Stepping into a time machine
I HAVE never been more excited to swish around my saliva with three close mates inside a massive rumfilled clamshell than I am now.
Contagions aside, the arrival this weekend of the first tiki bar ever to swing open its (probably bamboo) doors in Cairns is something I can really get around.
Ever since watching Elvis Presley’s seminal Blue Hawaii as a young fella, on monthly rotation on daytime TV, the decidedly kitschy tiki phenomenon has occupied a warm spot in the pulpy recesses of my brain.
The crooning heart throb gets out of the army, grabs his surfboard and starts working as a tour guide back in his hometown, but trouble strikes when every girl in existence falls for his charms.
Not an awful lot actually happens in the film.
The most memorable part has to be when Elvis cures a lovesick admirer’s suicidal tendencies by pulling her from the water, spanking her bottom and declaring: “I got a feelin’ this is gonna make the both of us feel an awful lot better.”
But there are gorgeous backdrops, silly/brilliant ditties, and this ostentatious nod to the starry-eyed utopian vision of being a barely-employed beach bum. That’s what tiki is all about.
Polynesian rhythms, Dick Dale’s reverb-heavy King of the Surf Guitar schtick, terrifying effigies to longdead gods carved from soft woods and hot babes squeezing into the most uncomfortable item of clothing known to the human race — coconut bras.
They all moosh together to create a wonderfully ridiculous phenomenon which bears little resemblance to true Hawaiian culture, but is fun, dumb, and awesome. Cultural appropriation done right. I’ve always loved the concept, but have only ever seen it on the screen. Enter the boys from Three Wolves. The budding speak-easy barons have been plugging away for months in a tiny little speck of a room underneath the Bushfire Bar and Grill on the Esplanade to cobble together a piece of 1950s American romanticism with a heavy helping of alcohol.
Vintage pictures of bikini-clad postcard models plaster the walls, bamboo is widely celebrated, and it looks you you have stepped into a time machine.
Flamingos Bar will be the smallest tippling spot in Cairns, perhaps in the city’s history, offering up shareable grogged-up drinks in receptacles vessels shaped like volcanoes, shark heads and clamshells.
The concept is so dumb that it cannot help but work.
It is a nod to the inexplicable origin of the tiki bars of yore, which seemed to pop up out of nowhere and storm the western world.
The story is contested but Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, known better as Don the Beachcomber, is widely accepted as the tiki bar’s founding father. A bootlegger who spent his younger years running wild in the South Pacific, he returned to the US in the 1930s with a love for Polynesian exocitism and mythology.
It helped him create a bar, also called Don the Beachcomber, combining the rum-rich cocktail recipes he had learnt abroad with weird decor like flaming torches, gaudy fabrics, flower leis and snarling carvings.
It developed into a highly successful chain of bars and restaurants, opening up in 25 different cities across the United States between the ’30s right up to the ’00s.
Now there is only one Don the Beachcomber bar operating worldwide, at Waikiki in Hawaii.
The Flamingos boys have no doubt done their research.
Pending the outcome of yard work, and how many people they can fit into the tight space, I plan to poke my noggin in over the weekend to finally cop a bit of the tiki weirdness I have craved since childhood.
MEMORABLE: Elvis Presley in a scene from film Blue Hawaii.