Kauai Now : Rock music’s Michele Rundgren is selling Tiki ‘Iniki – the only tiki bar on Kaua‘i

Michele Rundgren poses alongside a portrait of her younger self. Taken Mar. 6, 2024. Photo Credit: Scott Yunker/Kaua‘i Now

Michele Rundgren – the owner-operator of Tiki ‘Iniki, the only tiki bar on the Hawaiian island of Kaua‘i – has spent a lifetime in the spotlight.

Her long and varied career has included stints as a trapeze artist, off-off-Broadway performer, rock ‘n’ roll singer and dancer, standup comedian and local radio host. She is also the longtime wife of rockstar Todd Rundgren – a multitalented musician whose diverse résumé contains gentle ’70s hits “Hello It’s Me” and “I Saw the Light,” the hyperactive “Bang the Drum All Day” and production credits on the iconic Meat Loaf extravaganza “Bat Out of Hell.”

“I’m an entertainer … although I’m no longer going to be the worldwide entertainer I thought I would be,” laughed Michele during a recent interview at Tiki ‘Iniki. “But that’s OK. I’ve had a pretty damn good life, and more to go.”

The usually bubbly woman was reflective that night. She had good reason to be.

“I’m going to give you a scoop,” Michele revealed nearly an hour into a seemingly endless stream of conversation and tropical cocktails, pupus and entrées. “I’ve been at this for a long time. I am ready to sell Tiki ‘Iniki.”


Michele opened the 1,500-square-foot bar and restaurant at the rear of the Princeville Shopping Center in 2013, after her plans for a small music venue in the same North Shore space fell through. She had dreamed of opening a tiki bar since joining The Tubes rock ‘n’ roll band in the early 80s – the twilight of the tiki era.

“They took me out to celebrate at the Tonga Room in San Francisco,” she said. “Every town we went to, we checked out the local tiki bar. That’s in Japan, in France, wherever we were touring … I just fell in love with tiki.”

According to Michele, she first bonded with Todd over a shared love of the exotic subculture, which began as a mid-century craze that delivered a romanticized version of Polynesia to countless mainland Americans. Todd would go on to release “With a Twist…” in 1997, a bossa nova album he performed live amidst an onstage tiki bar.

“As an audience member, you were looking at a little 1950s stage with Todd as the lead singer in the band,” Michele recalled. “Over here was a tiki bar. I think I had four little tables.”

In the role of hostess, Michele would invite members of the audience to sit onstage and enjoy Todd’s music up close. She would then serve them cocktails; once they had finished their drinks, they would leave the tables to make room for more fans.


Despite Michele’s decision to part with her bar, devotees of tiki have nothing to fear: She will only sell to “the perfect buyer” willing to maintain the establishment in all its rum-soaked glory.

“I’m 67 … I would like to sing more. I think I could put a band together on Kaua‘i. A tiki dance band. I can’t do that and run a restaurant,” Michele, who has lived on the Garden Isle for decades, explained. “There’s nothing more fun than dancing with a live band. There’s a lot of music things going on here, but they’re for younger people. I think people my age and people who remember ’80s, ’90s and 2000s rock, I think they’d still like to dance and sing along and laugh.

“Also, Todd’s still touring like crazy, so when he’s home, I would actually like to hang out with my boyfriend,” she added. “I call my husband my boyfriend. I always have.”

With thoughts of her planned life change likely top of mind, Michele gave an enthusiastic tour of Tiki ‘Iniki’s interior before showcasing her establishment’s food and drink menus. Exotic ornaments are crammed into every available inch of its wall and ceiling space. This is only right: Any tiki bar worth its salt is dedicated to such excess.

Michele’s favorite pieces include a massive ornamental lamp and drums salvaged from the remains of Coco Palms, a fabled Kaua‘i resort destroyed by Hurricane ‘Iniki in 1992. (It famously catered to celebrities during the last act of the Golden Age of Hollywood; Elvis Presley strummed a ʻukulele there in the 1961 musical “Blue Hawai‘i.” Today, the future of the historic property is contested by locals opposed to mainland developers’ plans for a new hotel.)


Also on display are a vintage sign and carving from Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room in Disneyland, fan-made artwork of Todd and a puffer fish lamp. The lamp is one of many pieces sourced from Oceanic Arts, a now-defunct restaurant supply business that played an integral role during tiki’s heyday, sourcing authentic items from around the Pacific to dress world-famous bars and restaurants throughout the United States.

Moving to the Tiki ‘Iniki bar, Michele ordered a series of cocktails ranging from the classic – such as a mai tai – to the original, like The ‘Iniki and the Velvet Gorilla, a massive libation inspired by Michele’s band Intoxicats. Each potion incorporates a staggering number of fresh-squeezed juices and liquors, all served in ornate glasses and topped with elaborate garnishes.

“Our standard pour is about two ounces, which is pretty heavy compared to other places. That’s the whole tiki thing: strong drinks,” said bartender and general manager Jay Armstrong, showing off a laminated recipe card covered in precise measurements. “If you can bartend here, you can bartend anywhere.”

No less an authority than Jeff “Beachbum” Berry – an author, mixologist and bar owner who is one of the world’s foremost experts on all things tiki – agreed with Armstrong.

“He’s absolutely right,” Berry said. “People don’t realize this is the hardest form of bartending that there is.”

Berry, who was introduced to tiki bars as a child in mid-1960s Los Angeles, extolled upon their magic.

“It’s the hermetically-sealed movie set. That Technicolor faux-Polynesia vibe that you get when you walk into one of these places if it’s been properly done,” he said. “The original places back in the ’30s and ’40s, all the way up until everything petered out in the ’70s, the good ones didn’t have any windows.

“When you stepped through the front door – whether you were in Los Angeles or Chicago or Indianapolis or wherever – you stepped through the door and you were in this completely art-directed Polynesia of the mind,” Berry continued, noting tiki is now in the midst of a renaissance.

Michele has certainly created a properly done bar in line with the Beachbum’s high standards.

“It’s all about escape and having fun. I think that’s why we’re so successful here,” she said. “Tourists come here and are so happy to look around. I think this embodies what they expected to find.”

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