Entries from December 2010

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.

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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