A few months ago, I wrote about a random 3 a.m. purchase I had made that turned out to be glorious: the 1968 barely-a-movie Kona Coast. I had no idea what the movie was all about when I made my late-night order, just that it was filmed in Hawai’i in the late ’60s. It arrived, I watched it, I loved it (it’s terrible, don’t get me wrong, but solidly in the so-bad-it’s-good camp). Invited a bunch of good friends over to watch it in the tiki bar, they loved it, and then we couldn’t stop saying “sheeesh” and “I’m Sam Moran, who the hell are you?” and we all wanted to wear a yellow windbreaker and white socks every day for the rest of our lives.
I’ve been doing this writing-about-tiki thing for 13-plus years now, and the second best thing* about it is that all these little bits and bobs get cast out, and turn out to be lures for other people who can fill in the picture, make the stories richer, more interesting, more real. In this case, literally more real.
A reader commented on that article the other day. He’s a longtime resident of Kailua-Kona where the movie was filmed in 1967, and he dropped a bombshell for me: the tiki bar within the movie, Akamai Barnes, was real. I’ve dug up a bit more, and here’s what I’ve pieced together: I already knew that Kona Coast was actually a pilot for a television series that didn’t get picked up (it lost out to a competing project, Hawaii Five-O). It turns out that Akamai Barnes was built for the production, and they just kept it open as a real bar when they were done. Makes sense: it would have taken a while for them to learn that the show wasn’t picked up, and if it had been, they’d still want that set. When it wasn’t picked up… Kona Coast star Richard Boone (perhaps more famous as Paladin from Have Gun, Will Travel) kept the bar running.
Some tidbits: a June 1968 Playboy article calls Akamai Barnes “one of the liveliest bars in the Pacific.” A Navy sailor remembers drinking at the bar in the summer of 1967, right around the time they were filming, with cast members, plus Boone’s friends Lee Marvin and Jonathan Winters. I found an interview with a local musician of the era who said he worked there from its opening for about five years.
So, you bet your sweet okole I’ve added an listing in Critiki for Akamai Barnes. That reader who tipped me off has added a photo of a painting he came across, a rendering of the outside of Akamai Barnes. It turns out the movie has a little cult following on the Big Island; another reader has now added his own wonderful review of Kona Coast on that Critiki News article. It’s been a fun few days.
* The first best thing is the people I’ve met. Awwwww.