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





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