Talking Tiki

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The store where he works moves plenty of musical surf exotica, reissues and stuff from current bands like Enchanted Tiki Tones, Tiki Men, and Bomboras. "There's tons of that music coming back. There was that LoungeCon recently in L.A., they rented a hotel. There were like 2,000 people there, most of 'em dressed in vintage garb; the guy who carved my tikis was selling his mugs and tikis. They had clothes you could buy, and tons of bands."

Now, don't get me wrong, I have a stuffed marlin and some lawn chairs in my backyard, but this at chez Ben is truly an impressive effort. "It's in its embryonic phase," says the owner/operator. "You can never stop adding, you can just keep finding stuff. Whether it's nautical stuff or tourist stuff, kooky postcards of hula girls to weird masks. A lot of grandparents' stuff."

Many of these magical totems came from friends who searched and scored.
"You just have to go to places that you might not, estate sales, thrift places," he explains. "Because suddenly this reselling pop culture is getting to be a premium, with stores like Do Wah Diddy [in Phoenix]. Sooner or later, people tend to like to buy stuff they remember when they were a little kid.

"The Valley is a good place to find this stuff because you don't have as many people who are hip and aware. Trying to find some of this stuff in L.A., I'm sure you just can't, unless it's sitting on Melrose in a store window. People are highly aware of what they have now. Back when people were originally buying this tiki stuff, they were never thinking about it being collectible. Like now, you see little kids who collect baseball cards. They don't put 'em on their bike wheels to make funny noises; they put 'em in a holder right away."

But baseball cards aren't for everyone; many youngsters these days are turning on to the very real pleasures of an evening spent in the company of a soft breeze, a rayon shirt covered with ceremonial love gods, the strains of vintage Arthur Lyman on the hi-fi and a nice, refreshing beverage, blender fresh.

Looking back over the many parties his tiki setup has hosted, Ben claims never to have had a disappointed guest. "They're like, 'What the heck is this? This is great.' And it's kinda like an icebreaker, with the lighting the way it is, and the theme atmosphere seems to put people into a festive mood; they can't wait to tie into a nice beachcomber," he says, gushing. "It's a good excuse to do something different, instead of just throwing some chicken on the grill and having a beer."

The Beachcomber:
11/2 oz. light rum
1/2 oz. lime juice
1/2 oz. triple sec
1/2 teaspoon maraschino liqueur
Shake well with ice, strain into prechilled, sugar-rimmed cocktail glass.

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Peter Gilstrap
Contact: Peter Gilstrap