Join Hallmark stylist Zoe K. as she takes us out for cocktails and conversation with stylist Betsy G. in her exotic tiki room. You can follow the sound of the bongo drums through the beautiful photos captured by Hallmark photographer, Jane K. Read on as Betsy shares what inspired the unusual room and how you can host your own tiki party. Recipes included!
Zoe: Betsy! This tiki room! I love your moody lighting and the scent of fresh lime and mint wafting everywhere. You even have some beautiful Japanese glass fishing floats hanging from your ceiling! I feel totally transported to another place and time, like some vaguely Polynesian 50’s hideaway.
Betsy: Good! That’s exactly how I want you to feel. Here, put on these shell necklaces. Up for a Mai Tai? Tonight I’m making the one from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu. Or do you want to try something new?
Zoe: Surprise me. Oh, I see Miss Lolita (Betsy’s chihuahua) is in her tiki best. It’s not a real party until you put on your red lipstick and Lolita puts on her party dress.
Betsy: Are you hungry? I have chicken pineapple kabobs. You can have the Mai Tai or a Singapore Sling or dare to try a drink that I have never made before from Beachbum Berry’s book.
Zoe: Yum. Maybe one of those green things in the champagne coupe. Who is Beachbum Berry? And seriously, what is this music?
Betsy: This wild woman is Yma Sumac. It’s called Exotica music. Martin Denny is the one that really started it. Isn’t it hypnotic? It used to play in the early tiki bars.
Zoe: What exactly is tiki anyway? Is it something from an imaginary Tikiland? Is it a style? A mood? I’m looking it up…
Okay, a tiki is a carved sculpture with human expression, but tiki pop culture exploded after WWII when the soldiers returned with stories and souvenirs from the South Pacific. Now back to Beachbum Berry.
Betsy: He’s the guy I told you about who hosted the rum symposium that Randy and I attended at the Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Beachbum Berry has researched original tiki cocktails for almost thirty years and has written several books with recipes and the stories behind the concoctions. The Mai-Kai is still intact from the 50’s. There are gardens full of tikis and waterfalls, exotic rooms filled with Polynesian artifacts and décor, and a Polynesian floorshow every night. It really is a step back into the 50’s tiki nightclub experience. “The Bum,” along with four other rum experts, entertained us with stories of sailors and rum runners while they served rum samples and theatrically created an enormous batch of rum punch right on the stage!
Zoe: So you’re saying you actually took a rum course??
Betsy: Symposium. Serious stuff, right?
I love that you have this lilting percussion coming from all the wooden chimes on your porch. It looks like your hula ladies are swaying on a perfect summer night and all of those hilarious tiki statues are watching. Each one has a different expression. And where on earth did you get this giant tiki statue? It’s bigger than you are.
Betsy: Believe it or not, that giant tiki is the only thing I brought back from the Round Top, Texas antiques show.
Zoe: Oh my. You are in deep. What are you collecting now?
Betsy: Mugs, statues, masks, vintage hula girls, shell necklaces, pufferfish, coconut monkeys, cruise ship menus, artwork, bamboo frames, swizzle sticks, paper umbrellas, anything and everything.
Zoe: How did you start collecting?
Betsy: I started by finding mugs here and there in antiques malls, eBay, and etsy. My friend Joe scooped up mugs for 50 cents in thrift stores and garage sales. He would leave them on my chair at work or I’d find them on my porch. Before I knew it my mug collection was spilling out of a huge cabinet. I like to refer to the mugs as “our” collection.
Zoe: So how long have you been a dedicated Tikiphile?
Betsy: I’m starting to think it’s in my blood, but officially it all started about twelve years ago. Kathy, my neighbor, had just returned from a Los Angeles publisher’s reception where she met Sven Kirsten who wrote The Book of Tiki. She knocked on my door all fired up about having a tiki party and asked if I had anything tiki.
We started scouring thrift shops for anything we could repurpose to look remotely tiki, like vintage planters or funky dishes to use as exotic drink vessels. And, as if it had fallen from the sky, we found a wooden tiki bar waiting for us on a corner junk pile that we bought for twenty bucks. I even got my teenage daughter to cut hundreds of strips from brown paper grocery bags until we had enough to “thatch” the roof of Kathy’s back porch.
Zoe: And so it began.
Betsy: And so it began. After the party, I could.not.stop. I read Sven Kirsten’s book, subscribed to Tiki Magazine, and journeyed to California in search of anything tiki. Next I visited tiki bars everywhere, especially the originals like The Tonga Room in San Francisco, the Mai-Kai in Ft. Lauderdale, and Chicago’s Chef Shangri-La and Hala Kahiki Lounge. With the revival of the tiki pop movement, there are new places popping up all over the country. I’ve been to Psycho Suzie’s in Minneapolis, Lost Lake in Chicago, and The Grass Skirt in Columbus. I definitely want to get to Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco and Beachbum Berry’s own bar, Latitude 29, in New Orleans!
Zoe: I feel like I’m in one of those places now, like I’m a special guest in the exclusive Betsy Tiki Immersion Experience. But I kind of wish everybody could be here on Betsy Island!
Betsy: I like to keep my tiki parties intimate because the cocktail measurements are so precise and I’m easily distracted! I finally broke down and bought a juicer for all those limes. You know, back in the early days, some of these recipes were kept secret and the mixologists stayed behind the scenes crafting the drinks. I love the history of tiki and how I keep finding connections.
Zoe: What do you mean? Is that why you said you’re beginning to think it’s in your blood?
Betsy: Yes. As a child I would visit my Aunt Grace and Uncle Fred in Omaha. They met in the South Pacific during WWII. When they came back they created a thatched tiki hut with a lava fireplace in the basement of their beautiful, mid-century modern home. I was quite young, but I can vividly remember staring wide-eyed at their tank of piranhas.
Zoe: Piranhas? Was that a thing?
Betsy: I can also remember the thrill of visiting Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room in 1965. And when my mother was a student at Northwestern, she went to Don the Beachcomber’s in Chicago with her fiancée, a pilot who was later lost at sea in the Solomon Islands. My mother’s roommate, Marney, was born and raised in Hawaii and stayed with my grandparents in Michigan for Christmas after Pearl Harbor was bombed.
Zoe: Did you ever get to meet her?
Betsy: Oh yeah. She visited over the years and one year my family went to Hawaii for Christmas. We stayed on Waikiki Beach and saw the big pink hotel called the Royal Hawaiian and had pupu platters and watched hula shows. Marney was always special to me. She gave me a ukulele and taught me to play. She sent beautiful Hawaiian flowers for my wedding and a fresh orchid lei when I lost my mother.
Zoe: So tiki means more to you than a Mai Tai. Your love of tiki history and mystique combined with your styling talents, theatre background, and family connections . . . I think I’m starting to understand the obsession.
Betsy: I don’t know if I’d call it an obsession, but it’s definitely a part of my life that’s here to stay. But the most amazing thing I haven’t even told you yet…
The first Tiki bar opened in 1934 in Hollywood by a “Don the Beachcomber,” whose real name was Ernest Gantt!
Zoe: Same last name as yours. Pretty amazing.
Betsy: And it is even more amazing than you think. My father’s first name is Ernest. My father’s name is Ernest Gantt!
Zoe: Wow. More tiki intrigue. Speaking of mysteries, what am I drinking? I’m loving it. So minty and summery. Does it have honey in it? Peaches? What is it?
Betsy: You have the Missionary’s Downfall, concocted over 70 years ago at Don the Beachcomber’s. And that glass you’re holding is from my mother’s wedding ceremony.
Zoe: Ahhh. So it’s coming full circle again.
Betsy: Yes! For some it’s a trend, but for me it really is part of my life. In a way it always has been.
Zoe: Oh, my gosh, Betsy! Growing up, we had a dog named Tiki! Half chihuahua, half dachshund. And my mom’s college roommate lived in Hawaii and mailed me a grass skirt! Plus, my own college roommate lives in Hawaii now and took hula lessons! This is getting weird. Maybe I’m part tiki too.
Betsy: See what I mean?
Zoe: I just have one more question: Will you play the ukulele at your next party?
Drink recipes from Beachbum Berry Remixed A Gallery of Tiki Drinks by Jeff Berry
- 1 ounce orange juice
- 1 ounce unsweetened pineapple juice
- ½ ounce fresh lime juice
- ¼ ounce fresh lemon juice
- ¼ ounce orange Curacao
- ¼ ounce orgeat syrup
- ¼ ounce sugar syrup
- 1 ounce Demerara rum
- 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum
- 1 ounce Puerto Rican Rum
Shake with crushed ice. Pour unstrained into a double Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a pineapple finger, sugar cane stick, orchid, and mint sprig.
Tip: According to Beachbum Berry, it is best to substitute the Puerto Rican rum for Flor De Cana from Nicaragua.
- 1 ounce fresh lime juice
- 1 ounce Cherry Heering
- ½ ounce Benedictine
- ½ ounce brandy
- 2 ounces of gin
- 1½ ounces of club soda
Shake the first five ingredients with ice cubes. Stir in soda. Strain into a tall glass. Garnish with an orange wheel and a cherry.
- ½ ounce fresh lime juice
- ½ ounce peach brandy
- 1 ounce honey mix
Tip: Heat the honey ahead of time – 1 part water to 1 part honey, stir and cool, place the honey ingredient in the fridge to have it ready to go.
- 1 ounce light Puerto Rican rum
- 2 ounces (1/4cup) diced fresh pineapple
- 2 ounces (1/4 cup) fresh mint leaves, tightly packed
- 6 ounces (3/4 cup) crushed ice
Put everything in a blender. Blend at high speed for 20 seconds. Pour into saucer champagne glasses or cocktail glasses. Garnish with the tip of a mint sprig. Serves two.
- 1 package of natural bacon
- 1 can of whole water chestnuts
Wrap ½ piece of bacon around a water chestnut and secure with a toothpick until all water chestnuts are wrapped. Broil on low in the oven until bacon is cooked and crispy.
- 2 boneless chicken breasts
- 6 boneless chicken thighs
- 1 fresh pineapple
- 2 whole green peppers
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp honey
- 6 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh garlic
Cut chicken into 2-inch pieces and marinate for a couple of hours. Cut pineapple and green pepper into 2-inch pieces. Alternate pieces onto long skewers. Grill at a low temperature.
Tip: Soak your wooden skewers in water first so they won’t burn.
- 1 ½ cups organic coconut oil
- 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1 pound medium shrimp (peel and devein)
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 eggs, beaten
- Born with Seoul Sweet and Tangy sauce for dipping
Heat coconut oil in skillet over medium heat. Combine the Panko breadcrumbs and coconut in a bowl. Salt and pepper the shrimp. One at a time, dredge a shrimp in the flour, dip it in the eggs, dredge in the coconut mixture, then cook in the skillet.
Tip: I love this sauce with shrimp!
Do you have a themed room in your home? Share your room with us in the comments or on Instagram @think.make.share!
Photographer: Jane Kortright | Stylist: Betsy Gantt