It’s pretty clear the past few years have had an adverse impact on the hospitality industry. From social distancing to mandatory face masks to stay-at-home orders, the pandemic was a viral wet blanket to anyone wanting to have a particular kind of social fun in their community.
Thankfully 2022 is looking brighter for lifting that pall and social gatherings are getting a well-deserved renaissance. In that vein, there might not be anything more colorful or exuberant than the Arizona Tiki Oasis, happening from April 28 through May 1 at the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale.
At least that’s the feeling you get when you talk to event founders, organizers, and married couple Baby Doe and Otto Von Stroheim, who also produce the popular sister tiki event in San Diego.
“We are bringing the pizzazz and excitement of what we do in San Diego, but allowing people to have more of a curated experience,” Baby Doe says. The excitement in her voice seems fueled by her devotion to the project and everything it entails. It’s contagious.
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The outfits are always on point at Arizona Tiki Oasis.
Arizona Tiki Oasis
The Arizona Tiki Oasis started here in 2019, but its inception goes back more than two decades. The duo began a mutual interest in tiki culture in Palm Springs at the Caliente Tropics Hotel, a midcentury architectural marvel that had lost some of its Polynesian pop. Doe and Von Stroheim came to its rescue and helped it to become a tropical paradise.
Then in 2006, nearly 140 miles southwest, they set their sites on a San Diego hotel with a Polynesian theme, The Town and Country.
“We're all about architectural preservation of historic tiki bars and midcentury modern architecture,” Otto says. This “Ohana spirit,” as they call it, is what led them to Scottsdale and the Hotel Valley Ho, where they started the annual Arizona Tiki Oasis.
The Valley Ho was designed by acclaimed architect Edward L. Varney. His design included cast concrete, natural stone, and huge windows. For the time, the hotel was cutting edge. But when it was sold in the ’70s, many of its design features were considered out of date and covered up by the new owners.
With the advent of today's renewed interest in midcentury modern architecture, the Valley Ho was renovated and reopened in 2005 almost as it had looked 50 years prior.
It caught the eye of the Von Stroheims.
“The Hotel Valley Ho had a Trader Vic's there [at the time], you know,” Otto says, “so that's what really piqued our interest. We have a strong relationship with Trader Vic's. And you know, we wanted to do something back then but we weren't able to do it. We weren't able to have the resources to do it.” (Trader Vic's closed five years after the remodel.)
More than a decade later, not only do they have the experience to organize a large event —
they were finally able to create Arizona Tiki Oasis at the Hotel Valley Ho. People living the tiki life can come dressed in their favorite flowered wiggle dresses and guayabera shirts, sipping tropical drinks poolside amid tall tikis and wooden masks. Cocktails are a part of the costume, with garnishes ranging from brightly colored orchid clippings to fresh fruit slices. It’s a huge social affair with quite a following.
“This one in Arizona is a slightly different concept,” Baby Doe says. “It's a slightly smaller scale event [than the San Diego event]. We want folks at Arizona Tiki Oasis to have plenty of time to have a conversation or learn something new. At one of our seminars, you get to be part of what we call the ‘Ohana Spirit’ of the event, which is people being together. So we really kind of make that event about opportunities for people to connect a little bit more than say, like, a larger-scale event.”
At one point during the weekend, there’s going to be a caftan and cabana suit strut. Baby Doe describes a cabana suit as “matching short-shorts and Hawaiian shirts.” She adds, “It’s very popular in the tiki.”
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Cocktail culture is a huge part of Arizona Tiki Oasis.
Arizona Tiki Oasis
This all might sound a bit kitschy to some, and if you were living in the '80s you wouldn’t be alone. Tiki culture fell out of fashion in that decade and became almost a joke. Hawaiian shirts were almost offensive as fashion statements and were the bastion of island tourists and casual golfers.
Still, if something falls out of vogue, just wait about 20 seasons and it'll be back in style once again. However, it’s rare for fashion trends to also have architectural ties. Otto looks at tiki culture as more than just tropical pret-a-porter. Its midcentury roots came at a time when American artists had visions beyond what was traditional and new generations were taking notice. Future generations would come to appreciate their creativity.
“Tiki is very, very egalitarian,” Otto says. “I think the tiki culture permeated every aspect of America and every rung on the ladder of life; it was open to everybody, and I think that's what's appealing to it now. It's not divisive. It's not confrontational. There's no competition.”
Still, the tiki culture has been accused of appropriating the Polynesian ethos. The Von Stroheims are aware of that criticism and even address it on their event website.
“Tiki is this Americanized version of Polynesia, right? So, you know, we think of maybe like ticky-tacky 1950s barbecues and wearing your Hawaii shirt and eating pu pu platters,” Baby Doe says. “But there's a deep history of Polynesia. And so we want people to realize that. We want to be respectful of other people and that this is
their culture that tiki is built on, and just to be aware of that and to make decisions that are thoughtful around what you wear.
"I think that is important for us that we put that statement out there so that people can make the best, most informed decisions of how they can celebrate this fun party without offending anybody.”
“We're doing a seminar called ‘Conscious Tropical,’ which is presented by Be for Change,” adds Baby Doe, “which is an organization that is basically all about conversations. You know, 'Let's talk about the history. What is it? What's the history from the past? Where are we at now? How do we move forward?'”
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Hanging by the pool at Hotel Valley Ho during Arizona Tiki Oasis 2021.
Arizona Tiki Oasis
Arizona Tiki Oasis is moving forward, and this year’s event is adding a few things such as a cigar and whiskey pairing. Renowned genre artists John Mulder and Hector Guerrero will be in attendance. Celebrated mixologists like Adam Rains from The Golden Tiki, Las Vegas; Chris Coy from the Inferno Room; and Just Abby from Australia are serving up cocktails. Kyla Hein, the winner of 2019’s bartender battle, will make special punches and different drinks over the weekend.
Whether you think tiki is just some kitschy slice of Americana design, or you’re all-in for its comic-book colored tropical immersion, Arizona Tiki Oasis has something for everyone. And that seems to be what the culture is all about. At least that’s what the Von Stroheims are serving beyond the luau.
“Everybody's friends in a tiki bar,” says Otto, “and I think that's what's appealing about these tiki events is when you go, you just start meeting people, and then you come back the next year and it's like a high school reunion or a family reunion where you know you're going to see your friends again.”