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Tiki Culture

Trader Vic'sI’ve always had a thing for tiki culture. It must have started when I was a kid and my Mom liked to go with her friends to a restaurant on the Peninsula called the Castaways that had a fashion show while you were eating and women [usually in bikini tops] would walk up to your table and give you an up close view of their outfit. Because of this I think I started to go through puberty at about seven.

It was more than the girls though, Tiki Culture was still kind of big when I was a kid having hit its peak in the 50’s when Hawaii joined the United States as its 50th state. The whole Tiki Culture thing started long before Hawaii became a state though.

It actually started in 1934 when A guy named Ernest Gantt started a bar and restaurant called Don The Beachcomer in Hollywood. He invented lots of tiki drinks that had nothing to do with Hawaii or anywhere else in the tropics other than the fact that they used rum which was pretty cheap at the time. Ernest changed his name to Donn Beach to solidify his place along with one of the mainstays of tiki cocktails, the Zombie.

Not too long after Don The Beachcomber opened though then a man by the name of Victor Bergeron visited the Beachcomber and thought to himself…I can do this one better. Trader Vic’s soon replaced Hinky Dinks in Oakland and with his keen eye for business Trader Vic’s blossomed. There were locations opening up all over the US with the last one oddly enough opening up in Hawaii. Victor Bergeron has himself seated at the tiki hierarchy along with Donn Beach because of this and Trader Vic created the famous Mai Tai.

Not so surprising Trader Vic’s caused a blossoming in the San Francisco Bay Area of tiki bars. There is of course the Tonga Room at the Fairmont Hotel that has been saved for now from closing. For those in need of more of a dive tiki bar there was Trad’r Sam’s in the outer Richmond which is probably one of the last places that you would expect to find a tiki bar.

These were all the old school tiki bar/restaurants. The drinks were strong and the food, while somewhat pedestrian by today’s foodie standards were Americanized version of Asian food with appetizers like Crab Rangoon or Rumaki usually being served. The entire environment was dress how people expected the tropics to be, not necessarily how they were. My wife and I went to Hawaii and when the heat and humidity hit here when we got of the plane I was surprised she didn’t turn right back around and fly home. In San Francisco you don’t have to worry about heat and humidity though so the cheap grass skirt hangings and wooden canoes were just nice and not what you would see in your everyday life.

Tiki bars and their culture were a form of escapism and San Francisco was no better place to escape from it all. There were other places around the city that had bits and pieces of tiki influence that weren’t tiki bars. If you go to Bimbo’s 365 club they still have the fish tank behind the bar where through optical effects a girl down below dressing in a mermaid outfit looked like she was swimming around in the tank. Most bars would make a Mai Tai or Zombie, but they never did it as well as where they originated.

The Vietnam war started to cause a fade in Tiki Culture, but it never disappeared as a form of necessary escapism for many. I know of several friends who’ve created tiki bar like home bars that are always a lot of fun to have a drink at, but when those drinks come cheaper your liver might protest a bit more.

The Tiki Culture of yesterday has made a comeback though which is a good thing. Trader Vic’s, the Tonga Room and Trad’r Sam’s are still in business now joined by Smuggler’s Cover, Bamboo Hut and Tiki Haven among others. The older places have updated a bit [well, maybe not Trad’r Sam’s] and the new places are giving a spin on Tiki Culture for the new millennia. Definitely check out at least one of the old and one of the new so you can compare and don’t forget your Hawaiian shirt!

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You Don’t Know The Sunset…

This is fog.I haven’t been getting out as much as I’d like lately, but that will be changing soon. Because I haven’t been getting out that much I’ve been pretty much restricted to the Sunset District where I live. It’s one of the largest districts in San Francisco that also includes the Parkside, but no one really knows or cares where the barriers are. It’s easy figuring out where the Sunset stops and Richmond starts because you’ve got this big divider called Golden Gate Park in between. Something I’ve notice recently in reading about how other people describe the Sunset district is that they don’t really know anything about it. I’m here to change that.

Apparently people who like to tell other people what the Sunset district is like tend not to be from the Sunset district or have usually only lived here for around 6 months [usually November to May]. Because of this they don’t get a good understanding of this part of San Francisco and it’s a shame because more people would love it if it wasn’t just a place they drove through on a hot day to go to the beach.

  • You want sun? We got sun and it's by the beach too!It’s always foggy here. Well, we do have fog. Hell I’m almost certain that the twitter account @KarlTheFog was started here. The Sunset district has been known for it’s fog for years. The thing is that we have lots of fog compared to downtown, the Mission, Potrero Hill. It’s kind of like a friend who was here from San Diego on a foggy night and said, oh crap it’s raining. No, that’s called fog. That’s the way fog is supposed to be. It’s supposed to be thick and wet. People who say it’s foggy when they have to look up and see clouds in the sky don’t know what fog is. It’s also not like that all year round. Usually it starts in the mornings when you leave the house to go to work. Once you’ve gotten on the bus and are on your way up past 25th avenue then @KarlTheFog decides to take a nap and it clears up.
    We actually have some sunny days out here as well. Actually we have a lot more since that whole global warming/climate change happened. June-August is when you run into the most fog, but it’s usually more overcast than fog. Wife and I took our daughter out to the zoo this morning and it was actually pretty sunny. I actually had to wear a hat and sunglasses. Summertime for the Sunset district and the rest of the city starts in late August where you’ve got sun almost every day and believe it or not it’s warm which leads me to…
  • It’s always cold in the Sunset district. Not true. November to February is the worst and we might get a couple of mornings where the temperature is in the 30’s, but it’s usually in the upper 40’s during that time. Now that we’re into June and it’s warming up our lows are in the 50’s and we’ve been getting quite a few days where the highs are in the 70’s. Later on in the year during our summer you’ll definitely get weather in the 80’s & 90’s and if you’re invited over to someone’s house here who has a deck in back you’ll find in the afternoon that the concrete backing radiates the heat onto the deck and you’ll be experiencing quite a few days with heat that breaks 100°. The nice part is because we get the fog [real fog] people enjoy the sun more. Like I mentioned earlier on hot days people come out to the beach. Why would they come out to the beach if the weather is always in the 50’s like they say?
  • Riptide Chilled GreezeWe’re boring and uncool. This usually comes from people who aren’t from here. The them boring is a lack of a thriving night life or as I like to call it, gunfire and crime. San Francisco isn’t a place you go to and expect to live it up 24/7. As many people say we roll up the streets at 10pm, but that’s also because we tend to be more morning types out here because once the early morning fog burns off when we get it it’s actually a very nice place to walk around. We’re uncool because we don’t have hipsters. That’s fine with me if what you’re referring to are Mission St. Hipsters, but we’ve got lots of people in retro clothes sitting behind laptops at just about any coffee shop you walk by. One of the distinctive things people use to describe hipsters is the sort of retro shabby chic look which if you really want to find you need to come to the Sunset district. We’ve got places to shop here that have been here since WWII.
  • There’s no cool places to eat. What? Do you mean eat or sit around and sip overpriced coffee and nosh on overpriced tidbits? We’ve got better burrito and taco shops than the Mission, better pizza than, well SF isn’t really known for pizza, but you’ll find a couple of the best plaOuterlandsces out here if you know where to look and the prices are less than most other parts of town. As you get out towards the beach on Judah, Noriega, Sloat and parts of Taraval you’ll find a thriving food scene that’s building up speed. We have all the fancy coffee you can drink in several places and you haven’t lived to be a real San Franciscan until you’ve done a proper pub crawl of dive bars out here that are hipper than the hipster dive bars [personal pick is the Riptide and Blackthorn]. If that’s not edgy enough for you how about a mobile BBQ joint that operates on a bicycle that you tweet for your food?

I could go on and on, but let me just say that if I was stuck here for six months I would be able to live comfortably without having to drive more than five minutes to find what I’m looking for. Oh yeah you can drive out here and even park. If more startups knew about how nice it was to be out here I’d only have to walk five minutes to work or could bike to work without having to worry about being run over by drivers.

Your dream comes true, then you’re kicked in the nuts

Well it finally happened. I have had my dream come true. My dream has always been to get a job where I made enough money to shop at Andronico’s regularly. That doesn’t mean I’d only shop there, just that I had enough money in my pocket that I wouldn’t flinch when I saw he cash register ring up.

Well, now there’s a problem. Andronico’s may be going out of business.There’s a good chance they will be bought out by a company called Renovo, and I’m hoping they will. I love their meat department and deli department and the fact that it’s not always crowded and you can find products that you can’t find at other stores. I’ve written about them before and this morning we went in to pick up a few things at the deli and I happened to walk past their cheese section and actually was able to stop and look at the cheeses with the possibility of buying some. I did, and I also hit the olive bar which I love and stocked up heavily.  It felt good to now be able to eat more healthy food than the cheap packaged crap that’s out there that’s pushed my blood pressure up a few times that I could have exploded.

I’m keeping my hopes up for now that they’ll still be there next week.

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