I’m long overdue to tell you about the rest of my road trip to Palm Springs for the Mod Palm Springs event at the Caliente Tropics. I already told you about the tiki bars of Palm Springs and our stops along the way in Los Angeles. Here are my non-bar tiki explorations in and around Palm Springs:
Palm Springs’ own 1964 tiki landmark, the Caliente Tropics has seen a lot of changes since I last visited more than a decade ago (!). Gone are the tiles in the bathroom reminding you of the hotel’s original developer Ken Kimes (one of these days I have to do a proper write-up on the Kimes family, it’s a doozy).
The bar and restaurant have changed hands and looks and names, I won’t bother to elaborate on their current state since those are shifting sands.
The hotel itself is in great shape: by far the best change is the addition of massive carved plaques by Tiki Bosko, each one a tribute to a different Pacific island. The vintage Ed Crissman tikis around the grounds are still standing tall. The rooms are in various states of renovation, with the carpets replaced with tile floors, which feel a bit uncomfortable and uncozy, but are surely much more clean.
The central area of this courtyard hotel feels very different to me, and it took all weekend to piece together why: it’s a combination of massively overgrown bamboo that has quickly dominated one side (pictures show this bamboo has taken over in just a few short years), and encroaching paved areas on the other, leading to a shrunken grass lawn. It’s not good or bad, it’s just different, and given how many memories I’ve made at the Tropics, a little personally jarring to not recognize the space. It felt a bit like returning to a playground visited as a child, and finding that it’s impossibly small in scale.
It was only on the last day, as we had loaded up the car and I did one last loop around the parking lot taking pictures, that I noticed a carved tiki post at the end of one of the buildings. It sure looks like it’s been carved like that from the beginning of the motel, and I’m sure I must have walked past it before, but it had escaped my notice. It’s fantastic!
I’ve added 34 photos to the listing for Caliente Tropics in Critiki.
Directly behind the Caliente Tropics is a community of condominiums built just a few years earlier, the Royal Hawaiian Estates, by famed mid-century architect Donald Wexler. The artist Shag owns one of the condos, and he’s done a particularly beautiful job of creating a capsule of enchanting mid-century-inspired tropicalism. The whole property has been undergoing restoration, and was recently declared Palm Springs’ first Historic Residential District. I’ve created a listing for the Royal Hawaiian Estates in Critiki.
Ken Kimes opened a whole chain of Tropics motels back in the ’60s, and today three remain: in addition to the Palm Springs location, there is one in Modesto, and there’s one in Indio. I’d never been to the one in Indio, and I’ve always wanted to go check it out. Luckily, my pals John and Boris were up for a field trip, so we drove about 40 minutes further into the desert to see it. There’s not much there anymore, but the buildings retain their Polynesian Pop architectural flourishes, there is a magnificent sign, and there are a few lackluster tikis; it was fun to see the Caliente Tropics’ cousin. They also still have the little Kimes elf in the shower. I’ve added 18 pictures to the listing for Tropics Motor Hotel in Critiki.
On the way back from the Tropics in Indio, we hit lots of thrift stores (Palm Springs has primo thrifting—I came home with a big stack of vinyl records, including some choice Exotica). One of our stops happened to be right next to the Lost on 111 Grill. This is a great little spot, already pretty well trafficked by tiki people in the know, but it was my first time. It’s a breakfast cafe that sells tiki carvings and paintings by modern tiki artists. I’ve added a listing for Lost On 111 Grill to Critiki.
While in Palm Springs, we paid a couple of visits to the Shag Store, a retail store dedicated to the work of the artist Shag. There is a second location in West Hollywood. There are original paintings, prints, and plenty of fun merchandise at a lower price point, like pendants, glasses and pillows.
Shag has loved tiki for a very long time (he lived in Hawai’i as a child), and tikis show up in his work frequently. If you get a chance to hear Shag speak, I highly recommend it—the insight into his art has given me a new appreciation of his work.
Melvyn’s has nothing to do with tiki, it’s just a beautiful little slice of throwback California. This fine dining restaurant is attached to the Ingleside Inn, a small hotel in a 1925 Spanish-style estate, and the grounds are secluded and transporting. The restaurant was a wonderful vintage dining experience, our time there was simply magic (check out that fiery tableside cooking cart!). The staff of the bar, restaurant and hotel all provided top-notch service, and felt like a family. Sadly, owner Mel Haber passed away just two days after our visit, and the hotel and restaurant has been sold to out-of-town investors. I don’t know what the future holds for Melvyn’s, but it’s a good reminder to get out there and experience these places while we still have them.