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Tiki is a Maori word for a type of stone or wooden carving found throughout the islands. However, in the 20th century, Tiki became known for its romanticized conception of tropical cultures, most frequently imagining Polynesian culture. The Tiki culture began in 1934 with Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt's opening of Don the Beachcomber. The Polynesian-themed bar and restaurant in Hollywood soon became a Hollywood hotspot for all the major stars. However, the Tiki trend didn't really become popular until after World War II, when young men returning from the Pacific wanted a taste of what they had experienced. Their taste for the tropical quickly made its way to the rest of the nation.
By the end of the 1940s, Palm Springs had become the getaway for celebrities and urbanites, who brought the Tiki trend with them. In 1953, Don the Beachcomber had 16 locations from coast to coast, including the hugely popular one in downtown Palm Springs. Frequented by Hollywood celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Bing Cosby and Bob Hope, everyone knew Palm Springs and its Don the Beachcomber were the spot for a good time. While the Tiki trend has begun to fade in the recent years, the Desert Tiki Culture is alive and well in Palm Springs. Today, there are still some great Tiki bars that take guests away from their day-to-day lives, much like they did during its Hollywood high in the 1950s and 1960s.
Unfortunately, Don the Beachcomber in Palm Springs is no more, but the spot is now home to Bootlegger Tiki (a nod to Earnest Gantt’s Bootlegging days), who continue the Tiki traditions that made this spot famous. The bar retains a Polynesian theme, with delightful blowfish light fixtures and thatched palm walls, with a patio offering mountain views.
Toucan’s Tiki is one of the best gay bars in Palm Springs and another favorite in the desert, specializing in strong Tiki drinks. Guests can enjoy a Sunday night drag show or one of the many popular weekly theme nights while sipping a taste of tropical paradise.
The Tonga Hut offers authentic Pacific cuisine inside a fun environment reminiscent of Palm Springs’ rich Tiki past. The Tonga Hut celebrates the growing number of local Tiki art and culture festivals in Palm Springs, as well as an appreciation for mid-century style of fabulous architecture and design. Be sure to explore the secret Tonga Room, hidden inside a telephone booth!
Finally, one cannot talk about Desert Tiki Culture without talking about The Reef, an intimate Tiki Bar with great views of the colorful Caliente Tropics Hotel pool surrounded by the hotel’s many hand carved Tikis. Caliente Tropics Hotel also puts on an event to celebrate how much Tiki means to Palm Springs. Tiki Caliente is an annual event creating the aura of island living in a desert setting. Tiki Caliente will immerse guests into the colorful and unique Tiki world that has made Palm Springs its desert home. This year is already sold out, but keep an eye out for it in 2020.