How a Boring Basement Became an Enchanting Tiki Bar
When you love something, why not have it in your house so you can enjoy it every day? Doug Motz and Todd Popp have been tikiphiles for awhile. When they moved to their new home in Berwick, the plain and run-of-the-mill basement was begging for a transformation. It took nearly a year, but now, the basement has been completely transformed into a fabulous and one-of-a-kind tiki bar – truly one of the most unique spaces in Columbus! Shipwreck Shirley’s is an exotic, fun, getaway, right in their own home.
“It’s a fantasy, it’s over the top, it feels happy and fun!” says Popp.
The couple discovered tiki culture while they were dating.
“Our first dates were going out ‘junking’ and we both gravitated to the tiki mugs and that kind of thing, and we found out we had that in common,” says Motz.
With an expanding tiki mug collection, and Motz’s book Kahiki Supper Club: A Polynesian Paradise in Columbus, the spark in tiki culture was reignited.
When they were looking to move to a new home, they gravitated toward ranch homes with a Mid-Century Modern style and knew they would like to have a tiki bar in the basement, or somewhere in the house.
The house they found in Berwick was originally owned by a woman named Shirley Cohen.
“We were trying out lots of names [for the tiki bar] and none of them seemed right,” says Motz.
“Doug was gravitating toward ‘Captain Jerry’s’ (after our dear friend Jerry Glick) when we remembered the original owner’s name was Shirley and we added Shipwreck in front of it and it seemed perfect,” says Popp.
They were a bit anxious to share with Shirley’s children that they named the bar after their mom, but after sharing some fun stories they invented about things Shirley would do after hearing from neighbors how fun-loving she was, such as ‘Shirley would never take a cruise but she would navigate down the Amazon to see what she could find’, it was nothing to worry about.
Her kids loved the idea and shared their mother was very much a free spirit and that it was a lovely tribute to her.
Shipwreck Shirley’s signature drink:
3 parts Deadhead Rum
1 part lime juice
1 part lemon juice
1 part passionfruit syrup
1 part falernum
Splash of orange bitters
The area for the tiki bar is about 400-500 square feet. The space was taken down to the studs. The drop ceiling and moldy paneling had to be removed. The floor received an acid-wash treatment. Drywall was rehung and painted.
“Some good friends saw our paint job and not knowing what to expect in a tiki bar said it was the most garish room they had ever seen!” laughs Motz. “We knew we were on the right track!
The first party was July 29, 2017 and served as a fundraiser for the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus. Friends Bill Mast and Tim Shrewsbury also love tiki and brought over decorations for the backyard. Jeff Chenault DJ’ed the party, Grass Skirt mixed up cocktails, and local hula troupe Mahana Productions performed.
“We raised over 5,000 dollars for CGMC and had a blast,” says Motz. “It was at that point that our friends Marc & Mark suggested we consider opening it up on a monthly basis so we did starting in October of last year.”
“It’s always evolving so I don’t know that it will ever be complete,” says Popp. Popp would love to find something from The Enchanted Tiki Room, while Motz would love to find an original Kahiki Mystery Bowl.
“That’s my grail piece!” he says.
What makes a great Tiki Bar? If you want to build a tiki bar, the overall feel is created with: lighting, a water feature, music (try The Tikiyaki Orchestra Radio on Pandora for a great tiki bar station), tropical plants, carved wood features – carvings from Wayne Coombs’ Mai Tiki Studio and Gallery would be most authentic, shades of orange, yellow, and green, 1950s barkcloth vintage fabric, skulls, hula girls/boys, mermaids, pineapples, lots of bamboo, and of course the mugs and the rums!
Shipwreck Shirley’s boasts mugs from Mai Kai, Porcos, Tonga Room, Trader Vic’s, Enchanted Tiki Room, Grass Skirt, and everywhere else they travel.
“We’ve never counted up how many mugs we have, but probably over a hundred!” says Popp.
Oceanic Arts in California is one of their favorite resources for things to create a tiki feel. Locally, you can find tiki items at Boomerang Room Vintage. Artists mentioned above can be found at Britsketch and The Art of Liana Hee.
For now, their favorite items in Shipwreck Shirley’s are the bamboo bar that they found at The Re-Store, and the six Kahiki chairs.
Motz has been enchanted with The Kahiki ever since his mom took his Cub Scout troop there in 1973.
“The magic of that place overwhelmed me in the best possible way!” he says. “It’s so cool that a part of the late great Kahiki lives on in our home!”
Shipwreck Shirley’s has been a great way for the couple to get to know their neighbors, unwind, and have fun.
“I love that we’ve created a really fun space for our friends and family to enjoy,” says Motz. “That’s my favorite part, seeing everyone enjoy themselves and getting to make new friends.”
“We didn’t realize we could put something like this in our home,” says Popp, and it’s been really amazing.”
All photos by Anne Evans, except basement ‘before’ images.