Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Jayme vs. Pilikia

Since we moved into the new house more than two years ago, I've been growing more and more interested in tiki. Palm trees and the swimming pool will do that to a person. But up until maybe 6 months or so ago, I had no idea tiki culture remained an active scene, as opposed to one that died out in the '70s. This, despite the fact that I built myself a tiki bar, which made its debut at my book release party back in August. Over the weekend, as you may or may not know, I attended ConDFW in Fort Worth. Well, I had learned that a new tiki bar, Pilikia, had recently opened up in Dallas. Since I had no programming obligations Friday night, and seeing as how I'd never visited an actual, for-true tiki bar before, I thought I'd make the jaunt over to Dallas and check it out.

First advice about driving in Dallas--don't do it. What mapped out as a 30 minute trip turned into an hour ordeal once all the road construction, detours and missed exits are accounted for. Pilikia itself is near the downtown just off the spaghetti snarl of highways, a few miles from both West End and SMU campus. The neighborhood seemed quiet, a mix of old businesses, small warehouses and big, new apartment complexes going up, your typical gentrification process in action. The parking lot seemed smallish, and it's valet only (tip based, with no additional fee) which threw me a bit. There doesn't seem to be any convenient street parking nearby, so to my eye the lot is likely to fill up long before the bar itself does. The pergola-covered patio area with the bright Pilikia sign on top presents well from the street, but the entrance itself, with a thatch awning, flanking tikis and a big moai off to the side, seems a little tacked on.

I was unsure what to expect after the exterior mix of industrial with tiki, but the immediate inside of Pilikia dazzled. To the right of the door was a small seating area separated from the main bar by rope/railing. The entire wall was taken up by backlit, golden skulls. It was really pretty darn stunning, especially if you're not expecting it. Centered on that wall is a small bar, which looked to be dedicated to a DJ setup, or something like that. I can't see them actually serving drinks there.

The wall between the skull wall and the door had a cabinet filled with tastefully arranged clutter. It wasn't jam-packed enough to be entirely authentic, but considering the skull wall overwhelms everything on that end of the bar, I'll cut 'em some slack.

They had some nice lighting effects on this tiki right across the rope room divider.

And this is the main barroom as seen from directly in front of the skull wall. It was neat and clean, orderly, with subdued lighting and good tiki-style eye candy. Pretty much what one would expect of a tiki bar in Dallas, if you took the time to preconceive a notion. I'd arrived about 8:30 on a Friday night, and while there were several groups of patrons there, I'd have expected it to be a little more crowded.

I'd intended to eat there, but it became clear very fast that this is primarily a bar, not a restaurant. The menu (below) appeared pretty much an afterthought, printed on a plain white sheet of paper as opposed to the nifty design of the regular drink menus. And it's geared toward feeding a larger group rather than individuals. Is this normal? I dunno--this is my first tiki bar. After debating for a few minutes, nothing appealed to me so I gave it a pass. Someone else will have to report on the food quality.

The drink menu. Lighting was very dim, and I had to crank the ISO up way high on my camera to get this hand-held (no tripod with me) so it's very grainy. I uploaded this image larger than the others for anyone who wants to click through to parse the drinks more closely.

Since I was driving myself, and had never had a real one, I ordered a single mai tai. The bartender was friendly and chatted as he mixed my drink. It was an impressive display. The drink itself was fine. Was it authentic? As far as I could tell it was, but I had no baseline for comparison. I've never had a real mai tai, that is, one that didn't come out of a bottled mix. I'd happily drink one again. Not so great was the $11 price tag. Ouch. I expected complex tiki drinks to cost more than your standard issue rum-and-Coke, but still. And there was a lot of ice in that tiki mug. I guess I need to reset my expectations.

Here are a couple of detail shots from the bar.

Here's one of the behind-the-bar liquor alcove. There were two of these. And the friendly bartenders at work. Neither one of these guys made my mai tai.

Here's the big, glowing tiki behind the bar. I have to say, this guy was magnificent. Apart from the skull wall, easily my favorite part of the place. He had serious personality, if you know what I mean. And tucked off to big glowing tiki's left was a diving helmet. It was very easy to overlook. I can't help but think they're misusing this piece. Personally, I love these old diving helmets and hope to get one someday for my own tiki project and turn it into a lamp.

Speaking of lamps, with a bar that impressive, they're bound to have some amazing tiki lights hanging on the ceiling above, right? Right? Oh dear...

Let's pretend we didn't see that, and instead look at the big, glowing treasure chest that at one point held what was undoubtedly a potent group cocktail, followed by a view of the main seating area from the bar. See that doorway there in the middle? That leads outside.

Here we go outside. The main barroom area of Pilikia is pretty much a straight rectangle, and the outside forms an L around it. The long part is enclosed, with a patio roof and kind of a wood plank wall to keep the elements out, but it's not climate controlled. The photo below is looking into the bar proper, the windows corresponding to the peacock chair booths.

Immediately to the left coming out of the bar proper is a raised platform with an assortment of lounge chairs, daybeds and the like. I tried a couple and they weren't as comfy as they appeared. Primary decorations here were banana-faced tiki masks on the wall (yes, I know they're supposed to be surf boards. But I keep expecting them to break out into the Chiquita banana song. So sue me). The positive feelings the interior decor begin to erode a little. This is starting to feel more store-bought than sincere.

This guy was tucked into a corner opposite the banana tikis. He didn't feel mass-produced. I liked him. Probably my favorite tiki in the place, apart from the big glowy guy behind the barn.

This is looking down the length of the L. The fireplace is a nice touch, but not particularly tiki. Most of the tiki decor is simply tacked onto the wall--Amazon masks, bamboo panels. It's about this time that I realize I hadn't seen any custom carvings. All of the wood posts, walls and beams are bare. If it's lucky, it'll have a colorful mask affixed to it.

There were a bunch of these guys outside. Tiki by Toscano? Don't get me wrong, as they're cool and I wouldn't mind having them at my place. But everything outside is feeling like they went shopping at Tikis R Us and grabbed whatever was on the shelf.

Decent bamboo chairs at tables on the short end of the L. This is the part visible from the street, with the bright, rectangular Pilikia above. The area's covered by the pergola. The live bamboo screen is a nice touch, and will be nicer once the boo grows in to make a thicker screen. The next photo shows the secondary bar in the L. Old banana face makes another appearance.

After this, I got bored and figured it was time to go. I finished off my mai tai and headed back inside to see if I'd missed anything on my first pass. Above each of the peacock chair booths was this type of lamp. It's a definite step up from those bare bulb things over the bar, but I've seen a lot better homemade lamps on Tiki Central. I realized I hadn't noticed any blowfish lamps, so I specifically looked for some. Found two in the bar proper. The first, here, was behind netting hanging from the ceiling. The effect would've been better with more flotsam and jetsam cluttering the net. As it was, the net was pretty much empty. The other blowfish lamp was hanging not too far away, between the wall of skulls area and the bar. They'd installed color-changing bulbs in them (which I assume is a common practice) and while I'm not the biggest fan of blowfish lamps, I have to admit the effect was kinda cool.

I found this abandoned drink sitting underneath an orchid on an endtable. I thought it an interesting image. Not far away was this pineapple head tiki was at the front, near the exit. It amused me.

Pilikia made a powerful first impression on me, then steadily frittered it away the longer I stayed. The outside/deck came off as an afterthought. The music selection seems to be a big complaint amongst tikiphiles, and I can see why. No exotica played while I was there. Mostly they seemed locked in to playing inoffensive reggae/Caribbean hits. I chuckled a little when "Pass the Dutchie" came on, then cringed when Shaggy's "Angel" started playing (I can't say how much I hate that song). I stayed about 45 minutes and those were the only two tunes I recognized--no Bob Marley or even the Killer Bees. It's like they knew current top 40 was inappropriate, but couldn't be bothered to figure out what they should play instead. If they're not doing exotica, then bossa nova or Cuban jazz would've set the tone better.

Overall, Pilikia is trying for an upscale vibe with this club, and while I don't think tiki bars need to be a dive, I kinda feel they should be more egalitarian. I liked the interior, but the outside decor was just going through the motions. I came away with the impression that Pilikia was comprised of equal parts honest effort and pretentiousness. There's not a whole lot in Dallas that's authentic, and in that sense, Pilikia fits right in.

I'd go again if the opportunity presented itself, but I wouldn't make a special effort visit.

Now Playing: Antonio Carlos Jobim Wave
Chicken Ranch Central

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