Earlier this year, I noted the sad news concerning the impending closure of the Trader Vic's restaurant in the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The redevelopment process moves on, with the slow but steady pace typical of Los Angeles-area projects. A discussion thread in the forums at Tiki Central is following the story.
Via Arts & Letters Daily comes a link to a fine overview article by Wayne Curtis in the current American Heritage magazine on the wonderful world of all things Tiki. In particular, the article covers the fons et origo of Tiki culture in the twinned figures of Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, aka Donn Beach, aka "Don the Beachcomber," and Victor Bergeron, aka "Trader Vic." Here is an excerpt covering Donn Beach's happy postwar ensconcement in Waikiki:
His restaurant became an instant landmark, more Hawaiian than most of Hawaii itself. Beach amplified the faux-tropical theme with palms and thatch and a sweeping shingled roof, part space age, part ceremonial Polynesian meetinghouse. The popular arranger and composer Martin Denny played at the restaurant’s Bora-Bora lounge for nine months straight. Beach was often at the bar, a genial host wearing a gardenia lei that, he was quick to reveal, was for sale in the restaurant’s gift alcove. A myna bird presided over the premises, trained to blurt out, “Give me a beer, stupid!” In the boozy intimacy of late evenings, a gentle rain would often begin to patter on the corrugated metal roof over the bar — thanks to a garden hose Beach had installed. (Always the businessman, he had observed that late-night drinkers tended to linger for another round if they thought it was raining outside.)
Why all that Caribbean rum in supposed "South Seas" drinks? The practicality of Donn Beach supplies the answer:
He approached his drink menu the same way he approached his décor: with an eye toward frugality. Rum was the least expensive of the spirits, and Gantt had sampled a variety in his travels.
Just who invented the Mai Tai -- Beach or Bergeron -- remains a matter of dispute. (Quoth Trader Vic: “I originated the mai tai. Anybody who says I didn’t create this drink is a stinker.”) A good recipe for same is included with the article. Read it all to appreciate yet again the glory that was Vic and the splendor that was Don.
And now, Music . . . .
This is not a Tiki song, or even remotely Polynesian, but it is a bit of permanent no-smudge sunshine that fits here as well as it will anywhere else.
Craig Bonnell of the songs:illinois weblog maintains that the semi-Swedish band Herman Dune has produced "the best song of the year" with "I Wish That I Could See You Soon" from their upcoming album, Giant. I don't know that I will go that far, but they have certainly produced a confection that deserves a place in the permanent pop pantheon. The tune has all the charm, and I would hope it will earn the permanence, of Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl." I t seems totally dispensable at first, but if you are hearing it on the radio (where it surely belongs) in forty years, it will still make you smile for hours afterward.
Here is the video version, seemingly set in an alterate-world Sesame Street. You can't argue with the angels, now can you?