Nolakka Tiki

The von Stroheims throw a party in Trader Vic's temple.

What is this thing called tiki? To a few lusty guys, it’s a South Pacific fantasy of being shipwrecked on a tropical island, surrounded by friendly, grass-skirted native women. Some characters go nuts for gaudy Hawaiian shirts. Others dig the decor: Aku-Aku statuettes (the word tiki refers to a carved wood figure displayed outside the home as a kind of guardian spirit), thatched-hut architecture, nautical motifs, etc. For the anthropologically minded, tiki is the study of post-WWII “Polynesian Pop” culture in the United States and the numerous bars and restaurants that sprang up around it — many of which have now disappeared. And inevitably, tiki means a nosedive into the nearest Mai Tai (in its various incarnations), Zombie, Missionary’s Revenge, Northwest Passage, or Navy Grog — anything with a bit of fruit and a lot of rum in it.

Otto von Stroheim’s vision of the pop phenomenon touches on all of the above. “The whole point of tiki bars,” he opines, “is to vacation in an idealized version of the South Seas. The tiki bar is near your home, and cheap. You can visit for an hour and then get back to your workaday life.” On his Web site,, the goateed, chrome-domed professional hipster from SF riffs on the wide world of tiki with a strong emphasis on the visual. But von Stroheim’s tiki-tude doesn’t end online — he hosts tiki soirees. Sunday night is one of his biggest yet, a Night in Polynesia to celebrate his fortieth birthday. What better place for the party than at the high temple of tiki, Trader Vic’s in Emeryville (9 Anchor Dr., 510-653-3400) — “the cornerstone of tiki bar history,” according to von Stroheim. Otto and wife Baby Doe von Stroheim are presiding over a sit-down dinner in the restaurant’s luxurious Captain’s Cabin at 6 p.m., but if you miss that, you can still hula-boogie to live music by the Stowaways at the postprandial cocktail party starting at 8, featuring the band and a private bar. Admission is free; just RSVP to [email protected]

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