Kool Kat of the Week: Atlanta Tikiphile Allison Chaffin Gets Mugs-y and Lounges it up at the Inaugural Inuhele Atlanta Tiki Weekender February 15-16

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Tikiphiles unite! Get your ukuleles ready and hula on down to the first ever Inuhele Atlanta Tiki Weekender and second annual Atlanta HomeBar Tour Friday – Saturday (Feb. 15-16) at the Atlanta Marriott Century Center, brought to you by our Kool Kat of the Week, tiki aficionado Allison Chaffin (Mug Crate) along with her husband and tiki partner-in-crime Jonathan Chaffin of Horror in Clay (see our Shop Around feature here). You won’t want to miss a weekend chock full of tiki bar-hopping, panels, vendors, bands, demos, sharing of ideas, community building and all things Polynesian! The Atlanta Marriott Century Center is located at 2000 Century Blvd NE, Atlanta, GA 30345. Standard tickets – $99 (access to Friday and Saturday events)/Deluxe – $140/VIP – $249. For more information and the complete Inuhele Atlanta Tiki Weekend schedule, visit the website here or the Facebook event page here.

ATLRetro caught up with Allison to chat about Inuhele Atlanta Tiki Weekender, her love of all things tiki and Polynesian, and Atlanta’s hidden tiki culture.

ATLRetro: We are so excited for Inuhele: Atlanta’s Tiki Weekend! Can you tell us a little about how this event came together and the history of Inuhele?

Allison Chaffin: Last year we headed up a homebar tour that visited four home tiki bars in the Atlanta area. We named the tour “Inuhele,” which means “cocktail journey.” I feel that many people encounter tiki culture first through cocktails and then as they learn more find out that it is much more than that. During the homebar tour last year, many of the participants discussed wanting to have a bigger event in the future – so this year we are trying a full weekend event that still has the homebar tour on Sunday (which sold out immediately!), but also has a tour of the professional tiki bars in Atlanta and much more tiki culture to offer – art, music, fashion, food, and of course cocktails.

Any special events you’re taking part in at the event you’d like to share with our readers?

The weekend event has so many different things going on that I think everyone can find something special for them. I think some of the highlights for me are the drawing class with Derek Yaniger on Friday afternoon; the hop-on hop-off bus tour to Trader Vic’s, Tiki Tango and Tiki Iniki on Friday night; the art in the vending room from all over the country; the Lavalava Revue & Conga & Talent Show; the Iron Tikitender bartending competition; and the Volcano Worshipper’s Hour that I am helping to plan (you have to come to find out).

What drew you to Polynesian and tiki culture?

Actually, my husband and I had one of our first dates at Trader Vic’s at an old Tiki Torch night. These were events at Trader Vic’s that had artists, Polynesian dancers, bands, and of course cocktails and food. We planned to go and have one cocktail and check out the art and ended up staying for dinner. After that, we started seeing if tiki bars were in cities we were traveling through so we could check them out as well. We even planned Jonathan’s birthday one year around going to the Mai Kai in Ft. Lauderdale. We convinced thirty of our friends to travel to Ft. Lauderdale and spend the weekend and go to the Mai Kai and the Wreck Bar to see the Mermaids.

As huge fans of Horror in Clay, can you tell our readers the wonderful secret dark history of the company you share with your husband, Jonathan, and what drew you guys to the art of tiki mugs?

I purchased Jonathan a tiki mug for $0.10 at a prop warehouse sale years ago. This one mug started an obsession of collecting tiki mugs and ultimately art. About seven years ago, he was looking for various mugs and wanted one of Cthulhu. He thought this would be a great mug to have and no one at the time had created one, so he decided to tackle that as a need.  Luckily, he was not the only person who wanted a Cthulhu tiki mug, so we ended up running our first Kickstarter to fund the mug. Based on the success of that mug, he has continued to create more mugs based on horror fiction, and now we have nine different mugs in his collection from various artists, podcasts, and even a haunted house.

Tiki pop culture had a huge draw in the ‘90s with the resurgence of rockabilly and retro events, and we’re seeing it come back into the scene here in Atlanta with several new tiki bars opening. What do you think it is that draws generation after generation to this pop culture?

I think a lot of it has to do with escapism from the normal world. When you walk into a tiki bar, you are transported to a new environment that often time reminds you of your last vacation. I often refer to a night out at SOS Tiki Bar in Decatur as a mini vacation.

We see that you are the creative force behind MugCrate. Can you tell us a little about the company?

MugCrate is a quarterly curated subscription box. Each quarter I strive to put together a small themed tiki experience. The boxes contain at least one tiki mug and then art, bartending tools, or other tiki items. We have brought in mugs from England and items from all over the US. I work with smaller artists to get their items in the box to introduce them to a larger audience. It is amazing how many small artists are out there that I discover every month.

Who is your favorite local tiki/pop-culture artist and why?

That is a hard question. I really love so many different artists in the tiki community. I think it would come down to the type of art and what you mean by local. I am currently in love with Kymm Bang’s gravel art pieces.  They are amazing and she will be at Inuhele this weekend. I also love the amazing mug sculptures of many of the mugs for Eekum Bookum being produced by John Mulder and Pat Vassar. They produced the mug for Inuhele last year and this year and I cannot wait to see the final product. Of course, I also think my husband is a creative genius and all of his collections are full of so many in-jokes and hidden meanings that they are fun to explore.

Which tiki bars would you recommend for our readers and what is it specifically about that venue that you like?

Well, in Atlanta we are luckily enough now to have 4 tiki bars – Trader Vic’s, SOS Tiki Bar, Tiki Tango, and Tiki Iniki. I love to go to Trader Vics’ for a great menu and classic tiki drink, SOS currently has my favorite drink of all time – the Haitian Swizzle, and I am looking forward to exploring the three-floor tiki clubhouse that is Tiki Tango –  the newest tiki bar in the Atlanta area.

Favorite tiki/island foods you’d care to share with our readers?

I am not a cooked fruit kind of person, so my island food leans closer to the Asian side of things. I love good Crab Rangoon, BBQ Short Ribs, and eggrolls.

Any favorite local surf/island bands our readers should be aware of?

I am not a huge band person, so probably not the right person to ask. I did hear the The Mystery Men? play in Macon as well as here in Atlanta at the Southern Surf Stompfest and I am looking forward to hearing them again this weekend at Inuhele.

What’s next for Allison Chaffin? Inuhele? Any other exciting events coming down the pike we should keep our eyes open for?

Right now we are trying not to plan any new things since we have been focused on Inuhele for the last six months. Of course, I have heard that Horror In Clay might be coming out with a new mug in the next few months. Stayed turned for more information…

And last but not least, what are you looking forward to most that our readers should keep their eyes open for at this weekend’s event?

Inuhele is going to be an awesome adventure for anyone that attends. We have so many things going on that everyone can plan their own perfect adventure for the weekend or even just the day. I know that I personally am looking forward to the panels on Food and Fashion, the trading post (our vending room), and the Iron Tikitender competition Saturday night. Of course, above all of that I am looking forward to meeting all the wonderful people that are part of the tiki community in Atlanta. We are finding new groups of tiki loving people every day and are looking forward to seeing what the future will bring with this amazing group of tikiphiles!

Photos courtesy of Allison and Jonathan Chaffin and used with permission.

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