Keeping Tiki Culture Alive, One Mug at a Time
The cocktail glasses at your favorite Polynesian-themed bar were probably made by a tiny Southern California tiki mug manufacturer called Tiki Farm.
There are a few central ingredients needed for every tiki bar. Tropical plants, water features, and rum are key on that list, along with midcentury furniture, bamboo surfaces, and those tiny toothpick umbrellas. Hula girl motifs always help, as well as other nautical tropes, like ships, mermaids, pineapples, and skulls.
And of course, you can’t forget the cups. Ever since the 1930s, when the original Don the Beachcomber restaurant opened in Los Angeles, tiki mugs have been integral to the experience of ordering a tropical drink at a Polynesian-themed bar. Often served with a particular menu item, the glasses are a festive and kitschy nod to the fad’s origins, as well as a great advertising tool.
Instead of using vintage dishware, a lot of tiki bars today serve personalized products emblazoned with the name of their business or something else wholly unique to them. And more often than not, those custom designs are made by the same Orange County-based tiki mug makers, Tiki Farm.
If you’ve been to a tiki bar, chances are high that you’ve drank out of one of Tiki Farm’s wares. Those tall, brick-patterned cups used at Forbidden Island in Alameda were actually made by Tiki Farm. So, too, were the green coconut-shaped glasses served at Pacific Sea’s at Clifton’s in Downtown Los Angeles. The Tonga Room in San Francisco serves punch in a barnacle-covered, faux-wood dish made by Tiki Farm, and Frankie’s in Las Vegas also uses scorpion bowls made by the Southern California tiki mug manufacturer.
To say it dominates the aloha-themed drinkware market would be an understatement. Tiki Farm is crushing it. They are said to be the largest manufacturer of tiki mugs and products in the world, and claim to have produced more than 2 million mugs in 18 years. The small business — which reportedly has only 11 full-time employees — sells hundreds of thousands of mugs, goblets, bowls, and other housewares annually to tiki bars around the world, especially on the West Coast.
Their products are inventive, fun, and often designed and curated by various artists. And though they still sell cups using their original four designs — known as Stoney, Drinky, Log, and Dental — you’ll find more than just Hawaiian gods and big-breasted hula girls on their mugs (although you definitely will find those, too). Since its inception in 2000, Tiki Farm has made Star Wars-, Donald Trump- and Frankenstein-themed cups; tiki mugs shaped like cats, volcanos, and slot machines; and glasses adorned with idols holding everything from cheeseburgers to Fender guitars.
And it’s not just tiki establishments that turn to Tiki Farm for products. Hard Rock Cafe, Mattel’s Hot Wheels, Anheuser-Busch, the House of Blues, and Emeril Lagassi have also commissioned mugs from the San Clemente company.
“It’s a sign of the times,” Tiki Farm owner Holden Westland told the OC Register earlier this year. The Long Beach native believes tiki culture has seen a resurgence recently not only because it’s cute and twee, but because it’s also a form of escapism. “Society has changed so much in the last 20 years with technology. … Tiki is a nice, nostalgic step back in time. It’s a way to unwind from where we are as a people.”
What’s more, Tiki Farm wares are affordable. You can buy a new mug on their website for $20, which is a steal compared to how much their older designs sell online. Vintage Tiki Farm glasses usually sell for as much as $300 on eBay, where you’ll find thousands listed for sale.
Currently, the highest-priced Tiki Farm product for sale is a $695 (plus $17.95 for shipping) brown-glazed “Huki-Huki Tiki Mug” designed by the lowbrow artist Shag for a 2003 event at the Mai Kai Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Apparently only 300 of these cups were made, which was a smart move by the Tiki Farm because, just like Ty did with its Beanie Babies, it makes their products rare and ensures higher values for them down-the-line.
“We’ve been lucky,” Westland said, reflecting on his company’s success. “It’s getting really big. Tiki is everywhere.“
And for now, he’s looking forward to just riding this wave.