Tag Archives: Tiki

Kitsch-O-Rama !

1 Jun

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 It’s time for our annual trek out to Camp Dearborn for the Tin Can Tourists Annual Gathering. Tin Can Tourists is America’s oldest trailer and Motor Coach Club; they are truly “Rolling History”. This year 180 vintage auto campers registered for the event, trailers range from 8 to 30 feet and cover the decades from the 1930’s to the 80’s–in a word, it’s awesome! Camp Dearborn is owned by the city of Dearborn, but, it’s actually located about 35 miles away in Milford; no, it doesn’t make sense to me either. Established in 1948, the camp is spread out over 626 acres of rolling hills, ponds, lakes and access to the Huron River. They offer tents, rustic or resort cabins for rent. I am completely useless as a vintage trailer expert, still I hope you will enjoy my narrative and Kris’s photos.

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Walking up the hill from the parking area it’s like we’ve gone back in time. On the campground tents and cabins look straight out of 1948, to the left vintage trailers are parked as far as the eye can see. We come up on a cute little 1965 Serro Scotty, polished aluminum, all decked out with an awning over the patio and accessorized in red. Next is a turquoise and yellow Aljoa, inside a string of flamingo lights hangs above a vintage tablecloth and antique dishes. Restorations can be factory exact from the wood to the light fixtures; many people decorate with pieces from the year the trailer was built, I imagine the hunt for the items is as much fun as displaying them. Picnic baskets, barware, thermos bottles, lanterns, potato chip tins, bedspreads and curtains represent bygone eras. I like this one, placemats of the Hawaiian islands, Florida drinking glasses, a pineapple bowl, bamboo lights and a ukulele. Check out the Shasta, lots of turquoise inside and out, hula girls and Hawaiian salt and pepper shakers.

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Holly, Shasta, Avion, Trotwood, the list goes on; some people name their trailers: Ruby, Rosie and Pete are all here. I’m fascinated with the interiors; fabulous light fixtures and sconces, one has atomic-patterned curtains, another is totally decked out in 1970’s style in harvest gold, avocado and orange. There are smiley faces, big-flowered fabrics, mushrooms, a lava lamp–even the toaster is cool! I love all the accessories; a pink RCA Victor clock radio, vintage magazines, a Rodeo themed trailer. Decor is clever, personal to the owner. The one that knocks my socks off has a stunning wood interior, a built-in dresser in the bedroom holds an old-fashioned mirror-tray complete with girly things like perfume bottles and jars. The sitting area looks straight out of a magazine; antique TV complete with antenna, record player, phone, fan and loads of trinkets and do-dads. Check out the covered wagon lamp, it has its own team of horses–sweet! Have you ever played the card game “Touring” by Parker Bros.? Me neither.

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Some trailers are sleek and modernized with LED lighting and all the latest conveniences, then there’s the semi-truck-turned-camper, it has a flat-screen fireplace, tool box counter and locker, very clever. How about those tow vehicles? A Mercury station wagon, an old Ford rat-rod, a 1953 Chevrolet Apache, more pick-ups by Chevy, GMC, International, a Plymouth Savoy. The prize for the most unusual tow vehicle goes to the Silver Streak convertible with the awesome plaid interior, love it. Campers are gracious hosts, we are welcomed into each trailer, some offer snacks, candy or a cold beverage, all are happy to strike up a conversation. I get a kick out of the different lights strung from awnings; palm trees, mini trailers, Edison bulbs. I see a trailer bird house, a Royal Crown (RC) cooler, a fantastic picnic set, lots of vintage bicycles, did I mention the Great Danes? Patios are set up like Tiki bars or just bars. On the way back to the car we check out the trailer on a trailer, it’s super Art Deco inside and out, looks like a big job ahead to restore it; maybe we’ll see it all done next year.

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Steeped in nostalgia Kris points the car toward Chin’s Chop Suey in Livonia. We have just enough time to eat before we have to be at Masonic Temple for Detroit Roller Derby. Marvin Chin opened Chin’s Chop Suey on this very spot in 1955. In those days Tiki and Polynesian themed restaurants were all the rage. Marvin went all out; bamboo matting, thatch, jade tiles, Tiki’s, masks, a rock wall and a bamboo divider. Chin’s served the typical Chinese-American cuisine of the day; Egg Foo Young, Chop Suey, Almond Boneless Chicken, Pepper Steak and Moo Shu Pork. 12 years later Marvin opened the legendary Chin Tiki in Detroit, sadly we never got to see it but people still talk about it. Chin Tiki closed in 1980, in 2002 the boards were pried off the doors when Hollywood came to town to film 8 Mile. I heard stories that the place was perfectly preserved inside and the family was considering re-opening the place. That never happened, the building has now been demolished.

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Chin’s is still owned and operated by the family, looking around I’ll bet not a thing has changed inside, seriously. Hanging blowfish, seashell lamps, long banquette seating, that room divider– it’s amazing, a little Tiki haven. On the other side a cool bamboo bar resides in the back corner with large Tiki statues clustered together around and behind it like it’s their own private section. I’m told some of the decorative pieces were brought here from Chin Tiki when it closed. We order a light dinner of Kung Pao Tofu and a couple of spring rolls. First we’re served cups of Won Ton soup, the egg roll and spring rolls arrive simultaneously, each is delicious. The main dish arrives in an oval, covered stainless steel dish, the rice in the standard round pedestal style, exactly the way I remember Chinese food being served when I was a kid. Keep in mind this is not gourmet, organic or farm-to-table, it’s good old-fashioned Chinese-American food with water chestnuts, pea pods, bamboo shoots, sliced carrots and green peppers in brown sauce; nothing fancy or exotic. There’s something to be said for that you know?

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Side note: Cocktails are served in Tiki Mugs from Chin Tiki, they’re available for purchase for 15 bucks. I highly recommend the Chin Tiki Scorpion, our server even let me pick the Tiki mug. It’s not very often you feel like you’ve gone back in time, from the trailers and vehicles to the decor and food at Chin’s, today we felt like time travelers and it was a blast!

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Columbus Ohio: Still Wandering..

16 May

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We’re in Columbus Ohio exploring downtown, on Fourth Street we pass a beautiful, old building, No. 16 Engine House; a sign out front informs us it’s the Central Ohio Fire Museum and Learning Center. The exterior of the building is red brick topped with a decorative layer of gold brick, like frosting on a cake, a fancy tower anchors the right side. Firefighters, corporate and community sponsors raised nearly $700,000.00 to authentically restore the 1908 building; it opened as a museum in 2002. Run by area firefighters, the museum teaches fire safety, prevention and life-saving procedures to people of all ages. Over 1500 area firefighters continue to contribute money through payroll deductions to help finance the project.

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The 1908 interior is still intact with glazed brick walls, tin ceiling and fire poles. Fire trucks include an 1881 Amoskeag steam fire engine, a 1913 Ford Model T American LaFrance and a 1920 Obenchain Boyer chemical engine. Models vary from a hand-drawn hook and ladder to a horse-drawn model and finally a motorized apparatus. Displays capture the everyday life of firefighters; uniforms, equipment, fire alarms. Black and white photos show firemen in action putting out raging flames, display cases hold speaking trumpets, shields, helmets, wood water mains. There are hoses and fire extinguishers; placards do a good job of explaining  what everything is. It’s very kid-friendly, little ones can dress up in firefighter’s clothes, drive the truck, slide down the pole– hey, that sounds like fun! 

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We cross into the back section, this is originally where the horses were kept, one stall remains as an example of how the space was used. We check out the Safety Kitchen, the exhibit pinpoints where most home fires begin. The Safe Bedroom allows kids to practice escaping from a burning bedroom with real smoke effects. We stop and stare into a full-size children’s bedroom as it appears after a fire, I get chills looking at the melted toys, pictures and damaged furnishings. Volunteers interact with visitors, they’re enthusiastic and share lots of interesting information.

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While we’re downtown we decide to have lunch at Grass Skirt, a fun, Tiki-themed restaurant and bar on North Grant Ave. Part of the Columbus Food League family of restaurants Grass Skirt serves up Hawaiian and Asian dishes along with a 4-page, Kahiki-inspired drink menu jam-packed with Rum/Non-Rum cocktails; Mai Tai anyone? Inside lights are low, the custom-made skull chandelier hangs central in the room. Blowfish lights, a waterfall complete with a Sailor Jerry Hula girl, tiki torches, sculptures and a fabulous glowing lava wall make this place kitschy-cool! The S-shaped bar is made from custom-colored concrete inlaid with colored glass and mother-of-pearl. Open shelves hold tiki mugs, pandas and Buddha’s. We wander around looking at the fish floats, pine log tiki carvings, masks and the ship’s rigging–all very Polynesian.

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Paging through the menu we finally make our selections, we watch old episodes of Family Affair on the bar’s flat screen TV until the food arrives. The Island Nachos are a platter of won ton chips smothered with black beans, creamy cheese sauce, pineapple salsa, shredded lettuce, guacamole and lime sour cream; every bite is delicious. The teriyaki tofu tacos are really good; marinated tofu, cucumber-mint slaw and avocado-yum! At the end of the meal our server places an upside-down skull on the table, she activates the dry ice and smoke billows out the top and hovers above the table; what a great way to end a dining experience.

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We’re just about out of time in Ohio’s capital city. A quick computer check informs us that north of us in Worthington a vintage shop will be open for another hour or so—let’s go! Off the beaten path for sure, in a 2-story office warehouse complex is Dawn of Retro, a resale shop dedicated to Mid-Century Modern and vintage furniture and decor spanning from the 50’s to the 70’s. The space is a maze of dressers, buffets and china cabinets; from blonde to walnut each one acts as a resting place for glassware, serving pieces, ash trays and the like. Puffy, furry couches in wild 1970’s patterns snuggle up to table lamps, retro arc lamps and starburst clocks. Broyhill, Kent Coffey, classics to funky, orange and avocado green. Dawn has it all stuffed into two floors of space. In a cabinet I find a set of glasses I can’t live without…I can’t wait to get home and use them!

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DETROIT: Tiki Time

6 May

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In the 1930’s a young man from Louisiana traveled by sailboat through the South Pacific. Intrigued and excited by what he saw he changed his name to Donn Beach, moved to Hollywood CA and in 1934 opened the first Tiki/Polynesian themed restaurant in the US called Don The Beachcomber. The restaurant was decked out in rattan, bamboo and thatch, it served Cantonese cuisine and tropical drinks dispensed in coconut shells, tiki mugs or huge bowls meant to share, oh, don’t forget the little umbrella. Donn is credited with creating the tropical drink genre of mixing flavored syrups and fresh fruit juices with rum. Three years later Trader Vic’s opened in Oakland CAPost WWII, interest in the South Pacific swelled, Tiki infiltrated music; artists such as Les Baxter, Martin Denny (Quiet Village) and Arthur Lyman (Yellow Bird) created a whole new genre called Exotica. Songs conjure up images of tropical rainforests, Hawaiian luaus, Tahitian villages, beaches and palm trees. Tiki bars sprang up from the California coast to the Atlantic coast; the Tiki culture of mid-century America was born.

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Detroit  joined the Tiki bandwagon with a Trader Vic’s downtown, Chin Tiki on Cass (featured in the movie 8 Mile) and the ultimate in Polynesian grandeur, The Mauna Loa. As a young boy Kris actually had dinner at the Mauna Loa, the place was so spectacular it remains a vivid memory of Palm trees, waterfalls, gurgling streams, foot bridges, giant Blowfish lanterns and tall torches. It is said to be the most expensive restaurant built east of the Mississippi at the time, $1.6 Million dollars in 1967. Though none of the buildings remain today, stories, photos and memorabilia of Detroit’s lost Tiki palaces keep the memories alive and well. Today Zenith at the Fisher Building is hosting a Tiki Brunch, I’m so excited!

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When we arrive the Tiki party is in full swing; tables are filled with diners noshing on the likes of cornbread french toast, huevos montulenos, chicken and waffles, candied mango bacon and grilled biscuits. Roland Remington and Johnny Ukulele are serenading patrons with the relaxing sounds of mid-century Exotica tunes such as Blue Hawaii, Hypnotique, Henry Mancini’s Moon River and Tequila. Roland is classically dressed in jacket, tie and Shriner’s hat as he plays the xylophone. Johnny is a little less formal in his print shirt, he switches between the electric organ and the ukulele. The Tiki mood has been set, tropical flowers are arranged near the performance area, smoke filters out the mouth of a tiki, leis are draped over the ukulele case, very swanky.

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We are seated at the bar in the lounge area, this section is steeped in Tiki style from the bamboo furniture and hula girls to the tropical flowers painted on the walls; the lamps are pretty awesome too! We love the brunch here, at Zenith Poutine is a MUST, today’s version goes like this: crispy french fries topped with scrambled eggs, shredded cheddar, jalapeno hollandaise, scallions and 4-pepper gravy, it’s worth every single minute you spend on the treadmill. Then there’s the Red Velvet Waffle, served with a slightly tart pomegranate sauce, tamed by the cream cheese icing, it’s delicious!  We finish our brunch right as the musicians take their break.

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At 2:00 pm members of the Detroit Area Art Deco Society arrive for a tour of the space in celebration of Detroit Modernism Week; being members ourselves, we join the group. Owners Melissa and Robert Jasper have been collectors of all of the fabulous stuff we see here for the last 30 or so years. Gathering in the Tiki lounge, Melissa points out specific pieces, she explains the significance of the item, where she got it or what she likes about it; the fountain is new since our last visit. Kris and I have been to a least a hundred flea markets, antique stores and vintage shops all over the south and mid-west, this is some of the coolest stuff we’ve seen.  In the very front of the restaurant facing W Grand Boulevard is the “paint by numbers” room, you guessed it, individual paint by numbers from western scenes to animals and sailboats to the Eiffel Tower decorate the walls.

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The space the restaurant occupies was originally a bank, our hostess leads us downstairs, through the gates to the old safe-deposit-box-room-turned-lounge area, super cool! Next to that is the performance space now known as the Wrectory, a heavy metal karaoke nightclub. The decor is a mix of religious items and adult themed posters creating a humorous contrast. Back upstairs the music has resumed, we reclaim our seats at the bar and sip on tasty tropical drinks made for a lazy Sunday. If you’re looking for a bit of the good life, the next Tiki Brunch is May 17—we’ll see ya there! UPDATE: Zenith is now closed for business.

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