Critiki Symposiums: “Tiki: A Story for Bartenders”

This year brought a new addition to my slate of tiki efforts: Critiki Symposiums. At present, I have two different talks: one for bartenders, and the other for fans of tiki. Today I’ll tell you a bit about the bartender talk, “Tiki: A Story for Bartenders.”


I just returned from giving this talk at The Bar Institute, an intense educational series for bartenders that is part of Portland Cocktail Week. I’m thrilled to announce I’ll be giving this talk at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale in June 2016; you won’t be able to sign up for this talk until January, but you can get your weekend passes and hotel rooms starting today. If you’re a bartender with experience slinging tiki drinks, you may have an opportunity to volunteer and get a free or discounted weekend pass, plus you’ll get to work with the master himself, Beachbum Berry. Details at The Hukilau’s website.


Tiki: A Story for Bartenders

Today’s bartenders are the ones who will be shaping the future of Tiki. Tiki will evolve, I would like to see that evolution be an informed one. Bartenders naturally tend to learn about tiki through the wonderful drinks. There is so much fun to be had with the drinks that their learning has tended to stop there. That is a shame… there’s a full, rich history they’re missing, one with fascinating impact on hospitality experiences in America. This talk introduces bar industry people to the wider scope of tiki, with a more complete picture of Polynesian Pop culture, and starts them thinking about how they can get beyond the glass and start creating better experiences for their guests.

The bartender talk has been a passion project for me. Since last February, I’ve given this talk several times a month, sometimes to a large audience (biggest was 40), sometimes to a small one (smallest was just one!). I adore the craft cocktail community. These people are passionate, kind, talented, curious, ambitious, fun, and supportive. I am thrilled to participate in my own little way, bringing bartenders together to nerd out for a night over how to level up their game, with tiki drinks in hand, and Martin Denny on the hi-fi.

You really, really need to make an effort to go to Humuhumu Trott’s presentation on the history of Tiki. It’s one of the better presentations I’ve ever seen and it’s an amazing piece of the 20th century.

– Rick Dobbs, owner of The Last Word

I limit the audience of this talk to only members of the hospitality industry*, and I have a few reasons for that: 1) the talk is crafted especially for the unique perspective of bartenders and other hospitality industry folks, and might seem a bit disjointed to someone approaching tiki from a different angle, 2) there is a LOT of back-and-forth discussion during this talk, and I want to keep it relevant to those who are providing service in a hospitality setting, 3) I want attendees to feel comfortable talking about how the sausage is made, without feeling that they have to be “on” for potential guests in the audience.

Most of the time, I give this talk in my own home tiki bar in San Francisco, Balhi Ha’i, but I have also given this talk at Hale Pele in Portland. Giving the talk in an immersive tiki environment does half of the storytelling for me. I’d love for this talk to reach more bartenders, which means taking it on the road. Are you the owner of a well-themed tiki bar (home bars included!), and are you willing to host my talk in your town? Let’s talk. Do you represent a brand who may be able to sponsor this effort by funding the cost of my travel? Let’s talk.

Are you a bartender or other member of the hospitality industry, and would like to hear this talk? Email me at

* I make an exception for journalists, because I’m not an idiot. Y’all know what’s up. I’m also considering having a few sessions for the non-bar-industry folks who are curious, as long as they understand the caveats that the talk isn’t designed for them. It’d still be a fun night! I’m always happy to talk tiki.


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