Bosko News/Press

Kapu Tiki Room
By Jeff Beachbum Berry

Escondido, California, is the home of the Lawrence Welk Retirement Village ... and one other world wonder. At the edge of town, at the end of an unmarked dirt road, is The Kapu Tiki Room, an elaborately decorated A-frame structure lined with display cases full of tiki mugs, salt shakers, and other treasures from defunct Polynesian restaurants. Master tiki-carver Bosko Hrnjak built this combination lounge-museum-shrine with his bare hands, the same way he creates his unique wooden tikis, ceramic drinking vessels, and decorative wall art -- all of which is now selling big-time through the company he formed with his partner, the lovely European import Truus "Trader Dutch" De Groot. Always game for any excuse to visit the Kapu Tiki Room -- which, by the way, is Bosko's private sanctuary and unfortunately NOT open to the public -- I recently journeyed to Escondido to interview Bosko for the Tiki News carver issue.

BOSKO: "Don't ask me anything weird."

BEACHBUM: "So Bosko, how big is it?"

BOSKO: "It's a very big Tiki Jeff. It's a big god, a big, big god."

BEACHBUM: "Lets go back to how you got interested in tikis. In my case, when I was a kid I was taken to Polynesian restaurants and overwhelmed by the complete sense of fantasy -- of leaving reality at the door as you enter. Were you taken to these places by your parents?

BOSKO: "I was never taken to any of these places as a kid. But my grandparents lived right off of Rosemead Blvd., where there were these three tiki apartment buildings -- the Kapu-Tiki, the Islander, and I don't remember.The Samoa, I think it was -- and as soon as you rounded that corner at night, the torches would be on and there were really cool cars parked in front and gigantic tikis. It was like this whole exotic untouchable thing I got to see on a nightly basis but never got to experience on a more personal basis, but that's where the seed was planted. It always made perfect sense to me as a kid that there were tikis around. As I grew up I saw the absurdity in having Tikis in Southern California -- the whole "What's that all about?" kind of thing -- but tikis have a certain strength that people are drawn to. They really make a statement wherever you put them."

BEACHBUM: "What kind of a statement do they make?"

BOSKO: "Well, the original carvers who carved the 'mana' of a particular ancestor or God -- they were going for the god's best qualities, be they humor or strength or ... mana is a hard word to translate into English. It means many things to the Polynesians."

BEACHBUM: "Like spirit and power?"

BOSKO: "Even more so: it's what they consider the best qualities in Polynesia, like humor, strength, courage, things of this nature. These were your mana. Sort of a soul, I guess, is the closest thing you can compare it to, and that's what these carvers were going for. They wanted to give a particular tiki a particular mana of this God or this ancestor, and so thus they had this kind of power. This is what the power is that people see when they see them. I mean, if you stick them in the foreground your eye goes right to them."

BEACHBUM: "One of the things I always liked about your carving style was the mixing of primitive and modernistic. Like alien faces super-imposed onto primitive faces."

BOSKO: "That's something I very much liked in the California carvings of the fifties and sixties; they really pushed it, and I try to push it to the next step."

BEACHBUM: "The next step for you now is moving from palm wood to burnt redwood, inspired by the works of Witco?"

BOSKO: "When I began to collect Witco with Truus, it just really struck a chord with me. The Witco company did the furniture at Graceland; Elvis's Jungle Room was all Witco. They did really wild, wild, primitive-looking carvings, all done in cedar with this burned look. Entire restaurants were done in this style -- and whole houses -- from, I believe, 1956 to 1976 roughly. It rose with tiki and when tiki dropped off, it kind of dropped off the map too."

BEACHBUM: "You actually sought out the owner of the company and went to his house, where he had retired up in Washington State?"

BOSKO: "Yeah, yeah. It turned out he went to Art Center after WW II on the GI Bill."

BEACHBUM: "And that was also your school."

BOSKO: "My school, yeah, and he was just the most wonderful guy. I kept telling him I thought the furniture was great, that his stuff would be appreciated like Chippendale years from now, but he thought I was joking. He came out here one time and he still thinks I'm kind of wacky."

BEACHBUM: "When he came out here and saw your house full of Witco furniture and wall hangings, what was his reaction?"

BOSKO: "He thought it was like a Witco showroom, like they used to have back in the day. They used to have these places all over the country which were just furnished with Witco, and you'd go in there and pick from this and that."

BEACHBUM: "You've managed to translate the signature style of your carvings into ceramics. Do you find that more satisfying than carving?"

BOSKO: "I like the mass-produced aspect of the ceramics. You can make one thing and you can make 100 or 200 of them or whatever. That's a nice feeling. I always try to push the mugs ... it's a different thing than with the carving. You can only push the wood so far because of the qualities of the palm wood. The clay has its own limitations, but I always try to push it as far as I possibly can before the mug would collapse or something like that. I think of them as art, like little sculptures. It just happens to be that they are mugs."

BEACHBUM: "You're also getting into raising your own palms?"

BOSKO: "Again, it just sort of came up like the tikis did. I'd seen a strange palm here and there. I saw a triangle palm once. They're just the most beautiful things. If you're unaware of them, you think there's only these Washingtonians you see everywhere in California -- and then you find out about these really intense collectors. They collect these very rare palms from all over the South Pacific, all over the world. And they like tikis too, because they have these backyards with beautiful lush jungle gardens, and again once you put a tiki into it, the place just lights up. So after I was introduced to the palm society, I started growing my own palms. And hopefully in a few years we'll have a jungle here.

BEACHBUM: "With the Kapu Tiki Room and the palm grotto that will surround it, you will have pretty much created the nexus of tiki culture for the new millennium -- because all the old places are disappearing."

BOSKO: "It's a funny thing. We've had people just show up in Escondido. I heard there was a guy from Japan who was trying to find me, but I never met up with him. There were people who came all the way from Brazil just to see this place, and from the East Coast, and from all over California. We just put it on the web-site (WWW.TIKIBOSKO.COM) because it is the Kapu-Tiki Room, but people seem to think it's a working bar or something and its kind of taken on this life of its own. Its nothing that we really tried to push, but, I don't know."

BEACHBUM: "Tell us how we can go about making our own Kapu-Tiki Room."

BOSKO: "Go to the website. Its all there. You can buy a little bar and you just start from there. You put a little roof on it. Its just layering, texturing. If you look at the difference between the early fifties and the mid-fifties to the late sixties, you can see the sophistication that came about in the interiors of the old places. First they were just a bunch of tables and some junk on the walls. Then they got more sophisticated, used volcanoes and waterfalls and you sort of had to make your way through this maze -- like it was this cave you could not get through. The Bahooka, for instance, after a few drinks it's almost impossible to find the bathroom in that place. And it's not that big a place, but you just get this feeling. It's the clutter: You shouldn't be able to see everything when you come to a tiki bar for the first time -- or even the first five times you go. Its a place you sit for a few hours, you're having a drink, you're feeling the effects of the alcohol, you're hearing the exotica music and you're just taking the whole thing in. It works on many levels, many sensory levels."

BEACHBUM: "Every surface and every layer has to be so complete that you're taken out of your own reality. That's the whole idea behind it, isn't it?"

BOSKO: "That's why when you come in here you can't see what it used to look like originally. Everything is covered with something else."

BEACHBUM: "And you have no idea that outside you is just a bunch of strip malls."

BOSKO: "Yeah, that's it!"


Back to top


Tiki Objects by Bosko
PO Box 300024 · Escondido, CA 92030
Phone: (760) 580-1924 · Email: