How To Build A Portable Tiki Bar

I love Tiki Culture/Polynesian Pop.  It was a loosely island-influenced decorative style, popular in the 1940’s to 1970’s.  The Beachcomber, Trader Vic’s, Disney’s Polynesian resort and Enchanted Tiki Room — these were all Southern California destinations that popularized the movement.  People were turning their spare rooms into tiki lounges; motels had sweeping peaked roofs and imitation thatch; restaurants were investing in rattan and bamboo.  Tiki bars were popular across the country.  Hawaii became a state in 1959, and by that time the islands had already been growing in popularity as a tourist destination. Gilligan’s Island, Elvis’ Blue Hawaii, the theatre production and then film, South Pacific– these were all tv shows and movies that embraced this loose interpretation of Island Life.
I just turned 50 years old, but I certainly don’t feel my age.  I lost a bunch of weight in the last few years, started eating better, lifting weights and exercising, got into the sport of disc golf.  It has made me stronger and healthier than I’ve been my whole adult life.  So I wasn’t interested in having the traditional “over the hill” party.  No way!  What I wanted instead was a luau.  A luau with a tiki bar.

I did some searching online, and what I discovered is that homemade tiki bars fell into basically one category:  permanent structures.  They may have wheels on the bottom to re-position them, but that isn’t what I wanted.  I don’t have the room for something that big to stay up all the time.  What I wanted was something portable, that would fit on a tabletop, and then be stored away when not in use.  There are the cheap ones you buy at party supply stores, but they’re flimsy and won’t hold up to windy days outdoors.

tiki-bar-finishedSo my husband and I came up with a design for a 4-legged frame with a slight pitch to the roof, a canvas top with imitation thatch around the edge, and it fits on top of a standard Rubbermaid 6-foot long table.  We raised the legs of the table with pvc pipe and wrapped the table in this wonderful basketweave vinyl tablecloth material from a fabric store.  Add some decorations and appropriate drink paraphanilia on top, and voila!  Instant tiki bar.

So here’s how you build it:

You’ll need 1×2 furring strips, and either spend a little extra for the smooth ones or spend elbow grease yourself to sand them down.  Two of the furring strips get cut at 54″, two at 48″, and one at 68″.  You’ll also need 1×6 boards, two cut into 68″ lengths, and two cut into 28″ lengths.  You’ll also need 18 bolts and wing nuts, and 36 washers.  10 of the bolts will be 2″ long, and the other 8 will be 3″ long.  It’s wise to have extra washers and wing nuts, as these easily get lost when they’re dropped!

You’ll want to stain the wood; we found a discounted stain at the hardware store, and it was fine.  Almost didn’t matter what color, as long as it was neutral.  You’ll use less than a pint of stain.  You’ll want an expandable lattice fence section for the roof, self-securing velcro, a 68×30″ piece of white canvas cloth, two packages of deck fringe from a party store, assorted decorations, and a piece of basketweave flannel-backed vinyl (by the roll) in a 15 foot length.

tiki-bar-signIf you create a Tiki Bar sign, you’ll want a thin (1/4 to 1/2 inch) piece of wood, 54″ long and 6″ wide.  You’ll stain this and then paint the Tiki Bar sign on it using acrylic craft paints.  You can use Microsoft Publisher to create a banner, and use the “Ravie” font to create the sign.  Then either scribble with pencil on the back or use carbon paper to transfer the outline of your letters onto the board.

I’d recommend painting the letters white at first, to give them a base coat and allow the brightness of your other colors to shine through.  The darkness of the wood will make the letters harder to see if you don’t have a base coat underneath.

I added some floral decoration on the board, but you can do any design you want, just following that same instruction to print out what you want to do, and then trace it onto the board.  (Although, I admit to freehanding the flowers and leaves here.)

tiki-bar-frameTo assemble the tiki bar frame, drill holes into the furring strips as such:  two holes going through the face of the wood, and two holes in the side, offset from the first two so that they do not intersect.  The 54″ furring strips will have their facing holes set 7″ down from the top, and the 48″ furring strips get their holes set 1″ down from the top, so that the box of the frame is level all the way around.

This image shows how the boards are assembled.  The 68″ 1×6 boards stick out, whereas the 28″ 1×6 boards are inset.  They screw to the sides of the furring strips, which is why the screws are offset from the ones holding the long boards.   Do you see how the expandable lattice fencing sagged? The 68″ furring strip gets screwed to the top of those 54″ ones, to support the back of the roof.  Then we simply used the velcro on a roll that sticks to itself (soft furry on one side, stiff loopy on the other) and cut strips of it to anchor the lattice to the support board at the back.  Decorations that are hung by twine get attached to the lattice in the front, thereby anchoring the lattice to the frame at the same time.

tiki-bar-table-skirtThis piece of flannel-backed vinyl by the roll was the most expensive investment in the whole tiki bar.  But the effect it gives and the portability was completely worth every penny.  Normally it’s about $30 a yard, but I was able to use a 60% off coupon.  I had to trim 24″ off the length, and now I have alot of very attractive, sturdy vinyl to use for other projects (more than likely, you’ll see that vinyl show up in this blog again).

So onto decorating:  This deck fringe really makes the difference in how the table looks, and gives it that island vibe.  I also used the fringe on the edge of the canvas for the roof.  It wasn’t cheap– $20 at the party store.  But you can also find it online for around $16.  What’s on top of the table is a straw grass beach mat, the same kind that you’d put underneath your towel at the beach.

tiki-bar-finishedHere we are fully assembled.  Let me tell you:  I completely fell in love with double sided duck tape.  I didn’t use a whole roll, but I’m sure that stuff will become a staple in our garage.  It’s wonderful, excellent… okay, okay.  You get the picture.

A bit of advice when attaching your decorations:  If it’s going to be permanent, use the double-sided.  Like for the fringe on the canvas.  But if it’s not permanent, like the fringe on the table, then use regular duck tape, folded into a loop.  With the deck fringe, you’ll want to put a layer of tan duck tape all along the length on the inside top edge, because even though it’s sewn and pretty sturdy, you don’t want to be repeatedly pulling tape off of it.  It’ll begin to get ruined with just a few uses.  So placing a layer of duck tape on the back of the border to support the fragile plastic that the fringe is made of, and then sticking your loops of tape to that duck tape layer, will preserve the fringe for many, many uses.

We hit the dollar store in June, and they always have luau themed decorations and party ware there.  The same thing with the party store.  Awesome tiki cups, napkins, stir sticks, coasters, etc.

Something we discovered about this setup: if you change the decorations, you change the theme– and yet still have a portable bar.  So if you remove all the Hawaiian imagery and the Tiki Bar sign, then you could add whatever holiday decor you’d like and still have an awesome portable bar.  You could try decorating it for 4th of July, or Halloween, an adult beverage area for a birthday party, etc.  Just use a little imagination and judicious application of holiday decor, and this becomes a focal point in your celebration.

tiki-bar-parkFor my 50th birday party, we went to a park that offers alot of activities for kids and adults.  Since this was a public park, no alcohol was allowed, so we created a list of tropical-themed drinks that our guests could have, that stood the spirit of the party and yet comply with the park’s rules.  Our guests had fun pretending to be a bartender at a tropical resort, and that freed us up from having to prepare everyone’s drinks.  I found some of the drinks online, and created some myself (I felt like a mad scientist, saying to Allen “here, try this!”). I had this list on a clipboard and they were able to try a variety of drinks throughout the event. Don’t forget to buy little paper umbrellas, pineapple chunks, maraschino cherries, and lemons/limes/oranges/mint for garnishes.

tiki bar drink list jpg





Allen’s Corner Shelf

Allen on his 50th birthday, with our son, Steve. Fake mustaches were a party favor everyone was wearing, in Allen’s honor.

My hubby is absolutely amazing.  He’s really getting into this whole working-with-copper thing.  Ever since he started experimenting with making crowns and ear cuffs for the Renaissance Faire last year, he’s been pushing his own boundaries with metal and solder.  I’m excited about all the learning he’s doing, and experimenting along the way.

So when the girls (Margo and Heather) decided they were going to remodel our very-sixties half-bath downstairs, Allen decided to construct some copper-and-wood wall shelving that would go in the corner over the toilet.

The corner shelving unit is made with 6-gauge copper wire and has these three open waves, which have brackets that the shelves are screwed onto.  The waves were soldered to a central undulating pair of wires, and the whole thing has this sensual beauty to it.  He cut and stained the shelves, which came out surprisingly beautiful for scrap pine.  I love how he used his router to give the edges a nice scallop.

We initially had a hard time finding knick-nacks that were small enough that they didn’t overpower the shelves and still left much of the construction visible.  A few collected shells, some polymer clay-covered tea-light candle holders, and my new faux stained glass egg where just right to display here.

It Takes A Village, Part 1

Over the last ten years or so, I’ve been collecting ceramic Christmas Village pieces from a variety of dollar stores.  A few dollars here, a few dollars there… and now I’ve got nearly a dozen buildings, people, trees, etc.

  When you go into the front door of our house, you’re met by a set of stairs and a shelf.  That shelf is where we put the Christmas Village last year, thanks to Margo’s suggestion.  I really liked having the village there, it was great.  But I wanted to improve it… and remembered a story Allen had told me of his childhood, how he had built a landscape for his Matchbox electric race car set.  I wondered if we could do something similar for the Christmas Village.

  Not only did he say it was possible, but we had a unique opportunity yesterday.  Allen was off work and so was Margo.  We decided on the spur of the moment to just go for it, so off to the home improvement store we went!

We decided to take advantage of the 20-foot ceiling in our entry way, and build the landscape into a mountain, cutting the wood and screwing it together into a base with three tiers.

We used chipboard for the flat surfaces and 1×2 pieces for the columns.  We quickly discovered the wood screws were splitting the 1×2’s, so we had to pre-drill holes in them before screwing them in place.

The whole thing will stand about 3 feet tall, and 3 feet long.  It will probably weigh 50 pounds when we get done.   I got a steal on rail road track – 25 cents per package – so we’re adding a train and tunnels.

Once the tiers were in place, we checked the placement of the village pieces.  We put everything on it, including the people and dogs and fire hydrants.  If you’re interested in a village, you can buy one for $36.oo from Dollar Tree.

In my case, I’ve been buying pieces from different dollar stores so I don’t have a matching set.  There are some pieces I really want… the sleigh ride and the nativity.  I’ll keep my eyes open for them, in coming years.

Once we had the placement of the pieces where we wanted them, it was time to start stapling on the chicken wire.  Allen and Margo even made shelves with the wire, to add another half-level down at the base near the ice skating pond.

We used a staple gun and 1/2 inch staples to attach the chicken wire.  We chose the square wire rather than the hexagon, because it was sturdier and we would only need one layer of wire instead of two.  All of the wood, wire, screws, staple gun and staples cost us about $35.00.  We used a table saw and miter saw to cut the pieces… but you could use a hand saw and still not take that much time.

After we got the chicken wire on, we put the village pieces back on and re-checked the placement.  We realized we needed a few little cliffs here and there, and a half-shelf for the tree house.  Our friend Becca did her Bexzilla impression.  Love you, Bex!

One of the things we quickly realized is that I have a whole LOT of pieces, and getting them all to fit on the landscape is gonna be a bit of a challenge.  Especially when you add in the electric lights in each of the buildings.  We pre-drilled holes in the chipboard underneath each building, so that there was a place for the string of LED holiday lights that will run underneath the plaster.  We hope someday to have a real working train on the track, so we left plenty of space in the back for train tunnels that would allow the train to run around and behind the mountain, coming out again on the other side.

Now comes the fun part… adding ‘flesh’ to the ‘bones’.  Or more accurately, putting newspaper strips dipped in plaster all over the base and tiers.  Our friend April selflessly cut paper after paper after paper.  I didn’t get a good picture of her but I will next week.  She cut strips of newspaper and then tablet paper, for hours!  We used plaster instead of starch or paper mache, because the plaster was all I had.  Come to find out it was a pretty good choice, as it dries fast!

I can’t tell you how messy this is.  Allen loaned us a couple of old t-shirts of his so that we wouldn’t get plaster all over our clothes.  You mix the plaster powder 2 to 1 ratio with warm water.

We quickly realized that this was gonna be a 3-person job.  The plaster gives you about a 10 minute working time before the plaster in the bowl starts to set.  Allen kept the bowl filled with fresh plaster so it wouldn’t dry out on us.

We started at the top and worked our way down, dipping the strips of newspaper into the wet plaster and then laying it over the chicken wire.  At first, the plaster wasn’t sticking to the wire.

So we had to make the plaster a little bit thick for the initial layer on the wire.  It’s going to take about 5 layers of newspaper and plaster to get it thick enough that the edges are nicely rounded.

The first layer is finally done and drying.  This landscape is probably going to spend a week or two on our kitchen table as we continue adding layers, doing the stucco, and painting.

One of the reasons we decided to jump on this project and keep at it until the first plaster layer was on has to do with the timing of Allen’s Big 50th Birthday Bash on December 2nd.  We wanted this family project to be the first thing people see when they walk in the door.  I’m thinking of naming the village “Allentown” in his honor.  We couldn’t have done this without his direction and assistance.  He’s an awesome husband and father.

We nearly had a major disaster:  I had thoughtlessly started rinsing plaster down the kitchen sink.  Fortunately Allen caught me before too much of it went down the drain.  “You can’t do that!  It’ll clog up our house pipes!”  Hadn’t even occurred to me.  So we had to go out in the back yard – where it was raining cats and dogs – to rinse ourselves and our equipment off.

I was sooooo ready to be done.  We’d been working on this for 6 hours!  I had plaster up to my elbows.  I would have had it in my hair, too, had we been outside where I could have safely started a plaster fight with Margo.  I mean, c’mon… you gotta throw this stuff.  It’s just too much fun.  But since we were in the kitchen, I restrained myself.  I’ll be back with an update on the village when we finish getting all the layers of plaster on.

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