INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- When you think about a Tiki bar, you likely envision some chilled-out Florida beach bar playing Jimmy Buffet music in the background.
But thanks to Ed Rudisell and Chris Coy, the co-owners behind The Inferno Room located at 902 Virginia Avenue in Fountain Square, we learned that the culture of tiki is so much more than island vibes and Hawaiian shirts.
In fact, it’s so much more interesting than we could have imagined.
Tiki came about in the early to mid 1930s from Don Beachcomber and it really had its heyday in the '40s, '50s and '60s.
The vibe was all about escapism.
"That was the idea, to give somebody the idea of what it was like to back into the luau in Beverly Hills in like 1960," said Rudisell. "There’s one primary difference in that was a big night out with a suit on and tie on in the '60s, whereas now we get to wear fun aloha shirts and things like that so it’s a little more of a chill vibe in the modern era."
Four Things You Need to Know About The Inferno Room:
- Another misconception about Tiki bars is that they only do rum drinks. While rum is king, they also offer drinks made with bourbon and whiskey, gin, as well as beer options so there’s something for everyone.
- The Inferno Room is open Monday-Thursday from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., Friday-Saturday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. and closed on Sundays.
- Indiana's very own Steve Crane was one of the "founding fathers" of Tiki. He is originally from Crawfordsville and is actually buried there. If you head upstairs at The Inferno Room, you'll find two rooms dedicated to Indiana Tiki, one called "The Luau Room" which is named in homage to Crane's famous Beverly Hills restaurant, The Luau.
- If you fall in love with some The Inferno Room's cool Tiki mugs or logo items, you can actually buy them there!
Rudisell's interest in tiki began several years before The Inferno Room was conceptualized, thanks to his business partner, Chris Coy.
"We had started this kind of rum obsession and that’s sort of a short hop skip and a jump over to tiki," he explained. "He was already into a lot of the aspects of tiki like the music and art and I came through it through a love of the cocktails."
From there, the two immersed themselves in the history of tiki as they prepared to open their own "traditionalist" tiki bar. The design and construction of The Inferno Room took over two years, ensuring that they got it right before opening their doors in the fall of 2018.
Rudisell and Coy spent a great deal of that time curating a vast collection of art and tribal items, and only a portion is on display.
"We own a lot of native artwork from the middle Sepik river tribes from New Guinea, so that’s really the influence you see here at The Inferno Room is most of our artwork is from New Guinea and Melanesia in general, but primarily in Papua New Guinea," said Rudisell.
“Every great tiki bar should really be a constant work in progress because it’s all about layers upon layers upon layers…it’s almost like an archaeological dig,” he added.
The attention to detail is undeniable, with much of the art and other pieces being custom or about as close to museum quality as one can get.
One of their most popular pieces are the skull racks that were recreated by Coy.
"He’d seen those in a museum in Milwaukee... those would kind of be ancestral racks where you would put skulls up from either ancestors or enemies. I love that detail piece. It’s one of the most photographed pieces in here," said Rudisell.
“The other would be our large eight-foot mask that has lovingly been referred to as Moe because during our service there is kind of a flame effect and smoke effect that comes out,” he said. “So ‘the Flaming Moe’ from the Simpsons… that’s how he got nicknamed Moe.”
Art is such an important part of tiki; it’s integrated into virtually every aspect of the experience – even down to the mugs.
"We have two different mugs that we offer," he said. "One was made by Kenny Ruzik and that’s a Papua New Guinea style drum mug with a hand hold. It’s absolutely my favorite... we actually have a couple handpainted ones from the artist."
Then, fill your mug with some of their most popular drinks like the go-to Mai Tai, Jet Pilot, Painkiller, Zombie or the show-stopping Antakarian Fire Dancer.
And depending on which cocktail you choose, you might be surprised to learn that one of Indiana’s very own may have been the one who came up with it.
"Steve Crane is from Crawfordsville, Indiana, and he’s buried there and a lot of people don’t realize that and that’s a big shame because he’s one of the three founding fathers of Tiki," said Rudisell.
Head upstairs to one of the two rooms dedicated to Indiana Tiki, including one called "the Luau," which is an homage to Crane's famous Beverly Hills restaurant by the same name.
With so much to see, make sure you don’t forget a food menu because no trip to The Inferno Room is complete until you’ve tried some of their most popular items like pork Lau Lau, jerk chicken or pork kabobs and crab rangoon.
"Crab Rangoon is the ultimate tiki dish that was a dish that was conceptualized by Vic Bergeron, AKA Trader Vic," Rudisell explained. "A lot of people don’t realize that is not necessarily an Asian dish. It was something he conceptualized at Trader Vic’s in Oakland. So it is very American."
For more information about The Inferno Room, check out their website by clicking here. To see more photos and reviews by local Yelpers, check out their Yelp profile. You can also connect with them via Facebook and Instagram.
While in Fountain Square, check out some of the neighborhood’s other top-rated hot spots: