Friday, December 21, 2018

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I know most Weird Al Yankovic fans go nuts over "The Night Santa Went Crazy," but for my money nothing will ever touch his insanely cheerful holiday ode to nuclear annihilation, "Christmas at Ground Zero."

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Jill Sobule.

Now Playing: Martin Denny Exotica Vol. 2
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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Peter Masterson (1934-2018)

Actor, writer and director Peter Masterson has died. A versatile and talented man, Masterson had roles in The Stepford Wives, The Exorcist and directed The Trip to Bountiful. He was married to Tony Award-winning actress Carlin Glynn and was father to actress Mary Stuart Masterson. Despite that grand track record, he's probably best known for co-writing and co-directing a little musical play by the name of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

Masterson was very generous with his time as far as I was concerned. I reached out to him via mutual acquaintances when I first started researching Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch and had several conversations with him via phone from his home in Kinderhook, NY, in 2010. He was friendly and forthcoming, and supportive of my project. He gave me a lot of good material, including some entertaining stories about Miss Edna's brief stint as a Broadway performer. One quote from him stood out for me, and I used it to close chapter 14, encapsulating how a strange, regional story blew up and became an international sensation:

"One of the things when we made the show, a number of people--including Universal Pictures--wanted us to change the title because they wouldn't take out ads at first, the newspapers and television. On buses in New York. They wouldn't put out ads in the tube stations in London," Masterson said. "I said, 'That's a deal-breaker. I'm going to make whorehouse a household word.'

"And we kinda have."
Peter Masterson was one of the Good Guys. He will be missed.

Now Playing: Original Broadway Cast Recording The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas
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Monday, December 17, 2018

Jayme vs. Lei Low

For the most part, my tiki excursions have taken place far afield. Texas has never been what one would consider a hotbed of tiki action, so the biggest and most interesting places are those we've had to travel to. But in recent years, there've been a few new tiki spots open up. Alas, not all of them survive. Howie's Tiki, in Spring, was open only a few years before closing its doors last month. Despite the fact I used to regularly visit Spring in the past, I never had a chance to visit the place. Another location with good word-of-mouth is Lei Low in Houston. When I found myself in Houston for a lecture a couple of months back, I made sure to block some time into my schedule for a visit.

People who've been to Lei Low will tell you it is easy to miss, that it's in a strip mall and doesn't look like much from the outside. They understate things, if anything. The "strip mall" hardly qualifies, it's that tiny. The North Houston area, just inside the 410 loop, doesn't look like one that supports any type of socially-oriented business. I was looking for Lei Low and missed it completely on first pass. The sign at the edge of the parking lot (right) doesn't grab your attention. The parking lot's small. Even after parking and seeing the neon "Rum" sign above the door, and "Aloha" mural painted on the wall, my natural inclination was to wonder if I'd found the right place.

It was! It was the right place! I stepped through the door and immediately entered that sensory-immersion all good tiki bars exude. The lighting was appropriately dim. The thatched A-frame behind the bar was a nice touch. The walls were covered by bamboo and matting and cluttered--if neat--decor. Float lamps and netting hung from the ceiling. A rattan peacock chair surrounded by carved tikis and plant life awaited just inside the door. There were several groups of people inside engaging in friendly conversation and cocktails. It immediately felt like a tiki bar.

Okay, so the decor passed the smell test, what of the cocktails? I took a seat in the middle of the bar, and Caitlin immediately told me that since I was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, I automatically got Happy Hour prices (which I knew in advance, but it's nice that she went out of her way to point this out). I looked over the menu, and immediately went to their original cocktails. I'm not the biggest mai tai fan, so judging tiki bars on their mai tai is The Wife's responsibility. I wanted something that I couldn't get anywhere else, and their Pride of Barbados caught my eye. Described as a mix of passion fruit, poppy and amber rum that's force carbonated, it sounded like a bright, refreshing drink (I'd been on the road for hours, and pretty wiped out by this point). I'm a lover of all things passion fruit, and have to say this one hit the spot. Crisp, slightly tart, with a carbonation that wasn't overpowering. I liked it quite a bit.

After following my first cocktail with a glass of water, Caitlin figured out pretty quickly I was one of those tiki people, so she didn't have to explain things to me. We talked about the mai tai test, and how the Lei Low has a Hawaiian mai tai on the menu instead of the 1944 Trader Vic original. Caitlin said when I came back with The Wife we should order her off-menu mai tai, which is based on the 1944 original and "way better" than the pineapple-centric Hawaiian version. After discussing how my tastes tend toward complex and spicy cocktails, I ordered the Creole Swizzle. Caitlin said she's been about to suggest it for me. The cocktail, described as mix of rhum agricole, mint, lime and pamplemousse liqueur, was indeed a good choice. Not in Three Dots and a Dash spicy category, it was more in line with a ti punch, although there was a good bit more going on, flavor-wise. Another winner.

Because it was late and I was tired after a long drive, I'd intended to only try two cocktails. But the conversation was so entertaining and the atmosphere engaging that I broke down and decided to have a third. It was hard to make up my mind with 13 original recipes to choose from, but Voodoo Shark caught my eye. Caitlin warned me that it had a slight touch of Absinthe in it (my dislike of licorice/anise having come up during conversation) but after a moment of consideration, I decided to brave my aversion and try the drink anyway. Served in a shark mug, this was one of those where a single-serve bottle of rum is inserted in the drink, kind of like a reverse float. Described as rum, Louisiana satsuma rum, mango, spice and lime, I have to say the cocktail wasn't bad to start with. It was fruity and spicy in good ways, with the Absinthe buried under all the other flavors so as not to bother me. What I should've done is take the bottle of Louisiana satsuma rum and mix it all together with the rest of the cocktail. I didn't. I'd consumed more than half of the drink before realizing the mini bottle was still mostly full. So I mixed it at that point, but the result was harsh and unbalanced. It felt like my final few sips were pure rum, and this was not what I'd describe as a sipping rum. Live and learn. I suppose I could chalk it up to user error, but Voodoo Shark was my least favorite cocktail of the night and not one I'm inclined to order again.

The back corner, with a booth, stone wall and dark bamboo was the most classically-retro tiki spot in the place. The black velvet paintings were perfect mood-setters. This is where I felt most transported back to tiki's 1950s heyday.

Music wasn't as much of a high point. They had a DJ when I visited, and while I heard a handful of Martin Denny/Arthur Lyman tracks early on, the vast majority of music was of 80s pop/rock variety. I grew up with that sound, so I didn't dislike it, but as I've commented elsewhere, it's not a good sound for setting an escapist, tropical mood. It was not as bad as the Alibi playing 70s guitar rock, but that's setting the bar pretty low.

Sadly, they did not have any souvenir tiki mugs for me to buy. Because of space limitations--no storage to speak of--they only produce limited edition mugs for their anniversary parties. I can understand that, but as someone who likes to collect mugs from the tiki bars I've visited, it's still disappointing. Caitlin must've sympathized with that disappointment, because she gave me a bunch of custom swizzles instead. "I know people trade these, so you should be able to get some cool ones," she explained. All in all, Lei Low was a positive experience. The atmosphere was good, even if the music was not idea. The drinks were mostly excellent and the bar staff--mainly Caitlin--made me feel like a regular. The worst thing I can say about it was that the walls and decor were just a bit too neat and tidy, but the aura of a decades-old tiki bar doesn't happen overnight. They've still got time to accomplish this. I'll definitely be returning the next time I'm in Houston to work my way further through their menu of originals.

Now Playing: Robert Drasnin Voodoo II
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, December 14, 2018

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I love Jill Sobule. She's a talented performer who's never gotten the acclaim she deserves. Robert Earl Keen is a Texas treasure and a songwriting genius, so how can we go wrong when Jill covers Robert's classic tune, "Merry Christmas From the Family" I ask you? The answer: We can't. Enjoy.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Kinks.

Now Playing: Harry Belafonte Sings of the Caribbean
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Friday, December 07, 2018

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

It's not Christmas until the Kinks play "Father Christmas." You're welcome.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Guns N' Roses.

Now Playing: Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Going Places
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Monday, December 03, 2018

Jayme vs. the Mai Kai

Indulge me a moment, and revisit our road trip vacation to sunny Florida some months back. For those of you keeping score at home, you'll recall that our encounter with the Wreck Bar's mermaid show didn't turn out so hot. In a word, it pretty much soured our vacation, casting a pall over the entire family's mood. We had one last evening in Fort Lauderdale before starting the trek home, and I desperately hoped the legendary Mai-Kai could live up to its reputation and right the ship, to mangle a metaphor. I'd already made reservations, but the first thing I did that morning was drive over to the Mai-Kai--hours before it officially opened for dining--and signed up for the Mai-Kai Club Card. It's really a great deal, offering two complimentary show tickets plus a 25 percent discount on the dinner check, plus other incentives. I mean, one visit paid for the membership fee. The office workers were surprised to learn this would be my first visit, as the club is a perk mostly utilized by regulars. So, thanks tiki network!

We arrived for the 6 p.m. dinner and show. The kids have always thought dad's tiki fixation a little weird, so I was nervous. If the Mai-Kai underwhelmed them, I knew I'd take it personally. If the Mai-Kai underwhelmed me I don't know what I'd do. After the Wreck Bar, we just needed an evening of unequivocal fun. We were greeted at the entrance by an array of tikis and porthole doors at the entrance.

Inside, well, the inside looked like a tiki bar/Polynesian restaurant ought to look. Much has been made of the Mai-Kai's old school charm and service. That's well-deserved. They escorted us to our table and the family dove into the magnificent, overwhelming selection on the menu.

The Wife, breaking with tradition, ordered the Mara-Amu rather than a mai tai to start things off. The souvenir mug was the clincher. After all, if the Mai-Kai couldn't make a mai tai correctly, what hope did we have? Fortunately, the Mara-Amu was quite nice.

Her ordering the Mara-Amu simplified my menu choices. I ordered the Barrel 'o Rum for the souvenir mug. I've made variations of this recipe at home, and am a sucker for passionfruit. It was a strong choice to kick off the evening.

The kids got to enjoy elaborate tropical drinks of their own, albeit the non-alcoholic variety. The Boy ordered the Chocolate Typhoon. He reported it was satisfactory.

Fairy Girl ordered an Island Queen Colada.

Monkey Girl, when not begging for tastes of mom and dad's drinks, enjoyed a Maui Sunrise.

Next up, The Wife ordered a Pina Passion in a pineapple. The kids were impressed. I had some, but mostly The Wife and Monkey Girl split it.

This is part of one of our meals we ordered. I have no idea what it was. I had the twin pork chops, and they were most excellent. Even my picky son raved about his food. The flavors are uniformly spectacular.

The Wife gave in to the inevitable, and ordered a mai tai. It was good.

I wanted a Shrunken Skull, but to my bitter disappointment, learned that they were out of souvenir mugs! The horror! I've had Shrunken Skulls before, and it's in regular rotation in the Lagoon of Mystery, so I decided to expand my palate instead of revisiting that classic. After a bit of delay so I could reexamine the menu, I settled on the Bora Bora as a cocktail I'd never had and couldn't get anywhere else. After the fact, I learned that there's an anise component to the drink, but at the time the Demerara rum and tart citrus in the cocktail ruled the flavor profile and I quite liked it. Pretty much every cocktail was a winner. My only regret was that I could only sample so few on our visit.

We took turns getting up and wandering around the restaurant, soaking in all the details and atmosphere. The place is enormous, with eight dining rooms capable of seating close to 500 guests at a time (and that's not counting the Molokai Bar, which can hold an additional 150). Even then, the place is sold out on most nights and reservations are required. It is sprawling and amazing and easy to get lost in.

And then there is the garden. A winding path takes visitors through a tropical forest of palms, bird-of-paradise, ferns, bamboo and other lush greenery. Waterfalls and ponds abound. Carved wooden tikis are everywhere, as well as stonework idols. It is immersive. Some of the tikis are old and weathered, others are new and bright. It is quite pleasant to wander the paths and take everything in.

Following the garden path brings you back to the Mai-Kai, albeit by a different entrance. There are interesting and cool dining rooms and halls from this side that I missed on the first tour. There's a black velvet painting of one of the owners, as she looked decades prior, on one of the walls (at least, this is what the staff told us). The details in all the rooms are extraordinary.

Then the Polynesian show began. Words can't do it justice. The performers enacted renditions of dances from the various Polynesian cultures. I can't vouch for the authenticity of most of them, but I saw a Maori dance troupe perform last year, and I have to say, the Mai-Kai dancers nailed the intense facial expressions and hand movements that are unique to that culture. The fire dance was dazzling. Pretty much the entire show was dazzling. The Mai-Kai was spectacular, but the show was absolutely over-the-top.

On the way out, we ducked into the Molokai Bar for a quick look. We'd hoped to come back later in the evening without the kids to sample some of the other offerings on the menu, but that was not to be. I bought one of the cocktail menus from the gift shop to go with our souvenir mugs, and the, sadly, our visit to the Mai-Kai came to an end.

Did the Mai-Kai live up to expectations? Boy, howdy. And then some. The kids still talk about it. They were suitably impressed. When I'm working on the Lagoon of Mystery, they'll comment, "You should do X like they have at the Mai-Kai," and, "When can we go back?" I don't know if the kids will ever be into tiki like their old man, but at least now they understand the appeal. And that's good enough for me.

Now Playing: Peter Gabriel Security
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