Tiki Culture in the United States began with the opening of Don the Beachcomber, a Polynesian-themed bar and restaurant in Hollywood. The proprietor was Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt, a young man from Louisiana who had sailed throughout the South Pacific; later he legally changed his name to Donn Beach.
His restaurant featured Cantonese cuisine and exotic rum punches, with a decor of flaming torches, rattan furniture, flower leis, and brightly colored fabrics. Three years later, Victor Bergeron, better known as Trader Vic, adopted a Tiki theme for his restaurant in Oakland, which eventually grew to become a worldwide chain.
When American soldiers returned home from World War II, they brought with them stories and souvenirs from the South Pacific.
Americans fell in love with their romanticized version of an exotic culture, and Polynesian design began to infuse every aspect of the country's visual aesthetic, from home accessories to architecture.
Soon came integration of the idea into music by artists like Les Baxter, Arthur Lyman, and Martin Denny, who blended the Tiki idea through jazz augmented with Polynesian, Asian, and Latin instruments and "tropical" themes creating the Exotica genre. This music blended the elements of Afro-Cuban rhythms, unusual instrumentations, environmental sounds, and lush romantic themes from Hollywood movies, topped off with evocative titles like "Jaguar God", into a cultural hybrid native to nowhere.
There were two primary strains of this kind of exotica: Jungle and Tiki. Jungle exotica was a Hollywood creation, with its roots in Tarzan movies and further back, to William Henry Hudson's novel Green Mansions. Les Baxter was the king of jungle exotica, and spawned a host of imitators while opening the doors for a few more genuine articles such as Chaino, Thurston Knudson, and Guy Warren.
Tiki exotica was introduced with Martin Denny's Waikiki nightclub combo cum jungle noises cover of Baxter's Quiet Village. Tiki rode a wave of popularity in the late 1950s and early 1960s marked by the entrance of Hawaii as the 50th state in 1959 and the introduction of Tiki hut cocktail bars and restaurants around the continental United States.
Tiki exotica has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, and Tiki mugs and torches that once collected dust in thrift stores are now hot items, largely because of their camp value.