Tiki Spotting at Mardi Gras World – New Orleans

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Before concluding our visit to New Orleans this summer, we had some time to kill before our flight left. We’d just had our fill at the fabulous jazz brunch at Commander’s Palace, so more eating and drinking was out of the question. Since we still had the use of a rental car we headed over to Mardi Gras World in the lower Garden District.

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This tourist attraction is housed in a big warehouse on the riverfront, and it’s a bit inconvenient unless you have your own transportation. (Mardi Gras World offers a free shuttle to and from the French Quarter, though some Yelpers have found it to be not all that punctual.) It wouldn’t be correct to call this a museum because it’s very much a functioning workshop for those famous Fat Tuesday floats.

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The price is $20 per person, which sounds steep except you’re allowed to wander around the props and floats as much as you want afterwards. (I’m sure you can find discount coupons at some hotels.) They also throw in a slice of king cake from their on-site cafe, though we were too stuffed to take advantage.

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The one-hour guided tours leave every half hour from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. While you wait there’s a big gift shop full of New Orleans souvenirs, plus a few displays of intricate, beautiful costumes worn by the royal court members.

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It started off kind of lame, with us encouraged to try on cheap-looking, gaudy Mardi Gras costumes and pose for pictures. After a short video about the history of Mardi Gras (with cameos by Better Than Ezra, randomly), we were escorted around the workshop by a little old Southern lady.

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She related a wealth of information about how the company Blaine Kern Studios produces these big props, which are then rented out to various “krewes” (the organizations that put on the dozens of parades). Some of the figures are made from styrofoam that’s sculpted then covered in paper mache and painted. They can even be re-used on occasion with some alterations, like this Cinderella being transformed into an opera singer.

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I loved the eclectic casts of characters they had assembled, from Mrs. Kong (Queen Kong?) to Winston Churchill to Samantha from “Bewitched.” There were dozens and dozens more where this came from.

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Even more randomly, they had a Batboat movie prop from “Batman Returns” just lying around. (It sounded like one of the owners bought it on a whim.)

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The official tour ended in a giant space that was storing the fully decorated floats from the Orpheus krewe, the group founded in part by Harry Connick Jr. (Appropriately, they named it after the legendary musician from Greek mythology.)

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2013 marked the 20th anniversary of the Orpheus krewe and they celebrated that milestone by decorating each of the floats with themes from all the parades they’d put on over the years.

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As I walked around the float that I can only guess was a tribute to 2008’s theme, Cocktail Concoctions, I noticed a few tikis and palm trees amongst the humongous flowers and bottles of bubbly. Granted, the tikis had the cartoonish look and neon colors of Party City tikis, but they were tikis nonetheless!

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Mardi Gras World
1380 Port of New Orleans Place
New Orleans, LA 70130
504-361-7821

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Party City-Style Tikis on “American Dad”

Tiki on TV: “American Restoration” Rumerator for Sammy Hagar

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After breaking into the business of booze with Cabo Wabo tequila, rockstar Sammy Hagar set his sights on a new spirit: rum. To help promote his brand, Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum, he appeared on an episode of “American Restoration.”

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On this History Channel reality show, Rick Dale and his Las Vegas shop fix up all sorts of vintage items — classic Coke machines, slot machines, neon signs, etc. — to make them look new again. Since I’m a fan of retro stuff (and mindless reality TV) we tune in fairly regularly.

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For “Right Here, Rum Now,” which first aired September 26, 2012, Rick’s project for the former Van Halen rocker was to repurpose an old refrigerator into a custom rum dispenser — a “Rumerator,” as they called it. Since Sammy’s rum is distilled on Maui and made from local sugarcane, he wanted the final product to reflect Hawaii and the brand’s tropical lifestyle image. Rick talked over some ideas with Dave, who seemed to be just the right guy for the job (note the tiki tattoo).

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The Rumerator has some hot rod style to it, with the shiny black top and neon sign. Glasses are placed on a mini surfboard mounted to the front, and the fin cleverly acts as a handle to open the door. A couple nitrogen tanks in the back keep the contents on tap chilled.

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Sammy owns a home on the island, and you can tell he’s also into tikis from browsing his web site, where he can be seen with a tiki surfboard at the end of his holiday message video.

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These five Ku tap handles poured simultaneously with one pull to “get the liquor quicker.” (They brought to mind the Enchanted Tiki Room beer tap handles at Trader Sam’s and the tiki beer tap I spotted at Sea World awhile back.)

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In addition to those taps, there were also two more tikis worked into the design underneath, along with bamboo, sugarcane and a black and white graphic leaf-like pattern echoed from the rum label.

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According to the show, The Rumerator was installed for the opening of Sammy’s Rockin’ Island Bar & Grill in Roseville, CA, outside of Sacramento. You can catch this episode again on the History Channel on Sunday, January 20, 11:30 p.m./10:30c.

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(Image by Tiki Farm)

Crazy Al and his band Ape performed at a launch party for Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum, and this spawned a collaboration on a new tiki mug, “Sam Ku,” which is bright red in honor of Sammy’s nickname “The Red Rocker.” (The tiki is even holding a “Sammy Hagar” special edition Gibson Explorer guitar.) Tiki Farm‘s share of the 250 mugs sold out in minutes. However, Crazy Al is offering 25 custom-glazed mugs on eBay. Sign up for his mailing list to get the scoop on that.

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Havaiki Oceanic & Tribal Art – Hanalei, HI

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In Hawaii, where cheap souvenir tikis can be found everywhere, Havaiki is a diamond in the rough. This Hanalei gallery, named after the legendary homeland of Polynesians, specializes in traditional art from the Oceania region and points beyond.

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In 2002, Jim Punter and his wife, Vicki, left their home on the Virgin Islands and for five years sailed around the South Pacific, buying and trading for art directly with villagers. Their goal was to open a gallery on Kauai, which is overseen by Dylan Thomas, a native of South Africa who was first mate on that epic voyage. He’s a delight to talk with (especially with that accent!) and a wealth of information about the collection.

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Some visitors compare browsing in the store to like being in a museum. I especially like the little room decorated like a hut with a bamboo and thatch entrance.

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A wide array of items are for sale, including carved tikis of various sizes, war clubs, shields, masks, paddles, walking sticks and tapa cloth, plus handcrafted jewelry. They also have an online store and a Facebook page where they post photos of the latest acquisitions.

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Dylan continues to make trips to the South Pacific to stock up on artifacts, but a growing part of the gallery’s wares come from local artists in Hawaii. In fact I’m quite sure that these tikis were made by the carver I saw over at the Westin Princeville.

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A lot of work and care has been put into curating the selection, which is something to account for when looking at the prices. There are some budget buys among the big-ticket items, though.

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If you find the island weather too humid and your shorts too constricting, you can purchase your own koteka, hand-woven from natural fibers by the Asmat people in Papua New Guinea. Just tie one of these “penis gourds” around your waist and you’re ready to go…or you could just display it in your house.

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One of my favorite pieces was this modern reproduction of a Dayak Kliau (shield) from East Kalimantan, Borneo. The description says it would have been used against blowpipe attacks and the “curvilinear designs convey fierceness and preservation of vital energies.”

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Havaiki Oceanic & Tribal Art is located among the stores in the Hanalei Center, conveniently just down the street from the Tahiti Nui tiki bar. The shop is not immediately visible from the highway — it’s in a cottage-like building behind Bubba’s Burgers. You should see a couple tikis mounted on tall poles signaling you’re headed in the right direction.

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Havaiki Oceanic & Tribal Art
5-5161 Kuhio Hwy. (Hanalei Center)
Hanalei, Kauai, HI 96714
808-826-7606

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Aloha from Hanalei, Ching Young Village Shops, Hanalei
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Tahiti Nui Tiki Bar, Hanalei