Yee haw! This past weekend I was at Hooptylau, in California’s Central Valley. I saw the very best tiki there is to see in Stockton, Ripon, Modesto & Turlock. And there is some mighty fine tiki to be seen, indeed.
The first stop was On Lock Sam’s in Stockton, which has been in business since 1898(!), but the building it’s in dates from 1964. It’s undergone a very unfortunate remodel, but bits of charm remain — especially bartender Ray, who goes way back in the local Chinese & Polynesian restaurant scene. On Lock Sam’s is Chinese and not Polynesian, but it is neat.
The next stop was Pollardville, a roadside attraction that dates from the ’40s, on Highway 99 on the north side of Stockton. Pollardville started as a chicken stand, and grew into a full-on western sort-of ghost town (zombie town?) when they started moving buildings from other areas onto the property, including the Jamestown Jail, and the entire set from the 1958 western film “The Big Country.” In the mid-80s, the restaurant on the property burned down, and in 1987, they found a new building to replace it, which was our real reason for this stop on the tour… Stockton’s The Islander restaurant was moved from its spot in the heart of Stockton, to its final resting place in Pollardville, where it became the Pollardville Chicken Kitchen. The roofline screams “mid-century A-frame Polynesian restaurant!” while the interior screams “in 1987 we let the waitress with the most seniority decorate the place, and we haven’t changed it since!”
The faint outline of the bar structure can almost be detected in a side room, as there’s a smidge of bamboo still lurking, but really the only thing that’s left is the tiki seen to the left here, which now is the cornerpost on a jail cell. For a time, the tiki had a twin, but he was sold into a private collection years ago. Pollardville’s 16 acres have been sold by the Pollard family to a developer, and the Pollardville Chicken Kitchen, née the Islander, is slated to be demolished in April 2007. We made the most of our time there, taking a stroll through the ghost town, hopping on the half-mile train ride, choking the Pollardville chicken, and eating a meal. Well, trying to eat a meal — Pollardville Chicken Kitchen is pretty gross, to be honest. The air was heavy with grease, which didn’t help my appetite, and the meals all looked pretty blech. I did hear from those that tried the fried chicken that it was good. I felt like I might have been better off if I’d ordered the Giblets. Now, there’s something I don’t find myself saying often.
From there, we headed south to Ripon, and the home tiki bar of my friends Scott & Colleen, the Dark Marq Room. They have a beautiful collection of mugs and other items, including many pieces from the Stockton Islander. Scott makes a mean drink, and this year he unveiled his latest concoction: the Gas Siphoner. It’s a tribute to last year’s Hooptylau, during which we interrupted theives in the middle of siphoning gas out of our vans in the Minnie’s parking lot. It was delicious.
From there, our horde ventured further south to Modesto, the bustling center of Central Valley Tikidom. We visited the Modesto Tropics Motel; this motel was once part of Ken Kimes’ Tropics chain, which had locations in Indio, Rosemead, Blythe, and Palm Springs. This motel didn’t grow up as nicely as its prettier, richer, better-built Palm Springs sister (better known today as the Caliente Tropics). To be blunt, it’s on the scary side. But it does have several fantastic, large Ed Crissmann tikis on the property (pictured above).
In the parking lot, but now separated by a cyclone fence, stands the Tiki Lounge, which was once the motel’s bar, but now wisely pretends to not be at all related. The Tiki Lounge has some beautiful details, including bamboo-framed huts, a freestanding fireplace, and several beautiful wahine paintings behind the bar. When we got there, it was so completely full of people and birthday balloons that the place couldn’t really be seen, so we popped our heads in quickly, then made our way to Minnie’s.
Minnie’s is where it’s at for tiki in Modesto. It’s a great big restaurant, and the place has got a big collection of black velvet and oil wahine paintings, by the artist Tyree. The Chinese food served there is actually quite good, much better than the cocktails (the signature drink there is “the Jerk” — essentially a strawberry slurpee with 151 poured down the straw). The lighting there needs work — there are spots in the bar that are either too dark, or too bright, giving it a sort of bare-lightbulb vibe. But the place is full of character, and well worth a visit. Try to hit it earlier in the evening, when you can get food, and the jukebox isn’t blaring too loud to have a conversation.
Sunday morning, we eased back into the land of the living at Vic’s home in Turlock. Vic is a landscape designer and tiki carver (his company is Tiki Jungle), and it shows. His backyard is just beautiful, full of tropical plants, waterfalls, streams, koi, and tikis. This summer he added a swimming pool, which we all sat on the edge of and dipped our feet into.
Hooptylau was organized by Scott, Colleen and Vic, and they did a stupendous job — it was huge fun. I’ve been to all three Hooptylaus, and it’s one of my favorite annual events — very goofy, very silly, very tiki, and the smallish size makes conversation easy and fun. This year, in keeping with the tiki-goes-trashy-country theme, they created a take-home mix CD of all-country tiki tunes, with cover art by Chongolio. We listened to it the whole way home, there are some real gems on it.
I’m pleased to report that I managed to snag the “I Can Dress Myself” award, along with my friend Bill — I had ratted my hair out into the most astounding bouffant hairdo, it was like cotton candy, I tell you what. It felt a little weird to have my hair up off my neck without having it in a ponytail or a bun of some sort.
- Modesto: Hooptylau 2006 [Critiki News]
- The Islander, Stockton [Critiki]
- The Dark Marq Room, Ripon [Critiki]
- Tropics Motel, Modesto [Critiki]
- Tiki Cocktail Lounge, Modesto [Critiki]
- Minnie’s Restaurant, Modesto [Critiki]
- Tiki Jungle
- Hooptylau 2006 [Humuhumu’s Life in Photos]
- Hooptylau 2006 [Barefoot Bloggin’]
- hooptylau 2006 — the un-tiki tiki event — [Tiki Central]