July 23, 2011

South Seas Adventure—A Description of the Lost Cinerama Film

Filed under: History,Music,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 4:36 pm
South Seas Adventure soundtrack
South Seas Adventure soundtrack

I had a spot of terrific luck today. My weekly trip to the local Goodwill yielded a special treasure: the soundtrack to South Seas Adventure, the sadly lost 1958 three-strip Cinerama film. The soundtrack is a mix of sweeping orchestral stereophonic spectacle and more grounded and familiar sounds of the Pacific (with sweet, silly little sheep-shearing ditty thrown in for good measure).

It’s heartbreaking that the print appears to be lost. The three-strip Cinerama films are fantastically immersive color-saturated extravaganzas, and getting a travel tour of the Pacific islands in that format, from that era, would just send me. I’ve long been curious about the film. Some description can be found in this contemporary New York Times review. Here is the description found in the notes on the LP jacket:

Cinerama takes you on a South Seas Adventure to tropical islands set like sparkling jewels in dreamy cerulean waters. Thrill to the lure of sunbrowned, luscious maidens and a paradise of coconut palms, coral strand and blue lagoons. Enchanted South Pacific archipelagos beckon with all the beauty and color of a painter’s palette. Stepping stones in the vast expanse of far-away seas, they promise romance, adventure, excitement—an irresistible blend of fascinating people and exotic places.

[...puffery about the stereo recording...]

The adventure begins with the blast of a cruise ship whistle as the luxury liner sets sail for Hawaii, our first stop. Like the other passengers, our excitement is at high pitch, and we find ourselves busy learning the hula dance even before the ship reaches the high seas. Young and old, old and reserved sing and sway to the accompaniment of traditionally favorite melodies like “Little Brown Gal,” “Little Grass Shack” and “Hawaiian War Chant.” Fun, music, dancing and superb food make the short trip seem even shorter, and before we know it, we find ourselves approaching famous Diamond Head.

Arriving in Honolulu, we are welcomed with traditional island hospitality. The resplendent glory of Hawaii is apparent as the ship docks, and we are greeted with the strains of “Aloha Oe” and “Song of the Islands” echoing across the water. During our stay, every day is more glorious than the last one. We spend our time swimming, sailing, watching spear fishing and surf riding. Everywhere there are flowers and fruit to remind us of the fertility of Hawaii, in the miles and miles of pineapple fields, the vast areas of sugar cane, the fabulous flower groves and gardens. At night there are native celebrations, festivals, feats, contests of various sorts, or exciting visits to fashionable night clubs, where one hears authentic music and dances. But the churning sound of the seas always returns to fill our ears, remind us that this is the world’s most beautiful water paradise.

Don the Beachcomber in Waikiki
Don the Beachcomber in Waikiki

It’s worth noting that the cast list for the film includes “Don the Beachcomber,” played by himself. Sounds like the film had a scene filmed at Waikiki’s Don the Beachcomber!

The next stop on our journey is Papeete, Tahiti, and we sail there in a two-masted schooner, passing the equator and taking part in the traditional “crossing the equator” ceremonies. Half the population of this jewel of French Oceania turns out to meet our ship, and we go ashore to the accompaniment of a band. We are fortunate in reaching Tahiti on July 14th, Bastille Day, when the festive spirit is high. One of the most inspiring points of the day’s celebration is a dancing contest in which scores of grass-skirted Polynesian maidens reach an ecstasy of motion as they ripple to the accompaniment of drums and antive instruments. Another spectacle is a coconut-spearing contest, in which dozens of young men attempt to pierce the husk of a coconut mounted at the top of a tall pole. Tahiti was the magic realm that inspired Paul Gauguin to paint his priceless pictures of natives and landscapes, that was immortalized in Joseph Conrad’s novels and in the Polynesian Idyl, by Pierre Loti.

Our adventure continues, and we head towards the island of Tonga, the crossroads of Polynesia and Melanesia. Seldom visited by tourists, Tonga remains remote and relatively invulnerable to the influence of western civilization. It was one of the islands discovered by mariner and explorer Capt. James Cook, who charted the sea lanes and coasts in the South Pacific during the latter part of the 18th century.

Tonga’s firmly Christian nature is the result of the successful zeal of missionaries who came there many years ago. They took the strictly phonetic Tongan language of twelve characters and translated the Bible, psalms and hymns into their native tongue. Their influence is felt deeply in musical education, which is widespread and because of which everyone on the island sings.

We hear a chorus of 400 school girls singing a native tune—”Ma Ulu Ulu,” (“There is a Happy Land Far, Far Away”), a church choir singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” and Franz Joseph Haydn’s famous chorale “The Heavens are Telling.” Finally, another choir performs the magnificent “Agnus Dei,” from Handel’s “Messiah,” with native Polynesian words. As the final Amen dies away, the thunder of the surf hurtling through blow holes and over rocks along the island shore engulfs us, reminding us of man’s close affinity to nature.

From Tonga it is only about 250 miles northwest to the Fiji Islands, the most important island crossroads of the Pacific. Here age-old tribal customs prevail to this day, and the man-eating warrior of yesterday still casts a shadow over his successor. The temper of the people can be felt in tribal dances, which natives regard almost as essential to life as food. Everywhere we see brilliant colors—the white skirts of dark-skinned Fijian soldiers, miles of jungle broken by radiant blue tropical streams, brilliant multi-colored native costumes and jewelry. Here we are constantly reminded that Fiji is part of the British Empire, and a red-coated army band does its share to help remind us.

About 500 miles due west of Fiji lie the New Hebrides and Pentecost Island, haven of early sailors and slave traders throughout the South Pacific islands. Here is found one of the most remarkable sights in the world—a jumping tournament by natives who leap to the earth from a tower 100 feet high, their ankles bound with ripe liana vines. They say this contest originated when a jealous native husband chased his wife up a tree. If she jumped to the ground unhurt, the gods held her as innocent, and the husband was supposed to jump after her to prove he was right. Craftily, the woman tied vines to her legs to break the fall. The man jumped without the vines and broke his neck. Thereafter, the men staged a diving performance to prove their superiority.

From the New Hebrides we travel to another world, New Zealand. We leave behind the atolls, lagoons and coral beaches for a rugged terrain. Here, as in Europe, there are fjords, lush valleys, rushing trout streams and ski runs. Here is the Maori tribe, a race of one time fierce warriors and daring sailors who made their way across in open canoes to New Zealand from Tahiti centuries ago. Theirs is a remarkable culture that fought the white man to a draw and as a result has achieved complete equality. This is mirrored partially in the poi dance, performed by the women, and the haka dance, performed by the men, both enacting major events in Maori history.

In New Zealand also are huge volcanic regions which New Zealanders have exploited by building steam generating plants for powering industry. There are installations where you can hear the live steam as it escapes from beneath the crust of the earth, its earth-shaking power harnessed for practical use.

The last leg of our journey is Australia, land of opportunity and last frontier of the West. Here are vast cities and vaster wastelands, rich highland of metal ores, huge stretches of outback where millions of sheep are raised to provide wool for the rest of the world. The sounds of Australia are typical—bleats of the sheep as their wool is shorn and as the sounds of the clippers echo above the din, band music as lifeguards parade on Bondi Beach in Sydney, and the sound of airplane motors a Australians use this most efficient means available of traveling back and forth across the vast land regions.

We visit Sydney’s famous Botanical Gardens on “New Australians Day,” and the air is filled with swirling bagpipes playing the stirring strains of “Scotland the Brave.” Our visit to Australia ends with a picnic in the outback country, and we hear the nostalgic “Waltzing Matilda” and “Auld Lang Syne” as our adventure draws to a close.

South Seas Adventure advertisement
Advertisements from a 1964 Deseret News

Don’t miss these nifty old newspaper advertisements for 1964 showings of South Seas Adventure at the Villa Theatre in Salt Lake City—you can see larger views of these ads at the Villa Theatre website.

December 6, 2010

Painkiller: Tahiti Meets Gritty

Filed under: My Travels,New York,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 7:15 pm

A familiar scene, made alien

Our last tiki stop in New York was also our most highly anticipated: Painkiller, the new tiki bar on the Lower East Side. It’s only been open for a few months, and started racking up accolades right from the get-go.

The space is odd: the dimensions are essentially that of a long hallway. It’s more charming in person than in the pictures I’d seen… there was something about the overall feel that reminded me Bobby Green’s Bigfoot Lodge. The owners, Giuseppe Gonzales and Richard Boccato, wanted the place to reflect the Lower East Side neighborhood it’s in. The result is undeniably unique—graffiti murals spell out “mahalo” and “ohana”, and traditional black velvet and beachcomber imagery are recreated in bright-colored airbrushing.

The less-wacky seating

A piña colada in a frozen pineapple

The literal bar is, frankly, a bit uncomfortable. It’s a few inches too high, the fixed-to-the-floor stools are a few inches too tall and too close to the bar, and the upholstered tops are so soft it feels like trying to balance on a mushroom. But it didn’t feel like a minus, because the figurative bar is completely comfortable. We had fun joking about our stool balancing act with the fellow patrons, and the bar staff was doing so much to make us feel at home that it felt more like having a good-natured laugh about your uncle’s goofy armchairs. (The seating further back in the bar is quirk-free.)

We were already very happily settled in and enjoying our delicious cocktails when we got to meet Giuseppe Gonzales. He is one swell chap. Definitely the warmest (professional) hospitality we had in all of New York. He’s so excited about his bar, and about tiki drinks, and the enthusiasm would be infectious if I wasn’t already sick with the same disease myself. Recommended!

Many mahalos to all who made our visit to New York special: the folks who served us, the folks who cheered us on from afar, the locals who couldn’t make it but helped with lots of pointers, and mostly to our treasured companions: Elaine Trott; Margo, Bert, Hugo and Max Mukkulainen; Georgette Moger; Garo Yellin; Jack Fetterman and Gina Haase. I can’t wait to return the favor here in San Francisco!

See more pictures of Painkiller in Critiki.

December 5, 2010

Great Moments in Otto’s Shrunken Head

Filed under: Music,My Travels,New York,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 10:08 pm

Otto’s Shrunken Head in New York

As you may have heard, Otto’s Shrunken Head in New York was hit by a fire a short time ago. The fire did some pretty serious damage to the back room, where live acts play. Great news! The back room has been cleaned up and is back to its old, gritty, wonderful, Otto-riffic self.

Otto’s stage

Otto’s was the scene of one of my personal favorite tiki moments. Way back in January 2003, I was visiting NY on business during an unusual cold snap—so cold that Broadway even shut down. But the tiki must go on! Tiki hospitality being what it is, a complete stranger offered to have me over to her home tiki bar. Her name was Inky Louise, and she was amazing, and remains one of my favorite people to this day. We were met by another local named Leni, who had taken very good care of me a couple of nights before. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: tiki people are just the best.

Back to Otto’s… after enjoying a tasty beverage at Inky’s, we set out for Waikiki Wally’s, poked our heads into Lucky Chang’s, and eventually made our way to Otto’s Shrunken Head. Otto’s was still pretty new then, and Fisherman Trio had just started playing Exotica there on Monday nights.

Now, Mondays are slow nights anyway, but a newish bar, with a newish standing gig, on a night so freezing that Broadway has given up… Otto’s was dead. D-E-A-D dead. As we arrived, Fisherman was midway through their first set, played to an utterly empty back room. The only person in the entire place was the bartender up front. It must have been disheartening.

But then! Out of the cold come three strange women (that’s Inky, Leni and myself, if you’re slow on the uptake). These three women appeared out of nowhere, made a beeline for the back room, and didn’t turn around, they stayed! And they danced! And they KNEW THE WORDS! And they MADE REQUESTS!

Fisherman and his two bandmates played out the rest of their set, looking back and forth at each other with a definite “what the…??” look on their faces. At the break, we all shared our glee at spending such a cold, wintry night together, dancing and singing and reveling in tiki together. It was simply a magic night, and I hope they all remember it as fondly as I do.

The Hurricane Club Is… uh…

Filed under: My Travels,New York,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 8:35 pm

Hm. The Hurricane Club. Well, it’s pretty. I had a good sandwich there. They’re serving drinks in some nice mugs.

The Rum and Shine station

But man, is it trying hard. To do what, I don’t know. This place feels so schizophrenic. As soon as you walk in the door, you’re pounded over the head with an ISN’T THIS ELEGANT? mallet. Everything is gold, everything looks expensive; the place just looks like old money (or like it wants old money). There are champagne stands throughout the restaurant, clearly asking to be put to use. It all felt pretentious. Sending the pretension right over the top: they offer shoeshines when you buy straight rum, which is served from an old-timey drinking fountain downstairs. Isn’t that precious?

Merv in his gilded cage

And then you’re seated next to a Merv tiki decanter, which if you aren’t familiar with it, is about as unrefined as a tiki mug has ever gotten. Merv’s creator, Sam Gambino, is an excellent lowbrow tiki artist, and the whole point of this guy is that he’s a cheesy, kitschy ball of retro. Huh? What the hell is Merv doing here?

The drinks at Hurricane Club are fine—they tasted good. But they weren’t particularly tiki, aside from being served in tiki mugs. The menu was trying to talk a tiki game, but the drinks on offer just weren’t tiki flavors or combinations or ingredients. All the fun had been squeezed out: there were no fantastic names to transport you, the drinks only have numbers. It seemed as if a perhaps-talented bar manager was hired at the last minute, given a five-minute introduction to tiki (but not given any of Jeff Berry’s books), and then wasn’t invited to any meetings with anyone else involved in the project.

Not helping: the stiff, white-vested bartender who served us was gruff. It wasn’t just us, he was gruff and unpleasant to everyone I saw: other customers, his coworkers, a distributor who came calling. I suspect he would very much like to throw Merv out.

Eh, oh well. It wasn’t a terrible time or anything, it just felt like it wanted so very much to be… I don’t know. And it just wasn’t. I don’t think I’d bother going back again, there are too many wonderful places to get a great tiki drink with knowledgeable, affable service.

Lani Kai: It’s Not Tiki, But I Don’t Mind

Filed under: My Travels,New York,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 5:49 pm
The upstairs bar at Lani Kai
Lani Kai's Sign

The next stop on our New York adventure brought us to Lani Kai, in SoHo. Lani Kai is a new bar from Julie Reiner, the woman behind Clover Club, Flatiron Lounge and Pegu Club. She was raised in Hawaii, so the fake kind of Hawaii that we love isn’t really her thing. She’s been very clear with folks that her new bar is not a tiki bar—not at all because she doesn’t want to be associated with tiki bars, but rather because she wants people to walk in her door with the right expectations.

She and her staff are passionate about cocktails of any stripe, but particularly traditional tropical cocktails. The menu is full of outstanding originals that fit right in with the classics, and they’re also ready and able to go off-menu for the historic drinks you know and love.

One drink I got to have at Lani Kai was the cocktail highlight of my whole trip: Joe Swifka of Elettaria’s Tiki Mondays fame made us a [REDACTED]. It was amazing. It tasted just like a real [REDACTED] from [REDACTED]. Many have attempted to recreate the [REDACTED], but I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a [REDACTED] that came as close as this one. Thanks, Joe!

We’d already eaten, so I missed out on trying the food menu, but I imagine it’s pretty terrific. If you’re not a drinker and you’re looking for Polynesian Pop awesomeness, Lani Kai isn’t what you’re looking for… but if you want to take a trip to the glorious tiki past with your tastebuds, head on over.

See more pictures of Lani Kai in Critiki.

Staten Island’s Tiki: Jade Island

Filed under: My Travels,New York,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 4:03 pm

After our visit to the American Museum of Natural History, the whole family went above and beyond in their love and support of my tiki obsession: they schlepped with me through rush hour Manhattan traffic to go to… a strip mall in Staten Island.

The entry of Jade Island in Staten Island

Staten Island has one of the better examples of old-school tiki in the northeast, at Jade Island, which opened in 1972. Jade Island recently made an appearance on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, when he dined there with David Johansen of New York Dolls and Buster Poindexter fame. Bourdain describes it as “untouched by time, unsullied by irony,” which is almost true. The tikis have been painted in horrible, bright primary colors that make the Marquesan-style carvings look like frogs. The lighting at Jade Island is magnificent: there are pufferfish lamps, plenty of old Orchids of Hawaii lamps in a variety of styles, and the room is ringed with wonderful, large, back-lit photographic tropical scenes. Sadly, the effect is countered by some unnecessary bright halogen spot lighting from the ceiling. If the room was just a bit darker, the whole room could feel downright magical. But the quibbles are small, really, and Jade Island’s hut-like booths, bamboo and rattan, numerous waterfall fountains, and scads of tikis make this spot pretty darned special.

A flaming pupu platter

My husband and I have been jonesing for some Jersey-quality Chinese food (here in San Francisco, we miss that inauthentic touch). The food at Jade Island fit the bill perfectly. The drinks were sort of middling: not stellar, but not at all terrible, and authentic in a fading-tiki-bar kind of a way. Best of all, they’re served in tiki mugs, so the boys and I all got to add one to our collections. The servers were all jovial Chinese men, who made us feel very welcome. If we lived anywhere near Jade Island, we would definitely be regulars.

Best of all, Jade Island knows the way to my heart: they hand out moist towelettes. They don’t have their logo on them, unfortunately, but they did have logo’ed breath mints with the check. Aw, Jade Island… I love you, too.

An after-dinner mint from Jade Island

See the full gallery of Jade Island pictures in Critiki.

The Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples

Filed under: Massive Moai,My Travels,New York,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 2:13 pm

I have recently returned from a brief visit to New York City, where I got to play a little catch-up with the growing tiki scene. I have lots of pictures and impressions to share, and I’ll spread it out across a few posts.

Marquesan war clubs

I was in town to spend time with my husband’s family, including our tiki-crazed nephews. We spent a full day at the American Museum of Natural History, but I felt like we barely made a dent in all there was to see—I would gladly spend a week solid there, poring over all the exhibits. I am completely nutsy for dioramas, and they must have the world’s best collection of them. (My diorama pictures are available to everyone on Facebook.) The stunning Northwest Native American exhibit is alone worth the price of admission, and if it had been Polynesian carvings, I might have wet myself.

Replica moai

But there is a Polynesian exhibit! The Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples. The presentation—lime green walls and lit with harsh fluorescents—feels a bit lackluster compared to the rest of the museum, but the pieces within it are great. It houses one of the museum’s most famous residents, a replica moai that made a memorable appearance in the film Night at the Museum. Thanks largely to the film, the moai brings a steady stream of people into the hall.

The bulk of the exhibit space is representing cultures closer to Asia, while items of a stronger midcentury tiki interest are tucked into the back. There are some wee dioramas of village scenes, and case after case of carved and constructed pieces, with heavy representation by Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Marquesas and New Zealand.

My time in the hall was painfully brief. I wish I’d had more time to scrutinize each item, and read all of the information plaques. I was able to grab a few photographs, though, and you can see them all on the page for the American Museum of Natural History in Critiki.

November 22, 2010

Actual Kahiki Fireplace and Moai on eBay

Filed under: History,Massive Moai,Midwest U.S.,Shopping,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 5:39 am
Kahiki Fireplace
from the collection of Mata-ki-Te-rani

Before the Kahiki Supper Club in Columbus, Ohio was demolished in 2000, the Tsao family saved much of the decor, with the intention of reopening some day. (We all know how that went… pour one out for the Kahiki.) The massive flame-spouting moai created by Phil Keintz that flanked the entrance were salvaged, along with the iconic interior fireplace. In 2006, the family decided they no longer wanted them. One of the front moai is in the hands of Kahiki collector tikiskip, and the other and the fireplace have been with another Kahiki fan. They’re a little bit worse for the wear (which is understandable, how does one store a two-story-tall fireplace?). But they still exist! And now, they could be yours.

The owner of the moai and fireplace cannot store them any longer, and is offering them for sale on eBay. They are made of concrete, and very heavy: the fireplace is nearly 23 feet tall, and the moai is about 16 feet tall! While these are unusually meaningful artifacts of Polynesian Pop history, their large size means few people have the ability to handle them, so the purchase price could wind up being surprisingly affordable. Know anyone who’s planning to build a humongous tiki bar?

November 21, 2010

Trader Vic’s Emeryville: Final Thoughts

Filed under: News,San Francisco,Tiki,Trader Vic's — Humuhumu @ 8:51 pm

The bar at Trader Vic’s Emeryville

I’d wanted to continue my series on the newly refreshed Trader Vic’s Emeryville in September, but I found the offerings to be a swiftly moving target: the menus I’d had during the previews were still undergoing changes even after they opened, and some monkeying may still be happening. But I can’t sit on this forever! And my general, overall impressions of the new Trader Vic’s have gelled a bit.

For pictures of Trader Vic’s Emeryville’s new look, check out the entry in Critiki, which has pictures of the final decor, and this earlier Humu Kon Tiki post, which has preview pictures.

The Food
The word during the previews was that dining was going to be much less stuffy, and I’ve found this to be partly true. The lunch and bar menus are full of reasonably priced, delightful food options. The dinner menu, though, looks very much like it did before, and while the tablecloths are gone, the service is friendly but still rather formal.

There are several new items that I have fallen in love with. They appear on different menus, but it’s always worth asking your server if they may be available when and where you’re dining.

I absolutely adore the Edamame Ravioli. It’s a starter on the dinner menu; saucer-shaped homemade ravioli with bright, fresh flavors of edamame, mint and ricotta. It’s so delicate, and so good.

The Twice-Cooked Pork Sliders are excellent, and may be my favorite mid-size meal item. Slabs of pork with a hoisin-like sauce, served with fresh cucumber slivers on a soft, Asian roll. If you like the traditional Crispy Duck entree, you’ll love the Twice-Cooked Pork (much more than the crispy-in-the-wrong-way Crispy Duck Tacos). The Twice-Cooked Pork seems to be slipping around the menus, and the name Twice-Cooked Pork doesn’t really sell it: hopefully this item will become a mainstay, perhaps with a better name?

Vegans luck out with one of the best additions to the whole menu: Smoked Tofu and Seaweed Salad. Very flavorful, filling and fulfilling.

The Drinks

Gun Club Punch

I wish the drink news was as positive. The new additions have a too-sweet, too-chemical bent. If you love the drinks that are available in any tourist bar in Hawaii, you’ll love the new drinks at Trader Vic’s, but they’re just not for me. I’m unsure what the intent is with these new drinks. It could be that they’re giving people who are trying to recreate Hawaiian vacation memories exactly what they’re looking for. It could also be that the bar staff has had their hands tied with a limiting palette of ingredients to work with (they are using their own famously mediocre “Trader Vic’s” brand rums). Either way, it’s a mis-match with Trader Vic’s storied history, and with San Francisco’s current focus on high-quality cocktails.

There are some bright spots on the drink menu, though: plenty of old stand-bys are there, including the return of the from-scratch Mai Tai. For a long time now, Trader Vic’s has been using a mix, unless you specifically asked for a Mai Tai made from scratch (the locations varied a bit on how to do this, but in most locations “San Francisco style” meant scratch, while “the Old Way” meant with an extra rum float). Now, finally you can get a truly from-scratch Mai Tai with no fuss, no muss: it’s on the menu as the 1944 Mai Tai. It costs just one dollar more than the regular Mai Tai, a no-brainer upgrade. I still gravitate to my go-to Trader Vic’s drink, the Gun Club Punch, and have found it to be just as I remember it.

The Service
There are lots of new—and young—faces at Trader Vic’s these days. Despite the relative green-ness of these new Trader Vic’s employees, I would say they are by far the biggest improvement, and the reason I’m excited to go back. The service I’ve received has been simply stellar. Friendly, approachable, speedy and accommodating. They make dining a pleasure.

The dining room at Trader Vic’s Emeryville

The Ambience
The music! Oh, the music has been enchanting. Such a pleasant surprise. Lovely, midcentury Hawaiian… it sounds like someone has been busy with their vinyl collecting.

I wish I had a happier report on the televisions. I’ve been there when no one is watching them, and yet all three are on, casting their garish, inescapable light on all the patrons. The staff needs to learn to read the room, and get aggressive with the off button. The World Series is over.

There’s lots to be excited about in Emeryville, and it’s been a relief to everyone. The restaurant appears to be regularly packed with a great mix of old-timers and young folks, and the bar in particular has a life it has been missing for years. Stick to your old favorite drinks, look for new favorites on the food menu. Take some time to walk around and see the changes. If you haven’t already, make plans to get to Emeryville!

Trader Vic’s Emeryville Sneak Peek:

Related Links:

October 21, 2010

UPDATED: The Continuing Saga of San Francisco’s Tonga Room

Filed under: News,San Francisco,Tiki — Humuhumu @ 2:26 pm
Tonga Room
Tonga Room, photo by Eric October, from Critiki

As most everyone and their mother has heard by now, one of the most beautiful, historic tiki bars in the world, San Francisco’s Tonga Room, is going to close sometime between, erm… now… and uh… never. My money’s on the time being something closer to the “now” end of that spectrum, I’m afraid. After many, many months of waiting and worrying, I think that the end times are finally here.

The short version: the Tonga Room is in the Fairmont Hotel, which is one of the higher-end hotels in a very high-end district of a generally high-end kind of a town. The hotel wants to be able to do a better job of handling very large conferences, and in order to do that they need to clear out a large, somewhat contiguous area within the hotel and turn it into a ballroom and series of meeting rooms that can be used flexibly. That, and they want to add condos. It’s the march of progress, folks, and I just don’t think it can be held back.

A lot of people have been working very hard to make the argument that the Tonga Room is historic and worth saving. It’s been a hard argument to make with the hotel folks—the hotel itself is historic, having been built in 1906, and they have not been terribly warm to the idea that this room full of ’60s relics is anything but an embarrassment. (The Tonga Room itself has been around longer than that—it went tiki relatively late in its life.)

But the preservationists’ work seems to have at least partially paid off… the city’s Historic Preservation Commission is due to recommend today that the artifacts be saved. I think everyone has given up on the idea of the room being preserved as-is, but at least the point is being made that the items within can’t just get sent to a junkyard. Now the San Francisco Chronicle reports that a “local restaurateur” has a letter of intent to purchase the items, and has a plan to move them to a new location. The identity of the restaurateur, and any other details, won’t be announced until the deal gets worked out completely… but the announcement could come at the commission meeting.

That’s as good as it’s going to get, folks. I can’t imagine the pool will be recreated—that pool represents an awful lot of square footage that could be seating—but hopefully the pieces will at least continue to be on display somewhere. Beyond the thorny pool/thunderstorm problem of relocating the Tonga Room, the pieces in that space are simply massive… it’ll take a very large space to hold them. Let’s hope that this mystery restaurateur has very deep pockets.

There’s been plenty of murmuring around town that this would be a perfect project for Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove, which… duh. And, yes please. I can’t imagine sinking the kind of money that would go into this venture and not including the tiki home run king. If Martin knows anything, though, he’s silent about it, which is par for the course. He’s famously good at keeping secrets. If nothing else, we owe Martin some thanks for showing that tiki can be great. A few short years ago, I don’t know that a restaurateur would have been interested in investing in tiki on this scale.

UPDATE 10/21 at 7:55pm:
Per KGO, at the meeting today the decision from the Planning Commission has been delayed until next year. There are “too many concerns,” not just the pleas from citizens to save the Tonga Room, but also issues spanning from job losses to neighborhood congestion. This would likely also put the brakes on any deal to relocate the Tonga Room.

UPDATE 10/22 at 1:47pm:
The mystery restaurateur has been revealed: Peter Scully, a Marina district nightclub owner and event promoter.

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About Humuhumu
Humuhumu is the creator of several tiki websites. She is a designer and programmer based out of San Francisco.

- Website Design and Programming

- A Worldwide Guide to Tiki Bars & Polynesian Restaurants

- Tiki Mugs & More: Track & View Collections




Arkiva Tropika
Mimi Payne’s massive Polynesian Pop collection

Barefoot Bloggin’
A surfin’, ukein’, freewheelin’ monkey boy

Beachbum Berry
Author of Grog Log and Intoxica!, and one of my dearest drinkin’ buddies

Blog from the user interface designer extraordinaire

Worldwide Guide to Tiki Bars & Polynesian Restaurants

Dumb Angel
A look at the 1960s Los Angeles mod, pop, surf, and music scene

Eye of the Goof
Pop culture with a tiki tinge

Forbidden Island
My Wednesday hangout, the Bay Area’s best tiki bar

Humuhumu’s Life in Photos
Pictures of my adventures

I build websites

Junkyard Clubhouse
Random interesting things from Humuhumu & Hanford Lemoore

Kevin Kidney
Kevin loves tiki, I love Kevin, you will too

Tiki links galore

Mai Tai Online
Montreal-based tiki ‘zine

Tiki Mug Collection Organizer

The Jab
Follow the way of the jab

Tiki Bar TV
Public Access meets Modern Drunkard

Tiki Central
Community forums

Tiki Magazine
Periodical publication covering the wide world of Tiki

Tiki Talk
Hot Lava’s Tiki Blog