It ain’t no secret that Tiki & Halloween go together like peanut butter and chocolate. In addition to bright tropical flowers and pretty Hula girls, Tiki culture incorporates lots of dark mysticism, Voodoo, human sacrifice, zombies and spooky jungle intrigue. Some Tiki idols (such as the Moai) are even believed to embody the souls of long-dead ancestors (which is pretty kreepy, if you ask me). And no Tiki bar is complete without at least on shrunken head sitting next to the Voodoo Tiki Te Quila. So why not throw a rat-pack style Halloween cocktail soire at your Tiki Bar? Here’s a few tips to make it wild, kool & swingin’:
Now I, being a Creative Director/Computer Graphic Designer for years, lay out my own custom invitations each year. This year I actually threw together a web site invitation with photos of previous parties, video, a Google map, and info on the party. One year we did a horror movie theme, and invitations were tickets to the Oscar-like award party. Another year the invitations were movie posters. Let your creativity go nuts. But if you’re not good with graphics, with zillions of on-line custom invitations available, you’re going to find something that fits your mood. Make sure your invitation clearly explains your theme so everyone is hip to it, how to dress, and what to bring (if anything).
With your Tiki Bar & collection of spooky Tiki gooodies, you’re already half way there. All you gotta do is embellish it with some retro-style Halloween decorations, and a few extras. You can go as crazy as you want with decorations, but try to stick to the old standards: Paper cut-out skeletons (some haven’t been changed in 50 years), skulls, black & orange crepe paper, cob webs (a nice touch that makes everything look old), black balloons, etc. You can even find actual vintage decor on eBay (usually) for decent prices. Since Retro is ‘in’ many department stores (i.e. Target) and party stores (i.e. Party City) have some very kool vintage-style props & party-ware, too. If you want your party to keep the faith with the old style, stay away from decor with slick, computer-generated graphics and plastic props. Lots of real pumpkins, gourds, Indian corn and Jack-O-Lanterns mixed in with the palm plants and Tiki masks will put your party in the right place.
Bust out the Les Baxter and Martin Denny, kids, it’s gonna be a wild jungle night! The mystical sounds of Exotica take on an eerie, spooky tone when played behind cobwebs and skeletons. Set a cut-off year for songs, say, 1963, and only play music recorded before that year. Sprinkle in a few favorites like the Monster Mash, Artie Shaw’s Nightmare, Duke Ellington’s The Mooch, and Glenn Miller’s Swingin’ at the Seance for a little extra flavor. For suggestions on Exotic music, click here.
Nothing wrecks a good party faster than bright lights. Turn off ALL the lights, unscrew the bulbs, tape up the switches, don’t leave any way for guests to turn on a light. You’re going to do some lighting effects. First and easiest: Candles. They set a great mood, keep the room dim, and sometimes even smell pretty. You can even get black candles this time of year at many art supply stores and, of course, candle shops. The above-mentioned outlets also often have spooky skull, witch, or ghost candles. Decorative candles may cost a little more, but they’re a load of fun. I especially like the candles that melt down to reveal bones or blood underneath. And don’t be afraid to light them…you can buy more next year.
If candles aren’t your bag, consider black light. You can pick up black lights cheap ($15-$20) at places like Walmart & Kmart. One is usually good for a small room, two for a larger living room. You can buy ultra-violet paints that glow under the lights at Spencer’s or most art supply stores. They’re water-based, so you can highlight stuff, then wash it off later. (don’t be stupid and paint your antique furniture. It will wash off of non-porous stuff like your Tiki Mugs, not your vintage wooden Tribal masks). Red and Blue party bulbs in your lamps also create a kool, creepy look. If possible, place lamps on the floor so the red glow seems to shine upwards. Depending on the crowd, you might want to keep things pretty dark…more fun to feel your way around…
Another fun touch is to add a fog machine to the mix. They start at around $20 in department stores, but they tend to be noisy and might not have a timer. For around $100 you can get a small pro model, with an auto timer that sets off fog blasts at an adjustable setting. They can be used indoors, as long as you have a a way to circulate the air so people don’t choke to death…
You’re going to want some hip cocktails to serve at the party. Here’s the thing: There’s nothing worse than working through your whole party making complicated drinks for a ton of people and not getting to socialize, so if you have a lot of people, keep the drinks simple. If you have a small group, go for some fun exotic things like Zombies and Mai Tais. Even though you’re a Tiki lover, many of your friends won’t be (unless you live in an exceptionally hip town), so be prepared for the usual bar stuff – good wine, decent beer, the basic liquors and lots of vodka. You can feature 50’s mod drinks like Martinis and Manhattans, but give them a Halloween touch by adding a few drops of yellow and red food coloring to make them orange. Call them “Madhattans” and “Martiantinis” too. And a Scorpion bowl or Volcano are great for Halloween, of course. Just be careful of your collectible barware…if it’s a light drinking crowd, it’s ok to use your good Tiki Farm mugs and vintage rocks glasses, but if it’s a boozer crowd, stick to plastic. I know it’s not kool, but there’s nothing more un-kool than throwing away your broken collectibles along with the empties. Remember, just because you appreciate the value of a retired Tiki Farm Volcano Bowl, doesn’t mean your drunken friends do!
If you really want to have a blast, pick up a copy of a cookbook or party-planner pamphlet from the 50’s. You’ll get a kick out what people were really doing back then. Although you’ll have to do some updates, try to used the old recipes. Use the book itself as part of the display on your buffet table. Great conversation starter. A quick, old-style finger food menu might look something like this:
• Chicken Teryaki skewers with sweet & sour dipping sauce
• Cheese & pepperoni platter, garnished with parsley and surrounded by crackers (use Halloween themed toothpicks from the party store)
• Boiled hot dogs, cut in half and served on small dinner rolls (add saurkraut with red or green food coloring to make it look evil)
• Deviled Eggs (you can add food coloring to these, too)
• Cold Cuts platter
• Grave Yard Cake (Chocolate cake with a mini grave yard scene on top)
• Fondue with toast points (you can add salsa and chunks of tender beef or chicken to the fondue and tell everyone it’s made with body parts)
• Sour cream onion dip & chips (use blue, green or red food coloring)
• Celery sticks with chive cream cheese
• Iced Shrimp cocktail (shrimp is scary)
You can poke around the net for different kookie ideas on how to make these foods look more Halloweeny, like making the rolled up ham look like fingers, etc. It’s also fun to name the food after old movies, i.e. Forbidden Plandip and Mark of the Deviled Eggs.
Since this is a Tiki themed party, you should encourage your guests to come dressed in Tiki costumes, or if it’s a retro theme with Tiki undertones, get everyone to dress up like a different character from Mad Men. Or, you can go the authentic route and get everyone to dress as movie monsters from the 60’s & earlier, such as Dracula, Bride of Frankenstein, etc. A challenging and fun variation is to have it in “Black & White”…do all of you decor in BW, and have your friends come dressed in costumes and make-up that are made of Black & White only…not as easy as it sounds…but when everyone gets together, it looks very kool.
The Day of the Party:
Back when I was a dumb kid, I used to decorate the day of the party. Then by the time the party got rolling, I was already beat…So now I start early. Depending on how elaborate your decor is, allow yourself a few days to a month to decorate. I kick things off in September, but then again I build props and sets for my house (because I’m a nut case, certified). As for the food & bar, do all your prep work the night before the party. Have the bar set up, fruit sliced, and the food ready to cook so you have less work to do right before the big event. On party day, you should only need to set up your platters, cook your finger foods, and buy ice!
The Time of the Party:
After 20+ years of throwing my own Halloween shindig, I’ve been made hip to two important things: Always have the party on a Saturday, and never start it before 8:30. If Halloween falls on a Saturday and your friends all have kids, only have it on that day if you want the kids to come. If it’s an adults-only gig, have it the week before. Starting the party earlier than 8:00 will make people thing you’re going to serve dinner. Having it later will automatically drop off some people who don’t like to stay up late.
It’s 8:20 on the day of the party. The candles are lit, the ice is in the bucket. The Tiki torches are fired up, and The Haunting (1963 version) is playing on the TV with the sound off. Quiet Jungle emanates from the Sears Select-o-matic hi fi. Fix yourself a Zombie, have a piece of cheese and get ready to have a blast!