ADJ LED Fixtures & Dimmer Packs Create Island Vibes At Austin’s New Tiki Bar

Photo: Stephen Pruitt

Tiki Tatsu-Ya is the latest addition to the vibrant nightlife scene in Austin, TX. The heavily themed bar and eatery combines new twists on classic Tiki cocktails with a gourmet menu of Pacific inspired dishes devised by owner and chef Tatsu Aikawa. An immersive lighting system for the venue, featuring 30 ADJ LED fixtures and 16 ADJ dimmer packs, was designed by local lighting specialist Natalie George. Working in collaboration with the venue’s management and décor company, she created a complex integrated system that blends in seamlessly with the theming. Not only does it enhance the venue’s atmosphere, but also allows for a variety of signature effects to be triggered throughout each evening.

Tokyo-born and Texas-bred, chef Tatsu Aikawa brought ramen culture and izakaya-style dining to Austin. Having spent his whole working life in restaurants, he worked his way up from dish washer to line chef before heading to Los Angeles for an apprenticeship with Michelin-star Sushi Chef Hiroyuki Urasuki. Back in Austin, he opened Ramen Tatsu-Ya, the city’s first ever brick-and-mortar noodle operation, in 2014. A raging success, this led Tatsu’s company to open a string of further restaurants and food outlets, the latest of which is Tiki Tatsu-Ya. Since the Tatsu-Ya brand is known for its food, Tatsu’s menu, which blends Polynesian and Japanese influences, was sure to be a big draw. However, as a fully-fledged Tiki bar, the drinks offering at this new venue was equally important. To curate Tiki Tatsu-Ya’s collection of creative interpretations of classic Tiki drinks, Cory Starr was brought in as Beverage Manager, bringing with him a wealth of Tiki knowledge and experience, having most recently worked at award-winning Tiki spot Three Dots and a Dash.

Another essential of any successful Tiki restaurant is the theming, allowing patrons to feel as if they have been whisked away to a tropical island – even if just for an hour or two. Tatsu and his team have gone all out with the theming of Tiki Tatsu-Ya, working with local design studio McCray & Co. to develop a complex back story of island adventures that are brought to life throughout the venue. Austin-based Blue Genie Art Industries, which specializes in largescale commercial art and theming, had created bespoke pieces for a number of Tatsu’s previous restaurants, which made their team the obvious choice for creating Tiki Tatsu-Ya’s immersive theming. Likewise, Blue Genie Art Industries had previously worked with local Lighting Designer Natalie George on a number of projects, so she was the obvious choice when it came to bringing the space to life with light. Natalie, and her company Natalie George Productions, worked closely with the teams from both Tiki Tatsu-Ya and Blue Genie Art Industries to create lighting that enhanced the story telling and blended seamlessly with the aesthetic of the theming.

“The most amazing thing about working on this project,” enthuses Natalie, “is that it’s very story-based, which spoke to my theatre heart. There is a full story behind this bar that you can hear about on their website, and the inside of the bar continues that tale. Each of the seating sections have a different theme, all related to the backstory, and right when you walk in downstairs there’s a giant map that show’s all the locations in the adventure story and bits and pieces of that story are represented throughout the bar itself.”

Initially, Natalie was brought in to supply and install color wash fixtures to enhance the overall aesthetic of the space. However, as she got to know the rest of the creative team, other ideas developed organically for using lighting to create specific effects and artistic touches. From a relatively small project focused on the ground floor, it expanded to the point that Natalie and her team designed and installed a system that provided DMX control of the lighting throughout the whole two-story venue. They were then able to program special effects to be triggered throughout an evening that combine lighting, audio, and projection effects to generate an immersive experience.

A total of 16 ADJ DP 415R 4-channel dimmer packs have been used to provide independent DMX control of each of the conventional pendant light fittings throughout the space. These can then be dimmed, flashed, or flickered as part of the special effect programs, adding to the atmosphere created by color changing and strobing effects generated by the natively DMX controlled entertainment lighting fixtures that are also spread throughout the venue.

The fixture Natalie chose for color washing was ADJ’s 12PX HEX, which combines 12 by 12-Watt 6-in-1 RGBWA+UV LEDs into a versatile par fixture. It’s 25-degree beam angle makes for a punchy soft-edged wash, while the inclusion of both white and amber as well as UV chips within the LED light sources allows for a huge gamut of color possibilities, including UV-infused colors such as hot pink, lime green and electric blue. The UV element also means that the fixture can create the classic ‘black light’ effect that causes white and neon-colored surfaces to glow brightly.

“The ceiling of the main bar area is filled with hanging glass globes, some of which are fitted with pendant lights,” explained Natalie. “We positioned the 12PX HEX fixtures above these, so that they are largely hidden but can fill the room with rich color washes as well as lightning flashes for some of the signature effects. I love the amount of light that comes out of them, the punch, which is particularly important for doing the lightning flashes! We also used them for the main entrance, which is in the back alley and is themed like a cave. Six fixtures illuminate the rock structure in amber while two more highlight the door in blue. The vibrancy of these colors creates the initial impact when you first arrive, which really sets the stage for everything patrons are about to experience in the bar.”

For highlighting props and other thematic elements, including the large map in the atrium area, ADJ’s Saber Spot RGBW has been utilized. This extremely compact pin spot fixture houses a 15W 4-in-1 RGBW LED light source focused through an ACL lens to create a razor sharp 4-degree beam of colored light. Through smooth and precise mixing of the four primary LED colors, the fixture is capable of creating a vast palette of different color hues, while the supplied 10-degree and 45-degree frost filters can be easily applied to switch the output to a soft-edged wash. The unit is also supplied with a flexible scissor yoke which locks into place by plastic thumbscrews located on either side and can serve either as a floor stand or hanging bracket. Because of its extremely compact size, Natalie and her team were able to conceal Saber Spot RGBW fixtures within Tiki Tatsu-Ya’s rock work and greenery. This allows props and specific areas to be highlighted while the fixtures themselves remain largely obscured.

“I really like the combination of small size and bright punch offered by the Saber Spot RGBW,” explained Natalie. “When I was looking for the right fixture for the atrium, I knew I needed pin spots, but didn’t think I’d be able to find something so small and powerful that also provided full DMX color mixing control. But Craig Johnson at my local ADJ dealer – Rock N Roll Rentals in Austin – recommended the Saber Spot RGBW and I knew right away that it was perfect for this project. The amount of color that comes out of such a tiny compact fixture is incredible and the switchable lenses are very useful. Using the wide lens, I was able to smoothly cover the whole 8’ x 5’ giant map with just two fixtures!”

Above the main bar is one of the most striking themed elements created for Tiki Tatsu-Ya by Blue Genie Art Industries: a large carved wooden face. Natalie was given the task of bringing this to life by installing lights within the two eye holes behind translucent resin casts. For this task she selected two of ADJ’s Profile Panel RGBA fixtures, which are slimline units that each feature an array of 288 10mm LEDs. These are split equally between red, green, blue and amber diodes, which are arranged into eight independently controllable square zones.

“I was going to use more 12PX HEXs, but the eye slots were too wide and I was also having to negotiate with the beverage team as it was above the bar and they needed the space for bottle storage – so the panels were ideal – they were wide enough to fill the eyes but narrow enough to allow space for bottles behind. They do amazing things during the programmed sequences; the zone control over different sections of the LEDs is so cool – it allowed me to create some really fun effects.”

Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the hospitality industry worldwide, the opening of Tiki Tatsu-Ya was significantly delayed. However, this had the positive consequence of providing everyone involved in the project the time to really invest in honing each element of the venue’s offering ahead of the launch. This included the backstory, food menu, drink selection, theming and, of course, the lighting. The result is a truly immersive experience which has proved a big hit since the venue officially opened its doors last October. The extensive DMX-controlled lighting system devised and installed by Natalie George Productions using ADJ fixtures was undoubtedly instrumental in this success. The LED lighting creates the perfect atmosphere by bringing the extensive theming to life, while the programmed signature effects – drawing together house lights, theatrical lights, sound and projections to creative deeply engaging moments – make a visit to Tiki Tatsu-Ya truly unforgettable.

“This is definitely the biggest, coolest project I’ve done so far in my career,” concludes Natalie. “It gave me the opportunity to work in my theatre background and my events experience to do something that is fun and exciting but also has permeance. It has given me a thirst for more, so I’m wondering, ‘who else would be crazy enough to let me loose on a project this big!’ I was able to take my whole team to the soft launch the week before opening, which was great fun. I’ve also been back a couple of times just to sit at the bar and soak up the atmosphere; see people enjoying the space and when the triggers happen it’s so great. People often break out into spontaneous applause, which is real validation for me as an artist for what I accomplished, along with everyone else who worked on creating Tiki Tatsu-Ya.”