A Tiki haven is forming inside a former auto dealership on Duane Street in Astoria.
Paul Nielsen and his wife, Debra Dunagan, recently purchased the 94-year-old Sovey Motor Co. building, the former office of Charter Communications, at 1241 Duane St.
The family, including son Miles Nielsen and daughter-in-law Annie Van Dyke, is fixing up the dilapidated building into an art gallery, loft and headquarters for Munktiki, the family’s nationally known tiki mug business.
Miles Nielsen and Van Dyke relocated from Portland to Astoria several years ago to raise their family, their parents following last year to be closer to their kids. Initially intent on the Odd Fellows Building, the family jumped on the former Charter Communications office after the price went down, beginning a restoration they hope to finish by next summer.
The Nielsens, both potters since their teens, started Munktiki in the 2000s. The name is a nod to their love of monkeys, changed a bit to avoid any religious connotation. They create custom slip-cast, stoneware and ceramic tiki mugs that have shown up in bars around the U.S. and Canada.
The company started several years ago having bulk orders made in China to cut the cost for bars needing large, replaceable stocks of their mugs. An online catalog ranges from pufferfish and seahorses to decorated skulls and bunnies. The basement of the Sovey Motor Co., a former service garage, is filled with boxes of mugs and steins ready to be shipped to customers.
The mass-produced mugs made in China allow the Nielsens to focus on more creative, specialty mugs, like a Mayan death whistle complete with an actual whistle, flaming volcanoes and Astoria-themed containers like a Goonies skull and a red buoy in a nod to Buoy Beer Co., where Van Dyke also works.
The Nielsens don’t see them as traditional tiki mugs, but rather fitting into an exuberant theme.
“What tiki is is definitely not an interpretation of what tiki actually is in Polynesia,” Miles Nielsen said. “It’s an Americanized, ‘50s, bastardized thing. It’s very Americana, really.”
Four years ago, the younger Nielsen and Van Dyke did a Kickstarter campaign for Münkstein, a line of humorous and dark beer steins that has since blossomed into its own side business. The stein designs range from a Krampus — the Germanic half-goat, half-demon who punishes misbehaved children — to 3-D images. They will soon come out with a 420 stoner-themed stein complete with a fully functional pipe on the lid.
The tiki mugs, steins and other merchandise will all be available in the thoroughly nautical, tropical storefront of Munktiki, including hanging glass floats, 7-foot-tall tikis and a broken-off ship mast or bamboo raft.
A collection of historical tiki mugs will be on display. One vending machine will dispense tiki mugs, while another vintage coin-operated prize machine will pop out tiki trinkets in plastic eggs.
The back of the store will eventually accommodate Dead Man’s Isle, a tiki bar the family hopes to build out sometime in the next several years. The family’s previous buildouts, including their former home in Portland, have become a standard of tiki bar excellence featured by The Oregonian and other news outlets.
“A legit, Americana tiki bar is very much about having lots and lots of kind of beach-combed stuff, lots and lots of eye candy just hanging around,” Miles Nielsen said.
On the east side of the building, the family is building out an art gallery for Dunagan, who works in watercolors, acrylics and ink.
“Lighting is key,” said Dunagan, who is planning vertical slats along the wall, backlit in different colors by LED lights.
Dunagan and the elder Nielsen are building out a loft to live right above the gallery, giving them a bird’s-eye view of their storefront and Duane Street, with a spiral staircase to the building’s roof.
The Sovey Motor Co. building had fallen on hard times after the departure of Charter Communications to the Port of Astoria’s central waterfront, sitting empty and slowly deteriorating. The family sees the adaptive reuse as offering unique products while filling one of the last holes in the storefronts on Duane Street, a burgeoning commercial district increasingly home to Astoria’s homegrown alcohol industry.
“It’s a fun corner,” Van Dyke said. “This is where it’s happening in Astoria.”
The family hopes to open in the spring or summer.