Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Good Sh*t From Hawaii: The Last of the Great Original Tiki Lounges

On a whim, we tried to get into the Honolulu Surf Film Festival at the Hawaii Art Museum.  It was opening night and the Festival were screening one of those films that was a little smarter than you’d expect from the surfer crowd; you know, probably some tasteful acid jazz over 16mm footage of peeling surf – looking very much like lines of coke on a glass coffee table – from oddball surfari destinations like Kiribati or Fiji.  Art crowd meets surf crowd.  Since it was opening night there would be a cash bar and a live band.  Looking forward to tropical images, surf music, and good libation, we circled the Museum in my truck looking for parking.

I already knew we’d have trouble getting in.  There was a trickle of Beautiful People sauntering towards the Museum from the nearby street parking, all decked out in Aloha shirts, Little Black Dresses and dress slippers (you mainlanders call them “flip flops).  Anticipating them, I had dressed the same in my kodachrome Phil Edwards-designed,surf-themed Aloha shirt and khaki Duck Head shorts.  The beachy version of Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic were all turning out.

Sea Shell Lamps
It would’ve been a memorable night had we gotten in.  But without advance tickets we were sh*t out of luck.  Since we didn’t want to be uncool and get in off the waiting list (nobody wants to be uncool in the surf world), we executed Plan B.

Mai Tai and Blue Hawaii
Plan B: The last of the original tiki bars in Honolulu is located not in Waikiki, but hidden away in an industrial area off Sand Island Access Road, amidst a boatwright’s lot, some warehouse storage facilities, and probably a junkyard or two.  It’s called the La Mariana Sailing Club, and although there in fact are slips for several dozen sailboats, it’s not like any yacht club I’ve ever seen.

Sunset at the LMSC
As you might expect if you know me, the LMSC is the real deal.  It didn’t pop up in the midst of the lounge and tiki revival movement of the late 90s.  By that point, the LMSC was already into 40 years in business at roughly the same location.  Every artifact of the genre there, the tikis, the glass fishing balls, the hanging blowfish lamps, have the patina of authenticity, the aura that it was hung in the Kennedy era by some monosyllabic manservant to Annette La Mariana Nahinu, the establishment’s founder.  There is dust settled into the cracks of the koa carvings and mahogany filigree that dates back to the era of Skinny Elvis.

The food, while generous of portion, is average at best, but really, you’re there for the Boat Drinks.  The drinks you sip on a Lurline class ocean liner.  Mai Tai.  Zombie.  Blue Hawaii.   All strong, all original, all irony-free.  Brought to your table or served at the bar, where, on the night of Plan B we drank bathed in the light of startled blowfish, next to a particularly salty and pickled patron of dubious condition.  We watched him get politely 86d because he hadn’t lost his sea legs yet and was still a bit unsteady on land.  Evidently, outside he engaged in fisticuffs with some of the solid, and very real tikis lining the walkway.

Glass Fishing Balls
There were other tiki bars in Honolulu, mostly in Waikiki.  Famously, there was a Trader Vic’s at the International Marketplace and a Polynesian Village (founded by Don the Beachcomber), but they, and the multitude of smaller, lesser known establishments had all but died out by the 80s, when irony as a precious natural resource was discovered.  The only ones left standing on the island by that time were the LMSC and the Tahitian Lanai.

The Tahitian Lanai, and it’s adjacent tiki themed hotel, the Waikikian, sounds like it was a fine place in its day, hosting many sing alongs around its much revered piano bar.  I’ve heard anecdotes of holiday parties there involving guests like Martin Denny, Connie Francis, the Lennon Sisters, the cast of “Hawaiian Eye”.  It remained open until 1997, leaving the LMSC alone to carry the torch, which Annette did until her passing in 2008.  In the 90s when I started going to La Mariana, she would greet us as we walked in, dressed in a long floral mu’u mu’u and often a haku lei on her head, shushing her caged parrot.  And the LMSC continues to outlive her in exactly the manner she intended.

The Kodachrome Phil Edwards Surf-Themed Aloha Shirt
On the night of Plan B we had a C+ pupu platter and potent mai tais and Blue Hawaiis.  There may have been a martini and a beer in there, too.  We watched the sunset over my shoulder and through the masts of the LMSC fleet.  The place got dimmer, but the colorful glass fishing balls turned on.  Tourists and regulars were all charmed by the place.  The same entertainer from the Tahitian Lanai piano bar was there, too, singing for us, encouraging the shameless to sing along.

Believe me, Radical Surf Chic was not missed.  An irony-free zone, when it can be found here, is definitely Good Sh*t from Hawaii.

Spiny Blowfish

Fresh-Water Fish Tank, here?

Piano, Ukulele, and Sing Alongs

The Old Salt

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