Tiki Stops in Nevada & California
This past spring Don and I had a chance to make 3 retro Tiki Stops on our road trip from Texas to California and back.
There wasn't much dining to be had at the first and no time for dining at the other 2, but they were all quite worthy of a write up!
1- Frankie's in Las Vegas!
Being in Vegas puts you in the retro mood. We took a 10-minute cab from our hotel to this 24-hour lounge, far from the touristy Strip.
Our driver chuckled with us and took our photo before entering. (More or less wishing us luck) When we stepped back out later that evening, we got to see the bright pink neon.
When we entered through the red door, we thought our daylight eyes would adjust.
They didn't. It was so dark we couldn't see the bamboo walls or mermaid on the ceiling, until viewing these "flashy" photos.
It took nerve to use the camera flash, since we seemed to be the only tourists. But we wanted to see (and remember) this awesome setting that was designed by Bamboo Ben.
He and owner P. Moss, with the help of a number of tiki artists created an atmosphere of southseas exotica and modern primitivism! Frankie's Tiki Room has been hopping since it opened less than 10 years ago. I admire Moss' mission to revive the tiki glory days while preserving the name and stucco structure of an actual 1950's Vegas cocktail lounge.
Bar & Drinks
The bar was an exciting clutter of Polynesian delights. The black and white TV played beach-y film clips while retro island music played.
We used our cell phones to light up the tropical menu, all priced at $9. It wasn't an easy choice since there were 77 cocktails offered at Frankie's. I chose a tasty, coconut Malakula. The menu gave it 3 skulls for "strength" instead of 5.
A space opened at the bar, so we moved to chat with Mike, the most energetic, upbeat bartender you could hope for.
Being tourists, we bought some quite amazing tiki mugs designed by a local artist and Mike called our cab. There's no food to be had at Frankie's, so some of us can only linger so long. But it was well worth the cab fare to come enjoy for a while!
2- Bali Hai in San Diego Area
We discovered this tiki lounge/restaurant on Shelter Island after seeing it pictured, along with a recipe in a 1959 Ford Motor Co. Travel Cookbook.
We were mighty excited to find it open and still being operated by the same family since 1955!
These Polynesian figures are shown in the cookbook illustration. No one seems to know the full history of the character nicknamed "The Goof" on the roof top.
The other greeter was by the door. "Mr. Mai Tai" was less cheery, but equally odd. I'm not sure about political correctness at tiki bars, but there were many more carved tiki figures to wonder about once we stepped inside.
Grand Round Room
When we stepped inside, we were greeted by live acoustic Hawaiian music and about 100 tiki artifacts.
The shiny, massive support logs were impressive, as was the wall of glass with its spectacular view of San Diego Bay. But from 4 to 6, the action was centered around the dramatic bar under a narrow cone-shaped ceiling.
We squeezed in at the corner of bar, with light illuminating the thick stone surface. The timbers holding the cone roof held dangling lanterns and glowing puffer fish, as well as a sign with changing numbers.
A man drinking a Mai Tai beside us, warned us about the strength of Bali Hai's Mai Tais. "No juice. You have to be careful." Just then, the sign changed to 2,285,362. That's a lot of Mai Tai's served at Bali Hai!
Two Mai Tais
We each ordered one. I ordered mine in the special Mr. Mai Tai mug.
Once again, I'm not sure about these tiki images. But I think the half closed eyes are a reminder of what you will look like if you have more than one.
Meal with a View
The dining area was beginning to fill around 6, but we had to take off.
It would have been nice to have dined with that view!
Quick Chat Before Leaving
Big Brian, (as he told us to call him) was the only bartender. He was moving fast, whipping out the cocktails, but I couldn't leave without showing him the cookbook. That odd book had acted like a treasure map, luring us to our little our island paradise.
Big Brian's reaction was pretty fun! He nearly hopped over the bar to get to the book. He was giddy over the "Chicken of the Gods" recipe and raced back to the kitchen (abandoning the bar) to show the chef. It was a perfect ending to our second Tiki Adventure. (I look like I had numerous Mai Tais in this photo)
3- Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach, California
It was a bright Sunday afternoon when we found Don's on the Pacific Coast Highway.
Once again we aimed early for a tiki visit, but the place was throbbing by 5.
The wonderful swooping roof and swordfish sign lured us right off the Highway. It was tricky getting into the parking area, which was bustling with very efficient traffic directors, who must double as security guards or bouncers.
They were having their weekly Reggae Event and we made the mistake of trying to go in the VIP door. We eventually found the bamboo door in front, with sign. "Host to Diplomat and Beachcomber, Prince and Pirate."
"Don" or Ernest Gantt from Texas
This is the guy who started the real Polynesian craze in 1930's Hollywood.
Inspired by his own island travels, he ended up with a chain of Tiki Lounges all over the country and a list of over 80 patented drinks. None of the original restaurant/lounges remain, but the nostalgic chain has been revived in 3 US locations. The other 2 are in Hawaii.
The Other Don
I had my Don pose with the sign before heading in. A man snickered nearby, when I snapped the photo. "He must be important!" the man teased. I agreed, "Oh he is! This is Don."
I felt bad when I had to explain to the man that "my" Don wasn't "The" Don. That Don died in 1989 at 82. I guess the teasing man was a tourist or he would have known that.
Once again, I wish we had been able too stay for a meal. It would have been a slice of tropical heaven to sit beside a waterfall or Hawaiian mural and sample the Polynesian foods that became especially popular after WWII.
The real tiki craze began in the '40's after soldiers returned home, craving the exotic foods they had sampled in the Pacific. I'm sure there wasn't really anything that unusual about the dishes served up then or now, with all their decorative pineapples and flowers, but I wouldn't mind trying!
We passed up the Reggae event, and headed for the cozy Dagger Bar.
Karaoke was in full swing, at 4:30 in the afternoon.
Enjoying the Show
Once again we found ourselves relaxing with more locals than tourists. There seemed to be some karaoke regulars and a few were pretty decent. A couple made us wince, but that's all part of it. The fine fellow with gray beard, knit Rasta hat, braids and croqueted eye patch (with crocheted eye) was quite the performer.
The lai-adorned woman pictured dancing along, was actually our delightful server. I had a chance to tell the "pirate" he did a nice job before we left. He said "Thanks!" instead of "Aye!" So I guess we didn't get to meet a pirate, prince or diplomat after all.
The Hut... Next Time!
We only had 3 Tiki Adventures on our trip. But on our way home we did spot this fine image not far from our hotel in Tucson.
We'll have to try The Hut on our next Western Road Trip! I have a feeling there could be many more to choose from. Tiki is making a comeback!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.