The definition of tiki varies depending on whom you ask.
Some fans say it’s about the movement’s idiosyncratic cocktails and music, or a love of the funhouse-mirror version of Polynesian culture it portrays.
Others, perhaps most, see it as escapism. And what precinct is more deserving of a little full-immersion island fever than a group of fun-loving Hoosiers with enviable Hawaiian print collections? “We’re landlocked here in the Midwest, and it’s cold, and we don’t have palm trees,” laments Eric Bogan, a member of the Pukapuka chapter of the Fraternal Order of Moai, a national organization of serious aficionados that is often referred to as a cult within the cult of the modern tiki revival. The social club has hubs all over the country, including New England’s Queequeg chapter, Atlanta’s Tongariki chapter, and Central Ohio’s Kahiki chapter. The Indy-area group named itself after a remote atoll in the Cook Islands that, from the air, reminded them of the Circle City. The island’s beaches form a ring around the landmass, reminiscent, they thought, of I-465.
Bogan works as a bartender at The Inferno Room, as does his Pukapuka brethren, Dan O’Connell (who works the back bar on the weekends), but their interest in the lifestyle predates the local resurgence by a few years. O’Connell is an old friend of The Inferno Room co-owner Ed Rudisell. “He probably got tired of me asking when he was going to open that tiki bar.”
Both Bogan and O’Connell keep lavishly appointed tiki bars in their basements. Those DIY watering holes serve as regular meeting places for colorful little cocktail parties. But the big event of the year—and the only one open to nonmembers—is the annual Makahiki: A Night of Tiki, a grand party in September that benefits a local charity. Last year’s fete included a luau and rum tasting, with live music, a tiki-themed burlesque act, and bartenders pouring tropical drinks.
For many fans, the movement’s touchstone isn’t necessarily Polynesia, but rather Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. O’Connell got the bug from watching The Brady Bunch episodes from 1972, when the family went to Hawaii. Bogan has actually visited Hawaii, an experience he describes in terms akin to a pilgrim visiting Mecca. Ironically, the cocktails weren’t that great. “But really, people don’t go there for the cocktails,” Bogan says. If they want a great stiff drink and if they have friends like these, they can just stay home.
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