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Posts Tagged 'tropical'

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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El Niño Is Coming

topex_pacific_2003097_lrgHave you been enjoying our warm weather lately? I sure have. I just recently put on jeans for the first time in over 3 weeks. I’m not sure if I’ve ever worn shorts for that long in my entire life in San Francisco. It’s a sign — El Niño is coming.

I predicted this last year. Summer last year was freezing and I also don’t think I had heard more people misquoting Mark Twain talking about The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. It was cold alright, but when our San Francisco Indian Summer kicked in it became kind of magical here. The problem was that usually around late November it starts to get cold — it didn’t. It was a bit on the cool side, but nothing near what it should have been. As time went on we had more warm weather with a freak downpour in February that lasted about 15 minutes after which I was seeing steam coming off the ground in the Sunset District.

It was then I knew that I was right and El Niño would be coming. NOAA has been saying we’ll have one, but it won’t be huge. I’m predicting it will be a pretty big one. We had a big one in 1999 which means only about five people were here to experience it. Let me tell you what it was like…

Expect rain, lots of rain. It’ll be different than the usual rain in that it will be more like it’s raining in Hawaii. It will be like someone turned a firehose on San Francisco for 15-20 minutes and then it will stop. The rain will be so heavy that when it stops if you are driving that you will have to drive through a temporary river that takes another 10 minutes to flow away. It will then be sunny and warm again. The general weather will change from overcast to sunny all throughout the day with weird downpours every now and then. The weirdest part of the rain is that it’ll come from smaller clouds that won’t be blocking out the sun so you’ll get a fierce downpour combined with sun which can look like diamonds falling from the sky. In 1999 it was so bizarre that on New Years Eve I was sitting out in front of my house BBQ’ing Ostrich steaks [I had money back then].

Rain is good. California needs it badly. It will help our drought problem, but it won’t make it go away. California is one of the largest agricultural providers in the entire United States so any water we can get we’ll take. You have to keep in mind though that will lots of sudden rain there will be problems — like land slides.

If you live in Marin or on the Peninsula expect to encounter the hills flowing into your backyards. I remember reading about lots of people losing their homes last time the big El Niño hit us. If you have even a little bit of survivalist in you I’d stock up now just in case. If you’re in San Francisco expect to see the storm drains overflowing to the point that you’ll see a few manhole covers rising up from water pushing its way out. If you’re living in the eastern part of the city where you might have a lower apartment, get sandbags. You’ll be flooded. If there’s any drainage system in place make sure it works because it will be overloaded.

El Niño is a weird phenomenon that hits us about every 5 years where the water temperature in the ocean rises considerably. The warmer it gets the worse El Niño is for us. I remember in 1999 a friend of mine who was a scuba diver bought a dry suit to keep him warmer during his dives and he ended up never putting it on once that year. San Francisco will become a little more tropical for a few months so the best thing I can say is to enjoy it and hope that it’s big enough to put a dent in our drought.

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Whitecaps: Barbabos

Yes, this isn’t about San Francisco, but remember it’s my wild weekend where I get to talk about anything and today I wanted to talk about Whitecaps in Barbados. I have a couple of close friends who have purchased a three bedroom house there that when they aren’t visiting they rent it out. They needed a website to best display the house so who do they come to…me of course.

I have never visited Barbados, but from the looks of the pictures, I definitely will one day and I will be staying at Whitecaps. I was given a tour via skype of the house [yes, the house has wi-fi] and it is pretty spectacular. I could hear the waves crashing on the beach because you’re literally about 50′ from the beach. Barbados is definitely geared for tourists which if you look at the photos in the gallery you can see that there are many shows that go on for free at the local plaza that’s within walking distance.

The food is very inexpensive there and fresh the fish and Barbados goats are all over the place so chances are good that it was alive a few hours before you purchase it. When you bring it back to the house you simply hand it over to Waple who is your personal chef that will cook all your meals. You also have a personal concierge who will help you arrange your site seeing trips around the island. In the evening you don’t have to work as there are two security guards that will make sure the house is secure. You also have your own maid service so you don’t even need to worry about making your bed every day.

Just to give you the full blown what you get for your money, allow me to cut and paste from their website:

  • Three bedrooms for a total of six guests
  • Three private bathrooms: two with tubs, one with a walk-in shower
  • Wet bar
  • Flat-screen TV with Bose sound system
  • WiFi internet access
  • Your own personal chef
  • Your own maid service
  • Located on Mullins Beach
  • Lovely shaded garden area for entertaining

Whitecaps is right on the beach halfway between Mullins Bay and Gibbs Bay — a mere stone’s throw from the highly regarded Mullins Restaurant and Cocktail Bar on Mullins Beach.

There is a 24-hour convenience store within a five minute walk to the north and a fabulous little gift shop, the Shell Gallery, a fifteen-minute walk to the south.

Further north lies Speightstown, a picturesque old town with a historical museum, an art gallery, a small supermarket, shops, a four-star restaurant (Mango by the Sea), banks with ATMs and a fish market, as well as farm stands offering the freshest tropical fruits and vegetables. It is about five minutes away by bus or taxi. To the south is Holetown, a larger community with high-end boutique shopping, a large supermarket, cafes and gift shops, banks with ATMs and a number of four-star restaurants. It’s ten minutes by bus or taxi.

While there are regular buses to and from Bridgetown, and taxis can be reserved for dinner dates, most guests will rent a car to have full run of the island, including the night life of St. Lawrence Gap and the many historic and scenic points elsewhere.

Note that for what us Americans consider a time to take a vacation is considered the off season and is $345/night. If you get another couple or two to make trip with you it becomes downright affordable. It’s pretty much always in the 80’s dropping to the upper 70’s at night so you won’t have to bring a heavy coat. I suggest lots of tank tops and shorts and maybe an eye patch if you want the total Pirates of the Caribbean vibe.

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