Tiki bars come. Tiki bars go.
Although we Polynesiacs see this natural cycle happen time and time again, we intensely dislike it. Something deep within us holds on to the belief that our sacred “tapu” spaces are permanent. We want to believe that our public or private escapes are here forever, that they exist in perpetuity. We want to know they are there when we feel called to our special island. We must believe they will always be there for us, or we’d never truly relax.
But every now and then, we get word of another Tiki bar that has been closed, and we are torn again from our comfortable, yet unnatural belief that it should not be so. What we cherished changes. What we thought would last forever fades away.
Talk to a Buddhist. The Law of Impermanence is the first dharma seal (a primary principle) for good reason. Expecting things not to change is considered the potential root of all suffering. In short, when we hold on to the belief that something won’t change, we will suffer, simply because all things do. Instead, we only have the ability to cultivate and appreciate the now. Perhaps it’s frivolous to apply this heady philosophical idea to a home Tiki bar, but it sure makes sense to me after visiting The Enchanted Tiki Lounge in Conroe, Texas.
Brian welcomed me in and launched into fun stories about the creation of the Enchanted Tiki Lounge within minutes of my arrival. Douglas, his son, was home on leave from the Navy and provided us with an occasional memory and hearty laugh. The Enchanted Tiki Lounge was the Brian’s third home Tiki bar, and I could tell from first glance that this space had been polished into a gem with each new cut. First it was a palapa-style outdoor bar. Then, a Tiki was introduced, and the fever caught. Soon there’d be discussions of moving the bar indoors, taking up the garage space, while the collections of mugs, art, and carvings got more elaborate. Brian was an expert thrifter, using platforms like OfferUp to find treasure that might end up with him or with someone else. As part of this adventures, Brian ended up supplying Lattitude 29 with the bamboo fish tank that now sits in the back of the bar. In fact, he personally drove it over to Beachbum Berry when he sold it to him. By the time of my visit, the Enchanted Tiki Lounge was full of Tiki carvings, Papua New Guinea masks, lamps, local Texas artisan touches, 150 bottles of rum, three large Witcos, and even a Leeteg black velvet complete with a certificate of authenticity.
Brian knows the look of Tiki. He saw examples of authentic mid-century Tiki style early in life. Growing up in Lockeford, California, he passed by The Islander in Stockton with his parents on a regular basis as a kid. Although his parents never let him visit the now-gone Tiki temple, the pizza place close-by allowed for a view and a chance to cultivate a sense of mystery about what it would be like to go inside. Like most kids of the 70s and 80s, Disneyland as also an early influence. But It wasn’t the rides that drew him in. Brian remembers the most the attention to details of every nook and cranny in the park. That attention to detail influenced his approach to The Enchanted Tiki Lounge so many years later. His rule? Make it too detailed. People love getting lost in the small details found only in a Tiki bar.
When Brian put on one of his vintage LPs, Gene Rains Group’ Far Across the Sea, I felt was I was in heaven. With a good drink in my hand, good music in my head, and good company sitting around me, I felt the familiar desire to savor the moment.
Had I known that this visit to the Enchanted Tiki Lounge would be my first, my last, and my only visit, I would have taken more time to savor that fleeting hour. I would have taken time to dig deeper into the stories offered, to look longer at Brian’s curated collection, and to sip more slowly the Doctor Bird cocktail Brian had carefully prepared. I could have been present for just a little longer.
Unfortunately, the world turned, and life changed. Impermanence occurred. Within months after my visit, the Enchanted Tiki Lounge was no more. When I reached back to Brian to share my images and tales, I learned that the Enchanted Tiki Lounge had been disassembled.
Do me a favor?
If you’re reading this in your home Tiki bar, take a few more moments than usual to hang back. Take a look around. See what you’ve amassed. Take pride in your creation. Take a slower sip than usual. Breathe in the lime and fresh mint and savor the scent for just a second longer than you should.
Please. Just a little longer.