Ok, so it has been a while since my last post; apologies to my readers for the extended absence! I am back today, however, and am featuring a very special guest: Adrian Eustaquio, creator of the tiki podcast Inside The Desert Oasis Room. The weekly show recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, complete with a party at the Tiki Ti, and special mug designed by none other than the great Tiki Diablo. Many illustrious names in tiki have appeared on the show, such as cocktail historian Beachbum Berry, carver & artist Tiki Bosko, and author Sven Kirsten.
I reached out to Adrian recently to learn a bit more about him, his amazing home bar, and to ask some burning questions I had. It’s time for the interviewer to become the interviewee. Read on!
AIT: What do you credit with being the driving force behind your desire to create IDOR (Inside The Desert Oasis Room)?
Adrian: I’ve been a fan of podcasting since the medium was new. As such, I’ve listened to thousands of hours of content. Naturally, because of this, I wanted to give podcasting a try myself, so a few years ago, I went out and bought a really nice microphone with no idea what I would record with it. After a couple of days, I asked myself, “Be honest; are you really going to start a podcast?” At the time I had a full time job, no time to devote to podcasting or editing, no real topic or focus, etc… so I took the mic back, and asked for a refund.
Fast forward to fall of 2016, I’m 6 months into having been laid off from that same job, and thought I might as well give it another try since now, I had the time. That first day, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I knew nothing about podcasting, or audio engineering, and had no hosting or interviewing skills, but I still felt this urge to do something creative. And after almost 60 episodes, here we are today!
AIT: Can you tell me a bit about how you entered the world of tiki? Where did it all begin for you?
Adrian: The real point of impact came for me in the mid-1980s. My grandparents were celebrating a 50th wedding anniversary by renewing their vows with a church ceremony and reception. The reception was at Don the Beachcomber in Marina Del Rey, CA. I remember being really wowed by the decor of the whole place inside and out, and actually thought to myself, “This is how I want my house to look someday.” Of course, this was during the “decade of destruction” and so, the restaurant was empty. I remember having to walk across the bar area to get to the restrooms, and the whole room was dark, because they had no customers. In fact, our wedding party, which was in another room, were the only patrons the whole time we were there. But that visit was enough to pique my interest.
Over the years, I slowly began acquiring and purchasing Polynesian and Hawaiian themed carvings and art, not knowing I was collecting. By the late 90’s/early 2000’s, I finally realized I was full blown collector after finding other like minded folks online through a small chat group in Yahoo Clubs called Tiki Central. I joined as something like, member number 8. At the time, there wasn’t really anything tiki on the internet other than Bosko’s website, so all of us in Tiki Central used our collective resources to try and identify the stuff we already had, or were finding in thrifts, swap meets, junk stores, etc. I remember Tiki Central being a small group of about 35-40 for a long time, but as it slowly grew, a new world began to emerge. I remember the first Tiki Oasis (known as Tiki Fete at that time), the first Hukilau, the first Tiki Caliente, the first Tiki Kon, etc. I even remember the birth of Tiki Farm and their first mugs, buying Tiki Diablo’s first mugs from the trunk of his car, or buying mugs from a few, now long-defunct mug makers like Into the Volcano. It’s crazy how much product and choices are available to the tiki consumer today. Back then, there was nothing!
AIT: I believe you have a home bar, after which your podcast is named. Can you tell me a bit about it? What are some of your favorite conversation pieces inside it?
Adrian: I had been wanting to build a home tiki space for the past two decades, but never really had the right opportunity to really go all out, so when I was shopping for the home I currently live in, a build space was on the top of the list for every property we looked at. Two weeks after moving in here, I ripped out the carpet, and began building the room. Since I was working full-time then, my build days were in the evening after work, one to two hours at a time; since it was just me, it took about 4 months to get the base environment in place. I carved all the moldings, installed the electrical, built the matching bar, made almost all of the lamps, etc. I spent the next year or two after that to really fine tune the room by adding more and more details, and building a completely functional back bar. The room is a conglomeration of old and new. For example, all of my vintage mugs are displayed on the mug shelves under the window, while all of the modern-day mugs are displayed on an upper shelf along the top of the room. Almost all of the masks hanging on the wall are authentic South Pacific, while all of the standing tikis are modern-day.
My favorite conversation pieces are the art pieces made specifically for me, or a piece that I brought back from one of my travels. For example, I have a beautifully carved Marquesan panel by Tiki Diablo, back when he was first starting out, given to me as a birthday gift, or a Moai carved for me by Leroy Schmaltz as a surprise. Another piece I cherish is an authentic Tangaroa carved by a local artist in Rarotonga that I picked up during my honeymoon in Aitutaki. Although it doesn’t look like it, I’ve always preferred to spend my money on a one-of-a-kind carving or unique art pieces instead of a tiki mug that has 500 copies. These carved art pieces are also what I enjoy most when I’m visiting other people’s home tiki spaces, and admiring their collections.
AIT: You’ve interviewed many major players in tiki, from artists, to musicians, to cocktail gurus. If you had the opportunity to interview anyone for IDOR, living, or dead, who would it be? Any burning questions you’d like to ask?
Adrian: Great question! There are LOTS of people that I’d LOVE to talk to, tiki or not, still living or no longer with us. I’m not really sure what I would ask, but I’d certainly love to partake in the life experience of enjoying their company. The first example of this that comes to mind is meeting a young Ray Buhen of the Tiki Ti. I’d love to have a drink made by him when he was working at Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood, CA. I’d also love to be at the Tiki-Ti the moment he made his first Ray’s Mistake.
On that note, I’d love to meet and chat with Don the Beachcomber, and Trader Vic, and also have cocktails by each of them in their respective bars. Another hero of mine is Duke Kahanamoku. I’d love to hang out with him and his beach boys in Old Waikiki. And speaking of legendary islanders, I’d include Gerry Lopez, Eddie Aikau and Laird Hamilton in that bunch. I’d also love to chat with a bunch of long gone Hawaiian musicians and watch them perform too, like Alfred Apaka, Martin Denny, and Arthur Lyman.
Lately, I’ve been working on getting some modern-day Hawaiian artists on the show, as well. For example, I’ve been blessed to record with Jordan T already. He’s a pretty popular artist from Maui, and a super cool guy, and I’ve been able to enjoy some of his shows from the side of the stage a couple of times since then. I know I’ll get blasted for this, but I’m a huge fan of modern Hawaiian reggae. It’s the modern music of the islands, and is what everyone is listening to there nowadays. I’d love to get a bunch of those artists on the show some time too; Common Kings, Rebel Souljahz, Jimmy Weeks, J Boog, etc. Of course, I’d love to talk with some of my favorite podcasters too, like Chris Hardwick, Joe Rogan, Bert Kreischer, etc. Bert Kreischer has been all over the world and has a ton of stories. Last but not least, it would be an honor to have the legendary Huell Howser (RIP) on the show. I know this is a lot of names, but this is just the short list! I could go on and on…
AIT: Do you have a favorite tiki cocktail?
Adrian: I do, and I don’t. I like to think I have a diverse palate, so it really depends on my mood. Sometimes I love a really nice tropical, and other times I crave something smokey. BUT, if I had to pick just one, I’d have to say a Ray’s Mistake. It’s just got such a unique flavor profile, and the history behind it is pretty cool. The story goes that Ray Buhen of the Tiki-Ti was making an Anting Anting and accidentally put in the wrong syrup. The customer who ordered it knew the flavor of the Anting Anting, so when he tasted Ray’s “Mistake”, he knew there was something different. Rather than have Ray dump it out, he passed it down the bar for every one else to try, and they all loved it. Since then, it’s been the Tiki-Ti’s number-one seller. In fact, it’s so popular, that many people have tried to reverse engineer the drink, and after almost 50 years, its recipe is still the tiki and cocktail world’s best-kept secret. I’ll never tire of that drink, and I’ve drank hundreds of them!
AIT: What are your thoughts about the current resurgence of Tiki that has been taking hold throughout the country? Is there anything you would particularly love to see happen as a result of it?
Adrian: Well, if I’m being honest, I have mixed feelings about the resurgence of Tiki. What I love about the resurgence is that we are getting new tiki bars all the time. When I first really got into Tiki, there weren’t many tiki bars around for us to enjoy, and what was left was either run down, devolved, or closing down soon. So, it’s a treat to have lots of places to see and enjoy now. Along with that, the tropical cocktail and craft cocktail has improved immensely. Where before, it was challenging to find a quality cocktail; today, a quality cocktail can be found almost anywhere. What I really dislike about the resurgence though, is that with all of this growth, comes the dilution and de-evolution of what true, mid-century inspired Tiki really is. History is beginning to repeat itself in that de-evolution is once again killing the authenticity of true mid-century tiki. Many are not interested in celebrating or promoting the true authenticity of classic, mid-century Polynesian Pop-styled Tiki, and actually get offended when historians or purists like myself try to protect and/or preserve this historical, documented and truly American art form. Tiki is once again becoming a victim of its own success.
AIT: There are many tiki locations that sadly, didn’t survive to see the 21st century. Can you give me the name(s) of 1 or 2 that you would go back in time to visit, if you could?
Adrian: Oh man, where do I begin? First and foremost, I’d love to see where it all started. Take me to Don the Beachcomber on McCadden Place in 1934. After that, I’d love to see Hinky Dinks the month before it became Trader Vic’s, then after Vic Bergeron transformed it, and back again in 1944, so I can enjoy a 1944 Mai Tai from Trader Vic himself. From there, I’d love to go to The Luau, then the Kona Kai, Hawaii Kai, Tiki Bob’s and Ren Clark’s Polynesian Village, The Islander in both Stockton and LA followed by The Tikis in Monterey Park, then to the Mai-Kai when Mariano Licudine opened their bar, and have a Black Magic made by him. I’d love to see The Kahiki in all its glory, too, and of course, last but not least, be at the counter when Ray Buhen made his now famous mistake to see that unfold in front of me.
AIT: Polynesian art is a big part of what makes tiki so special, and it’s very diverse. Is there a particular region whose art speaks to you more than the rest? If so, what is it? Do you have an example hanging in your home, or home bar?
Adrian: I pretty much like it all! I really love the classic moai from Easter Island. The vintage mugs from Trader Dick’s, The Tikis and others that have modeled their mugs after them are some of my favorites. I also really dig the traditional Hawaiian Ku and Lono. The authentic Papua New Guinea masks that adorn long swaths of wall space in Trader Vic’s Emeryville and the now defunct, Scottsdale location are cool too…classic and tribal. I feel the same way about a nicely done Marquesan or Maori carving. And of course, the tribal art of Papua New Guinea just speaks so much to me. It’s all over my walls in The Desert Oasis Room. Lately though, I’ve been connecting very much with Tangaroa carvings from Cook Islands. So much so, that I spent my honeymoon and my last birthday there. I’d love to retire in Rarotonga some day, and live the island lifestyle for real there. Luckily for me, I’ll be back there once again next spring. But to get back to the question, asking me which style is my favorite is almost like asking me which finger I wouldn’t want to lose. I like them all, I need them all, I want them all!
A great, big MAHALO to Adrian for taking the time to answer my questions, and for being a keeper of true Polynesian Pop. If you haven’t checked out the Inside The Desert Oasis Room podcast, I highly recommend you do so. Todd and I both enjoy it very much, and have learned a lot from the guests Adrian has interviewed. You can stream it from the website, or download it to your device for on-the-go listening. You can also subscribe using iTunes, if you have an Apple device. Happy listening, and ALOHA!
Check it out!
Inside The Desert Oasis Room