Behind Bars: Huli Huli Tiki Lounge

Erica Thompson
Nate Howe

With bamboo, wooden masks, leis and multicolored lights, the average Tiki bar is designed to transport customers to a Polynesian paradise. But the culture is actually an American invention, with the first establishments popping up in California in the 1930s.

“It really hit its stride after World War II when you had a bunch of guys coming back from the Pacific and they were longing for those good times,” said Nate Howe, who manages the new Huli Huli Tiki Lounge, opened by Dustin Sun in Powell. “They just took some Hawaiian and Polynesian decor influences and then mixed them with a bunch of Caribbean rums. And they just made up the rest.”

After losing popularity in the late 1970s, Tiki culture has experienced a resurgence with the rise of the craft cocktail movement.

“The idea of a complex, well-crafted cocktail was very much an American invention, and I think Tiki was one of the pioneering factors,” Howe said.

The Huli Huli Tiki Lounge menu currently features traditional cocktails like the Mai Tai and Zombie Painkiller, which Howe describes as a “Tiki take on a pina colada.” But customers can expect new offerings in the spring.

“We're going to get a little bit more creative and maybe bend the rules a little bit,” Howe said.

The bar also serves a variety of small plates, like Salmon Teriyaki and Hala kahiki — shrimp and pineapple — skewers. With colorful lamps, artwork and some detailed masks built right onto the booths, there is plenty to look at inside the establishment. But it doesn't overwhelm.

“[Traditionally], you wouldn't see windows in Tiki bars,” Howe said. “Every inch of wall space would be covered. … We want people to come in here and feel transported, but we also don't want them to feel claustrophobic.”

In warmer months, Howe has plans to open up the back parking lot for events.

“We'll probably have a couple of luau parties,” he said. “I mean, what good's a Tiki bar if you're not going to have parties?”

Huli Huli Tiki Lounge is definitely a one-of-its-kind in Powell, but owner Dustin Sun expects a younger crowd to come in as the suburb's downtown area continues to grow.

“I think having all these new businesses, the community's going to be more of a destination going forward,” Sun said. “There's two breweries now in town. There's a couple of bars that just opened. So there's tons of movement, and we're excited to be part of that.”