Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Word On Home Tiki Bars...

Hawaiian Airlines' in-flight magazine just did a photospread about home Tiki bars. Of course, I love to see the photos, but what really grabbed me was this quote, courtesy the always-insightful Humuhumu Trott. See her review of the article -- from whence I stole the image above -- at Critiki.com.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Royal Hawaiian Rides Again?

Just before Christmas, I was walking through downtown Laguna Beach, California and stopped to photograph the old Royal Hawaiian (331 N. Coast Highway) through the windows. The landmark restaurant closed in 2012, after 65 years in business, and has been vacant ever since. Francis Cabang originally opened the place in 1947, and it was amazing. It was like walking into a native village deep amid the jungles of a South Seas island. There were Tikis, puffer fish lamps, bamboo, tropical gardens, thatched huts to dine under, "wiki wiki platters," and a delicious signature Lapu-Lapu so big it gave the waitresses carpal tunnel syndrome. Prices were low, portions were ample, and it was a favorite both of locals and out-of-town visitors.

But the  Cabang family sold the place in 2006, and the new owners did a major remodel. The amazing decor was mostly removed, their prices went up, their Lapu-Lapu shrank (a common problem when reaching age 65), and Hawaiian music was replaced with live rock in the evenings. Although this half-assed Royal Hawaiian was better than no Royal Hawaiian, few were surprised when it closed in 2012.
Flash forward again to this past December. As I was shooting photos through the Royal Hawaiian's windows, a man came up and asked what I was doing. I explained about being a historian. He introduced himself as Mo, the restaurant's new owner, and that he planned to re-open the Royal Hawaiian. He also very kindly offered to let me go inside to take better photos. He was waiting for other people to join him there for a meeting. I shot a whole bunch of photos inside, some of which I'm posting here. (More of my Royal Hawaiian photos, past and present, are posted on my Flickr account.)

While snapping photos, I tried to sound Mo out on his thoughts re Polyensian Pop and Tiki, but he didn't have much to say one way or the other. I suggested he research the subject  if he was going to reopen this iconic Tiki establishment. I told him a little about the Tiki revival and suggested he read Sven Kirsten's books, visit the Tiki swapmeets, wander the aisles at Oceanic Arts, etc. He was polite, but I wasn't sure if I was connecting or not. He did say that he wanted to reflect the kind of atmosphere one sees in today's better restaurants on the Hawaiian islands.
So today I saw this article entitled "Royal Hawaiian Reopens in Laguna Beach" in the online version of Locale Magazine (May 31, 2016). It reads, in part,...
"Today, it is owned by Mohammad Honarkar, and he and his hospitality team—Eric Bostwick, Carlos Godinez, Hasty Honarkar, Dylan Marsh and Brian Smith—are dedicated to bringing this historic restaurant back to life with a new and improved twist. 
"...The Royal Hawaiian will feature décor that will only be slightly updated from the previous renovations. Classic tiki vibes will be present, but will be combined with a new age feel that will ...make Laguna feel as though it has become a modern version of Hawaii. The Royal Hawaiian’s return will feature a menu that is filled with classic Hawaiian dishes made more unique with creative twists and many colorful handcrafted cocktails. Returning customers will also see the homecoming of the famous Royal Hawaiian Ribs and the popular cocktail dubbed the Lapu Lapu."
I'll start by thanking these folks for reopening what was once among the last great vintage Tiki establishments. I wish them luck and I'll definitely come try it shortly after it opens. And if it's good, I will certainly be a repeat customer. But here's my two cents:

First, they need to roll back the misguided changes made by the last owners, not double-down on them with more modernization. It's time to hire "Bamboo Ben" Bassham or Daniel "Tiki Diablo" Gallardo to re-tikify the interior, and hire someone who knows vintage Tiki cocktails to get the bar off to a good re-start. And yes, the menu needs some amusingly non-authentic favorites, like the old "Pele Goddess of Fire" (a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a flaming sugar cube in the middle).

When you buy a restaurant like the Royal Hawaiian, nostalgia is your biggest asset. You get a built-in audience and a line at your door on opening night. But that same nostalgia requires a certain willingness to commit. Let's hope the new folks "get it." There's nothing worse than disappointing an enthusiastic built-in audience. (Just ask George "Stinky Prequels" Lucas.) On the other hand, play your cards right and you'll be the most popular place in town. Again!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Hoola Boola

Thanks to our pal Sven Kirsten for drawing my attention to "Hoola Boola" (1941), a wonderful South-Seas-themed "Puppetoon" stop-motion feature from the studios of George Pal.

Some of the stop-motion animation was done by the famed Ray Harryhausen. If IMDb is to be believed, the voice actors included Rex Ingram, Victor Jory, Patrick McGeehan, Eloise Rawitzer, Sam Edwards, and (providing the voices of the cannibals) Mel BlancDorothy Lamour provided the inspiration for island girl Sarong Sarong.

Sections of this short were re-cycled into Pal's "The Little Broadcast" Puppetoon in 1943. Pal was an animator and film maker known for such sci-fi flicks as "When Worlds Collide," "The War of the Worlds" (1953), "The Time Machine" (1960), and (in collaboration with Robert Heinlein) "Destination Moon" (1950). Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas on Christmas Island

I've been hearing the old novelty song "Christmas Island" a lot more these past couple Decembers, and I thought it was high time to find out where it came from. First, here are the lyrics...
Let's get away from sleigh bells
Let's get away from snow
Let's make a break some Christmas
Dear
I know the place to go
How'd ya like to spend Christmas
On Christmas Island?
How'd ya like to spend the holiday
Away across the sea?
How'd ya like to spend Christmas
On Christmas Island?
How'd ya like to hang a stocking
On a great big coconut tree?

How'd ya like to stay up late
Like the islanders do?
Wait for Santa to sail
In with your presents in a canoe
If you ever spend Christmas
On Christmas Island
You will never stray for everyday
Your Christmas dreams come true

The song was written by Lyle Moraine (1914-1988) in 1946 and was first recorded that same year by the Andrews Sisters, backed by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians. It made it to #7 on the pop charts that year and stayed in the public eye throughout the 1940s. It's been recorded by a number of other folks over the decades. (The recent version I keep hearing on "Musak" is from Jimmy Buffett.)

Moraine had lots of bit parts in movies, but never became a star. He also wrote other songs, but "Christmas Island" was his most noteworthy hit.

So, how WOULD ya like to spend Christmas on the actual Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean?

That depends. But it seems unlikely that "your Christmas dreams" would come true." 

Discovered on Christmas Day in 1643, by an English East India Company ship, tiny Christmas Island is now home to just over 2,000 people and scads of horrifying-looking "coconut crabs" -- the largest land-living arthropod on earth. They have powerful claws and can climb trees. (So there might be several right above your head just waiting to drop down on you!) They are also known as "robber crabs" which lead me to believe they may have long arrest records we should be concerned about.
A coconut crab looking for Christmas leftovers. Ho, ho, ho!
 If that weren't enough, another 100 million red crabs migrate across Christmas Island each year in one enormous herd, or gaggle,... or whatever you call a large group of crabs. (I think a "floozie of crabs" has a certain ring to it.)

And once you get past the fauna, you'll find that only a minority of Christmas Island residents even celebrate Christmas. Although it's a territory of Australia, the population is mostly of Chinese descent. The religious break-down is about 75% Buddhist, 12% Christian, and 10% Muslim.

But those who do celebrate the day do so with a combination of Christian and Micronesian traditions that include multiple days of dance and choir performances.

No, you won't see "Santa sail in with your presents in a canoe." But you may meet some Asian refugees who've drifted around the ocean in various rickety boats. These days, Christmas Island is largely known as a way-station and detention center for refugees wanting to come to Australia.

And although, as a Southern Californian, I'm all in favor of a sunny Christmas, it does seem like there should be a little snap in the air during the holidays. You won't find that on Christmas Island either. The average low temperature is 65 degrees, and the average high temperature is in the low 80s,... all month,... every month.

In short, you're probably better off enjoying Christmas wherever you already live. Please do so.

Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Tiki Talk Tomorrow!


It's strange to post about myself in the third person, but here's the blurb that's being used...
 

Chris Jepsen will speak about the history of the "Polynesian Pop" phenomenon of the 1950s and '60s as it applied to Orange County, California at the Garden Grove Historical Society, 12174 Euclid Ave., Garden Grove, (tomorrow!) Tuesday, May 6, 2014, at 7:00 p.m . Island attire is encouraged but not mandatory. The event is open to everyone -- not just Society members.

From architecture, décor and music, to literature, theme parks and backyard luaus, the South Seas was a wildly popular theme throughout Mid-Century America. This was especially true in sunny Orange County, where primitive carved figures, grass huts, 'Aloha shirts,' and lush jungle landscaping seemed right at home.

Chris Jepsen is a local historian, Assistant Archivist at the Orange County Archives, and president of the Orange County Historical Society. He also writes the "Ask the O.C. Answer Man" column for Orange Coast Magazine and operates two blogs: The O.C. History Roundup and Tiki Lagoon.

(Note: The photo above was shot in Dana Point, overlooking San Juan Capistrano and Old SaddlebackThe tiki is bit of original 1960s backyard décor that has been in the same family for many decades now.)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Ìxtahuele!

I stumbled across Ixtahuele's EP, ""The Exotic Sounds Of Ìxtahuele" in 2012, and was pleasantly shocked to discover a modern group that truly captured the classic sound of exotica.

Many other modern takes on musical exotica diverge from the sound (if not he spirit) of their inspiration. Often the instrumentation is off (e.g. synthesizers), the songs are indistinguishable from one another (i.e. the "New Age" effect), or it's merged with some other form of music like surf rock. Some of this updated exotica is excellent in its own right, but it often does not transport you to the heyday of Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman.
Ìxtahuele, however, is exactly on target. They write their own material and perform it, expertly, on good old fashioned musical instruments. The group includes vibraphonists/percussionists Wictor Lind and Mattias Uneback, percussionist Johan Hjalmarsson, pianist Carl Turesson Bernehed, and bassist Henrik Nilsson.

The group hails from Gothenburg, Sweden, which is not the locale that comes to mind while listening to their music. But what better enviornment to dream up tropical landscapes than in a place that commonly drops to 23 degrees in the winter? Escapism has long been a key factor in Polynesian Pop. Anyway, if Thor Heyerdahl, Sven Kirsten and Christopher Lars Jepsen are any indicator -- Northern European types have a natural affinity for all that relates to tiki.
 
In May 2013, Ìxtahuele released their first full album, "Pagan Rites." If anything, it's even better than their EP. It's been in "heavy rotation" on my MP3 player for several months now. Like the best of Martin Denny's work, it doesn't grow stale with repeated listening. If you didn't know better, you'd swear "Pagan Rites" was a lost, Mid-Century classic of the genre.

Tracks include Black Sand, Rarohengan Dance, Brugmansia, Stone Gods of Bimini, Orust Luau, Lotus Eaters, Searching For Souq, Huahine, Dengue Fever, and Gardens of Mu. A few of these also appeared on the EP, but get somewhat different arrangements for the album.

A quick search of the Interwebs will turn up several ways to purchase the album. I bought the actual CD, and I'm glad I did. The recording quality is good, and I can only assume that it would loose something in MP3 format.

Ìxtahuele's appearance at this year's Hukilau in Florida was well received. If there's any justice in the world, these gifted fellows should soon be wildly popular in the tiki/exotica revival scene.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Don the Beachcomber Goes to War

I discovered an interesting new bit of Don the Beachcomber lore, and wasn't sure where to share it. It could have ended up on either this blog or my Orange County History Roundup blog. The other blog won out this time, but tiki fans will want to read the story too. Here's a link: "Keeping Costa Mesa Safe For Democracy, One Mai Tai at a Time."