Great tiki bars transport you to a different world the moment you cross the threshold… they simultaneously unnerve you by ruining your sense of direction, and calm you with an enveloping blanket of relaxation. That instant first impression, the one that takes your breath away and tells you that tonight, tonight will be different: perhaps no single factor is greater than the lighting. The dark turns ordinary corners into nooks and crannies to be explored and discovered. The dozens of dim light sources scattered in all directions and across the color spectrum paint an otherworldly view.
And then, some very confused person installs a television set.
How does it happen? How can anyone possibly think that what this magical environment needs is a television?
The Super Bowl.
Not specifically the Super Bowl, but any major sporting event. When these events happen, bars without televisions simply don’t see business. The staff hates working: no customers means no tips, which means practically no pay. The bar business is hard—no one is getting rich running these places—and a slow night is bad news. Panic hits, people feel like they have to do something.
A television is ordered. Two televisions. And the biggest cable package.
When they first go up, they’ll tell you, “Oh, it’s only for the playoffs. We won’t have them on otherwise.” I think they even believe it. It’s not true, of course. The televisions will be on, always, with no assessment of whether the customers are actually interested in watching them. The televisions will be on autopilot. They’ll play CNN when they aren’t playing sports.
The transporting magic of the space is shattered. The garish blue glow will be far brighter than anything else in the room. They’ll steal attention. Even if you turn your back, the inescapable flicker of light will cast everywhere, and your companion will struggle to keep their eyes off it.
It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it?
The bar business, it’s a hard one. The business owners have to make these difficult decisions all the time. If it truly is a choice between the bar having a television and the bar not surviving at all, of course we want to see the bar live. They’re trying to do their best under challenging circumstances.
So, here’s what you can do: if you’re not planning on watching the Super Bowl, spend the time supporting your local tiki bar. Try to tip a little heavier. Round up your friends. Don’t want to miss the game? Go after the game, go the night before, go the night after.
On any day, if you’re in a tiki bar, and a television is on, and it’s clear no one is there to watch whatever is on it: speak up. Ask if they’ll please consider turning the television off. You’d be surprised how often it works. If they get asked enough, they may stop bothering to turn them on. We can dream.
Take a moment to thank the people at your favorite television-free places for resisting televisions and providing such a lovely environment.
There’s a great Facebook page, Bars Without Televisions, that does what it says on the tin: it celebrates bars that don’t have televisions. Nominate your favorite local television-free bar, give it some love.
If you’re near San Francisco, Smuggler’s Cove is having a great event on Super Bowl Sunday: it’s a celebration of Steve Crane’s 100th birthday. Steve Crane was the Hollywood player who was married to Lana Turner and owned the Luau in Beverly Hills. He later partnered with the Sheraton hotel chain to open Kon-Tiki and Kon-Tiki Ports restaurants across the country. That’s where I’ll be!
- Bars Without Televisions [Facebook]
- Steve Crane’s 100th Birthday at Smuggler’s Cove [Facebook]
- Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco [Critiki]
- The Luau in Beverly Hills [Critiki]
(Television photo by Scott Smith on Flickr, taken on the Tower of Terror ride. In that context, the shocking bright contrast and attention-stealing of the television set is intentional, and very effective. It’s exactly what you don’t want in a tiki bar.)