the underbelly

Tiki Time
April 9, 2008, 1:02 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

This year marks the 45th anniversary of Disney’s tiki room “ride.” A ride which is actually more of an experience that is near and dear to my heart and childhood. What can I say, I’m a sucker for animatronics (somehow robots don’t scare me when they’re making puns and singing songs). Also, my parents are going to Hawaii without me. So because I can’t celebrate the tiki spirit neither in Annaheim nor in the islands that inspired it, I did the next best thing: went to two tiki bars.

The New York tiki bar is a weird concept. Tiki bars are colorful, tacky, they draw attention to themselves. On a recent visit to our fair city, a friend from California remarked that New Yorkers “all look the same” in that we all dress in black. When she asked why I answered that it was because we didn’t want to stand out…I believe my exact words were, “that’s how you get mugged.” So it is in keeping with that sensibility that our most popular bars are speakeasies, hidden away, unnoticed, secretive, just like we like to be.

So, against my instincts, I went to the noticeable bars.

I tried to go to Waikiki Wally’s, a teal blue monstrosity on the corner of 1st and 2nd. The door was unlocked but when I went in it was creepily deserted – chairs were still up on tables, the lights were bright, the storage door was open, but no one was around. So i let that idea go.

I went instead to Otto’s Shrunken Head on 14th between A and B. Otto’s = irony. At its heart it’s a punk bar. Hard music plays through the speakers. The patrons, all 7 of them, were wearing leather (black, of course). They were drinking beer. But the bar looked like it was trying, or had been trying years ago, to be tiki. There were masks, grass thatching, palm trees painted on the wall, skulls, blowfish lights…but it imparted no joy. I ordered a mai tai because I figured that’s what you’re supposed to order and the bartender served it to me in a brown ceramic frowning tiki mug. A blue paper umbrella perched on the rim and a straw with purple, shiny streamers stuck out the top. It tasted like a …well…like a long island ice tea – that is to say it tasted like alcohol and sour mix.  But now I know where to go if I ever just feel like a night of punk rock irony.

So I traveled back across the bridge to my home neighborhood of hipster heavy Williamsburg where I ducked into Surf Bar on North 6th and Bedford.  What a difference a couple of stops down the L makes.  When you first step into Surf Bar you’ll notice that you’re not stepping on anything typical for New York – wood, concrete, rats.  You’re on sand.  Yep, the whole bar/restaurant is covered in sand.  This is cute.  But kind of annoying.  I’m still finding sand in my wardrobe from my vacation a couple of weeks ago, I don’t need to be carrying any more of it home.  This time I ordered another traditional tiki fav: a zombie.  It was served to me in a plastic model of a bikini-clad woman’s torso.  yum.  It was strong, so I sipped slowly while enjoying the warblings of Sinatra that floated through the small shack.  It felt almost authentically tiki….fish in tanks, bright colors, retro music…but the bartender brought me back down to Brooklyn – head to toe black sporting the latest hipster trend of a snidely wiplash ‘stache…


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Don’t take it personally. Excellent post.

Your Father

Comment by Laurence Sterling

I was living next to Waikiki Wally’s last year. The patronage NEVER reached more than a dozen. Lucky Chengs was much more exciting, but that deserves a post all of its own.

Comment by Nadia

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