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june26homespunweb.jpgBy Cindy Hoedel

RISMEDIA, June 26, 2008-(MCT)-Torches, island music and rum-based cocktails. What’s not to love about a tiki party? And with the Tony-winning revival of “South Pacific” playing to packed houses on Broadway, tiki feels timely again. 

If you like your Polynesian exoticism sans fake grass skirts and coconut bras, consider an updated take on tiki. Designers say it’s easy to incorporate the tropical escapism of tiki into a more sophisticated soiree.

“I’d make it a little less Gilligan’s Island,” said Tim Butt, owner of Black Bamboo home furnishings store in Kansas City, Mo. Butt, who regularly throws large parties at his mid-century patio home in Prairie Village, Kan., likes to use brightly colored bamboo bowls from Target and colorful fabrics to create a tropical mood.
New York-based designer Marc Blackwell says of tiki: “It can be clean. It doesn’t have to be the old kitschy thing.”

Blackwell, who created a tropical-look table at the Dining by Design benefit in Kansas City in April, said some classic tiki elements are worth keeping, others not.

“There are a lot of patterns; you want to calm that down,” he said. But seashells and other beachy elements are always appropriate.

Blackwell likes to fill big glass vases with sand and candles and hang gauzy white fabric from tree limbs.

“If it’s not windy, you can create a path of sand and plant candles in it,” Blackwell said. If it is windy, you can create a similar effect by creating paths with tea lights inside white paper bags, he said.

Shawn Henderson, design director at eBay, suggests using the color green in new ways to update the tiki idea. Premium-quality green crepe paper or imitation moss can be used to cover the table top, for example.

“It’s as if you’re sitting on a grassy lawn or a mossy rock, but more comfortable,” Henderson said. You can also sprinkle real moss balls around the table, he said.

Vintage teak serving pieces evoke effortless island style. “Teak trays are an interesting element. You can set them around the table so guests all have their own trays,” Henderson said.

Another easy way to transform your yard or patio from flat and dry to Bali Hai is with large tropical plants from the garden center. While you’re there, look for orchids and smaller tropicals to use as centerpieces and plants with exotic leaves that can be “harvested” for decor.

“Big banana leaves are great for laying food on or using as chargers,” Butt said.

As for food, pork, shrimp and pineapple are classic tiki ingredients, and grilling the cooking method of choice.

Fruit-based punches, spiked or non-alcoholic, are an easy, fun beverage to set out on tables for large groups (see recipes below).

Glasses for cocktails can be understated, such as clear glasses in woven rattan holders. Or go for vintage glam highballs with painted hula girls and gold rims.

Blackwell says the appeal of tiki, kitschy or not, is timeless. “We were in Dallas for an event, and we went into a Trader Vic’s … and loved it. The atmosphere gave us permission to have a good time. That is so much what it is about.”

Waikiki Champagne Punch

Makes 30 servings
1 ½ quarts fresh pineapple juice
2 (750 ml) bottles pink Champagne, chilled
3 cups pineapple chunks in juice
2 cups strawberries
1 lemon, sliced
1 lime, sliced
2 oranges, sliced
Combine all ingredients in a large punch bowl. Add ice and garnish.

Nonalcoholic Tropical Fruit Punch

Makes 40 servings
3 quarts orange juice
2 quarts pineapple juice
2 liters lemon-lime soda
½ cup grenadine syrup
1 orange, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
1 lime, sliced
Combine all ingredients in a punch bowl. Add ice and garnish.

How to Make a Flowered Ice Ring For Your Punch

Ice ring molds are hard to find. We used a 9-inch savarin mold, $14, Bakers Rack, 13416 Santa Fe Trail Drive, Lenexa, Kan., 913-492-9777. The store also carries a 10 ½-inch ring mold, $11.

Tip: Garnish your punch with an orchid. Find your favorite type of orchid and float it in your punch.

Serveware Examples

A vintage wooden sticky-rice-making tray from Thailand ($95), new food-safe ceramic bowls in the shape of palm leaves ($25 and $39), a vintage wooden Thai hand-carved, mug-shaped mortar ($40) and a real coconut drilled with holes ($15) add drama and elegance to a tiki table. All from Black Bamboo, 1815 Wyandotte, Kan., 816-283-3000.

Eight-glass modern punch set, $37, Crate & Barrel

Table Décor

Placemats made from raffia ($5 each) and twigs ($7 each),
Tumbler wrapped with a tropical leaf and raffia-look floral wire ($10 at Beco Flowers, 1922 Baltimore, Kansas City.).

Coconut shell candles ($18 for four) and moss green crepe paper ($5 per roll),

Tropical Plants

You can quickly impart an exotic feel to your patio or yard with several large tropical plants, such as hibiscus, banana leaf plant, rubber plant, bougainvillea and mandevilla. Shop home improvement warehouses and hardware stores for marked-down plants, or check out premium selections at local garden centers.


Stereo dealer Rod Parks, who also owns Retro Inferno in Kansas City, put together this lineup of island-inspired albums as an alternative to ukuleles and “Tiny Bubbles”:

Karl Zero and the Wailers, “HiFi Calypso”: “More fun than anybody should be allowed to have.”

Toots and the Maytals, “Light Your Light”: “New in ’07, Toots proves he only gets better with age.”

Cymande, “Renegades of Funk”: “These guys from Guyana, Jamaica and St. Vincent met in London in 1970. Totally underappreciated.”

“The Daktaris Soul Explosion”: Fans of James Brown and Fela Kute

“Souled on Reggae”: “Fifteen classic soul songs done by various reggae artists.”

“Is it Rolling, Bob?”: “Two-disc compilation of Dylan songs done by some of the best reggae artists today.”

© 2008, The Kansas City Star.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.