My Travels: 2006 Portland Tiki Crawl

Spitting fountain at the Alibi in Portland, photo by Hanford Lemoore
Spitting fountain at the Alibi in Portland, photo by Hanford Lemoore

Last month, Hanford and I paid a visit to the fine city of Portland for the 2006 Northwest Tiki Crawl. The weather was beautiful (if a bit hot on the last day), and the company was grand.

The kickoff night was at Mark and Maggie Axton’s lush backyard paradise, the Castaway Cove, which includes a bar enclosed in a large freestanding building, a small “beach” complete with fire pit, and even a creepy voodoo maze through the shrubberies.

Day two included a visit to the Alibi, pictured above. The Alibi is the shining star of Portland tiki; the bar has a very long history, having started as the Chat n’ Nibble when the road it was on was the main dirt road for horse carts to get to town. It went thorugh a series of evolutions through the years, until becoming tiki in the post-WWII era, and undergoing a remodel and expansion in the ’70s. The natural build-up of dust, cigarette smoke and general grime slowly took its toll, and this past year, the same team of folks who throw the annual crawl started spending every Sunday there volunteering to clean the joint up. The results are outstanding — lamps shine brightly (but not too brightly!), the mural is looking lovely, and there are so many more little details to be seen now. There is more cleanup to be done, but it’s already looking worlds better. The famous neon Alibi sign has also had a refresh, and is looking better than ever. The drinks… well, the drinks still need a lot of work (One gentleman’s Mai Tai came with olives in it! And I thought it couldn’t get worse than the dreaded pineapple juice and grenadine.), but it’s all a big step in the right direction, and gives me great hope.

The next stop was the Jasmine Tree, a Chinese restaurant that years ago inherited tiki artifacts from the Portland Kon-Tiki when it closed. As earlier reported, the building the Jasmine Tree is to be demolished to make student housing for nearby PSU, but they are promising to re-open in a new location. Here’s the thing, though — the food & drinks are absolutely abysmal at the Jasmine Tree, and the space they’re in isn’t too terribly special (though the bar does have a few neat old-school details). The only thing the Jasmine Tree has going for it, in my book, are the cool tiki items that are currently displayed rather haphazardly. I heard the Jasmine Tree say they’re relocating, but I haven’t heard anything about what they plan to do with all their tiki stuff, if it will be re-installed, if they’ll go more tiki (don’t hold your breath), or if they’ll sell some of the tiki stuff off. Ordinarily, I’d blanch at the idea of tiki stuff getting sold off, but if it wound up at another public place, it wouldn’t be much of a change from the current state of affairs. Anyway, it was another typical night at the Jasmine Tree.

The evening events took place at our hotel, the Jupiter, where there was a vendor room (Hanford scored a ton of great vintage aloha shirts), and some bands played. At the afterparty, we made some drinks out of stuff we were able to pull together, and I managed somehow to make something out of Voodoo Rum, lemon juice, sweet & sour and orgeat that tasted just like the brine from a sweet pickle jar. So, maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on the drinks at the Alibi & the Jasmine Tree. Hanford & I finally made it to bed at about 4 a.m.

The next day was a scorcher, with the temperature bumping up against 100 degrees, which is unheard of for Portland in June. It was the day of the home tiki bar crawl, and the stops we made it to (before having to bop off to the airport) were lovely home tiki bar setups. A highlight of the day was a sneak peek of a brand new tiki bar opening soon in Portland, called Thatch. Thatch is being opened by the same chap who owns nearby Pour, a sleek wine bar. Thatch will include a small bridge crossing over a water feature at the entrance, a raised hut area at the back, and a sunken bar area. The booths are original Armet & Davis Denny’s booths, and the place is going to be all decked out in bamboo. A lot of imagination was needed to see how it would be when we paid our visit, but it sounds very promising, and there was a lot of excitement. Thatch is due to open in mid-August.

Mahalo to the Portland Tiki Crawl group for such a fantastic weekend, and for doing to much wonderful work on the Alibi!

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