Tiki mugs are the one souvenir you'd be happy to take home from a bar, and they have been since the days of Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic. But where they started out as colorful ceramic vessels that supercharged the eye-popping presentation of tropical cocktails, nowadays they're created to celebrate a bar opening, a pop culture reference, holidays, liquor brand launches, and conventions.
There's a growing industry devoted to creating drinkable works of art with legions of collectors happy to acquire them. "I collect mugs from bars I visit, I buy mugs from artists online, and sometimes I buy mugs because of the crazy story that goes with it," says Nicole Powell (@ms.swizzlesticks on Instagram), owner of 136 tiki mugs and a cat-themed tiki home bar called The Tokinese Terrace.
But with the world becoming more aware of cultural appropriation and tiki imagery facing a reckoning, mugs based on Pasifika culture are falling out of favor. Neo-tiki bars are moving away from the caricature and toward a nautical or tropical flavor, while mug themes have expanded to include, well, everything else people are into, such as Baby Yoda or Christmas in July. And they're not necessarily limited to warm-weather themes.
While choosing a favorite mug comes down to personal taste, the functional and funky design of Munktiki's Octo Barrel won us over and serves as our top pick.
With all that in mind, we found the best mugs around; hold the kitsch. Fortunately, unlike most desirable mugs, these are readily available online. But regardless of whether they're rare or everyday drinkware, only hand wash your mugs.
Best Overall: Munktiki's Octo Barrel
Picking the best tiki mug overall is completely up to the mug collector. But the rum barrel is a classic design and the standard of most bars and collections. Here, Munktiki does something fun with the addition of a possessive blue octopus. This mug, designed and sculpted by frequent Munktiki collaborator Rob Fink, was created for its M.U.G. (Munktiki Underground) club relaunch, which was then canceled.
It measures 4 inches tall and can hold 12 ounces of your favorite rum drink. The mug manufacturer will produce more colors and non-decaled and decaled versions in the future.
Best Vintage-Style: Linall's Coconut Mug
The coconut cup, whether hollowed out or ceramic, is ubiquitous in any tropical drinking situation. Think Gilligan's Island or your favorite tiki bar. So, if you're just beginning to build out your own home tiki bar, stock up on these handmade, painted ceramic coconuts. They're definitely a step up in quality and looks from the cheap plastic ones you find at a party store. And they have the striation of the vintage ones from defunct tiki mug producer, Orchids of Hawaii.
At 2.7 inches high and 3.7 inches wide with a 17-ounce capacity, they can accommodate any icy, coconutty drink, from frozen Pina Coladas to coconut Margaritas.
Related: Best Coconut Rums
Best Trader Vic's: Trader Vic's Golden Palm
A tiki mug collection just doesn't feel complete without a nod to the progenitors of the vibe, Donn Beach and Trader Vic. However, even though Don the Beachcomber restaurants are long gone, Trader Vic's still has 19 locations around the world. There's also an online store where you can buy everything from a branded Trader Vic's dog frisbee to Trader Vic's Mai Tai mix. But the standout from the selection of ceramic mugs is this Golden Palm.
Palm trees aren't generally made into mugs but painted onto them. And here's this eye-catching metallic gold textured example topped with a green lid of palm fronds. It can hold 16 ounces, and the lid has a hole for a straw.
Best Budget: Barconic's Peacock
For under $10, you can make your cocktail presentation even more eye-catching with this bright blue ceramic peacock mug displaying its feathers. And the more mint sprigs and garnishes, the better.
The proud bird stands 6.5 inches high and is 3 inches wide with a 3-inch base and an 18-ounce capacity. Its style and glossy finish are reminiscent of your grandmother's prized figurines, and you can even double its utility by repurposing it as a vase for your favorite flowers.
Related: Best Garnishing Tools
Best Famous Person: Shakers and Makers' Frida Kahlo
The celebrity tiki mug is nothing new. You can drink out of Elvis, George Lucas, Ernest Hemingway, and not to mention the countless movie and television characters. But this stylized Frida Kahlo mug by a London-based pottery studio is simply beautiful and a lovely homage to the celebrated Mexican artist.
It's available in four colors: vibrant yellow, pink, green, and orange. Since these ceramic mugs are handmade, the glazes will differ slightly from what's pictured. It has an 11.8-ounce capacity and measures 6.3 inches tall and 4.3 inches wide. Definitely go heavy on flower garnishes a la Frida with any cocktail you serve in it.
Best Star Wars: Geeki Tikis' Star Wars Max Rebo
Despite the popularity of Geeki Tikis' "Baby Yoda," David Yeh, @EndorExpress Instagrammer/blogger and longtime regular of Disneyland Hotel's Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar, prefers the blue bandleader from Jabba's Palace in Return of the Jedi. The mug debuted for May the 4th Day (aka Star Wars Day) 2021.
"The Geeki Tikis style isn't for me, but the Max Rebo steps away from that locked method and changes it up." The earnest-looking Ortolan, who, fun fact, is actually playing his Red Ball Jett organ with his feet, is depicted in this 28-ounce bright blue glazed mug with a yellow interior. There is a sloped opening behind Max's head that's large enough to accommodate swizzle sticks, straws, and garnish.
Related: Best Ice Makers
Best Splurge: Whittle Woodshop's Whittle Hippo
"I feel like the best splurge is one that supports an artist," says Lepkowski. "This particular mug is inspired by the hippo on the [Disneyland] Jungle Cruise, and it's a joyful mug that makes me smile and also a creative work of art. For me, that is where I want to put my money when considering a mug, especially over the $100 price point."
The adorable wide-mouthed hippo is a tiki mug version of artist Jeremy Spears' wood carved and resin cast. It even features a deep-wood grain and matte brown glaze. With a 30-ounce capacity, it'll swallow enough cocktails for several friends. The hippo, named "Francis," is a formidable beast at 7.5 inches tall, 6.76 inches deep, and 5.5 inches wide. Currently, the mug is in production and available for pre-sale. It's planned to ship in the fall of 2021.
Good to Know:
"The Whittle Hippo is from the Tikiland Trading site that hosts several artists that I love to purchase from," says Lepkowski. "What I love about them is the whimsical style that sometimes leans toward the Adventureland-themed Disney side."
Best Bar: Three Dots and a Dash's Skull Wall
Most bars sell limited-edition mugs that are not only available for a short time but that also depict a subject not entirely about the bar itself. However, award-winning Chicago bar Three Dots and a Dash, which does offer its drink vessels for purchase online, has a bar mug that showcases one of its most memorable features: the blue-lit skull wall over its stairway entrance. At the bar, it's used to serve the classic Three Dots and a Dash cocktail. "I really like Three Dots and Dash skull wall mug because it is a centerpiece and icon of the bar," says Powell. "It's hard to not want to keep a part of that decor in your tiki mug collection."
This 18-ounce blue and beige hand-painted ceramic mug stands 6.75 inches tall and is 3 inches wide. It's designed by Chicago-based artist Darick Maasen, sculpted by Kosart Studios, and produced by Tiki Farm. One fun detail on the mug is the subtle homage to the original bar owner, Paul McGee, in the form of a skull with his signature bushy beard.
Good to Know:
The mug first went on sale in spring 2018. But, according to the bar itself, since the mug's availability is based on a limited inventory, it may sell out at any moment.
Tiki mugs are available in all shapes, sizes, and themes. But if you had to pick just one because of budget and space constraints, the Munktiki Octo Barrel (view at Muntiki) is an excellent way to go. Not only is it a whimsical variation on a classic mug design, but it's produced by a reputable mug manufacturer known for making affordable, quality drinkware.
What to Look for
What style of tiki mug appeals to you is completely subjective. It could depend on the mug artist, the subject of the mug, its glaze, price, and where it was made.
How many ounces does a standard tiki mug contain?
A standard tropical drink is about 4 to 6 ounces, while standard tiki mugs range in capacity from 14 to 16 ounces, which allows for filling it up with pebble ice.
What is the best way to store a tiki mug?
Proudly display those mugs on dedicated shelf space but make sure to secure them with museum putty, so they don't tip over and fall.
What is the best way to clean a tiki mug?
Please, only lovingly hand wash your tiki mugs with a mild cleanser and soft sponge. Afterward, hand dry it with a microfiber cloth versus letting it air dry on the dishrack where it's in danger of clashing with other dishes and possibly chipping(!) The horror.
Why Trust Liquor.com?
Cocktail writer Caroline Pardilla has just recently got her tiki mug addiction under control, stopping at about 100 mugs in her collection. Now she focuses on only acquiring mugs from bars she's actually visited as well as the occasional irresistible limited edition.
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