CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Whoever said no man is an island never hung out with Sean Coffey. For 20 years, the Cleveland native built his own little island paradise in his basement rec room.
Tiki drinks flowed from his home bar. Polynesian gods ruled (well, at least the decor variety hanging around the bar). And imaginary hula girls danced amid visions of palm trees and sunny beaches.
And then one day the Tiki gods thundered into Coffey's ear: Go forth and bring your visions of Polynesia to the people.
So let it be written, so let it be done... Holy Moses, Tiki Underground is opening Friday.
The 4,500-square-foot Tiki bar is moving into the old Sidelines spot, 5893 Akron Cleveland Road, in Hudson.
"Sean has loved Tiki culture for so many years and he's basically had a Tiki bar, at home," says his wife and co-owner, Jessie Coffey. "Now we get to have the public come over."
The public will no doubt enjoy those bamboo walls, a nice touch that recalls an island in the South Seas. The Tiki lamps recall Bora Bora - or at least a retro American homage to French Polynesia and the escapism it conjures.
After all, that's what spurred the rise of Tiki culture after World War II, when romantic images of the South Sea Islands accompanied returning soldiers.
Tiki -- named after the procreative god in Polynesian mythology -- became a national craze and spawned all sorts of out-there aberrations, from kooky drink recipes to far-out tunes to cartoonish depictions of noble savages.
"It was originally all about escapism," says Sean Coffey, as he points to an island god hanging on the wall of the bar area of Tiki Underground. "Now you also have this added sense of nostalgia for these beautiful objects, many of which had disappeared from public."
Most disappeared into the hands of collectors, who had rummaged through the wreckage of a trend that had gone out of fashion.
By the mid-1960s, Tiki was derided for being as culturally relevant as "Gilligan's Island." By the '80s, it was proclaimed dead. Then came the retro comeback and the celebration of all things exotica.
"A lot of this stuff went from being things you saw in old Tiki bars to collectible artifacts of the midcentury modern era," says Sean Coffey. "We tracked down a lot of pieces from Witco, which are hard to come by these days."
The furniture designer, renowned for its Tiki decor and designing Elvis' "Jungle Room," went out of business, like many of the Polynesian-themed bars in America. Cleveland's last such entry was the legendary Kon Tiki, which enjoyed a popular run from 1961 to 1976 in the old Sheraton Hotel in Public Square.
That is, until Porco Lounge opened its doors in 2013. The bar rolls out a wide-range of classic Tiki cocktails to go with its Polynesian pop decor.
"We were looking to open a place just as Porco opened and, I must say, I was sad because I didn't think there would be room for two in the area," says Sean Coffey. "So we stopped."
A lot of others - many strangers -- held strong, however.
"We had all these people on Facebook reaching out to us asking about Tiki Underground," says Sean Coffey. "There are a lot of die-hard fans of Tiki culture and just not that many places."
Then came the popularity of Porco and a number of road trips the Coffeys took to Tiki bars around the country. Then a light came on: "People are willing to travel far to find a good Tiki bar," says Sean Coffey.
The possibility to take over a stand-alone building convinced them to go for it.
"There are so many sports bars out there, so we wanted to do something different and playful and tap into the nostalgia for this period," says Jessie Coffey. "Tiki is all about having a sense of humor with the cocktails and the whole thing - it's a big part of the appeal of Tiki."
Tiki Underground will debut a partial drink list on Friday, when it makes its soft opening. A full-on food menu will take shape during March. Down the road, TU is looking at screening beach flicks and booking surf and garage bands - popular styles of music during the first Tiki wave.
"You're still going to be able to come in and have a beer and watch a Cavs game," says Jessie Coffey, conscious of the former tenant of this spot. "It's like Sean's basement Tiki bar is now open to the public, and we want everyone to feel welcome."
For more info, go to tikiunderground.com.
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