Didn’t snag one of the 250 tickets to the first LA Tiki Festival? Don’t be discouraged. Organizers promise even bigger plans for the future.
“We’re tortured because we want to let everyone come,” says Jeff Shaw, a coordinator. “But we have to do it small and get it right this first year.”
Tickets sold out almost immediately when the March 24-25 festival was quietly announced earlier this winter. Five events, each limited to 50 people, will immerse patrons into the unique culture, starting with the March 24 kickoff at Prairieville Hokus Pokus for a tiki rum tasting, followed by an evening at Jeff’s Tiki Bar. The backyard tiki hut party will host a fire dancer, professional mixologist, tiki music, a screening of classic surf movies and tropical food.
On March 25, Omar Girona, the local maker behind internationally known tiki brand Oakwash, will open the doors to his workspace for the first time and show ticket holders the mug-making process. Another rum tasting tour will follow at Sugarfiled Spirits, and the festival will close with a tiki party at Lotus Lounge, the tropical cocktail lounge inside Soji: Modern Asian.
“We’re going to show them what an outdoor tiki party looks like,” Shaw says. “The experience will be an escape from reality. It goes back to tropical days of the 50s and 60s.”
Despite limits on attendance, festival founders hope to rally a growing local tiki culture. Tropical drink enthusiasts from all over the nation may pass through Louisiana on their way to festivals like Texas Tiki Week and The Hukilau in Florida. Organizers Shaw, Girona, Frank Chartier and others have admired these nearby events for years. So they decided to bring their fellow admirers out of hiding with the state’s very own tiki rendezvous.
“I thought I was all alone,” Shaw says. “This event is to pull everyone together. We’re going to find everyone secretly into tiki that has never found the rest of the community.”
Rum production in the state is growing as area distilleries take advantage of the accessible sugarcane crop. Polynesian and Caribbean flair is popping up at local bars at recent openings like Lotus Lounge and the new Pelican to Mars. The need for an official tiki party couldn’t be more obvious.
Chartier founded the Rum Society of Louisiana in July of last year, after developing an infatuation with tiki cocktails producing his YouTube channel. He collaborated with Girona, and things seemed to take off from there. Members of the tiki community now mingle at the Rum Society’s monthly meetings around the state.
Nine years ago, Shaw spent an afternoon nailing pallets together to build his first backyard tiki hut. He wanted an ambiance that would celebrate the culture, a spot where he could host luau-themed parties for friends. The hut eventually rotted away, so Shaw replaced it with an improved version built with bamboo and weather-treated wood. Guests are immediately greeted with the smell of rum mixed with burning tiki torches and the view of paradise.
Girona sells exclusive mugs all over the world. He found inspiration from the online tiki community and transitioned his mug-making endeavors to a full-time business during the pandemic. As one of the premier tiki mug makers in the country, his creations initially sell for up to $300 and at an even higher price on the secondary auction market.
These 3 enthusiasts have been planning the festival since September, and talking about it for even longer.
“We really want to show the Capital City that tiki is right here in our backyard,” Girona says.
This year’s trial run is set to grow into much more. All tickets were sold at event prices, although they plan to increase the cost for following years and donate the profits right back into the community. The 2024 LA Tiki Festival will first be announced on its Instagram page.
“The tiki culture is making a resurgence, and the festival is something that Louisiana (was) missing,” Chartier says. “I didn’t realize how many local people are heavily into this culture. … The response (to the festival announcement) was phenomenal.”