Claire Fieberg grew up going to Hawaii with her parents, whom she describes as “kind of avid tiki people.”
They went to Maui mostly, but also Kauai and the Big Island.
“From a very young age, I was really inspired by Hawaiian culture and Hawaiian decorations,” said Fieberg, who grew up in Southern California and moved to Spokane the first time in 2009 and again in 2014. She loves it here, but, “Spokane winters are really hard, especially for me. People” – including herself – “just need a little place to escape to.”
That place, she hopes, is the Tiny Tiki, a new South Pacific-themed rum bar she’s opening on West Second Avenue. The name comes from the space – just less than 500 square feet – as well as the fact that Fieberg “wanted people to know it was a tiki bar.”
Spokane’s littlest, newest and only designated tiki bar is slated to open Saturday with mai tais on nitro, lots of faux foliage and, of course, plenty of rum.
Like the space, the drink menu is limited – at least to start. Fieberg plans to sling six signature tiki drinks as well as offer a rum-forward full bar.
“I’m not going to do a crazy huge list,” she said. But, “Everything is going to be from old menus.”
American tiki culture traces its roots to California in the 1930s – with the opening Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood and Trader Vic’s in the San Francisco Bay Area. The trend – with its tropical rum drinks served in kitschy tumblers adorned with paper umbrellas – remained popular through the middle of the last century.
Some spots, such as Tiki Ti, which opened in Los Angeles in 1961 and remains largely unchanged, still are. But island fever mostly eased up by the early 1970s.
Spokane’s own short-lived Polynesia restaurant, with its signature roofline, opened in 1965 and closed in 1966. Today, it’s home to the Anthony’s at Spokane Falls seafood restaurant.
During the past couple of years, however, tiki has been trending again – particularly in larger cities.
But, other than a few – and popular – tiki nights at Durkin’s Liquor Bar in downtown Spokane and a cocktail class, “Rum: Colonial Tavern to Tiki Bar,” taught by Renee Cebula, owner of Raising the Bar, the resurgence hasn’t really hit Spokane – yet.
Tiki, Fieberg said, “is a weird little niche.” And Spokane, she said, “is really into whiskey. I think that rum gets a little bit left out.”
The Tiny Tiki just might mark the return of tiki – with a modern twist – to Spokane. Of course, there will be mai tais. But expect a new spin.
“I’m planning on doing a mai tai on nitro,” Fieberg said. “I just figured with the flavors it would work. It’s going to be nice and creamy and delicious.”
Also on the menu: the Painkiller – made with Pusser’s rum, pineapple juice, cream of coconut, orange juice and freshly grated nutmeg – and a variation of the Zombie, traditionally made with light and dark rum, brandy, lime juice and grenadine, garnished with a cherry and orange slice.
Fieberg plans to make her own grenadine and source other tropical syrups from the BG Reynolds company in Portland. She also plans to feature fresh-pressed juices and offer a version of Jane Danger’s LaCroix Cocktail.
Danger, co-author of “The Bourbon Bartender” and the bar manager at the Mother of Pearl tiki-inspired restaurant and bar in New York City, created the riff on Don the Beachcomber’s Demerara Dry Float with lime, rum, maraschino liqueur and passion fruit-flavored sparkling water – and Fieberg is intrigued.
“I really want to do a LaCroix cocktail served in the can,” she said.
Fieberg, 27, a member of the local band Super Sparkle, most recently worked as the bar manager at the all-ages indie-music venue the Bartlett in downtown Spokane. Before that, she worked at the Lantern in Spokane’s South Perry neighborhood.
This is her second stint in Spokane.
Fieberg grew up in Laguna Nigel, California, and first moved to the Inland Northwest after high school, following her best friend here in 2009. He was going to Gonzaga University. And, “I didn’t have a plan,” she said. “So I moved up here to be in a band with him.”
She returned to SoCal in 2011, then came back to Spokane in 2014. Last summer, she started thinking about opening a tiki bar and creating a Polynesian-inspired experience – even if on a small scale.
“It’s tiny,” she said of the space, which formerly held a hair salon. “It’s very small.”
But that coziness is part of its appeal.
“I hope that people will want to hang out,” Fieberg said. “I’m trying to create a cozy environment.”
She describes the look as a “modern version of a tiki bar with some classic elements.”
Josh Jaklich of ORNG Modern did the construction and design, which features thatching on the wall, rattan chairs and stools, shag-covered benches separated by Polynesian-inspired screens, and bamboo framework replicating an A-frame hut.
Japanese fish floats, lanterns and lights will be affixed to the ceiling, which Fieberg said she hopes is a focal point. Faux foliage above the bar and a screen showing vintage surf films and competitions are other centerpieces.
Accents include dark-stained wood and wall paint in “Soothing Eucalyptus” by Clark + Kensington. The wood trim for the bar came from Ocean Arts, a “tiki warehouse” in Whittier, California. The back bar features shiny black tile and floating shelves. A buddy bar along one of the walls will feature a piece of live-edge wood.
“It’ll be pretty,” said Fieberg, whose parents – Don and Lisa Fieberg – helped with start-up funds. They also drove up from Southern California with bamboo “strapped to the roof of the car.” They’ve already seen the space and are planning a return trip for the grand opening.
Fieberg “didn’t want to go too kitschy.”
So don’t expect tiki totem mugs for anything other than decoration. KJ Pottery of Spokane is making mugs with the Tiny Tiki’s logo, and that means – sorry – no whimsical faces.
However, Fieberg said, customers are welcome to bring their own favorite tiki mugs and leave them at the bar. And, she said, “I want to do a mug club.”
Behind the bar, it will just be her and her girlfriend, Kailie Lord, working. They might hire a third person to help, too.
The kitchen, installed in what used to literally serve as a closet, is limited in size and the food menu will be, too. Noshes are tater tots with dipping sauces such as passion fruit-guava barbecue. There’s a loaded option, too. Tots will be served in compostable banana-leaf boats. Fieberg is also committed to not using plastic straws or flatware.
There are four taps for draft beer, and Fieberg plans to keep options local and regional, offering a mini mix of local and regional IPAs, pilsners and stouts. Don Papa is her “must-have” rum.
She’s also hoping to offer live Hawaiian music some nights.
“It’s really the whole concept of escape that I love,” she said. “Being from Southern California, there’s always that (salt water) smell in the air and you can see the ocean and the palm trees. That’s the stuff I’ve really come to miss. I love the idea of being able to offer people an escape from a sort of industrial small city to a tropical oasis.”