Entries in the 'Midwest Canada' Category

November 22, 2006

This Week at Arkiva Tropika

Filed under: Arkiva Tropika,History,Los Angeles,Midwest Canada,San Francisco,Tiki,Washington, D.C. — Humuhumu @ 4:16 pm

I’m a bit late with my weekly roundup of gaze-worthy items from Arkiva Tropika… but better late than never!

Postcard from the Beachcomber in Winnipeg, from Arkiva Tropika
Postcard from the Beachcomber in Winnipeg, from Arkiva Tropika

This postcard, from the Beachcomber in Winnipeg, Manitoba, gives a great view of a typical, middle-of-the-road Polynesian restaurant from the 1960s. This restaurant was no Trader Vic’s, or Kon-Tiki, or Kona Kai, or Mai Kai, or Kahiki, or any other of the famous, big-name restaurants. But, as was the case with virtually all Polynesian restaurants of the day, details were not skimped on — massive faux palm trees beneath a “star lit sky” create a full-fledged [i]scene[/i]. There are glass floats and other beachcomber lamps (including a lovely one covered in tapa), bamboo and matting envelop a dining alcove, and a decorative, open steak pit lets diners watch the master chefs at work. It’s hard to conceive, but this was simply a very typical Polynesian restaurant — this level of theming was every bit the norm, which is what makes these restaurants so fascinating. Mimi has more detailed views of this postcard on Arkiva Tropika.

Detail from 1952 cocktail menu from Lanai in San Mateo, from Arkiva Tropika
Detail from 1952 cocktail menu from Lanai in San Mateo, from Arkiva Tropika

This 1952 cocktail menu from the Lanai in San Mateo appeals to me for a number of reasons. First of all, I love the art style (I can’t help but wonder if the artist was inspired by an early Don the Beachcomber menu, as I was when I created the design for Humu Kon Tiki). Secondly, the Lanai was in our neck of the woods, and probably would be our watering hole of choice if it was still around today. Thirdly, the drinks on the menu are true classics, with drinks likely lifted (the names, if not the recipes) from those created by Don the Beachcomber. The Sidewinder’s Fang is served today at Forbidden Island, using the same recipe that was once served at the Lanai (I had one last night, they’re yummy).

Detail from '60s cocktail menu from Doc's Place in Toronto, from Arkiva Tropika
Detail from ’60s cocktail menu from Doc’s Place in Toronto, from Arkiva Tropika

My interest in this 1960s cocktail menu from Doc’s Place in Toronto has more to do with my love of lettering than my love of tiki. This menu is an excellent example of the difference real hand lettering makes over the over-used mock-hand lettering fonts of today. Look at the two places the word “Swizzle” is used — look at the “zz” in particular. Each “z” is different. There are a lot of “G”s on the page, too, and you can really see the difference there. This is where a font typically falls down. Sometimes a font will at least provide two variations of a letter, which helps a lot, but it still doesn’t really have the character and life that true hand lettering does. I’m a font fiend — I am crazy for a good font — but they have to be used with good judgement, and if this same menu was recreated with a hand-lettered font, it would look corporate and dull. I wish more people would just take the time to hand letter things — it’s a dying art. (Mea culpa — I’ve not done much hand lettering, as my attempts have been less than glorious — but that’s all the more reason to practice!)

Page from 1956 cocktail menu from the Luau in Beverly Hills, from Arkiva Tropika
Page from 1956 cocktail menu from the Luau in Beverly Hills, from Arkiva Tropika

This 1956 cocktail menu from the Luau in Beverly Hills is gorgeous — it’s not unusual to see neat illustrations of the drinks on cocktail menus, but a menu full of illustrations of this size and quality is rare. Not entirely surprising — the mugs from the Luau were also detailed, colorful affairs of high quality, designed by Gabe Florian, and are among the most highly-sought vintage mugs. Restauranteur Stephen Crane went on to create the popular Kon-Tiki chain of restaurants for Sheraton hotels.

Menu from an unknown Bali Hai, from Arkiva Tropika
Menu from an unknown Bali Hai, from Arkiva Tropika

Thanks to the popularity of the 1958 film South Pacific (based on the Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway musical, in turn based on the James Michener book), the name “Bali Hai” sprung up all over the place in the early ’60s, and naturally a number of Polynesian restaurants adopted the name. Like the mystical island from the film, this Bali Hai is extremely elusive — Mimi has both a dinner menu and a cocktail menu, and neither give any hint as to where it was located. The menu advertises a “Pit of Eternal Fire,” but odds are not good that it is actually still burning. Mimi has taken the time to type up some of the text from the menus; “florid” seems a tad insufficient, but it’s certainly apt.

Menu from Luau Hut in Washington, D.C., from Arkiva Tropika
Menu from Luau Hut in Washington, D.C., from Arkiva Tropika

As Mimi has noted on Arkiva Tropika, this menu from the Luau Hut in Washington, D.C. is a good example of something that was pretty common during the golden age of tiki — ripping off of menu imagery. The tiki on the cover of this menu was certainly lifted from a menu for the Kahiki in Columbus; this is the Kahiki’s famous signature fireplace. There are many examples of this sort of graphic “borrowing;” it rarely, if ever, created a legal issue, as the imagery was taken from far-flung restaurants, and the risk of getting caught was low. Today, the risk is much higher, and this sort of lifting doesn’t happen nearly as often.

We’re already halfway into a new week of great Arkiva Tropika posts — be sure to check them out yourself!


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

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