Step­ping into a time ma­chine

The Weekend Post - - Views -

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.

Ma­halo, dudes.

MEM­O­RABLE: Elvis Pres­ley in a scene from film Blue Hawaii.

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