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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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Living The Techy Life

Mug for the camera. Microsoft wants to see where their money went...I went to a mixer last night which is sort of like an all you can eat buffet for techies and in talking with a few people I started to understand how people with a tech background survive in the City.

First off you have to get invited to lots of mixers or meet ups. They’re free, offer food and lots of free booze. They run from 4pm to around midnight depending upon the day of the week. The food and booze is sponsored by large tech companies or at least partially underwritten to make it less expensive to the attendees. So let’s see what I got last night.

I walked in and was handed two free drink tickets. These were pretty much good for anything from a coke to a long island ice tea. I’ve just saved potentially $20. After walking in the door and before I could get a drink the food servers got me. I was offered [not in order of appearance] crab cakes, mushroom duxelles on toast, smoked salmon on toast, kobe beef styled sliders with grilled onions, grilled polenta dusted with parmesan, sweet potato fries with a habanero aioli to name what I can remember. I stayed a little over an hour and I have to say I left overly stuffed. When I got home I could barely keep my eyes open from the food coma I was in and had one of the best nights sleep I’ve had in a long time. Getting seconds and thirds of the food wasn’t uncalled for, but expected that evening and I probably got an extra 2000 calories to add to my diet that day. Total cost for the evening? $2 muni fare round trip because I was able to transfer back home in under the hour and a half time frame.

As I was walking down Montgomery street to the location I noticed something about downtown that I hadn’t in awhile because I don’t go there very often. Most of the people were in a severely dressed down state. I could count the number of button down shirts on one had and most of those were worn by the doormen at the various clubs along the way. Most of the people looked like they bought their clothes at a Goodwill and aimed for the lower end stuff. Passing by 111 Minna there were an large number of hipsters all with bike messenger bags yet there wasn’t a single bike to be found. 111 Minna has a low entry fee and cheap beer so if you’ve got a few extra bucks it’s a good place to end an evening or start one if you’re not hungry.

Now let’s relate this to the techy life. San Francisco we all know is an expensive town to live in. If you work here it’s almost as if no matter how much they pay you, it’s never enough. The ways you make ends meet is by attending the meet ups and mixers. They have them for breakfast, lunch and dinner so if you swing it right you never need to have food in your house. You can supplement those with the perks your business offers you such as chips and cookies before you run home to your your apartment that other people would call a closet. While I’m not as into the tech field as many other people I could still eat out on someone else’s dime for about three nights a week.

To get the techy look you have to buy used clothing or just have not bought clothes since Web 1.0. You very rarely need a button down shirt so you only need to own one that you can keep in your closet and pull it out once a year when you have to dress up or attend a funeral. The bike messenger bag is for carrying all your laptop/tablet and to stuff swag that you get at the meet ups, or stuff food into for a late night snack.

I never had to live this lifestyle since before I got my house the rent was way cheaper and I wasn’t spending upwards of $40k/year just on rent. While I can’t fully relate to it, I do have to say that I admire the way they get by. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go pull the kobe beef sliders and smoked salmon out of my jacket from last night.