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Friday, 31 December 2010

Castaway - Tiki Bar

Tiki Bar, 214 Bath Street, Glasgow G2 4HW

You wonder what Thor Heyaddral would have made of one of these, arriving on Kon Tiki, his balsa wood raft. He was demonstrating that South American natives had travelled to the Polynesian Islands on similar crafts before Europeans discovered The Americas.

His probable feeling of incongruity would have been nothing on our thoughts approaching Tiki Bar in the depths of this extreme winter. In a basement on the quieter stretch of Bath Street, opposite Bath St. Pony, Tiki Bar is Glasgow’s first version of a theme, or indeed franchise, that has spread across the world’s bar scene.

The theme here is an imagined beach bar on an island in the South Pacific or the Hawaiian archipelago. Kitsch tropical is the template, that and extravagant fruit cocktails. The Tiki venue most famous in the UK is probably Mahiki in Mayfair, one of those clubs that features heavily in the paparazzi snaps of minor celebs making choreographed spectacles of themselves in the early hours.

Those Z-listers mostly appear with the minimum of clothing, unlike the Muse and I on our first visit. We wore basically our entire winter wardrobe bar the balaclavas. And instead of sand surrounding the place, it was under a prolonged snow-siege.
So the bright lights and warmth of the bar were welcome if a little absurd given the context. Maybe they should offer swimwear and garlands to hire for the duration of your stay.

The bar was empty when we arrived. Not that surprising mid-week, when the only action about town seemed to be on Sauchiehall Street’s student drag. But not a re-assuring sign for Tiki’s backers.

Inside doesn’t spring too many surprises. Island paraphernalia like bamboo fringes, hurricane lanterns and ships’ wheels. Staff are kitted out safari-style – not entirely out of place – but not quite right either- and they appear comfortable in their uniform. Our Australian barman was accommodating and chatty, enquiring about our Xmas shopping, a question we had to bat away, unfortunately, having been embarrassingly well organised enough to have completed that weeks ago.

There’s a popcorn dispenser at the counter and we got a complimentary pouch. Very grateful for that, obviously, but don’t know where it fits with the theme. Our first drink, a G&T, was well prepared. Likewise the Rum Bongo, a mix of rum, apricot liqueur and exotic juices; served in one of their Tiki mugs.

These mugs are one of the joint’s motifs, decorative figures based upon the greenstone carvings of the Pacific islands. You can have some of the cocktails in these mugs for one, or share them in what is called a Scorpion Bowl. We did share the next drink, but only in a mug. Two straws. It was a Zombie, a potent mix of five different rums, absinthe, various juices, bitters and grenadine. They ration this combustible concoction to two per customer per night. It is strong, but also remarkably tasty.

As you will have noticed, Tiki doesn’t do subtle cocktails. Rum(bustious) mixes and big flavours to suit the student crowd. Not to say there aren’t the expensive options; for £110 you can go large with a Blingin’ Berry Champagne Punch served in a ‘swell shell bowl’. A premium selection featuring Perrier Jouet champers, Stolichnoya vodka and rich berries. On the right occasion, and with prosperous friends, that could go down very well.

Halfway through our Zombie I was feeling the need to approach the barman and ask him about the décor. Whether they had overdone the peacock chairs, the flotsam on the walls was a little too well selected, and the totem pole from the wrong part of the world.

Further down the Tika mug and I was ready to question the other staff member on tonight about the big grey guy on the outside wall. Was he not a copy of the Easter Island statues? Did she know that Heyaddral’s raft, Kon Tiki, was named after the Inca sun god? And why is the attached upstairs restaurant, Kitsch Inn, a Thai eatery?
But the Muse shut me up by giving me the last slurp of the Zombie.

There is certainly a mish-mash of symbols, mixed metaphors (and not just in this article) highlighting the problems with theme bars. One wrong note and the effect falls flat.

But this is partly explained by the fact that present-day tiki bars are as much about reviving the beachcomber bars of mid-twentieth century America as representing anything authentic from the South Pacific. Thus you have Elvis’s Hawaiian movie pictures on the wall and an atmosphere as redolent of the Florida Keys as the Pacific.

These issues had vanished from my mind as my partner shepherded me upstairs past the lonely leather couch sitting in the outer basement ready for next year’s summer.
We were heading for somewhere where our Arctic clothing would be more appropriate, and I was dreaming of all the bars ahead of me in 2011.

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