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SOME INDUSTRY OBSERVERS MAY give credit to the reality TV show Survivor, but there has been a tiki resurgence quietly brewing. It picked up steam and erupted somewhat unexpectedly like a dormant South Seas volcano. Perhaps the most unusual thing about the new tiki craze is that it involves vintage tiki bars rather than a wave of new "instant tiki bar" openings. The trend dovetails with twenty- and thirtysomethings' interest in most anything "retro," from vintage clothing to pink flamingos, frou-frou specialty drinks and even the tiki mugs in which they are served. It harkens back to a safer, more innocent time when tropical classics like South Pacific {1958) and Blue Hawaii {1961) were all the rage.
"There's definitely a tiki revival going on, " confirms Gregory Day, director of food and beverage at The Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, home of The Tonga Restaurant & Hurricane Bar {widely known as The Tonga Room), which opened in 1946. "Very little has changed at The Tonga Room in terms of its concept since 1946," says Day, a nine-year veteran of The Fairmont Hotel. While The Tonga Room has been open for 56 years with its authentic decor complete with tiki God statues, tropical rainstorms and a full-size lagoon in the middle of the restaurant where the band actually performs on a floating raft. Day reports that The Tonga Room now attracts a younger clientele. " A lot of the younger generation
is being exposed to TV Land-shows that we grew up with like The Love Boat, Gilligan's Island and I Dream of Jeannie," Day says. He believes that these campy classics have fueled the tiki trend.
The Tonga Room serves up more than 25 different tiki drinks ($6 to $25) using 10 different types of rum and 26 different specialty glasses. Among the more popular sips are the Singapore Sling ($8.50) and the Lava Bowl (served for two at $15 or for four at $25), a concoction of 12 including Bacardi 151, Myers's Dark Rum and an assortment of fruit juices, served, of course, in a large Lava Bowl. But the No.1 tipple is the Tonga Hurricane ($10.95), served in a Tonga souvenir glass.
Unlike The Tonga Room that caters to tourists, the Molokai Bar at the Mai- Kai Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has made locals its bread and butter. Established in 1956, just three years before Hawaii joined the Union to become the 50th state, the Molokai Bar has been described by some tiki aficionados as the "Mack Daddy of All Tiki Bars. " Between its authentic objets d'tiki, complete with rain showers that continually cascade down the outside windows, tiki gardens and nightly Polynesian floor shows for $10 a person, Mai-Kai offers a complete tiki experience.
With 52 different tropical drinks on the beverage list alone (from $5.25 to $12.50 with a souvenir glass) that are grouped together by potency (non- alcoholic, mild, medium and strong), one could try a new drink every week at Molokai without duplication, beginning with the Barrel 0' Rum ($11), a blend of Dagger Punch Rum and J. Wray & Nephew Ltd. Dark Jamaica Rum with fruit juices served in a 30- ounce barrel-shaped mug, and ending with the Zombie ($10.25). But the beverage list does not end there. "Rums have become very popular," says Kern Mattei, general manager, "which is why we added a list of 40 premium aged rums for sipping," ranging from a San Miguel5- Year-Old from Ecuador for $5.50 to Bacardi8 for $6.75 to Appleton 21 Year Extra Old for $12 a one-ounce pour. Mattei, who has been at Mai-Kai for 14 years, observes, "The renewed popularity of tiki has certainly helped our business. The clientele is getting younger, which is what helps us stick around. We have kept up with the times." Mai-Kai has updated the menu to include more Thai food and spicier flavor profiles that go beyond the typical sweet-and-sour fare.
Even in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, Dave Hoemann, senior vice president of Flat Top Grill, an eight-unit chain of "create your own stir fry" restaurants, declares, "It's tiki time!" Hoemann caught wind of the tiki trend when he was at the Fancy Food Show on the West Coast last winter. "I saw a lot of tiki going on there. A number of hotel bars were doing it, even mainstream bars. " When he returned to Chicago, he created a tiki-themed promotion to deck out all eight restaurants (five in Chicago, two in Washington D.C. and a new one in Indiana} in tiki decor , while offering eight retro-tiki drinks ($5.95 to $6.50}. In addition to the traditional Mighty Mai Tai and the Singapore Sling, he also added some drinks with attitude like the Yokohama Mama, made with Bacardi Light rum, Bacardi Dark rum, DeKuyper Tropical Pine- apple liqueur and pineapple, mango and guava juices, garnished with an orange, a maraschino cherry and a pineapple flag, and the Horny Monkey, made with well vodka, DeKuyper Banana Liqueur, Castillo Light Rum and colada mix, garnished with a peeled whole banana. All tiki drinks are presented in 18-ounce glass coolers that look like bamboo, priced at $5.95 to $6.50 and are being served through September. Based on his past experience, Hoemann believes, "I think this tiki promotion could increase our liquor check average by $1 to $1.50 per person." For a chain that already enjoys beverage sales of 25- to 30-percent of total food and beverage revenue, this is not a bad way to close out the summer.

Felicia M. Sherbert is a contributing editor of MARKET WATCH and the author of The Unofficial Guide to Selecting Wine (Hungry Minds).

"I think this tiki promotion could increase our liquor check average by $1 to $1.50 per person."


It's ironic how the Tonga Room rep is finally noticing that "younger" people are going there lately, when we have been going there for years despite the incredibly rude service!

HEY THANKS CABER-NET!!! I think I might be able to use this for my MBA project!!!


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