me to the same mind-numbing questions being asked over and over:

  • “Is this Tiki?”
  • “Anyone know what this [insert name of item here] is worth?”
  • “What are the best Tiki bars to visit in [insert name of city here]?”

Some newbies demonstrate a real curiosity for the topic and conduct their own research, but a lot seem to forget that there’s thing called Google. And while we’re encouraged to be welcoming and willing to teach others, I’m amazed at the number of people who take offense to someone kindly explaining that the African mask they just scored at their neighbor’s garage sale for $5.00 or their Golden Girls character mug isn’t Tiki. There are just too many people who think Tiki is whatever you want it to be or is nothing more than a “state of mind.” Anyone who gets enough of this is bound to get tired of it and just stop trying to educate people.

As you might expect, all the squabbling is the reason we have so many Tiki and Tiki-adjacent groups on Facebook. I’ve lost count of how many there are. And the drama—I’ve never seen so much gossip, infighting, harassment, and downright bullying as I’ve seen on Facebook. I mean, do people having nothing better to do than pick online fights with people, whine because someone didn’t like their post, or complain their post was deleted even though they didn’t bother to read the rules before posting?

Facebook group moderators can only do so much—and some do nothing at all and just let the groups devolve into a hodgepodge of cheaply made tropical/nautical fern bar crap. One of the nice things about Tiki Central was not having to see ugly, toothy painted Tikis or gaudy flamingo-themed stuff from the local HomeGoods. What I saw there was actually legit and interesting. And while people certainly had their issues with one another on Tiki Central, it was nowhere near as bad as it is on Facebook.

I sometimes wish Tiki would go underground again. In many ways, I feel like it was a lot more fun before the masses started getting into it. I’m not interested in the watering down of the Tiki I know and have come to enjoy—I love my dimly lit bars that play exotica or surf music and serve me enticing drinks in beautifully sculpted Tiki mugs that actually look like Tikis. I long for Tiki to feel effortless like it used to—no more Tiki events selling out within minutes, no more more people scalping Tiki mugs online before they even go on sale (because that shit is for assholes), and no more useless Facebook Tiki drama.

Yeah, yeah…I know that’s a pipe dream. But I feel like having Tiki Central back would really benefit the Tiki community, because we’d once again have a place where people can learn, interact, and not be subject to Facebook’s ridiculous nanny rules that put people in FB jail for having a sense of humor. Plus, since it isn’t Facebook, it’s likely only the true diehards would really use it (because it’s 2021, and let’s face it—the UI would probably drive most people nuts).

But seriously…please come back, Tiki Central. We need you.