Texas Tiki Profile: Kerwin Kjelstrom
Man of leisure, Knight of the Tanna, creator of the Jaguar Shark, Kerwin Kjelstrom (pronounced Chel-strom) has been a staple in the tiki scene for over a decade now. As is common nowadays, I came to know Kerwin online through our interests in poly pop, seeing each other’s posts through social media, there was obvious common ground. My interest piqued, I asked myself, “where is this dude from?” As it turns out, Kjelstrom hails from almost the southernmost tip of Texas, down in Corpus, thus explaining why I hadn’t run into him in person at Lei Low, Howie’s, The Tiki Takeover Luau or Roundup. So it was cool to finally meet in person at Bamboo on the Bayou 2016 at the Bamboo Bash. Recently I dug deeper into the enigma that is Kerwin Kjelstrom...
How long have you been into Tiki?
Tiki or Poly-Pop, about a decade. We have moved around a lot and because of that developed fairly eclectic tastes. When we left Las Vegas and the desert it left a gap culturally. Food, cocktails, music, art......we didn't have a lot of things to explore. Wanderlust lead us to Tiki events. Low brow artists, surf music, food, rum. We wanted to travel and have a good time. At Oasis we just went with the flow and tried to keep up. We had no real agenda and no friends to start out. After several cocktails, the never ending exotica soundtrack, surrounded by a group of people in ultra-tacky floral attire...we found our niche.
What's the tiki scene like in Corpus?
There really isn't one. Parrotheads and college reggae. I don't hate though. Escapism shouldn't have a set of rules. We have friends that dig it, but don't take it to our level.
Tell us about Knights of the Tanna.
It started as an inside joke between friends. Our gatherings happened mostly at Tiki events. We wanted to bring back the dirty old man. Currently, we are traveling group of people from different states, donning fez and hosting our own Tiki bar weekenders. We have a Knights of the Tanna podcast and official merchandise.
What are your most valued/most interesting tiki possessions ?
A lot of the things we curated have a memory or story behind it. Items from the Solomon Islands and Hawaiian Islands. Numerous items from my Grandparent's travels. The Witco stools my wife found. It was sold to her as a shoeshine stool. We have a pretty decent sized Hawaiiana/Exotica record collection. The music is as good as the cover art.
What's your favorite Tiki drink?
The Mai Tai. I have had them all over. It should be a standard drink at a tiki bar. Like an old fashioned or Martini, it's a good bench mark to judge a place. The Ancient Mariner is a close second. There is a rum for every occasion.
You do a lot of concoction experiments out of the Jaguar Shark. How long have you been experimenting with rum mixology?
I wasn't really into Rum drinks, besides Rum and Coke. We got Intoxica from Beachbum Berry quite a few years ago. I tried, unsuccessfully at first, to make some of the drinks out of it. After the first Tiki event we became serious about making better cocktails. I got the Mai Tai down first. The rest came with time. I am still partial to scotch and water, an old fashioned, and martinis.
Which events have you attended? Which was most memorable? Why?
Our first Tiki Oasis. It's almost indescribable. Walking out of our room at midnight and seeing every floor of the courtyard filled with Hawaiian wear and rum drinks.
Tell us about Jaguar shark. Where does the name come from?
Life Aquatic is the perfect balance of nostalgia and angst. It's Moby Dick but replace Melville with Bukowski. Plus, I loved watching Jacque Cousteau when I was younger.
Which tiki bars have you visited? Which is your personal favorite?
There are so many to recall. Close to 30 overall. This is not including bars that are just beach/tropical. We've put on a lot of miles trying to visit Tiki Bars. Florida Keys, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Las Vegas, and California. Nothing on the East Coast, but we are open to suggestions.
The Mai Kai in Fort Lauderdale. Easily the best. You could walk around for days and notice new things. If I had money, that's what I'd try to build. Tiki Ti. It's been there forever. It's cash only. The locals never leave. It's the Cheers of Tiki. Clifton's Pacific Seas. A hidden room in an odd building. Clifton's is an onion. It has a lot of layers. From adventurer, to Tiki, to mid mod. Hollywood nostalgia inside a cafeteria...filled with taxidermy. Tonga Hut Palm Springs. They added a lot of reclaimed material from Tiki places being torn down. Bonus, the secret room.Frankie's Tiki room in Las Vegas. Great mugs and drinks to signature drinks to accompany them. Latitude 29 in the French Quarter. The drinks are from Beachbum Berry and the food is really good. It's a little more of a restaurant than Tiki bar, but worth the trip. The Lei Low is great. I wish it was closer.
Zombie or Mai Tai?
Mai Tai Mai Tai. Zombie's are inconsistent and can be little like rocket fuel.
Who is your favorite artist?
Edgar Leeteg. Black velvet nudes.
How many mugs are in your collection? Which are your most prized mugs and why?
Over a hundred, if I had to guess. Mr. Bali Hai. It still reminds me of traveling and the 100% liquor Mai Tai they serve there.
What is your holy grail mug?
Maybe the Tiki Bob mug made for Blue Hawaii. Ren Clark Severed Head. It changes daily, maybe hourly. Ask me in a minute.
What do your prefer to listen to create the mood while imbibing?
Eden Ahbez, Bing Crosby's Hawaiian collection. The Centurions. Music can ruin the atmosphere of a bar. Like that one time at the Wreck Bar in Fort Lauderdale. When you are waiting for a Mermaid show to start and they keep blasting Puddle of Mudd.
What are your thoughts on the Texas Tiki scene?
It's still fairly small, which is probably for the best. The people I do know seem to be genuinely into the lifestyle. It is a lot more than just novelty items from Party City. People have to be exposed to it a few times to understand what is going on. You have to cultivate a good scene.
Where would you like to see the Texas Tiki scene go from here?
A large centralized event. With Tiki Oasis having hotel issues, Tiki Caliente having limited tickets, Fort Lauderdale isn't the best hub to find affordable airline tickets. People are looking for events. The third Coast could use a Tiki Weekender.
As a great man once said... "Have Rum will Travel"
- Jay Brooks Aug 2017