The Lope: Northwest Tiki

Friday, November 10, 2006

Northwest Tiki

Part of the Ace's Northwest Passage series

Regular readers of this blog already know that I have a thing about tiki bar decor. Even I don't understand my attraction to a trend that was founded on escapism when - far from wanting to escape my life - I want to dive off the deep end, right into the pool of whatever particular day I am living (Indeed, some say I reside in the deep end already; I have no idea why). In any case, I soaked up a little tikiness on a recent trip to the Northwest. By no means did I visit to every tiki bar or location; in fact, I skipped a place in Vancouver and a couple in Seattle and Portland due to time constraints, but here's the small sample I did visit.

Tiki Vintage

The Alibi in Portland has it's origins in the late 1800s as the "Chat-n-Nibble." Sometime later is was named "Max Alibi" and in 1947 - then on its third owner - it was renamed "The Alibi." It was this third owner, Roy Ell, who tikified the place by the mid 1950's. All of this history, and more, is printed on their menu.

That sign is worth another look. Notice that one of the plastic backlit panels is different on this side.

The 3-D fluorescent hula girls are part of as mural that was added in the 1970s

The mural is huge; it's fun to eat while basking in the overwhelming blue glow of idealized Polynesia. I'd read criticisms of the music at The Alibi, but when I was there it was pretty much old standard rat pack stuff, and I was pleased.

The woodwork - and there's a lot of it - is reminiscent of Witco, a company that made many a rough-hewn bit of tiki decor. I don't know who made this, but it was added in the 1970s.

The ceiling of the section by the mural reminds me of lava seen through cracks in the earth. Again, this is a fun room in which to eat, and that's just what we did.

We had lunch and later came back for dinner, as a matter of fact. 'Twas good, but the lunch was a bit better. I believe this was a teriyaki burger.

I did not do this fountain justice. It was dark and backlit so I ended up using flash to get any detail at all.

This is the water in the fountain. It reminds me of the acid backdrops in 1960's concerts, and I'm not sure the USS Enterprise didn't run into a giant space amoeba that looked like this.

This upper, back room is veritable showroom of wood wall hangings and lights by Oceanic Arts and Orchids of Hawaii. But, beware, they do kareoke here. We escaped before it began at 8PM one Sunday night.

Guarding its exit is this wood tiki.

Atmospheric lamps of various sorts are almost a necessity at a good tiki palace and The Alibi does not disappoint.

The ones with the translucent panels were made by a defunct company called Orchids of Hawaii, the one on the far left is probably a product of the still-extant Oceanic Arts.

The upper room also has a few nice wood wall hangings.

I think this light/carving combo is my favorite piece. Actually, they have several slightly different versions of this in the bar. There are so many bits of decor in The Alibi, and the lighting is so moodily dim, that I'm sure I missed quite a few things. I guess I'll have to come back someday.

Tiki Present

The Islander in Seattle opened in July of 2003; it is not a classic old, dark tiki place but the result of the adoption of some tiki trappings by an otherwise modern restaurant and bar.

Of course, ya gotta have tikis, and The Islander has a few, though none of the old classic pieces as seen at The Alibi, Kon Tiki in Tucson or the late Sam's Seafood in the LA area.

Far from being a mood-lit, windowless, escapist village, The Islander is suffused with light.

Yup, it's the Northwest; A hula girl keeps company with a moose.

The real appeal of this place, to me, is it's mix of retro lamps and such with the Polynesian decor.

Nets, fishing floats and tiki masks ought to come in a standard kit for outfitting a tiki bar. If there's ever a suburban tiki chain, they probably will.

Parts of the place reminded me of a scenario in which a restaurant owner shopped Target and Hobby Lobby for decor. Whether that's a good or a bad thing depends on your perspective on newer tiki stuff.

The little monkey was a cute touch.

Now, this corner works pretty well.

The Northwest Hawai'i Times is a nice touch.

These are more "comedy and tragedy" than tribal, and the lamps are not tiki, but the sight is pleasing.

This representation of the Hawaiian god, Ku, is a common one in tiki decor and souvenirs. In fact, most are carved as rough "blanks" by machines and finished by hand. Decor and barware companies like the defunct Orchids of Hawaii cranked out zillions of these things, singly and in totems of multiple (usually three) Kus.

Oh yeah, The Islander serves food and it's not bad...better than standard Chinese restaurant fare.

There's a big patio outside, and the bay view isn't bad.

But what's the point of going to a tiki place if you're going to see the area's seemingly rampant construction? It smelled a bit like carbon monoxide and diesel smoke out there, through no fault of the Islander. Stay inside and eat your food; it's nice in there.

Tiki Future

Spurred by a combination of the popularity of tiki bars in some regions, and a personal passion for same, some people start their own. Occasionally, this does not go awry. Such success will be the case with the venture of Robert and Theressa Volz, I do believe, who are opening a new Portland tiki bar called "Thatch." My optimism is not naive; The Volz' already own a successful (and acclaimed, according to the reviews I googled) Portland wine bar, Pour, just a few doors down. They were kind enough to give me a tour of their tiki watering-hole-to-be when I was in Portland on October 1, 2006.

A bamboo and thatch ceiling is in the works. The bar is not open at the time of this writing (Nov 10, 2006), but I hear this room is much more finished.

A tiki bar - if it is blessed - will have artifacts of previous beloved tiki bars within it much as European churches sometimes hold relics of previous places of worship. Such is the case with this outrigger from the recently defunct Jasmine Tree bar in Portland.

Thatch will also feature some huge wood tikis from The Jasmine Tree; they weren't yet on premise when I was, but Michelle Whiting, creator and administrator of the informative tiki website, Critiki was kind enough to provide this photo of one of the tikis in situ at the Jasmine Tree. Thatch will be their third home; before being at the Jasmine Tree, they were part of the Portland Kon Tiki, a tiki bar that has passed into legend. Ironically, I was staying at the former home of the Portland Kon Tiki, currently the Doubletree Hotel; it's a nice place, but now registers zero on the tiki meter.

Since the time of my visit, Robert Volz has obtained yet more huge tikis. At first these were thought to have come from the defunct New York Trader Vic's, and although later that was learned to not be the case, they're still cool. I wonder if west coast tiki people understand just how big a deal one of these - even brand new - would be in a tropical theme restaurant in Tulsa or Kansas City. (photo courtesy of Michelle Whiting's blog)

Of course, you need some new stuff, too. Volz hired the Pander Brothers, who's credits include artwork for DC comics' "Batman", to create several black velvet paintings.

The tiki in this Pander Brothers creation is based on a wood tiki fountain made by the afore-mentioned Witco company.

This intimate gathering space for a small group will be called the Velvet Hut because it will be lined with the Pander Brothers' black velvet paintings.

If this booth looks familiar, you may have been in one of architects Armet and Davis' original Denny's restaurants. Volz obtained the orange semi-circular seating from a closed Denny's in Portland. Armet and Davis, incidentally, were architects in the heyday of "googie" architecture, a style that spawned so many places I love, from the well known, such as the Encounter Restaurant in LA and the iconic Roy's on CA Route 66, to obscure Midwestern treasures like Donald's Servateria.

There's a nice little bonus at the end of the block, beside Pour: a local artist has attached toy horses to some of the antique horse hitching rings still present in some of Portland's curbs.

Update (Jan 2007): Thatch is open for business.

Tiki Art

I had read on that Seattle's lowbrow art gallery, Roq La Rue, was hosting Tiki Art Now for a few more days so I made a quick stop.

The gallery opened in 1998 and specializes in lowbrow and Pop other words: weird, cool stuff. The tiki show is over now, but the next one up is "Retrorama"; I wish I could see it.

The emptiness of the gallery when I was there was in stark contrast to photos I'd seen of its opening gala. The works may look lonely now, but many of them had in fact already been sold.

Three acrylic on panel works by Shag, perhaps the most visible artist of the modern tiki genre, are flanked by recycled acrylic paint and carved driftwood works by Tiki Tony on either side. Their titles are (L-R): "Hopping Wicky Bird", "Ekahi", "Ekolu", "Elua" and "Wickensburg Chicken."

The monkey wearing a fez is a popular tiki theme. Don't ask me why this is the case. The only monkeys I've met would probably fill a fez with feces and then fling it at you. This one is obviously an exception. The sophisticated simian in oil on canvas was done by Davey (Dave Wong) and is called "The Tonga Room". If this monkey could talk, who do you think he'd sound like? I'm thinking Orson Wells or Kelsey Grammer.

The show also featured a group of vintage black velvets such as might have hung in tiki bars long past, or in the den at your uncle's house that your parents didn't want you to see. Burke Tyree's "Seated Nude" can be yours for $1950...well, a painting of her can be, anyway.

Aaron Marshall's oil on panel "Surrealist Circus" was not part of the show, but it was hanging there nevertheless for all to appreciate. For more detail of this orgy of atomic innocence, see the gallery's web page on it.

"Pablo" is a mixed media work by Bosco. If Picasso had worked for Witco, the results might have looked like this.

How much is that Tiki in the window? I've just been informed it was decorative but not part of the exhibit - a rented god, as it were. I'll admit, though, I like it. My local rental store in central Kansas has a cool old art deco neon sign, but has no gods at all for rent, not even one; alas. After I shot this, I gave the gallery a last look around as "Quiet Village" by Les Baxter played in the background; what a perfect soundtrack to play me out.

I'd like to thank:

Patsy, for superb urban driving in a city that could use a few more directional signs, and particularly for parking illegally so I could run into the Roq Gallery

Elicia, for her sage advice on Portland and Seattle's cool stuff in general

Robert and Theressa, for the glimpse into Thatch and info on Portland and Seattle eateries

Michelle Whiting, for permission to use photos and for being a one-person tiki news service

And Rayne, for the sweet hotel deal

Ace's Northwest Passage (Oregon, Washington, Canada) posts (so far):

Everybody Loves the Monkey Neon monkey rules!

Northwest Tiki - Tiki bars times three...and tiki art, too!

Where is Ace Jackalope? (episode 11) - Big brown jug with interesting contents

Where is Ace Jackalope? (episode 10) - Royal Mounted Canadian Jackalope

Where is Ace Jackalope? (episode 7) - I saw a pink elephant at a car wash

Where is Ace Jackalope? (episode 6) - Always talk to a giant bunny.

Where Angels Breathe - Looking down from on high.


Blogger MrBaliHai said...

Gorgeous photos! I was at the Alibi earlier this year, and it didn't look half as good as it does in your pics.

Fri Nov 10, 09:08:00 PM  
Blogger tikimojo said...

Great photos - keep up the good werk!

Mon Nov 20, 08:17:00 PM  
Blogger johnny dollar said...

just catching this post now ~ wow! great pix.

the alabi teryaki burger is tops imho.

Tue Feb 27, 09:16:00 AM  

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