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Tiki Culture

Discussion in 'The Golden Era' started by Tiki Tom, Oct 15, 2015.

  1. CSG

    CSG Familiar Face

    Threads like this remind me of the good times my family had at Kelbo's in WLA. Growing up in SoCal in the late 50's into the early 70's, tiki culture was everywhere. I miss it.

    At least I can listen to exotica to remind me.
  2. Last night, I watched the movie "Close to My Heart," a 1951 Ray Milland and Gene Tierney soap opera about a young couple trying to adopt.

    At one point, Milland's character - trying to investigate the background (find out about the parents, etc.) of a child they might adopt - ends up taking a down-and-out friend of the child's biological mother out for a drink in the not-great section of town at a not-impressive tiki or tiki-themed bar

    There's grasscloth and rattan furniture and decor - but not that much of it (maybe a tiki-lamp here or there, not sure), but enough to give it a "tiki" feel. It was definitely a weak effort which reflected the low-rent vibe of that part of town.

    That's it, just wanted to share that - while not integral to the story - the director decided, for some reason (I'm assuming because they were common to the culture then), to put a tiki bar in the movie.
  3. PeterGunnLives

    PeterGunnLives One of the Regulars

    It's interesting how tiki culture developed and changed over the years. At first, the Pacific Rim-themed restaurants were a more upscale experience including elaborate shows, and it was appropriate to dress up to go there. As time went on, tiki eventually became relegated to dingy hole-in-the-wall dive bars. There's a great section about this in Peter Moruzzi's book "Classic Dining: Discovering America's Finest Mid-Century Restaurants."
    Touchofevil likes this.
  4. Inkstainedwretch

    Inkstainedwretch Practically Family

    Back in the late 50s Trader Vic's ran a line of drink mixers and other stuff with a "Polynesian"girl on the label. There were two labels. On one, the girl was topless. On the other she wore a Dorothy Lamour-style sarong, much more modest. My California family bought the topless ones. As a pubescent 11-12-yrar old, I spent a lot of time in front of that cabinet.

    Incidentally, possibly the apogee of Tiki style was Disneylsnd's (the Anaheim one) Enchanted Tiki Room. Last I looked, it was still there.
    Zombie_61 likes this.
  5. 1 minute on Google images produced this:


    How was that allowed in 1950s America?
    Zombie_61 and BobHufford like this.
  6. What happens at Trader Vic's stays at Trader Vic's. :cool:
    Touchofevil and Fading Fast like this.
  7. I hear ya, but it seems America was much more buttoned-up on the surface than to allow for bottles like this.

    I know today drink mixes are sold in supermarkets, I assume, back then, these were only sold at the bars themselves?

    I can't image 1950s America letting these bottles sit on its supermarket shelves?
  8. On the surface, sure. For a long time America was pretty good at hiding it's seedy underbelly behind a veneer of civility. But I think WWII made a lot of people realize their time on Earth could come to an end at any moment, they decided to live it up while they could, and that veneer got pretty thin unless you lived in a community where Christianity (in some form) was King. I doubt these bottles could be found in supermarkets, but they were probably fair game in bars and liquor stores.
    Fading Fast likes this.
  9. MikeKardec

    MikeKardec Practically Family

    I spent a lot of time in Tiki restaurants as a kid in LA. The Islander, Trader VIc's, The Luau (that one had the best food, at least for a youngster), they all had the sense of being able to become "The Enchanted Tiki Room" if you just could stay until they closed. That Disney attraction seemed to be a riff on what restaurant designers were really trying to do even if they couldn't afford all the bells and whistles. I can remember walking from The Harry Franklin Gallery, a long narrow shop in Beverly Hills that was stuffed with very mysterious Primitive, Polynesian, and Oceanic art, to The Luau for lunch with my parents ... it was all of a theme and very fun. The photos you tend to see of The Luau don't do it justice, it was very dark and artistically lit, seeming much bigger than it was and allowing the decor to loom ominously from the shadows. Quite the experience but not one you could photograph without a flash ... which would immediately destroy the effect.
  10. All the better to go unnoticed, i.e. hide from your significant other if you were having a secret rendezvous. ;)
    Frunobulax likes this.
  11. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

    While not necessarily "Tiki," there were a fair number of movies from the late 1940s on into the 1960s set in the South Pacific, including of course, "South Pacific," as well as in Hawaii. Typically the plot was about army buddies getting together for some reason, usually to do with making money or finding a lost treasure. If you're really nostalgic for your youth, there's Blue Hawaii, actually filmed in Hawaii. But most of the movies I remember are black and white and filmed on Santa Catalina. Rarely a nice bar but plenty of palm leaves and woven rattan walls.

    For some reason, a lot of Chinese restaurants go in for stuff like that, the ones in the U.S., that is.
    Zombie_61 likes this.
  12. PeterGunnLives

    PeterGunnLives One of the Regulars

    That was another tendency of the whole tiki culture/scene... the places served Americanized Chinese food and rum cocktails (rum being more of a Caribbean thing), not authentic Pacific Islands fare.
    Zombie_61 likes this.
  13. Inkstainedwretch

    Inkstainedwretch Practically Family

    They probably figured they couldn't sell Americans on taro paste and breadfruit, though the roast pig might have been a hit.
    Zombie_61 likes this.
  14. MikeKardec

    MikeKardec Practically Family

    Oh yeah! The Tiki places couldn't really distinguish between the East and West Indies but at the heart of it all the earliest Tiki places (pre war) seem like they were reminiscences of certain aspects of nautical life and so, I guess, East legitimately meets West. Post war the Tiki thing did go through a resurgence and I suspect that Hawaiian culture and the eventual annexation of Hawaii didn't hurt along with the Hawaii Five-o, and Hawaiian eye and many movies. My father wrote the pilot for what attempted to be the first Hawaiian detective show in 1956, Hart of Honolulu ... it never got past that first episode.

    We also tend to forget that the Philippines was a US protectorate until '45 and continued to be a place many Americans visited and did business in for a long time afterward ... that might even be the source of confusion about the rum drinks, etc. The Spanish connected the PI with their Caribbean colonies for hundreds of years, bringing the wealth of their Asian adventures across the isthmus of Panama and often into the hands of English and "American" pirates.
    Zombie_61 likes this.
  15. Tiki Tom

    Tiki Tom Practically Family

    All too true. As a pimply 12 or 13 year old mutt, the artwork on this paperback sent me into a dream-world that was half tropical island longing and half first love swoon. BTW, the book was nowhere near as good as "Tales of the South Pacific", but it was an island fix, as was "The Adventures of Captain David Grief" by Jack London. I used to have a bookshelf of similar themed pot boilers.

    Return to Paradise.jpg
  16. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

    Typically the source for stuff like that was the National Geographic, which had a propensity for publishing photos of topless women, but generally of a much more realistic nature than other publications might have been. I wonder what girls thought of the National Geographic. My favorite issue remains the one with the article by Admiral Byrd about Little America around 1935. It's even better than his book on wintering over at an isolated weather station there.
  17. MikeKardec

    MikeKardec Practically Family

    Tales of the South Pacific is hard to top. Especially because of it's innovative episodic, part fiction, part non fiction, style. Very cutting edge for the time ... heck, even now. Michener spent YEARS trying to top it and, in my opinion, only partially succeeded. BTW the earlier (1950s) covers to "Return" were much more risque ... something only the low grade "pocket books" could get away with.
    Tiki Tom likes this.
  18. Tiki Tom

    Tiki Tom Practically Family

    I do love that book. It is one of the very few books that I re-read every few years.
  19. Cocker

    Cocker Practically Family

    Well, maybe not "true" Tiki culture, but here's what I got this week:


    The little guy on the left is a dashboard hulla dancer. Still pondering if I'll put it in the car or not... :p
    Zombie_61 likes this.
  20. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

    It all looks pretty authentic to me. As far as the little hula dancer (are you sure about that?) goes, if you have anything hanging from your rear view mirror, then go ahead.

    However, I don't think a Tiki bar can be authentic or even appealing if it's anywhere close to where you live, no more than a Moroccan restaurant or anyplace named Zanzibar can be authentic. Oh, the food can be authentic but it looses it's exotic appeal if it's a hometown restaurant. But if you have to cross the river and go into the city, it's okay.

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