Monday, September 30, 2019

Texas Tiki Week: Opening Night

Last week Central Texas experienced the thing that is known as Texas Tiki Week. Technically, it's a fundraiser for the Austin chapter of the USBG, but for all practical purposes, it's a chance for folks across the state to get their tiki on. Currently, only the DFW and Houston areas have for-true commercial tiki bars, but hopefully by this time next year, Austin and San Antonio will be able to say the same.

Texas does not have the abundance of tiki goodness our friends on the West Coast does, or even the good people of Florida. But we're getting there. More and more people are getting into the spirit, and I've seen a definite uptick in participation since 2017, the first year I attended. For the 2019 edition, The Wife was hired to photograph the opening night party. I got a ticket and tagged along as her second shooter. We saw a bunch of old friend and met some new ones, having a grand time in the process. Three Dots and a Dash sent a crew down from Chicago to man a pop-up, and I have to say, their Japanese whisky-based "7-Day Weekend" cocktail knocked my socks off. The garnish was "salt air" which is simultaneously uber pretentious and as apt a description as possible. Apart from the Three Dots crew, local tiki-bar-to-be, Tiki Tatsu-ya, held sway over the inside bar and served up outstanding drinks all night long as well. Count me among the few hundred or so people impatient for them to open already. The food was delicious (excellent poke cones!) and King Pelican, a veteran surf band from San Antonio, rocked the house. When they weren't playing, Brother Cleve did some seriously inspired DJing (what can I say? He won me over with Mancini's theme from "A Shot In The Dark").

The cocktails were excellent. The food was excellent. The music was excellent. The company and conversation were excellent. Complaints? Well, it was too damn hot, but that's pretty much a given in Texas in September. Parking was a hassle, but that's pretty much a given for Austin any time of the year. The fun ended way too soon, but hey, it was a school night and a whole week of tiki-themed goodness lay ahead. Mark your calendars for September of 2020, because this thing's only getting bigger and better.

Texas Tiki Week: Eekum Bookum
Texas Tiki Week: Rainey Street Crawl

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Friday, September 13, 2019

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I've always liked the Talking Heads and have enjoyed David Byrne's solo stuff, even if it is uneven. But I stumbled across this video he made for "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)" and wondered how could I have missed it when it first came out not quite a decade ago? I mean, I was generally following him on his blog back then, yet it slipped past me. This is very much vintage Heads surrealism here. The mid-century modern aesthetic is lovely and detached and, to be honest, I have no idea what that whole shtick symbolizes, if anything. Sometimes weirdness for the sake of weirdness is its own reward.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Andy Taylor.

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Thursday, September 12, 2019


Bamboo Ben is in San Antonio today. That's him to the right, in this 2004 photo by Lee Unkrich. "Who is Bamboo Ben?" you may ask. Well, I'll tell you: Bamboo Ben is the foremost tiki bar designer and builder working today. He's the grandson of Eli Hedley, who earned the moniker "the Original Beachcomber" and did design work for many of the great, original tiki bars and restaurants back in the 1940s and 1950s. Bmaboo Ben has built and/or designed dozens upon dozens of tiki bars over the past 20-plus years, including Strong Water, Mamahune Kauai, Bamboo Club, Zombie Village, TikiCat, Frankie's Tiki Room, Pacific Seas, Kona Club, Forbidden Island, Jan & Dean's Tiki Lounge, plus many, many lush home tiki bars all over the country, ranging from Pixar directors in California to Austin's own Moai Ice House.

And he's in San Antonio. Today, September 12, talking about a tiki bar build.

This is a big freakin' deal, to us the technical term. Tiki culture by an large avoided Texas during tiki's heyday, mainly because 1) Texas' historically restrictive liquor laws and 2) lack of basements curtailed the home bar culture. Even so, over the years Houston and Dallas have played host to outposts from Don the Beachcomber, Trader Vic and Stephen Crane. Austin had Steak Island. Even Corpus Christi had the Lahala House. Of Texas' major cities, only San Antonio--ironically, the one with the biggest tourism industry--has had no full-blown tiki experience. Oh, sure, San Antonio has had a few places that flirt with tiki cocktails (Hot Joy is the current fave) but nothing that fit the traditional, escapist exotica mold.

Exactly where Ben may work his magic with lauhala matting is not confirmed (and really, he's not under contract yet that I know of) but it's easy to make an educated guess. Last November, Ben Olivo reported in the San Antonio Heron that the old Witte Building, located at the end of the River Walk on 135 E. Commerce St., was in line for a major makeover that would include a full-blown tiki bar at river level (photo by Ben Olivo):

The group behind this project is Chris Hill, who owns the popular Esquire Tavern a short distance away. Houston Eaves is attached to manage the tiki bar. These are well-established movers and shakers in the San Antonio hospitality scene, and they have money behind the project. This isn't a fly-by-night, on-the-cheap attempt to cash in on tiki's current popularity. From what I've seen, they've done their research and are doing everything right. Hiring Bamboo Ben (or at least having serious discussions with him) is yet another sign they're determined to avoid any missteps with this project. In February, Olivo reported that the project had received approval for 11 gas-powered tiki torches. Wow! That's some serious infrastructure along the lines of what Disney has at the Polynesian Village, or the Mai Kai in Fort Lauderdale. That's not cheap, or fast, or easy. It's flashy and eye-catching, and will literally stand out as something unlike anything else that currently exists on the River Walk.

I, for one, cannot wait to see this open. Heck, I can't wait to find out what it'll be called. One thing's for sure, though: Inertia counts for a lot. This project is a lot farther along than any other abortive tiki efforts in recent years have gotten. Pitfalls remain, but knock wood, I think this thing is really happening.

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Friday, September 06, 2019

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

The universe is weird. A few weeks ago, this song popped into my head, unannounced. I hadn't heard it in decades and barely remembered anything about it beyond its chorus. Who was the singer? I had the vague notion it was associated with Duran Duran, but obviously it wasn't a Duran Duran song. That band's members were doing a lot of solo projects in the mid-80s, though. Power Station? The guitar rock fit, but that obviously wasn't Robert Palmer on vocals. John Taylor? No, he proved he couldn't sing with "I Do What I Do." And it wasn't Simon Le Bon, because everything he's done since Arcadia sounds like Arcadia. I was stumped. Then last week, riding in The Wife's car, out of the blue "Take It Easy" starts playing on the radio. Oh, Andy Taylor! Well, that solves that mystery, although I have to say it was an awful lot of brain power to devote to a song I only sorta liked in the first place. I have to say, though, that the actress in the video's movie clips sure has some moves. I wonder if "American Anthem" is any good--I missed it back when it came out.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Prince.

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