My Tiki Bar Regrets

The Aku-Tiki Room in Kewanee, Illinois, photo by Swanky

I regret that I never made it to the Aku-Tiki Room in Kewanee, Illinois.

The Aku-Tiki Room was a spectacular bit of remote tiki, nestled in a farm restaurant in the middle of nowhere. It was built in 1967, after the owners fell in love with another Polynesian restaurant… not on a trip to Hawaii, not in California, but in Acapulco, of all places. Its humble location might mislead you: it was elaborately decorated, completely immersive, a portal to another land in the last place you’d expect it. It lasted through tiki’s darkest years, until it closed in 2008. It wasn’t easy to get there, but I should have done it.

 

Jardin Tiki in Montreal, photo by John T.

I regret that I never made it to Jardin Tiki in Montreal.

We don’t have many grand palaces of tiki left, and this loss in 2015 was hard to swallow. The Jardin Tiki grew from the ashes of Montreal’s Kon-Tiki, housing many of its pieces, and so much more. Waterfalls! Streams! Turtles! Tikis! Thank goodness John Trivisonno took so many wonderful photos, to let us feel like we’ve been there… but surely it’s nothing like the real thing.

 

Matchbook from a Marriott Kona Kai, from the collection of Kona Keoki

I regret that I didn’t take pictures when I visited the Kona Kai at the Marriott in Chicago.

Back in the huge peak of Polynesian restaurant grandeur of the 1960s, the Hilton hotel chain had Trader Vic’s locations, the Sheraton had Kon-Tiki, and Marriott entered the field with their Kona Kai chain. The Chicago location closed in 1998, but for years afterward remained intact, occasionally rented out for special events. It was at one of those events, the Exotica tiki tour in 2004, that I got to see it. I was having such a grand time, I didn’t use my camera. I only have my fuzzy memories.

 

Kahiki Supper Club, circa 1962, from the collection of tikiskip

I am sad that I didn’t know about the Kahiki Supper Club in Columbus, Ohio until shortly after it had already closed.

The Kahiki closed in 2000, right around the time I was building my first home tiki bar. I didn’t learn about the place until a couple years later. The closing night party has become stuff of legend: Sven Kirsten arrived with the very first copies of his brand-new book, The Book of Tiki. Otto von Stroheim proposed to Baby-Doe there that night. If only my obsession had launched a scant couple of years earlier, I might have been able to join them!

 

Postcard from Trader Vic’s in Seattle, from the collection of rvictor

I am sad I never went to the Seattle Trader Vic’s.

I was born and raised in Seattle, and the Trader Vic’s location there—only the second Trader Vic’s location after the original Oakland one!—closed just as I was entering adulthood in 1992. If I could get a do-over, I’d do every fancy birthday dinner there.

 

Trader Vic’s in Dallas, photo by Humuhumu

I am glad that I made it to the Trader Vic’s in Dallas during its brief revival. I am glad that I spent time at the Beverly Hills Trader Vic’s. I am glad that I’ve spent time in the Atlanta Trader Vic’s, and the original Chicago Trader Vic’s. I wish I had better pictures of all of them.

 

Royal Hawaiian in Laguna Beach in early 2006, photo by Humuhumu

I am glad I made it to the old Royal Hawaiian in Laguna Beach, before it was gutted in 2006. (And I’m grateful for the new owners who are trying to bring it back to glory!)

 

Molokai Bar at the Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, photo by gellyfish

I am glad that I have spent more magical evenings at the Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale than I can count, spanning thirteen years.

 

Regulars’ cards at Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles, photo by Robin

I am glad to have made Tiki-Ti my living room when I lived in Los Angeles.

 


 

And there are dozens more wonderful classic bars and restaurants that, when they someday close, I will of course be crushed… but the blow will be eased by my having seen them with my own eyes, and made my own memories. I’m so glad I’ve made efforts to see as many of these classic treasures as possible.

 


 

Hôtel-Motel Coconut in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, photo by Shelby

I worry about making it to the Hôtel-Motel Coconut someday.

 


 

Don’t let your tiki regrets pile up. Make an effort to get to the places we still have, while we still have them.

Tiki Oasis sold out in a blink this year (!), leaving a lot of folks free this August, and perhaps even with a bit of travel budget burning a hole in their pockets. Use it to see the Polynesian restaurants and tiki bars of your dreams. Use what’s left of your summer to explore tiki in the real world.

Top of your list: the Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale. It’s our best, biggest, grandest… but someday, it may be gone. I wrote up a Mai-Kai travel plan in last year’s Critiki Gift Guide to make it even easier for you. Will you kick yourself if you missed it? Go. Now. Don’t wait.

11 thoughts on “My Tiki Bar Regrets

  1. Let me know if you decide to come and see the Hôtel-Motel Coconut in Trois Rivières, Mrs Big Wiener and I will join you for the evening and we can even take you to see the remains of the Jardin Tiki in Montreal.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It is, and a few other bars around Montreal are also REALLY good at tiki cocktails (even if their decor isn’t exactly tiki) like the “Le 132-Bar Vintage” (I keep challenging their head bartender by asking for drinks he has to research to do them as close to the original recipe as possible…lol)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. re: You might want to go see what they’re up to! Perhaps you will like their blog as much as they liked your comment!

        Which blog (where and who’s)?

        Like

      3. Critiki News is hosted by WordPress.com, looks like that’s the automated notification message when someone likes your comment. They have a little bit of their own social ecosystem. I liked your comment, so it’s talking about me and the site you’re already on, which is… confusing.

        Like

  2. The Aku Tiki Room was my #2 after the Mai-Kai and close to the Hala Kahiki. I was planning a very epic event there when I heard it was closing. It would have been awesome! Local vintage old school theater was going to show Blue Hawaii. A bus running from the small town hotel to the property all day and night. Car show on the property. Java was doing a burlesque event. Symposiums in the Aku all day. Entertainment in the round in the evening with King K and Pablus…. Maybe even worse was when I found out about the auction and called the owner. I asked if I might could get something to remember the place by. “You could have anything you want for free if you’d called last week. It’s all in the auction companies hands now.” ANYTHING. FREE. That sunken bar was the best…

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Let us know next time you are in Chicago. You can come over for cocktails and sit under a couple of the shell lamps and a Witco from the Aku-Tiki Room.

        Meanwhile, we have to get to the Mai Kai!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Love this post!

    I just got into tiki a few years ago, which means I missed out on some great opportunities.

    I donated all but one of my grandparents’ Kon Tiki mugs — ouch.

    I was a few miles away from Smuggler’s Cove but didn’t know tiki existed… so I drank a beer at my hotel instead.

    In my biggest crime against tiki, I threw a fit when my parents tried to take me to the Kahiki… didn’t eat my meal (but I did enjoy the rainstorm)… and made them take me to McDonald’s — for pizza.

    Now, that happened when I was just in fourth grade. But I still regret it.

    Next month, I’m visiting LA and (hopefully) making my way to every tiki bar there. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

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