Fall Getaway to Astoria, Oregon: Goonies movie history, a shipwreck, amazing cocktails, and the best fish and chips we’ve ever had.
We love a good weekend getaway in October in the Pacific Northwest. We have been to the Oregon Coast many times, always passing through Astoria, Oregon but only stopping for lunch or not at all. Astoria is often overlooked as it isn’t on the beach like Seaside or Cannon Beach just a little further south. However, it’s an historic salty sea town with a lot to offer. We fell in love with Astoria on this visit, even adding it to our list of possible retirement locations. (So far this list only consists of Portugal and Astoria).
Day 1: Fish and Chips, exploring the town, and a tiki bar
Astoria is about a three hour drive from where we live in Seattle, so we took Friday off to make the most of our time there. We planned our arrival to be about lunch time. When we arrived, we were pretty hungry. We went straight to Bowpicker Fish and Chips as we had read rave reviews online. There was a line, and I get the impression that there is always a line. It’s worth it.
Serving out of an old boat turned into a kitchen, all they sell is fish and chips, that’s it. We didn’t want a ton of fries, and found it more cost effective to get the 5 piece fish and chips and add an extra piece of fish to share. Paddy was initially disappointed that we weren’t going to have a sit-down lunch in a restaurant after the long drive, but his disappointment receded when we got our fish.
What makes Bowpicker fish and chips unique is that the fish is albacore tuna instead of cod or halibut. The breading is unique as well, and so crispy, finished with a sprinkle of sea salt. It was hands-down the best fish and chips we have ever had. There wasn’t much seating around so we ended up eating in our car. It was so delicious that we didn’t mind. If you like fish, don’t miss Bowpicker in Astoria.
Next we checked in with our hotel to see if we could get into our room a little early, but no dice. We parked the car and explored the town.
The town was awesome. So many little independent shops and restaurants, all vibrant and thriving. The community really got into the Halloween spirit, and most shops and restaurants had Halloween decorations up. The town had even installed witches on brooms on lamp posts all over the main strip, made to look like they crashed into the lamp posts on their flights. Each one was different.
Raintown Vintage Collective was a favorite stop. The upstairs is a collective of artists and craftspeople selling gifts and other fun things, and the basement level is all vintage clothes. I found two vintage 1960’s dresses that actually fit me, which was a unicorn find. I was over the moon. All the shop people were really friendly, there was a real community vibe in the town.
We had a little time to kill before we could check into our hotel, so we stopped for beer and cider at Reach Break Brewing. They had a nice covered outdoor patio and the beer and cider were tasty.
We had originally booked an apartment for the weekend that was managed by the Norblad Hotel. However, earlier that week the Norblad contacted me saying that their elevator was broken in the apartment building, and they wouldn’t be able to get it fixed before the weekend. Our apartment was on the 7th floor. They offered cancellation or a discount if we wanted to keep the apartment and use the stairs. Unfortunately, they were sold out of their regular hotel rooms in the main building. Seven flights of stairs was more than we felt like dealing with, so I was able to snag us the last room at the Hotel Elliott. It was more expensive, but the location was great. I was worried that the last room available would be a crappy room right off the lobby, but it was a perfectly fine room and even had a jacuzzi bathtub.
The Hotel Elliott is an historic building, which may or may not be haunted according to local legend. Since it was October, we chose to believe that it was haunted. I’ll be honest, the Hotel Elliott is a splurge. A hot breakfast was included, and we were able to park in the public lot across the street all night on Friday, and in the bank parking lot two blocks down for free on Saturday, which softened the price tag a bit.
*Note: The public parking lot across the street is used for the Sunday Market and any car parked there after 5:00 AM on Sunday mornings will be towed. The front desk is good about making sure everyone checking in is aware of this. They have a deal with the bank parking lot down the street to use for guests.
Overall, we would definitely stay at the Hotel Elliott again–if it is in our budget. However, for a cheaper stay downtown the Hotel Norblad has rooms with a lower price tag and a hip vibe and we would likely try to stay there again on a future trip.
Paddy had a burger and a side salad, and I had their clam chowder and a side salad. The side salads were huge! We shared a round of oyster shooters. Everything was fresh and delicious. The beer and cider were good too.
After dinner we walked down the street to the Inferno Lounge for a drink. It’s right on the pier and has a funky sort of goth/New Orleans/mid century vibe. The view is fantastic and as the sun set and the fog rolled in, it provided the perfect cozy, spooky October vibe we were in the mood for. The cocktails were nice as well. They also serve food, but we didn’t try any. Great spot if you are looking for a place to drink with a water view.
Walking near the pier in the evening in the autumn fog continued the spooky vibe. A ship passing in the fog had a very ghostly appearance.
Full disclosure, one of the biggest things that prompted this trip was the opening of the new tiki bar in Astoria, Dead Man’s Isle. The proprietors of artisan tiki mug shop Munktiki finally opened their long-awaited tiki bar next door to their shop after some pandemic delays. Dead Man’s Isle takes reservations, which we made far in advance. They do take walk-ins as well. For a weekend, I would recommend a reservation to ensure a good table.
The decor at Dead Man’s Isle was on point. Classic tropical tiki, with an Astoria salty-sailor vibe. Everyone at Dead Man’s Isle was very friendly and appreciative of our shared tiki enthusiasm. We chatted with one of the owners for a bit and she gave us a sneak preview of a tiny micro bar off of the loft area that they are working on. It is supposed to be a Japanese-style bar themed around a specific type of Japanese toy. My understanding of the theme is limited, but it will only serve a few people at a time and will have an entirely different cocktail menu from Dead Man’s Isle. I definitely want to come back to experience that when it opens!
Dead Man’s Isle also has some food items that we would like to try on our next trip as well.
I had the Dead Man’s Grog, which came in their signature logo mug. I was worried it would be too sweet but it was perfect. I can’t remember what Paddy had (Suffering Bastard maybe?) but he said it was also lovely. For our second round we asked for recommendations and I went with our server’s favorite the Purple Orchid, which had lime, passion fruit, peach, ginger, Empress blue gin and cardamom bitters. The cardamom bitters are what makes this drink–it was amazing and I would love to experiment with these flavors in our home bar. Strong recommendation for the Purple Orchid!
Because Dead Man’s Isle is owned by renowned artisan tiki mug makers, they have an impressive selection of mugs, stickers, T-shirts and other swag for sale. Naturally, we bought the skeleton captain mug and a couple glasses and stickers. They even have a mini tiki mug vending machine!
Sadly, the Munktiki gallery and shop next door was closed for the weekend as the other owner was out of town visiting family. Next time we hope to see the shop.
Overall we loved Dead Man’s Isle and the mix of a traditional tiki bar with a Pacific Northwest fishing town vibe. The cocktails were fantastic and we can’t wait to go back.
Day 2: A shipwreck, Goonies movie history, exploring more of the town, a haunted underground tour, and a fantastic whisky bar
Saturday morning we took advantage of the free hotel breakfast, and then set off to Fort Stevens State Park beach to see the shipwreck of the Peter Iredale, about a 20 minute drive from Astoria.
The Peter Iredale is a ship that ran aground on its way to Portland due to strong currents and high winds in 1906. There isn’t much left of it now, but it is still a popular tourist attraction on the coast. Paddy found it a bit underwhelming, but I think it’s worth a stop if you’re in the area.
Astoria’s biggest claim to fame is the movie Goonies from 1985. If you were a kid in the 1980’s, you are likely familiar with this movie. The two biggest film spots in the town are the Goonies house, and the Oregon Film Museum.
First we dropped by the Goonies house at 368 38th St for a quick photo.
*Note–The Goonies house is in a quiet neighborhood and people live there. It is very important to be respectful of the homeowners and their neighbors and to not trespass on the property. Park your car on Duane Street and walk up, do not try to drive up to the house. When we went there was a little tip box at the end of the drive way so we put $5 in as a thank you for the photo op.
Next, we parked our car in the bank parking lot that partners with the hotel and headed to the Oregon Film Museum.
The Oregon Film Museum building is the historic old county jail that was in the Goonies movie. It is now a tiny museum with a lot of Goonies movie info and artifacts, as well as a museum for other films made in Oregon. Entrance is $6.00.
Honestly, if you are a big Goonies fan I think it’s worth a visit. If you’re not, it will probably not be that interesting to you.
We explored some more of the town, admiring many of the preserved Victorian houses. We hunted for treasures at PhogBounders Antique Mall and Treasure Alley, but didn’t find anything we couldn’t live without. I was tempted by a mid century blow mold jack o lantern but opted to save our money for cocktails that evening.
We heard a lot of marine mammal commotion near the pier so we wandered in the direction of the Bowline Hotel and found a gaggle of sea lions on a dock below. There was a lot of drama, a lot of bitching and shoving and griping at each other. Sea lion reality show.
For lunch we stopped at a small food truck food court on 10th and Duane and got some shrimp po’ boys at Surf 2 Soul. Absolutely delicious and the chef makes his own pickles. The homemade pickles really took it to the next level. Often store bought pickles are really salty and overwhelm the sandwich, but his homemade quick pickles were the perfect amount of salt and brine and didn’t steal the show from the shrimp. The homemade fries were great as well. Picnic tables are available if the weather is nice. We definitely recommend stopping here for a meal.
For dinner we were still in the mood for seafood, and opted for South Bay Wild Fish House. Owned by a family who sustainably catches the fish themselves, it doesn’t get much fresher. There was a bit of a wait, but the fish was fantastic. The set up is a little weird–you order and pay with the host and then they seat you. You can get on a waiting list when it’s busy and then they will call your name when a table is ready, take your order, and show you to your table.
We shared some Hawaiian ahi tuna poke as an appetizer, and then Paddy had the fish tacos and I had the Petrale sole with a salad.
The prices are good here for what you get. Sole isn’t a fish I have had a lot of but it was really good. If you are looking for fresh seafood in Astoria that is sustainable, high quality and doesn’t empty your wallet, South Bay Wild Fish House is a great dinner spot.
After dinner, we had booked an underground ghost tour a few weeks in advance. Much like Seattle, downtown Astoria was destroyed by a fire in 1922 and the rebuilt city was built on top of the ruins of the old one. There are still some buildings left below accessible by tunnels. These tunnels have stories of brothels, sailors getting “Shanghaied,” and paranormal sightings. The show Ghost Hunters even did an episode on the Astoria underground.
The tour met at Gulley’s Butcher Shop downtown, an appropriate location for a ghost tour. Our guide came in Halloween costume and let us through the butcher shop and down some stairs into the tunnels below.
The tour was supposed to be an hour long, and instead it was a 15 minute tour of the tunnels which were decked out with Halloween decorations, animatronic ghosts and clowns, and a few actors. We saw some of the historical spots and artifacts, but it was more of a haunted house walk through than a ghost tour with stories of paranormal activity. We were pretty disappointed.
However, after writing a bad review on Google, the tour contacted me and told me that there had been a mix up and the guide was under the impression that she was leading a haunted house tour and not the full ghost tour and offered a free ghost tour. We weren’t able to go again, so they apologized and offered a full refund if I removed my bad review. We were refunded and I took my review down.
Therefore, we can’t really give you a recommendation on this tour either way. If you go, I hope it is more exciting than the tour we got, and it sounds like it was a booking error on their part.
If you like craft cocktails, this is a bar you must go to. The cocktails were some of the best we’ve ever encountered. The menu is extensive, and it was difficult to choose. I honestly can’t remember what I had on my first round, but it was full of flavor and came with a pear wedge. Paddy had the Holy Woodsman, a take on an old-fashioned with black walnut bitters and cedar smoke among other delightful ingredients.
For round two I had the German Chocolate Cake Old Fashioned which was mind-blowingly good. Coconut fat washed whiskey, Frangelico, and cocoa bitters. Paddy had Smoke Signals, which came with a cloud of tobacco smoke held in place by a wooden coaster. Once removed, the smoke created a unique olfactory flavor experience mixed in with the cocktail, not to mention an impressive presentation.
We honestly could have kept savoring new cocktails for a few more rounds, but artisan craft cocktails like this come with a hefty price tag. We can’t wait to go back to Astoria just to go to Blaylock’s.
Our next stop was The Haunt, a Norwegian black metal bar. The bar is small, and don’t expect craft cocktails here. They do however have a decent collection of Aquavit. We had a couple beers and vodka sodas and the prices were very reasonable. They also serve Scandinavian food apparently, but we didn’t see anyone eating.
After a couple drinks at The Haunt, we stopped in to catch the end of a live music show at Labor Temple diner and bar, which also looks like a really great breakfast spot. On the way back to our hotel, we poked our heads into Galactix Arcade and Taphouse with an immersive sci-fi space theme. No cocktails offered here, but the beer and cider selection looked great, as well as the prices. We didn’t have any drinks, but I always appreciate a solid commitment to a theme.
Sunday morning we decided we couldn’t leave the Oregon Coast without a Dungeness crab benedict and biscuits and gravy at the Pig N Pancake. Pig N Pancake has locations up and down the Oregon Coast and never disappoints with their hearty breakfasts. The Dungeness crab benedict is always my favorite.
Astoria is a town with a lot of character, great food and drinks, and a fun, creative community. We left in disbelief that it took us this long to explore it. Cannon Beach and Seaside have the gorgeous beaches and family activities, but Astoria has a more unique charm. It is kind of like a micro Portland in a way. A salty-sailor fishing town full of artists and weirdos. Just our kind of place.
Two days in Phoenix, Arizona: Exploring the Melrose District, eating some fantastic Mexican seafood, and cocktails at one of the most impressive Tiki bars we’ve ever been to.
Phoenix, Arizona was the last stop on our San Diego and Arizona road trip adventure. We originally only planned one night in Phoenix, but our flight got cancelled so we got another day to explore. We originally didn’t think Phoenix had much to offer, but Phoenix turned out to be pretty awesome. As frustrating as a cancelled flight can be, we were glad we got some time to get to know this city a little better.
Day 1: Murals and an immersive Tiki experience
We left our Tiki Bus at the Shady Dell in Bisbee that morning, sad to be leaving the Tiki Bus behind but anxious to sleep in a real bed in a hotel after a less than comfortable night in the bus bunks. It was about a three hour drive North to Phoenix from Bisbee. There wasn’t much to see on the way.
Our first stop in Phoenix was the Oak Street Murals, something I found on Google Maps that I thought sounded unique and an interesting quick stop.
Oak Street Murals is a little residential area near Midtown where artists have painted concrete walls lining a section of streets with a large variety of murals. Some of them are pretty impressive. If you have a car and are spending some time in Phoenix, it’s worth a stop.
After exploring the murals, we were hungry and ready to return the rental car and check into our hotel. A look at Google Maps found nearby Hula’s Modern Tiki restaurant, and you know we can’t resist Tiki themes.
I wouldn’t classify Hula’s Modern Tiki as a Tiki Bar, more like a Hawaiian themed modern chain restaurant. That said, the location in Uptown Phoenix was a very nice spot for lunch. A nice patio with misters and shade coverings provided relaxing casual ambiance while also being an escape from the heat.
Not wanting a huge lunch or any leftovers, we opted for the Hilo Sliders off the appetizer menu with a side of Hawaiian macaroni salad. The slider trio served on Hawaiian sweet bread gives you the option to pick Luau Pork, Spicy Thai Fish Cake, or regular burger–or one of each. They were tasty and the perfect amount of food.
Ready to relax in some air conditioning, we returned our rental car to the airport and made use of the free shuttle to the Radisson Hotel Phoenix Airport to check in. No complaints about the Radisson, rooms were clean and beds were very comfortable. We wanted to be near the airport for our scheduled 8:30 flight the next morning.
That evening, we were excited to check out the one Tiki Bar in Phoenix, The Undertow. I had made a reservation a month prior (Definitely make a reservation in advance–this place is popular). However, The Undertow doesn’t serve food, so we needed some sustenance first. Knowing we were going to drop some dough on pricy cocktails, we opted for an inexpensive meal at Z’s Greek nearby. The food was fast food Greek, no atmosphere or ambiance and it seemed like they do mostly take out. However, it was good and exactly what we needed.
What I didn’t know about The Undertow was that it was part of a trio of bars in a building called The Century Grand. In addition to the Tiki-themed Undertow, there is also a New Orleans style speakeasy bar called The Grey Hen, and a 1930’s train car themed bar called Platform 18. I immediately wished we had also made a reservation for Platform 18, where 1930’s clad wait staff serve cocktails of the same era in a bar made to look like an old train dining car. While you sit, scenes of the countryside flash by the “windows” next to your booth, making you feel like you are actually on a train. Getting a reservation at Platform 18 is now my number one priority for a second trip to Phoenix.
On to The Undertow: This bar is just as impressive as the concept for Platform 18, if not more so. After checking in for your reservation, your host leads you into a dark room designed to look like the inside of an old ship. Two-person porthole tables line the sides of the room, and just like the train car theme bar, there is an ocean sailing loop that plays scenes through your porthole “window” to make you feel like you are on a moving ship.
Even more fantastic is that the hour-long loop of porthole view doesn’t stay the same. You leave a dock on a sunny day, pass some islands, the sun sets, the stars come out, and then a storm comes. During the storm part lightning strikes and thunder sounds in the bar, and all the lights in the whole bar flicker. We were really impressed with the whole dramatic and theatrical immersive experience.
To go along with the ambiance and experience are some of the best cocktails we’ve ever had. The menu is extensive, and an entire book full of stories and drawings. I don’t think you would have time to read the whole menu and it’s stories in your 90 minute reservation slot unless you were by yourself and really focusing on doing just that. It seemed to tell the tale of a zombie plague on a ship, from what I could skim.
Looking at their website, it appears that the menus are “chapters” of a book, and the stories and cocktails change with each new “chapter” of the book. I wish I could remember exactly what we had, but I can’t 100% pinpoint them exactly. I can tell you that they were from Chapter Seven. To be honest, the amount of choices on the menu was overwhelming, and they all sounded amazing. It was hard to narrow it down. Asking your server which ones are their favorites is a good way to go.
A few things to know about planning your trip to The Undertow:
Reservations are strongly recommended. The further in advance you can book if you only have a specific day you can go (especially for Friday and Saturday night reservations), the better. Reservations release 30 days prior at noon each day.
Porthole tables seat two only. The other seats available are bar seats, and there are two booths for up to 6 guests.
Your reservation is for 90 minutes, and they are strict about that. Your server will let you know when you have time to order one more drink before closing out. Typically 90 minutes is good for two drinks per person.
There is a pre-paid $20 beverage minimum per person when you make your reservation, with a $3 processing fee. The $20 fee per person is deducted from your bill. They also have a strict cancellation policy, and you will need to cancel your reservation at least 8 hours or more (online) or you will forfeit the deposit.
This is a lot more strict than other Tiki bar reservations we have had (first time we’ve ever had to make a deposit!), but it is worth it.
Thoroughly impressed with The Undertow experience, we took a Lyft back to our hotel to get some rest before our early flight the next morning. Or so we thought…
Day 2: A cancelled flight and an unexpected fun day in the Melrose District
Just when we were getting ready to head down for our shuttle to the airport, I got an email that our flight was cancelled. There was no rebooking offered, and when I tried calling the customer service number in the email, I was told that the wait to speak to an agent was approximately 5 hours.
We figured the best thing to do was to just go to the airport anyway, talk to the booking agent in person and see what we could figure out. We waited in line for about an hour and a half at the Alaska Air counter, and were told it had something to do with the flight being short staffed and/or Airforce One visiting Seattle the day before and cancelling a bunch of flights to clear the airport.
The best they could do for us after a lot of searching in their systems for all the flights back to Seattle was fly us back to Portland the next day and we would then rent a car and drive the rest of the way home. We were provided with a free hotel room, a couple meal vouchers for airport food, and told we could submit a reimbursement claim for the rental car and gas (this part was true, although it took a couple months to get reimbursed).
While we weren’t happy about getting home a day late, we decided to make the most of our extra day of vacation with a free hotel room.
We ate breakfast at the airport with our meal vouchers, then took the free shuttle to our new hotel and dropped off our bags. I scanned Google Maps for ideas on what to do for the day. I searched “vintage stores” and found several in one area…along with a couple gay bars. Could it be? A gayborhood in Phoenix?
Hot tip: If you want to find cool stuff in a city, find the gayborhood.
The gayborhood in Phoenix is the Melrose District, as we soon discovered. The main drag is on N 7th Ave, north of W Indian School Road. We took an Uber to one of the vintage stores we found on the map, Rewind Vintage & Antiques. Rewind Vintage had an impressive Indie record collection, and is run by an extremely nice couple who offered to mail us some records that we bought for the price of postage and record mailers. They also gave us some great tips on the neighborhood.
Paddy needed some coffee, and our new friends at Rewind Vintage raved about Copper Star Coffee just up the block, so that was our next stop. Paddy said their Americano was delicious. I had their lemonade, which was homemade and very refreshing. All of their baked goods and bagels looked amazing as well. If you are a looking for great coffee in Phoenix, Copper Star Coffee is the place to go.
Next, we crossed the street over to the Retro Ranch, which we would also recommend.
The Retro Ranch had a very impressive collection of antiques and vintage clothes. We didn’t find anything we couldn’t live without, but if we lived in Phoenix, we would definitely be regulars here.
All the rifling through antiques and vintage clothes made us hungry, so we wandered into Short Leash Hot Dogs & Rollover Doughnuts. Short Leash has a fantastic back patio to lounge in with sun or shade, and a variety of seating options.
The hot dogs and doughnuts are also delicious. I had the Lady hot dog with a chicken sausage, which comes on naan flatbread with sauteed onions, chipotle cheese sauce and fried pickles. Paddy had the Brat Stuffed Pretzel with a bratwurst, sauerkraut, onion, bacon, swiss cheese, and spicy mustard on their homemade pretzel roll. I couldn’t resist getting a doughnut to share–with peanut butter glaze, chocolate, and peanuts. Everything was decadent and delightful.
The lovely couple at Rewind Vintage also recommended the Thunderbird Lounge, which is a 1970’s throwback bar just off of 7th.
The Thunderbird Lounge also has a pretty awesome outdoor patio, but the interior is pretty darn groovy.
If you were a kid who grew up in the 70’s or 80’s and liked to go to the arcade, this place is your jam. Paddy was pretty stoked to play a few old games from his childhood.
They even had a vintage (and working!) Simon Says game that I remembered playing at my Grandma’s house in the 80s. It wasn’t as fun as I remembered.
The Thunderbird Lounge has lots of events in the evenings and live music. If we had some more time in Phoenix, I’d be into checking out what they’ve got going on.
After the hot dogs, beers, and doughnuts as well as walking around in the sun, we felt like it was time to go check into our hotel and take a nap.
For dinner that evening, I had found what looked like a pretty awesome Mexican seafood place called Mariscos Playa Hermosa in the (Douglas?) neighborhood of Phoenix. It was only a 10 minute Uber ride from our hotel near the airport.
Mariscos Playa Hermosa is popular! There was about a 20 minute wait for a table, but it was worth it. Their website says they just celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2022. It is clearly a favorite with locals and for celebrations.
The menu looked amazing, and we wanted to try everything, but we couldn’t take any leftovers with us. They also take margaritas to the next level. We ordered the Mango Diablo, which is blended with mango, chamoy, Tajin, and tequila, and the Spicy Miami – a spicy watermelon margarita rimmed with Tajin and served with a watermelon paleta. The Mango Diablo came with a chamoy candy stick.
For dinner, we shared oysters and the Tostada Embarazada (a “pregnant” tostada) which had a ceviche mix of seafood and avocado on a crispy tostada.
We only ended up ordering off the appetizer menu. There were so many things we wanted to try but we were full after finishing that pile of ceviche with the tostadas and crackers that went with it. Everything looked so good, and with how busy they were–you know that their seafood is always fresh.
Note: The neighborhood that Mariscos Playa Hermosa is near that we drove through between the Hilton Garden Inn Phoenix Airport and the restaurant looked pretty rough. Best to stick to taking an Uber or Lyft there and back and staying close to the restaurant while waiting for your ride home. That said, don’t let that scare you into missing this place. It is fabulous!
Phoenix surprised us. We hadn’t heard many good things about this city, so we weren’t expecting much. I wouldn’t say it’s a top destination, but if we end up going through there on another trip to Arizona we wouldn’t be too sad about it. On a second trip to Phoenix, it would be nice to have a car during the day to spend some more time in the Melrose District again and check out some of the other parts of town. As for nightlife, our number one priority would be a reservation at Platform 18, along with a second visit to The Undertow. It would be fun to check out what the Thunderbird Lodge has going on at night, and we will absolutely be going back to Mariscos Playa Hermosa HUNGRY.
Do you have some tips for things to do and see in Phoenix? If so please add to the comments below!
An overnight excursion to the towns of Tombstone, Bisbee, and Lowell in Southern Arizona: A taste of the wild west, the artsy old mining town of Bisbee, a ghost town frozen in the 1950’s, and a night in a 1947 tiki bus in a vintage trailer park.
A quick overnight trip to Bisbee was part of our California and Arizona trip including San Diego, Tucson, and Phoenix. We only had one night in Bisbee, and we wished we had been able to stay at least one more night. An artsy small town community in an old copper mining town, Bisbee turned out to be an unexpected hidden gem.
We checked out of our Airbnb in Tucson and headed south. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stop in in the wild west town of Tombstone along the way.
Tombstone is the old mining town famous for Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the gunfight at the OK Corral. It is, as you would expect, a corny tourist trap doing what it can to separate you from your money. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth a stop. If you haven’t seen it and you’re on the way to or from Bisbee, I would recommend checking it out.
We opted for a tour of the Bird Cage Theater, an old theater that used to entertain the miners with magic shows, wrestling matches, and other acts, as well as poker games in the basement. As with any old west town, prostitutes provided the miners with a bit of “entertainment” as well. Tours cost $15 and have a lot of old artifacts on display.
Next, at the recommendation of my parents who had been in Tombstone a few days prior, we did the stagecoach tour of town. For $10 per person, you sit in an old horse-drawn stage coach for a dusty 20 minute tour around town narrated by the driver. It’s a good way to get an overview of the town and it’s history, and the guide was very animated and had some good stories. Stage coach leaves from the main street of town.
If you want to see the OK Corral, you have to pay a fee. They have staged shootout re-enactments a few times a day. We opted to pass on this, seeing it from the outside was enough for us.
The last and cheesiest thing we did before leaving Tombstone was Ike Clanton’s Haunted Hotel tour. It was a self-guided tour through a few scenes with animated props and screens, and for $15 per adult I think I would recommend just skipping this one. It was mildly entertaining but pretty corny.
There are saloons where you can get a drink or something to eat, as well as old time photo studios where you can dress up and take those sepia toned wild west portraits with costumes. We were getting hungry but the saloons were pretty packed, so we decided to head on to Bisbee.
Bisbee is only about a 25 minute drive from Tombstone. We parked in a lot at the entrance to town and were pretty hungry, so opted for the first restaurant we stumbled upon, Bisbee’s Table. There was a little bit of a wait, but the food was good. We both had the Frick’N Chicken sandwich.
After lunch, we explored the small town. There were a lot of cool little shops to explore. We definitely noticed the elevation change as we walked around. For us sea-level dwelling Seattlites, Bisbee’s hilly streets and 5,538 ft elevation had us a little winded.
We enjoyed Classic Rock Couture, with new and vintage clothing. records, and gifts. Very desert/rock n roll/retro seventies chic. Red Bone Vintage was a cute vintage clothing spot. Miners & Merchants Antique Center was fun to explore, and Black Sheep Imports had lots of fun novelty gifts and unique Bisbee souvenirs.
We passed the Bisbee Social Club, a speakeasy style cocktail bar that hosts live music. We planned on coming back there later that evening, but ended up being too tired and our accommodation was a little ways out of town. It looked right up our alley though, and we hope to come back someday and stay in town so that we can enjoy more of what Bisbee has to offer.
Losing steam, we moved on to our last stop–the preserved 1950’s ghost town of Lowell.
Lowell is another old mining town about a 6 minute drive from Bisbee. According to Atlas Obscura, the residential areas of Lowell were demolished in the interest of expanding the copper mine, and less residents lead to the abandonment of the town. Lowell is now incorporated into Bisbee, and the volunteers of the Lowell Americana Project have worked to preserve the town. The lone open business on Erie Street in Lowell is the Bisbee Breakfast Club, an old diner that serves a hearty breakfast.
Vintage cars, trucks, and even an old Greyhound bus line the eerily empty streets of Erie Street in Lowell. If nothing else, it’s a fabulous photo op. I’m not sure who the owners of the cars are (individuals or a preservation society?), but letting them sit on the street in Lowell and be part of the ghost town experience is really awesome.
Adjacent to Lowell is the Shady Dell Trailer Park, which would be our home for the night. Full disclosure: it was the 1947 Tiki Bus at the Shady Dell that brought us to Bisbee.
The Shady Dell is the perfect compliment to Lowell. Full of vintage trailers, buses, and even a boat that you can rent for the night–it is a campy, unique vintage experience.
We arrived and went to the office to check in. No one was around, but a sign on the front door with our name on it instructed us that the key to the Tiki Bus was in the bus, and to make ourselves at home.
The quarters were tight, but the attention to detail was fantastic.
The bus came equipped with a kitchen including a fridge and a sink with running water and dish soap. No cooking is allowed due to food smells that can permeate the bus, but a cold fridge is ready and waiting to store your beer and tiki cocktail ingredients. Tiki mugs are included as well for your use.
The bus also had a record player with some vintage Hawaiian records. We tried listening to them but the records were in pretty poor shape and scratchy. It would be nice if they got a few that are in better condition. We almost wanted to go buy some and add to the collection ourselves.
The bus had a bathroom with a toilet only, but campground style free shower stalls are available in the center of the trailer park.
We thought about going back into Bisbee that evening, but the long day and the elevation wore us out. We opted to get some takeout sub sandwiches from Dylan’s Pizza Bistro and beer from the Safeway nearby instead. The sandwiches were decent, and the restaurant was nice enough to give us two cups of ice to take back to the Tiki Bus for cocktails. One way the Shady Dell could be improved: offering ice for sale or an ice machine on the property.
Dusk fell, and lights came on around the park. I made some grog in the tiki mugs with rum, lime juice, and demerara syrup that we brought. We sipped our cocktails on the little porch, taking in the atmosphere. It was quiet and pleasant.
The bus was charming, but the bed situation was less than optimal. There was a twin bunk with a spongy, springy uncomfortable mattress, and a slightly smaller than a full size bed double bunk. It was pretty tight for two people, and the bus leaned a little bit, so whoever was on the outside of the double bunk would end up rolling towards the other person and smushing them. Paddy took the twin bunk and slept fairly uncomfortably. I slept okay in the double bunk by myself. He’s a gentleman.
Overall, a super fun experience and we were glad we did it, but we were also glad we had only one night there. Perhaps the other trailers have more comfortable beds.
Breakfast was good, your classic diner fare. We were sad to say goodbye and wished we had one more night in Bisbee to get to know the town a little better.
If you’re into kitsch, art, and old desert history, Bisbee, Lowell, and Tombstone are definitely worth visiting. If it’s your first visit, I would recommend two nights–one at the Shady Dell for a fun kitschy experience, and one in the town of Bisbee so that you can get the feel of the town and maybe some nightlife.
Long weekend in San Diego 2022: Tiki Bars, Balboa Park, Mission Beach, and a funky old mid-century resort.
We decided to take a quick long weekend in San Diego when looking for a little side adventure before meeting up with my parents in Tucson, Arizona for a few days. It is a quick 2.5 hour flight from Seattle, and somewhere I’d never been. (Paddy has been before, when he was 18 on an ill-fated road trip with friends, but that’s another story).
We chose San Diego for the sunshine, beach, and because it is home to a couple renowned Tiki bars that we have seen rave reviews on. We know San Diego has a lot more to offer and this trip only touched the surface. We saw and did what we felt like for the short time that we had.
Day 1: Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn and False Idol
Our flight was a bit delayed, so we had to rush to check into our hotel and head downtown for dinner before our reservation for drinks at False Idol. Fortunately our hotel, Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn was a short 10 minute drive from the airport on Shelter Island.
Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn is a resort hotel dating back to 1967. It is located on Shelter Island, a harbor neighborhood of Point Loma. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, all buildings on Shelter Island were supposed to follow a Polynesian/tropical theme. Many of these buildings have since been renovated or torn down, but Humphrey’s has been updated and still holds onto it’s tropical roots. There is a large heated pool that is open until 11:00 PM, a hot tub, tropical gardens including two resident parrots and a koi pond. Rooms are either pool view, parking lot view, or harbor view, with a select few overlooking their concert venue.
We opted for a “tropical-view king,” with a request for a ground floor room with an outside sitting area. Our sitting area faced the walkway around the pool and the view wasn’t much, but it was nice to have a little area to drink our morning coffee outside.
We dropped our bags off, changed clothes, and jumped in an Uber to Cafe Sevilla in the Gaslamp District. We love Spanish food and tapas, and had planned on a relaxing tapas dinner before our 9:00 PM reservation at False Idol. Unfortunately, by the time we got to Cafe Sevilla, it was 7:45, which was just enough time to order a shared paella and two glasses of wine before dashing out in another Uber over to False Idol. Reservations at False Idol book up way in advance, so we didn’t want to risk being late. The Paella was delicious, and we would love to go back and try more of their dishes someday.
False Idol is in the Little Italy neighborhood, and while it is a newer tiki bar, it has all the elements of classic tiki: Speakeasy style entrance within another bar (Craft & Commerce), classic 60’s exotica music, low lighting, tropical decor, and a drink menu filled with many classics. I cannot stress enough planning ahead and getting a reservation. They do let some people in for standing room, but I saw many getting turned away at the door. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Reservations are for an hour and a half, about enough time to enjoy two rounds of drinks.
In addition to all the classic cocktails on the menu (many I recognized from Martin Cate’s Smugglers Cove book), they had different house-concocted variations of each.
We tried the Victory on the Red Sea (a variation on Three Dots and a Dash), The Polynesian Forty-Niner (a variation on the Pearl Diver), Steve’s Rum Barrel, and the False Idol Old-Fashioned. All were top notch, very complex, and beautifully presented. When we first started getting into tiki, I wasn’t so into rum or “tropical drinks” as the ones I had tried in the past were sugary sweet, hangover-inducing horrors of the 70’s and 80’s.
After visiting Barbados and sampling some higher-end aged rums and the cocktails of today’s serious craft cocktail tiki bars or immersion bars, I have become a lover of rum. You won’t find high-fructose corn syrup grenadine or piña colada mix in a legit tiki bar of today. Syrups and liqueurs are often house-infused and only quality spirits are used. That said, they are pricey. Expect to pay about $15-$18 a drink. You get what you pay for here.
We can’t recommend False Idol enough, and will absolutely be back on any future trip to San Diego.
Day 2: Balboa Park, Mission Beach, and More Tiki Cocktails
We started the day by grabbing some breakfast burritos from the Pearson Deli and Fuel Dock a couple blocks from Humphreys. This little family- run spot is beloved by locals in Shelter Island, and has delicious and inexpensive breakfast sandwiches and deli sandwiches to go. There is a restaurant at Humphrey’s that serves breakfast, but it is quite pricey. We made coffee in our room and enjoyed breakfast on our patio.
We opted to spend the early afternoon at Balboa Park, walking around the area of the Spanish Village Art Center. The park is huge, way too large to see all of it at once, so we just walked around the Spanish Village area. Lots of museums, Spanish-style architecture, gardens, and pavilions with vendors selling food and crafts. The art center portion is full of little studios selling paintings, prints, crafts, and sculptures. The sculpture studio was our favorite–so many bizarre and unique sculptures.
The rose garden was also lovely. A great spot to stop and enjoy a fresh-squeezed lemonade from a vendor cart in the pavilion.
After a siesta back at the hotel, we figured it wouldn’t be right to go to San Diego and not see the beach. We took an Uber to the Mission Beach Boardwalk to walk around and check it out.
Mission Beach Boardwalk reminded me of a smaller, cleaner version of Venice Beach in LA. To be honest, I prefer the gritty, surf-hippy LA vibe of Venice Beach to Mission Beach, but it was fun to see. The Belmont Park boardwalk area offers rides and carnival games, including an old wooden roller coaster dating back to 1925 that is still in operation.
We walked along the beach enjoying the late afternoon sun, eventually arriving at Miss B’s Coconut Club for dinner and drinks.
A giant cocktail in a huge, solid copper flamingo? Yes please!
We ordered the “Havana Good Time” cocktail for two, featuring vodka, grapefruit, cucumber, and kombucha. Paddy was a good sport about sharing this with me, because I wasn’t going to let this giant, boozy flamingo experience go. The cocktail itself wasn’t too strong, and was surprisingly good. Well balanced and tart, not too sweet at all.
For dinner we opted to share the jerk chicken plate (house specialty), and the coconut seafood ceviche. Both were delicious. The chicken was cooked perfectly and fall-off-the-bone tender. There was a really nice veggie medley on the side that I wished there was more of. The ceviche was served with plantain chips, and tasted like a hybrid of classic ceviche and Tahitian poisson cru.
We had one more cocktail before heading back to the beach to watch the sunset–The Oaxacan Dead. Consisting of tequila, mezcal, pomegranate, cinnamon, falernum, and grapefruit juice, The Oaxacan Dead is definitely one we would like to learn to make at home.
If you’re looking for fun cocktails and Caribbean food a couple blocks off the beach, Miss B’s is a great spot.
We ended dinner at just the right time to watch the sunset before heading to our reservation at The Grass Skirt. It had been a while since I watched the sun disappear into the ocean.
First of all, I cannot stress enough that you should make a reservation in advance. This place is popular and reservations go quickly online. They release new reservations about 3-4 weeks in advance of each date, so check the website when planning your trip and get a booking if you plan on going here. Weekends always fill up quickly, you may have better luck on weeknights.
Second, The Grass Skirt gets the award for the best hidden entrance that I have ever seen. A trait of a great tiki bar is that it be secretive and special, without a view to the outside world. An immersive experience. Super bonus if that means the entrance is disguised! To enter, you go to the Poke shop next door, and check in with the host. When your table is ready, you are led through a door that is disguised as a restaurant walk-in refrigerator in the Poke restaurant kitchen. That’s right, you walk into the kitchen, behind the restaurant cooks, and go into the walk-in. You are then immersed into the dark, tropical world of The Grass Skirt. Genius.
We were seated in the fireplace area, which is open air while still being closed off from the outside. The tiki fireplace is an impressive work of art and ambiance.
Our server was over-the-top fantastic. She chatted with us quite a bit, and was very knowledgeable about the cocktail menu. We told her we had our own basement tiki bar at home, and she seemed excited to have people who really appreciate the drinks and experience of tiki. She even brought us a couple shots on the house in complementary souvenir shot glasses–“Johnny’s Bananas,” a chiled, house-infused banana rum, and “Batida Time,” a tequila guava aperitif. Both were delicious.
On to the drinks:
Paddy tried the Oaxacan Dead, a different version of the cocktail we just had at Miss B’s Coconut Club. I started with The Grass Skirt Daiquiri, which had Navy Strength Rum, pineapple rum, lime, and smoked salt. A fruitier version of the classic daquiri. The Oaxacan Dead was a very different, fruitier, rum version (as opposed to tequila). It was just as delicious, however I think I prefer the tequila flavor for this drink.
For our next round I tried the W.W.Z., with rhum agricole, pomegranate, lime, cinnamon, and absinthe among other rums and ingredients. It was complex and boozy, very classic tiki. Paddy had the Kona Old-Fashioned, a rum version of the classic Old-Fashioned: aged rum, macadamia nut liqueur, and Bittermans xocolatl mole bitters. This one blew us away so much that we went out and bought a bottle of Trader Vic’s Macadamia Nut Liqueur when we got home so that we could enjoy these in our home bar. The Kona Old-Fashioned is slightly desserty, complex, and buttery with an exotic twist from the bitters. Definitely recommend!
The music at the Grass Skirt was a little more modern (there was even a DJ setting up when we left). False Idol gets the edge as far as a classic tiki experience goes, but both tiki bars are fantastic. Don’t miss these on your San Diego trip–and be sure to make a reservation.
Day 3: North Park and Relaxing on Shelter Island
On our last day, we opted to take it slow and not attempt to do All The Things. We could have explored Ocean Beach, or Old Town, or checked out more of Little Italy and the Gaslamp District. However, we were on vacation and we felt the need to relax and enjoy life. We would love to come back and see more of San Diego on our next trip.
When I visit a new city, I try to find a fun neighborhood to explore with fun shops, record stores, vintage clothing, etc. It looked like the North Park neighborhood had a lot of those things. After breakfast burritos at Portside Coffee and Gelato up the street from Humphrey’s, we called an Uber to check out North Park.
To be honest, we found North Park a little disappointing. Many shops were closed and boarded up (pandemic casualties, most likely). The record store we wanted to go to was closed (despite Google Maps stating that it was open).
Artelexia : Shop specializing in Mexican gifts, crafts, home goods, and other fun things.
The Girl Can’t Help It : Vintage clothing and accessories. I’m not going to lie, you need to have a fat wallet to shop here. However, it’s a pretty amazing little collection and worth a peek if you like vintage.
Lucha Libre Tacos : One of two locations in San Diego, this taco shop has delicious tacos and burritos, and (dare I say?) “instagram worthy” interior. Hot pink walls and gold glitter vinyl booths? Yes please. Try the San Diego style burritos with French fries instead of rice for a true local experience.
After our jaunt over to North Park, we spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the pool at Humphrey’s.
For dinner, we had plans of checking out Mitch’s Seafood in Shelter Island as we had read rave reviews. Unfortunately, so had everyone else. The line was very long, and the harried staff was trying to clean up the dining area and convey to everyone that it was at least an hour wait. It was a little windy and chilly, and after one douchebag thought it was perfectly fine to be the “place holder” in line for his family of 17 who all showed up and butted into the line in front of everyone else, we left.
Tip: Go to Mitch’s Seafood on a weeknight instead, and maybe be prepared for a bit of a wait.
Not wanting to drop a fortune on dinner, we walked back and opted for a deck table at Ketch Grill and Taps. This turned out to be a happy accident, as Ketch had a very short wait, a beautiful open air deck with heaters and a nice view of the harbor. There were even some affordable menu options.
Paddy sampled one of their house-brewed beers, and I tried a pineapple margarita (it was delicious). For dinner we had the Ketch of the Day as a sandwich. This was a choice of three different fishes with several options of cooking styles, and two sides. For $17.50 it was an affordable dinner option and we got a great view. Just watch out for the seagulls–they are very shady and will try to sample an unattended plate.
We are excited to return to San Diego again and see more of this beautiful city. Stay tuned for the next leg of our adventure in Tucson!
Our week-long trip to Paris in November 2018: The Catacombs and their fascinating history, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Sacre Coeur and Montmartre, and exploring the delectable food of the Marais and Bastille neigborhoods.
We had never been to Paris, but always figured we would make it there someday. The food, the architecture, the history, the wine, THE CHEESE–there are so many reasons to visit. We found a good deal on a direct flight to Paris from Seattle over Thanksgiving week, and pulled the trigger.
Everyone has a different opinion on what you HAVE to see in Paris. We decided to follow the advice of the late Anthony Bourdain, who lamented that the worst mistake people make when traveling to Paris is to try to do too much. His advice? Just walk around and eat stuff.
We had six days, and there really is an infinite number of things to do, see, and eat in Paris. I made a list, and then whittled that list down, and then whittled it down some more. The Louvre Museum didn’t even make it onto our list, as it is way too big to see in a week and hoards of tourists pushing and shoving around the Mona Lisa with selfie sticks didn’t appeal to us much. The Palace of Versailles was the first thing I eliminated from my initial itinerary–as much as I wanted to see it, it was an entire day trip and I thought it would be too much for the limited time we had. The Catacombs were number one on my list (and did not disappoint).
Everyone has a different priority of what they really want to do and see, and to each their own. The best advice I can give when planning a trip to Paris, is to ask yourself “Is this attraction something I really want to see, or feel like I should see because it’s famous?” If it falls into the “should see” category, put it on a list of things to see if you end up having time. Be sure to leave some free afternoons for rest or spontaneity, and above all, PACK COMFORTABLE WALKING SHOES. Paris is a very walkable city, and you will be doing a lot of it. The best way to see Paris is on foot.
We arrived in Paris in the afternoon on an overnight flight from Seattle, and located the kiosks for the RER B train into Paris from the airport. Our apartment was located in the Marais neighborhood, which we chose for the cafes, restaurants, and nightlife.
Our route to our apartment required a transfer from the train to the Metro, but because we were exhausted and had luggage we exited the train station at Gare du Nord and called an Uber to transport us the rest of the way.
The owner of the apartment met us in front of the building and got us checked in. We had a reasonably priced studio in walking distance to lots of bars, shops, and restaurants with a cute courtyard view.
We unpacked, rested for a few, and then headed out to find dinner.
I had done quite a bit of research on restaurants in the area before we arrived, and chose Cafe De L’Industrie for it’s good reviews and reasonably priced French fare. The cafe was warm, cute, and busy. They had an English menu upon request, and even though not all the servers understood English and our French was very limited, we had no problem communicating. We had escargot as an appetizer, I had a duck leg confit dish with spiced honey, and Paddy had a hanger steak with au gratin potatoes. Everything was delicious. If you like clams you’ll like escargot. Just forget that it is snails and dive in.
We didn’t know much about French wine, so we asked the server to recommend one of their selections served by the glass. It was fabulous and very affordable. Wine is generally cheaper in France than in the US. You will often pay more for a beer at a bar than for a glass of wine.
Having gotten minimal sleep on the plane, we were pretty tired and didn’t make it past 8:30 PM. We woke up once during the night at 2:00 AM, took some melatonin and went back to sleep.
**Tip: bring melatonin to combat jet lag–the part where you are awake when you don’t want to be.
We had thought ahead and picked up a baguette, butter, ham, cheese, and coffee at the store the night before, so we had a delicious and economical breakfast in the apartment. I don’t know what the French do to their butter that makes it better than every other butter in the world (sorry, even you Ireland). Don’t leave France without slathering their butter on a fresh baguette.
My friend Jenny was traveling around Europe on a photography grant, and decided to meet up with us in Paris for the week. She met up with us at our apartment and we spent the day sightseeing together.
The Metro was very easy to navigate, and is pretty much just like New York or any other major city’s subway system. I was able to get Metro directions on my phone through Google Maps whenever I needed them. Tickets are sold individually for €1.90 each or in packs of 10 for €14.90. Note that you cannot use a metro ticket on the RER trains, but you can transfer from an RER train to the Metro on the same ticket as long as you don’t leave the station.
**Note: Keep your used Metro or RER ticket until you have excited the station. There are periodic ticket checks and you may be asked to show your stamped ticket to verify that you paid. If you do not have your ticket, you will have to pay a €35.00 fine. With RER tickets, you will need to put your ticket through the turnstile again when you leave to exit the station.
We figured we should see the Eiffel Tower first thing, and then spend the rest of the afternoon exploring Saint Germain and the Latin Quarter.
We didn’t feel the need to go up in the Eiffel Tower. It was pretty enough from the ground. There is a park behind it that is probably great for picnics in warmer weather.
We walked along the Seine from the Eiffel Tower towards Saint Germain. It was a bit windy, so we left the riverside and walked in between the buildings for wind blockage. We logged a lot of steps on my fitness watch (23,000 by the end of the day!). We could have taken the Metro, but felt like walking. Saint Germain is a bit more of an upscale neighborhood, and economic cafes and food options seemed a bit more limited. It is a beautiful neighborhood to walk through, however.
We eventually made it to the Latin Quarter, and were ready for a break. I thought maybe we could eat at the famous Les Deux Magots cafe, where Picasso, Rimbaud, Hemingway, and other famous artists and writers used to hang out. However, the casual cafe I was expecting turned out to be a fancy affair with waiters in tuxedos and high prices.
We eventually decided on Relais Odeon cafe, and they were more than happy to welcome Jenny’s dog Luna inside to sit under our table (Paris is a pretty dog-friendly city). The prices were reasonable for a nice lunch with table service. Paddy and Jenny had salads, both said they were really good. Paddy also ordered a pate, and I had the Croque Monsieur sandwich, which came with a small salad and fries.
We wandered around the Latin Quarter a bit more after lunch until our legs and feet began to complain.
When our feet had had enough, we parted ways with Jenny and took the Metro back to our apartment to rest up a bit before dinner.
That evening, I had made a reservation at Restaurant L’ Alivi, an adorable Corsican restaurant in the Marais. Our reservation was for 7:00 PM, which was right when they opened. We were the first and only people in the restaurant and for a short period of time wondered if a reservation had been necessary, until it began to fill up and people were being turned away at the door.
Once the food arrived, we knew why it was so popular. The shining stars for us were the appetizers. Paddy had a creamy bacon soup dish with poached egg and gingerbread croutons (Oeuf Mollet), and I had the chestnut soup with fresh sheep’s cheese (Velouté de chataigne). For the main dish, Paddy had veal with eggplant parmesan (Quasi de Veau rôti) and I had a chicken dish that was part of the day’s special. The main dishes were good, but I’m still thinking about that chestnut soup with the big, melty glob of fresh sheep’s cheese in the middle.
The only thing that made the meal less than amazing was the fact that the heat was turned up to about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and with every table packed it easily reached 100 degrees. I was thoroughly enjoying my meal but could not stop sweating. The atmosphere was very romantic, but it is hard to feel romantic with beads of sweat forming on your face. Overall, we would absolutely recommend. Hopefully they can get their thermostat sorted out.
We were pretty tired and a bit jet-lagged, so after dinner we picked up a bottle of wine at the grocery store and relaxed in our apartment.
On our second full day in Paris, I had scheduled a guided, skip-the-line special access Catacombs tour. If you would like to visit the Catacombs of Paris, you have three options:
Show up at your leisure, and wait in line (€13)
Pre-purchase a ticket for a specific date and time on their website for quick-access (€29)
Book a guided skip-the-line tour ($91.50)
After reading a lot of reviews, we opted for the guided tour. The tour was for 12:00 PM and included a two hour tour with a knowledgeable tour guide, including parts of the Catacombs that regular visitors do not have access to. This was by and far the best option, albeit more expensive. We booked through Tripadvisor.
We arrived a bit early and walked around the area for about 15 minutes, but it was raining so we eventually went to the Cafe Rendezvous tour meeting point and ordered a cup of coffee while we waited. The line for the standard self-tour of the Catacombs across the street was very long and we were glad we had not opted to wait in line in the rain. The line moves slowly, as only a certain amount of people are allowed in the Catacombs at a time.
**Note: The Catacombs requires descending 131 steps down and 112 steps on the way back up, so it is not recommended for people with limited mobility
Our tour guide was on time, and we walked right in past the long line of waiting people. There were some rules to follow: No selfie sticks or photos with flash, no touching the bones, no large bags, and if you have a small backpack you will need to carry it in front of you in the section containing bones. We had to go through security on the way out and in.
We descended the long spiral staircase and into the tunnels, with our guide stopping to explain the history of the tunnels along the way. The labyrinth of tunnels under the city dates back to medieval times, originally used for limestone quarries. In the late 1700’s, parts of the expanding city began collapsing. The tunnels were then reinforced. The working conditions for reinforcing the tunnels were dangerous, and most of the workers died by age 28 or went blind from working in continuous darkness.
Our guide led us to large areas of the Catacombs that required a guard to unlock gates to let us in and out. One of the unexpected and interesting exhibits were the sculptures done by a man named Décure. Décure created elaborate carvings in secret, and was sadly killed by a tunnel collapse while working.
In 1785, the city’s graveyards were overflowing, and something needed to be done to make room for new burials. Bones were dug up and transported to the Catacombs, creating sectioned “piles” for each graveyard. The femurs and skulls were arranged in front, sometimes artfully, and the rest of the bones were piled behind. Most have a limestone plaque stating what cemetery the bones are from and the dates.
It was eerie and surreal to be among so many bones. We only got to see a portion of them–there are a total of approximately six million corpses in the Paris Catacombs.
There is only a small section of the Catacombs open to the public, and exploring other sections is illegal and dangerous. It is easy to get lost and unable to find a way out. And if your flashlight dies, good luck. That doesn’t stop people, of course. There are “cataphiles” out there, who know secret entrances and exits, have large dance raves and dinner parties in secret rooms, and even built a fully functioning movie theater.
I won’t share all the secrets and history our tour guide gave us, you’ll have to take the tour for yourself. It is a very interesting place with fascinating history, and the tour was 100% worth the price of admission. Book this tour at least a couple weeks in advance, however. It sells out, especially during the busy season.
When the tour was finished, we were pretty hungry. We ended up having lunch at the Fourteen Cafe near the Catacombs exit. We each had a different salad, which weren’t amazing by French standards, but pretty good. I enjoyed the fresh anchovies on my Nicoise salad.
I was excited to try Parisian hot mulled wine as it was cold and we were going into the holiday season. This cafe was my first experience with French vin chaud (hot wine), and it left something to be desired. Instead of hot mulled wine, I got a cup of plain hot wine with a sugar packet and shaker of cinnamon on the side. It was still a nice winter warmer on a cold rainy day, however.
We were pretty tired after lunch and the weather was pretty crappy, so we headed back to the apartment to rest and read for a while.
For dinner, I had made a reservation at Au Passage, a little restaurant right around the corner from our apartment that was featured on the Paris episode of Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover.
Au Passage is a bit of a splurge, and is all small plates to share. The service was excellent, and all the waitstaff spoke English and were more than happy to help translate and describe the menu. We ordered five dishes and a dessert, all were works of art. Our favorite dishes of the evening were the scallop tartare and the veal sweetbreads. Neither of us had eaten sweetbreads before, but when in Paris! The sweetbreads are typically organ meat from the thymus gland and pancreas. These were lightly breaded and sauteed. The texture was a bit like tofu, and they tasted a lot like pork.
After dinner we met up with my friend Jenny again and went to La Fee Verte, an absinthe bar in the 11th arrondissement of Paris. If you’ve never tried absinthe, this is a great place to go. The absinthe menu at La Fee Verte is extensive, and they will bring an old fashioned water fountain over to your table with multiple spouts. You position your glass of absinthe under the spout with an absinthe spoon across the top and a sugar cube on top of the spoon. You turn on the spout so that the water drips slowly onto the sugar and dissolves it, draining through the grate in the absinthe spoon. This creates a “louche” effect turning the absinthe cloudy.
Most absinthe has a strong anise or herbaceous flavor. I can’t drink a lot of it as the anise is a little much for me. If absinthe isn’t your thing, La Fee Verte has plenty of other beverages on their menu as well as food. We didn’t see the green fairy, but we had a good time.
Our final stop of the evening was Le Tiki Lounge, also in the 11th arrondissement, because if there is a Tiki bar, we have to go there.
Le Tiki Lounge was fairly empty, but had a few loyal patrons. Paddy and I both had the La Machete cocktail with tequila and hibiscus. It was pretty tasty. They also carry Hinano beer here, which is very rare in Europe. Obviously, this is because Hinano is from French Polynesia.
The downstairs has a secluded little hangout room which was empty but pretty fun. Overall, it wasn’t my favorite Tiki bar that I’d been to, but it had heart. We were a bit sad that they had sold out of their souvenir Tiki mugs. Maybe next time.
On Wednesday, we thought we’d start the day by exploring the nearby exploring Père Lachaise Cemetery. We knew Père Lachaise was a big cemetery, but we weren’t quite prepared for how big. It is also not flat, and even on the flatter parts the uneven cobblestones are hard on your ankles.
Père Lachaise Cemetery is a beautiful cemetery, however and definitely worth visiting. Everyone goes there to see the final resting place of American poet and musician Jim Morrison, but his grave is one of the least remarkable in the whole place.
It was a bit confusing to navigate, and we ended up using Google Maps a bit. We located Oscar Wilde’s tomb and the family tomb of famous French singer Edith Piaf.
We ended up stumbling onto a row of Holocaust concentration camp memorials that were very moving. Dachau, Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Oranienburg and Sachsenhausen each have a specific monument, and the statues on most of them are very sad, a realistic monument to the horrors of the WWII Nazi genocide.
We finally located Jim Morrison’s grave after a hike to the other side of the cemetery.
We were getting hungry and tired of walking around cobblestones, so we ended our tour there. There was a lot more to see, but we had seen all we wanted to.
It did take us a while to find our way out of the walled-in cemetery, and when we did make it out we didn’t know where we were in relation to the Metro. We were tired so we just called an Uber back to Oberkampf Street near our apartment to look for a takeout lunch.
One thing we heard that we should eat in Paris is a roast chicken. We had passed Boucherie Oberkampf on the way to the Metro earlier, and returned as we decided that today was chicken lunch day.
Chickens were twirling around in a giant rotisserie behind the counter, their drippings pooling on the bottom on a pile of small potatoes. We each got a whole chicken leg and a large side of the roasted potatoes for about €6 total. We also picked up a delightful thing with lemon curd and raspberries at a bakery for €3.50. Everything was delicious and it was a very economical lunch.
Later that afternoon, we got on the Metro and headed to the Montmartre neighborhood. We walked up a hill to the Sacre Coeur Basilica.
Paris is mostly flat, but this is an area that requires some climbing. Once we approached Sacre Coeur, we realized (thankfully) that the Metro had let us off halfway up the hill to the Basilica. We kept climbing, taking breaks along the way to rest and enjoy the view. It was close to sunset, and the afternoon sun lit up the Basilica beautifully. If you visit Sacre Coeur, try to visit on a sunny day around sunset. There are lots of places to sit and enjoy the view.
Eventually we made it to the Basilica, which was an impressive site inside and out. There were many signs inside the Basilica that said that photos inside were prohibited, but I noticed a lot of rude tourists clicking away on their phones anyway. There was a service going on, so we stayed on the perimeter so as not to disturb.
After touring the church, we continued past into the Montmartre neighborhood. We were expecting it to be a little touristy, but it was a lot more touristy than I thought it would be. Many tourist shops selling the same things and touts trying to get you to hire them for a portrait drawing on the street. Loud, embarrassing American tourists drinking wine on the cafe terraces.
It was unfortunate, because Montmartre is a very cute neighborhood. I’m sure there is more to see beyond the main tourist area, but we didn’t venture far.
We ducked into a cafe called Aux Petit Creux to have some beer and vin chaud and wait to meet up with Jenny. The vin chaud here was delicious. Very spicy and a little sweet and with an orange slice floating in it. My mulled wine in Paris dreams were fulfilled.
Jenny met us and we had another round of drinks and then headed down the big hill in front of Sacre Coeur towards the Pigalle neighborhood. Sacre Coeur was gloriously illuminated at night as well.
Pigalle is the red light district, but also home to the infamous Moulin Rouge and Paris’ other Tiki bar, Dirty Dick.
We walked down Boulevard de Clichy past tourist shops, adult shops and strip clubs. If you are looking for tits and a souvenir shot glass, this is a one stop shop.
We made it to the Moulin Rouge for a photo op. I had waffled about booking tickets for their show, trying to determine if the price was worth it or if it was too touristy. Ultimately, we decided not to drop the dough. I have had a few friends say they really enjoyed the show, so maybe we’ll check it out next time.
If you are looking for a cabaret show in Paris, Moulin Rouge isn’t the only option. Lido and the Crazy Horse are two other large production cabarets and there are other, smaller productions as well.
We’d had our fill of the sights of Boulevard de Clichy, so we made our pilgrimage to the last stop on our Montmartre/Pigalle neighborhood tour: Dirty Dick Tiki bar.
Dirty Dick was a bit more classic. It was dark and loungey, with a drink menu that was a bit more extensive. The bartenders were friendly and welcoming. Jenny and I shared a volcano bowl, because drinks that are on fire are exciting. When it arrived, the bartender poured cinnamon on the flame to make it flare up dramatically. A+ for presentation!
The volcano bowl was boozy and delicious, with real fruit juices. We were also very excited that they had one last souvenir Tiki mug available, which we purchased. We were there early in the evening, but around 6:30 it started to get very busy with the after-work crowd. Overall, we enjoyed Dirty Dick more than Le Tiki Lounge, but both were really fun. I forgot to ask the bartender at Dirty Dick about the origin of the bar name.
We were tipsy and hungry, and after dropping some dough on a Tiki mug and a volcano bowl we wanted something inexpensive for dinner. We had seen Phil Rosenthal rave about L’ As Du Fallafel on I’ll Have What Phil’s Having, and multiple people had told us to go eat there as well. In fact, on my last day of work before our Paris trip, my boss wished me well and left for the day. He then called me from the parking lot to tell me to make sure to go to the fallafel place.
We took the Metro back to the Marais neighborhood and located L’ As Du Fallafel. The dine-in part of the restaurant was full, but the line was not so long. Unfortunately, they didn’t allow dogs and Jenny had Luna with her. They did however have a take out window, so we ordered to go.
Jenny and Paddy had the fallafel sandwich, and I had the Schawarma sandwich. It was packed full of veggies, sauces, and roasted eggplant. The eggplant was a delicious addition. The only bummer was that there was no where outside to sit. We ended up walking all the way back to our apartment to finish eating, about a 15 minute walk. It wasn’t ideal. The sandwiches were amazing though. Go to the fallafel place.
Our original plan for the day was to get up early, get in line to climb the 387 steps to the top of Notre Dame Cathedral, and then on to more sightseeing. However, after the crazy amount of walking we had done in the last three days, we were tired. Sometimes, you need to get over your FOMO (fear of missing out) on major tourist attractions and realize that all that matters on a trip is that you had a great day. We scratched all of our touristy day plans, and ended up having the best day of our whole trip.
We slept in, and then walked down to the Bastille neighborhood, stopping at a bakery along the way for a snack. We went to Foot Massage by Bansabai and treated ourselves to a 30 minute foot massage to restore our worn-out feet.
Feeling refreshed, we wandered around Bastille. We poked around in shops and markets and tasted cheese.
Oh yes, THE CHEESE. We ducked into the Fromagerie Laurent Dubois on Rue Saint-Antoine and tasted some of their amazing cheeses. We purchased a creamy one to eat with breakfast the next morning, and were tempted by a firmer cheese infused with black truffle. We weren’t sure if we could bring it back through customs. I read the customs guidelines online and it seems that firmer cheeses that are sealed well can usually be brought back to the US. The friendly shop staff vacuum-sealed it for us and we did manage to get it back home.
**Note on US customs: Soft cheeses are not allowed through customs. Fruit, vegetable and meat products are not allowed into the US unless they are canned, and no beef products from Europe are allowed in at all. If you are bringing something back, ALWAYS declare it. The worst that can happen is that you get it taken away. If you don’t declare and they find it, you will face a $10,000 fine. More info here.
We ate lunch at a restaurant called Au Bouquet Saint Paul, mostly because they had a cheese and charcuterie plate on the menu and we wanted to keep sampling cheese. I had a shrimp and avocado appetizer as well, which was sort of like guacamole with mayo and shrimp with a side salad.
After a nice lunch with wine we did a little more shopping and poked into a little bakery to get some pastries to go. I wish we had had more time to sample more of all the gorgeous French pastries that were on display in all the bakeries, but there are really only so many pastries one can consume in a week. We got a chocolate eclair, a chocolate ganache thing with a chocolate flower on top, and a pistachio “escargot” pastry. The eclairs in France are a fraction of the size of the eclairs in the US, and with much more flavor.
Later that evening, we did have one touristy item on our agenda: a champagne tasting boat tour on the Seine. Tourism that involves sitting and drinking champagne while sightseeing was exactly the kind of tourism that we were in the mood for that day.
I had booked the tour through Viator. It was a one hour river cruise on one of the tour boats open to everyone. However, if you booked the champagne tasting cruise you got priority boarding, a private area at the front of the boat, and a sommelier pouring you glasses of three different champagnes while pointing out the various buildings and historical sights along the way.
The tour departed from the front of the Eiffel Tower at 6:00 PM, which we had not yet seen lit up at night yet so that was an added bonus. We arrived a bit early, so we sat and had a drink in a heated tent near the boat dock.
The champagne tour was nice, and the sommelier was liberal with his champagne pours. I think that for sightseeing you would see more of Paris from the Seine in the daytime, but whatever. We were mostly there for the champagne.
When the tour ended at 7:00 PM, we rushed off the boat to catch the hourly Eiffel Tower light show that happens on the hour after dark. It was impressive–both with the light show and with just the regular nighttime illumination. Seeing the Eiffel Tower at night was the highlight of the sightseeing tour, even though it wasn’t actually part of the tour.
After the tour we were hungry (and a little buzzed). I had researched Spanish restaurants in Paris for a little change up from French food, and we took an Uber back to the Marais for dinner at Le Jamoncito.
Le Jamoncito is a small, adorable little Spanish tapas restaurant tucked in a small side street in the heart of the Marais nightlife. The restaurant owner was welcoming, and more than happy to recommend his favorite dishes when we asked. Before we knew it we had a slew of dishes being brought to our table, all of them were amazing.
At the recommendation of the restaurant owner who was serving us, we ordered a selection of cured Spanish ham, a dish with octopus and potatoes (pulpo a la gallega), a white fish and roasted red pepper salad, fresh anchovy toasts, and another cured ham toast with tomatoes and olive oil. We LOVED all the French food we had in Paris, but the Spanish tapas at Le Jamoncito ended up being our favorite meal of the trip. The food was delicious, the atmosphere was adorable and romantic, and the owner was very friendly and obviously proud of the food he served.
After dinner, we walked around the Marais a bit. Some of the streets had Christmas lights up, which was fun to see. Overall, it was a great day.
On our last day, we figured we should do some last minute touristy stuff. Our first stop was the Notre Dame Cathedral. It was extremely foggy, so we didn’t bother trying to get to the top to see the gargoyles and the view. I can’t say I’m super sorry about not climbing all those steps, but I have heard the view is great.
Both the interior and exterior of the cathedral are very impressive and intricate. It is free to go inside the cathedral (you only have to pay if you want to climb to the top). Signs showed photography allowed without a flash, at least that I saw. There was a choir singing when we entered, so we sat for a few minutes and marveled at the acoustics. It was really beautiful.
After Notre Dame, we walked a block over to visit the Conciergerie. The Conciergerie building dates back to medieval times when it was built as a palace. It was later converted into a prison, and was the primary prison during the French Revolution. It’s most famous prisoner was Marie Antoinette, who was held in the Conciergerie for several months prior to her execution in 1793. Admission is €15.00
The Conciergerie was pretty interesting, but of all the things we saw and did in Paris, it was probably the least exciting for me. If you are short on time and trying to whittle down your sightseeing list, you might consider cutting this one out. I would recommend the Conciergerie to someone who is very interested in the history of the French Revolution and medieval architecture. If that’s not your thing, consider skipping it.
Later in the afternoon, we ventured out again to the La Defense Christmas market. I really wanted to see a European Christmas market, and La Defense was the only one open, having just opened the day before. (Most of the Christmas markets in Paris don’t open until after December 1st). I read that it was the largest and best Christmas market, albeit a bit far from the city center.
On the way we got off the Metro and stopped at the Arc de Triomphe for a quick photo. The Arc de Triomphe is one of the largest tourist attractions in Paris, and you can climb to the top if you like. We just opted for a quick photo op from the street.
La Defense is the modern business district of Paris, with modern skyscrapers. It is a bit of a metro ride away from the main tourist areas of Paris, but not too far. There is also a huge shopping mall there. If you are looking for history and culture in Paris, La Defense is the opposite experience. La Defense is a very modern and commercial part of the city.
The Christmas market was in full swing on it’s second night. After passing through security at one of the multiple entrances, you can wander around rows of huts selling various gifts and foods. There were quite a few food stands as well selling soups, sandwiches, Mexican cuisine, churros, crepes, vin chaud (hot spiced wine), and other items. We shared a foie gras sandwich and then got some vin chaud and walked around.
We ended up purchasing some truffle oil products. Many vendors had tasting samples to try. Overall, I think I enjoyed myself more than Paddy did. Christmas markets aren’t really his thing.
There were some Christmas light displays to wander around in as well.
By the time we made it back to the Metro, we were tired and ready to sit down and have a drink. The Metro was a bit crazy as it was rush hour, which made the ride back a little claustrophobic.
We ended the evening with beers at Le Black Dog, a heavy metal bar in the Marais that was on Paddy’s list of bars he wanted to visit. It was small and crowded, but the bartenders were friendly and we managed to snag the last table.
We were to fly out the next day, and I received an email that evening notifying us that our direct flight back to Seattle was cancelled and we were on a later flight with a layover in Los Angeles. We didn’t get our reserved two-seat row selection that we had paid extra for, and got home at 3:00 AM Sunday morning instead of 11:00 AM Saturday morning. We weren’t pleased, to say the least. I contacted Air France to get a refund of our reserved seat fee, and to our surprise we got our reserved seat fee back plus €600.00 each! Apparently, there is a law within the European Union that passengers are due compensation if a flight is cancelled or delayed for reasons other than weather.
*Pro tip: If your flight is cancelled or delayed in Europe, always check to see if you are due compensation. A friend of mine said he has received €200.00 before for a flight that was delayed over two hours in Europe.
We absolutely loved Paris. There were a lot of things we wanted to see and do that we didn’t have time (or make time) for, but I have a feeling that we will be back someday. We would love to see France’s wine country as well, and explore more of French cuisine. There is also so much history and beautiful architecture to explore in Paris. Having spent a week there, I would absolutely agree with Anthony Bourdain’s advice. Don’t try to pack too much in. Pick one or two things to see/do for each day, and fill the rest in with spontaneity and wandering. Walk around and eat stuff. You won’t be disappointed.
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Portland’s Tiki Kon 2018: Dipping our toes into the rum-soaked tropical fantasy-land of the Tiki revival community
Both Paddy and I have always been fans of mid-century pop culture. I’m also a big fan of Polynesia and spent some time living in Hawaii and learning about Pacific Island cultures in college. Since then, I had always fantasized about having a basement Tiki bar in my house.
In 2015, we bought a house with a basement and I convinced Paddy that a Tiki bar was of utmost necessity. We found vintage bar at an estate sale, put up some grass matting and bamboo, a grass thatch overhang and invested in a Tiki mug collection. We’ve realized since the initial build-out of our Tiki bar that adding to a Tiki bar can easily become an obsession. I began reading up on Polynesian Pop and Tiki cocktails, and we formed a hobby of scouring antique stores for mid-century treasures and Polynesian art. When we read that Portland, Oregon hosts an annual Tiki Kon every summer, we figured it might be time to check out this cult that we may have inadvertently joined.
Tiki Kon started as a small bar crawl of home Tiki bars in the Portland area in 2003, and has since become a fairly large production. It is run by a couple with the help of volunteers, in addition to their full time jobs. This is no small undertaking and I am very impressed with what they have managed to pull off. It seems that the Tiki revival is growing, which was confirmed when the Tiki Kon website crashed within minutes of tickets going on sale this year.
The site crash was a bit of a mess, and I really felt for the producers as they scrambled to go through transactions by time stamp and sort out over-sold VIP tickets. We had opted to just purchase a la carte tickets to the Friday and Saturday night events, and our ticket purchase made it through and was not part of the oversold ticket group.
The hot item was the VIP ticket, which included all events, a private VIP cocktail lounge, and a Sunday home Tiki bar tour. The home bar tour had a hard limit on the number of guests that could be accommodated on the buses and in the home Tiki bars, so unfortunately there were some folks who were disappointed by having their ticket downgraded or refunded. All in all, it was well handled and the Tiki Kon producers upgraded their website to handle more traffic and ticket sales.
*Tip: Ticket sales happen in March, and they go FAST. If you want to attend Tiki Kon, make your ticket selection before the go-live time and get your purchase in online ASAP. Also, make sure you have a PayPal account. I’m not sure if they plan on taking credit cards in the future, but this year PayPal was the only payment option.
Each year has a theme, and this year’s theme was Fantasy Island.
Custom souvenir Tiki mugs are produced for each year, but in limited quantities of 100. You can go online before the event and try to buy one for $100 when they go on sale, and invites to buy are sent to ticket holders only. They sell out within 5 minutes of going on sale. The Tiki mugs were really cool, and I understand the whole limited-edition collector mentality, but I’m not so keen on only allowing a small fraction of guests to acquire a souvenir Tiki mug for Tiki Kon. Yes, this makes them more valuable and more coveted, but it makes them nearly impossible to get and extremely exclusive. All in all, we didn’t really want to spend $100 on a Tiki mug regardless–but they were really cool.
We opted to take Friday off of work and left Seattle around 8:30 AM, and made record time down to Portland with no traffic. I would recommend not trying to drive to Portland on a Friday afternoon from Seattle. We did this once and hit Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, and Portland rush hours and it took 5+ hours to get there. Not worth it. Take the day off if you are driving from Seattle and trying to get to Portland on a Friday night, or take the Bolt Bus in the early afternoon.
After arrival in Portland, we went straight to the Hawthorne neighborhood to get lunch and do a little vintage shopping. We opted for sandwiches at Lardo, partly because it looked amazing, and partly because they had frosty cold AC and house-made Arnold Palmers.
I had the Italian Tuna sandwich, which was delicious but a little salty with the olive tapenade. I scraped it off and the sandwich was perfect without the tapenade.
Paddy had the Second Hand Smoke brisket sandwich with pickled serrano peppers, American cheese and smokey mayo, which he loved. He also had a side of their potato salad which tasted just like a baked potato. We would definitely come back here.
After lunch, we went swag lamp shopping at the Lounge Lizard up the street. Lounge Lizard is a great place to shop for mid-century modern furniture and lamps, and other antiques. They have a small amount of vintage clothing as well. They have two locations on Hawthorne Blvd, very close to each other. We found a blue vintage swag lamp at the Eastern location on Hawthorne, and Paddy found a very groovy 70’s polyester shirt. He doesn’t know where he will wear it, but there will be some occasion I’m sure.
We also made a last shopping stop at Fat Fancy, a used clothing store for plus size people. It’s my favorite store in Portland and has moved from downtown to the Hollywood area of East Portland. They have a parking lot now. I found a couple used Torrid tops and the sales lady was very friendly and helpful. If you are plus size, check this place out.
After lunch and shopping, we were ready to check into the hotel and relax for a bit. We had reserved a room at the historic Palms Motel in North Portland. We chose this hotel for the low price ($120/night), the location across from the Alibi Tiki Lounge and near the Mississippi neighborhood, and for the sign out front. The sign out front was a significant draw. I mean, it has a blue monkey.
The rooms were clean, and the beds were decent. It is a cheap motel, no frills. But the AC was nice and frosty and there was a fridge, both being a necessity on the 95-degree July weekend. There was even beer left in the fridge from the previous renters. I suppose that means that housekeeping wasn’t super thorough, but I won’t fault them for leaving free beer. There are worse things to overlook.
We checked in and relaxed a bit before getting changed into our Tiki Kon attire and heading across the street to the Alibi Tiki Lounge for food and drinks.
The Alibi is a classic Tiki bar, since 1947. It’s gone through some changes over the years, but the epic flashing neon sign and dark kitschy Tiki atmosphere remain and flourish. The Alibi is mostly known to locals as a karaoke dive bar, but no matter what time of day you go, it’s fun. Be prepared for crowds on weekend evenings.
We opted to eat here, although I can’t say I recommend coming here for the food. The food is alright, if you are drinking and need some fried food to soak up booze. However, we just wanted dinner to be cheap and easy and being able to eat some food along with our Tiki drinks was the ideal situation at the time. It was happy hour, and we had the garlic green beans, the potstickers, the chicken fingers, and the lumpia. It was all average.
They have alcoholic slushies at the Alibi, which on a hot day go down really easy. I had the strawberry daiquiri slushy and Paddy had the Alibi Old Fashioned cocktail. They were selling signature Tiki mugs for $20 with a drink in them, so I got my slushy in a souvenir mug.
After we had food and drinks, we caught a Lyft to Tiki Kon to check out our first a la carte evening show, which was a “surf and turf” show featuring surf rock bands and a “horror” theme.
We checked in at the Tiki Kon booth and acquired our “passports” with stamps for the events that we had paid for. To enter and exit the event, we needed to show our passports. They were pretty fun little souvenirs and very nicely done, with info inside about Tiki Kon and the events of the weekend.
A few vendors were selling artisan Tiki mugs and other items, and there was a bar with pre-mixed signature cocktails of the evening as well as beer and wine. There was a photo op area, which of course we took advantage of.
In the main event room, there was a dance floor, stage, and large tables with table clothes and small centerpieces. People-watching was pretty fun, everyone had put a lot of thoughts into their outfits.
The Red Lion event room setting sort of made it feel like we were at a wedding. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was hoping for a little more Tiki atmosphere, which is a big part of what Tiki is all about. However, I can see how challenging creating that atmosphere would be in this location and for an event this size. They did a good job with what they had to work with…but….we still felt like we were at a wedding. I suppose that is the nature of a convention.
We were trying to brainstorm on what they could do to create more Tiki atmosphere at future events that would be cost-effective and easy to put up and take down. I think if they had a large storage space and a lot of theatrically-minded volunteers, they could create some stage set walls on casters with fake lava rock (spray painted black styrofoam?) or jungle foliage or bamboo. These could be constructed and then wheeled in and out and stored somewhere the rest of the year. This would of course require ample volunteers, truck rentals, and a large storage space for the “sets.” But it would be an idea to take Tiki Kon to the next level. Some paper lanterns strung across the space overhead could really add a lot of atmosphere too. Again, this would require a lot of set up and take-down volunteers. Looking at the enthusiasm for the event around us at the event, I think there would be a lot of people willing to volunteer time in exchange for free or discounted tickets.
We knew no one at this event, so we decided to sit at a central empty table and let people sit with us. It worked, we ended up with friendly company quickly. We met two other couples–one who had been to one Tiki Kon before, and another couple who were newbies like us. They had also opted to just do the a la carte Friday and Saturday events to check it out without going full throttle.
There was a dance performance by MeduSirena Marina, a professional mermaid, and then three surf bands: Jon and the Vons from France, The Boss Martians, and Satan’s Pilgrims. All had go-go dancers and put on a good show.
Our new friends both left before we did due to the fact that there was no food at the event. The lack of food is my main critique of Tiki Kon. If you plan on serving people copious amounts of booze, food is essential. I think there might have been some catering in the VIP suite parties, but for us lowly basic ticket holders, there was no food to be found. I think if Tiki Kon could convince the hosting hotel to put some food trucks in their parking lot from 8:00 PM on, it would keep people partying longer and the local food vendors would make a ton of money.
We really wanted to stick around and check out Satan’s Pilgrims, but even we eventually succumbed to the drunk munchies and left a bit early as well. We took a Lyft back over to the Mississippi neighborhood near our hotel and found a taco truck.
The next morning, we thought we’d head over to Mississippi Ave and get breakfast at Miss Delta, one of my favorite Portland restaurants. Unfortunately, there was a street fair being set up all along Mississippi Ave and Miss Delta was closed so that they could set up a street fair booth for lunch. There was only one restaurant open for breakfast across the street with a very long wait list.
Our new friends Tom and Sarah from Tiki Kon were local and had suggested the Cadillac Cafe in the Irvington neighborhood as a good spot for breakfast, so we got in the car and drove there.
There was no wait and the food was amazing. We were so happy we took their advice.
I had the smoked salmon hash with house-smoked salmon, green beans, leeks, potatoes, eggs, and lemon dill creme fraiche. Paddy had the eggs in purgatory with cheesy grits and a Cajun-Creole sauce. Everything was delicious and the service was great. There is even a real mint-condition 1950’s pink Cadillac on display in the restaurant.
After breakfast, we went back up to Tiki Kon for their Saturday Tiki Marketplace.
The Tiki Marketplace is open to the public and free to enter. It ended up being our favorite part of Tiki Kon, as it gave us an opportunity to look at the work of a lot of amazing artists and craftspeople we’d never heard of, and shop for items to add to our home Tiki Bar.
We were immediately drawn into the vintage Aloha shirt and dress racks that were front and center in the market. It was a little intense–people were furiously and aggressively flipping through racks of dresses, kaftans, and mumus. I didn’t see anything in my size and didn’t really expect to, so I quickly lost interest and exited the vintage clothing feeding frenzy while Paddy persisted.
At the next booth I found a fabulous vintage lamp for only $65, and we also bought several art prints at other vendor booths to decorate our home Tiki bar with.
Later that afternoon, we met up with our new Tiki Kon friends Tom and Sarah at Portland’s other Tiki bar, Hale Pele.
Hale Pele has been written up as one of the top 10 Tiki Bars in the world by Critiki.com, and we had not been there yet. Just for Tiki Kon weekend, they opened early at 2:00 PM (normally they open at 4:00 PM daily). Sarah and Tom were regulars at Hale Pele, and they had some great food and drink recommendations for us.
Hale Pele is easy to miss from the street, which is sort of a classic Tiki bar thing. The idea is to create a hidden, exotic, transporting environment that assaults your senses when you open the door. Tiki bars are also supposed to be fairly dark, so no windows to the outside world. As soon as we walked in, we knew why it was rated as one of the world’s best. It is small and intimate, with a ton of attention to detail. The owners clearly put a lot of love into this bar, and it shows.
If it is your first time at Hale Pele and you are not driving after you leave, order the Jet Pilot cocktail. It is quite a production and does not disappoint. It also tastes amazing and is super strong. I really liked that Hale Pale divides their drink menu up into sections according to how strong the drinks are, so you know what you are getting into. Paddy opted to be the designated driver, so he chose a cocktail off the weaker list. I ordered the Jet Pilot.
The Jet Pilot comes on fire, and just before it is served, the lights in the bar flicker and thunder sounds are played over the speakers. The bartender brings out the drink and sprinkles cinnamon onto the open flame, causing a large fiery flare. It was really quite exciting (Did you know cinnamon was flammable? Neither did we).
Tom and Sarah told us that we HAD to try the Hawaiian bread, which is grilled and buttered and sprinkled with sea salt, served with a guava jam. It was delicious and yes, you HAVE to order it.
We tried a few of their other small plates as well, and everything was outstanding. We spent some time talking to the friendly bartender/manager Sierra, who was a lot of fun and really seems to enjoy her job. We will be back to Hale Pele on our future trips to Portland for sure.
For dinner that evening we wanted to save a little money and go somewhere relatively inexpensive. Tom and Sarah recommended Tamale Boy for good inexpensive Mexican fare. I had the tacos de pescado and Paddy had a quesadilla. Both were excellent. Tamale Boy is attached to the LABrewatory brewery next door, and you are welcome to eat your food from Tamale Boy while sampling LABrewatory’s beers in their taproom.
The Tiki Kon event for Saturday evening was fairly similar to the night prior, with more bands and a cabaret act by the Starella Sisters. When we arrived they were just finishing the Iron TikiTender bar-tending competition, where bartenders from Tiki Bars around the country compete for the Iron TikiTender title and a grand prize trip. The winner was Jeanie Grant from San Francisco’s Pagan Idol Tiki Bar. After the competition, we were able to walk into the main event room and get a view of the three finalists’ over-the-top drink garnishes.
The evening was yet again another big Tiki fashion show and we enjoyed checking out everyone’s fun outfits and accessories. There was a charity raffle with proceeds supporting the people affected by the volcanic lava flows in Hawaii.
We had a few drinks and watched the music for a while (more awesome surf music by a band called Tikiyaki 5-0. It was fun, but we didn’t stay until the end.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped into The Alibi again for a late night snack and another drink. It was packed with karaoke revelers. The Alibi is a hoppin’ place on a Saturday night!
There were a lot of Tiki Kon events that we skipped, including a banquet dinner and Polynesian dance show, and several educational symposiums. The VIP package included a home Tiki bar tour on Sunday, which is extremely popular (a tour of Portland’s home Tiki bars including bus transportation). It seemed that the magic of Tiki Kon really is in knowing people in the Tiki revival community, and getting a VIP ticket that includes the VIP lounges and the home Tiki bar tour. We only dipped our toes in the lagoon for this event.
Would we go again? Well…it was fun, but I think the people who have the most fun are the hardcore loyal returnees, who know each other and look forward to celebrating with each other at this event every year. There were a lot of events we opted not to pay for or participate in, so we can’t give an accurate review of the entire weekend. The highlights of the weekend for us were visiting Portland’s Tiki bars the Alibi and Hale Pele, and the Tiki Kon Saturday Marketplace. I think that if we go again, we may just get a la carte tickets to only one of the evening events and hit the Saturday Marketplace and the local Tiki Bars.
I did just see an announcement that Tiki Kon is moving to the DoubleTree Hilton Lloyd Center, closer to one of my favorite Portland neighborhoods (Buckman) and downtown. It is clear that the interest in Tiki Kon is growing, and I’m curious to see what next year brings. The fact that a couple with full time regular jobs put this event together in their spare time is really impressive, and I think the event will continue to grow.
Other Tiki events that happen annually around the country are Tiki Caliente in Palm Springs, CA, The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and Tiki Oasis in San Diego, CA. Of the three Tiki Oasis seems to be the largest event. I’m curious about checking out Tiki Oasis, but it would be a splurge between airfare, hotel, and the event tickets. If we combine it into a vacation to San Diego it might be pretty fun. I also saw something about a second Tiki Oasis going on in Arizona starting in 2019. The Tiki revival continues to expand.
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Palm Springs, California: A relaxed warm sunny break from the Seattle rain. Tiki bars, mid century modern architecture, Joshua Tree National Park, and a whole lot of desert weird around the Salton Sea.
February in Seattle is a time when I really hate life. The cold, gray, dreary weather, the endless rain, and a whole lot of boring. In Seattle, as soon as the New Year is rung in, the countdown to summer begins. And it’s a long one. Last year we tried to escape the rain by going to Las Vegas, but we ended up bringing the rain with us (we still had a great time though). This year, looking at the winter temperatures in Palm Springs, California–we decided that Palm Springs wouldn’t let us down. We were asked by numerous Lyft drivers during our stay what brought us to Palm Springs. The answer: SUN.
Palm Springs is an easy two and a half hour flight from Seattle. We arrived on an evening flight, walking out into the small open air airport at 11:30 PM. We seemed to be the only flight arriving, and had to wait about 5 minutes or so for taxis to show up in the ground transportation area. The Palm Springs airport is right in town, and getting to the hotel only took 10 minutes.
We had chosen the renovated mid-century modern tiki theme hotel Caliente Tropics. Built in 1964 as The Tropics hotel, it was a popular destination for Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. It received a renovation in 2000 and is now a classic historical Palm Springs experience with some modern upgrades and budget-mid range prices.
Our room was a solid budget hotel room. Clean, average-sized, with a large flat screen TV and a mini fridge. We liked the tile walk in shower in the bathroom that had replaced what I’m sure was a crappy budget hotel bathtub shower combo. The decor was fun, and the sink vanity was huge, with lots of space to spread out our stuff. The one complaint we had was that the bed was not very comfortable. The mattress wasn’t terrible, but upgrading the mattresses to high end comfortable models would really make this hotel great.
Waking up to the California sunshine put us instantly in a great mood. We took a Lyft into the main part of town (Palm Canyon Drive) to have breakfast at Cheeky’s.
Cheeky’s was clearly a very popular breakfast spot, with a wait even at 9:30 on a Wednesday. We got on the list and the wait was only about 15 minutes for a two top.
The coffee was excellent, as was the service and the food. I had the Blondie’s Eggs Benedict with bacon and arugula on a house baked cheddar scone, and Paddy had a beef hash dish with Argentine chimichurri sauce. Everything was outstanding.
After our excellent breakfast, the shops on Palm Canyon Drive were opening and we were ready to explore the town. We started on North Palm Canyon Drive and worked our way south.
Palm Springs is a pretty small town, and the main strip is very walkable. We used Lyft most of the time to get between the main strip and our hotel, but there is also a free shuttle called The Buzz that runs up and down Palm Canyon Drive between 11:00 AM and 1:00 AM Thursday through Sunday. Shuttles go by every 15-20 minutes.
If you like mid century antiques, vintage stores, and art galleries, Palm Springs is a town for you. We saw many amazing relics from the 1950’s and 60’s, retro art, and tons of vintage Aloha shirts. If you are looking for mid century jewelry, glassware, or a one of a kind funky addition to your home, Dazzles is the place to go.
Dazzles is easy to miss, it is tucked back off the street a bit at 1035 N Palm Canyon Drive. You will know you are in the right place when you see the filled-in pool with yard flamingos.
There are quite a few art galleries to visit in Palm Springs, but one of the most renowned is probably the Shag gallery and store. Shag is artist Josh Agle, who paints colorful paintings depicting fun mid-century leisure in a unique style.
We eventually ended up in the “downtown” area of Palm Canyon Drive and were feeling like we needed a little break. We stopped into the bar of busy Maracas Mexican restaurant for a margarita.
I checked my phone and had received a voicemail from Avis car rental agency that the rental car reservation I’d made with them months ago was cancelled because they had no cars. We had never rented with Avis before and were not happy. After a terse conversation with customer service, who told me that they were “very sorry” and that there was nothing they could do, we frantically attempted to reserve another rental car for our desert adventures last minute on a busy holiday weekend.
Don’t rent with Avis. Apparently reservations with Avis don’t actually reserve anything for you. They could have made it right by securing me a reservation with another agency at the same price and doing the search legwork for us, but they did not care to help us in any way.
Enterprise car rental saved the day. I made a reservation through Hotwire and then called to confirm it with a very helpful man in the local office who assured me that he would reserve a car for us the next day. We have rented with Enterprise before and have had good experiences. We will be renting with them again in the future.
We finished walking the strip and exploring and headed back to the hotel to relax.
That evening we went to have a couple pre-dinner drinks at The Reef tiki bar in the hotel.
It was happy hour, so we ordered two rounds of the Hot Hula Hibiscus from the discounted happy hour menu, which had tequila, hibiscus syrup, and jalepeno. They were strong, and in hind sight perhaps two strong cocktails on an empty stomach wasn’t the best idea, but they sure were tasty. They had a really cool signature tiki mug for sale but it was $65, without a drink in it. It was pretty unique, but a bit more than we wanted to spend on a tiki mug.
It was Valentine’s Day, and we had a reservation at The Purple Palm restaurant in the Colony Palms Hotel. We went to dinner a bit tipsy.
Valentines Day had a prefix menu at $75 per person, which included an amuse bouche, a starter, a main dish, and a dessert. Our big splurge of the weekend.
The amuse bouche was a goat cheese bite (can’t remember what it was), and house baked bread with truffle butter, which we devoured. For our starters we both chose the Heirloom Pumpkin Soup with blue crab, lemon crema, and Thai basil. It was delicious.
For our mains, Paddy had the Golden West Ranch strip steak with mushroom, leek, shishito, broccoli, yam, and black garlic. I was waffling between the quail and the salmon, but upon learning that the salmon was farmed, I went with the quail. We are in the desert after all–seafood isn’t what this area is known for. The quail dish was a brand new dish they were debuting that evening, with asparagus, hazlenut, and blackberries.
For dessert we ordered one of each of the two desserts offered: The roasted pineapple and preserved lemon tart, and the carmelized banana and chocolate custard cake.
Everything was outstanding, and the perfect amount of food. I’m still thinking about that fresh baked bread and truffle butter.
On our second day, we had resolved our rental car problems with the help of Enterprise, and they picked us up and got us on the road to Joshua Tree National Park.
On the way to Joshua Tree, we stopped off in Pioneer Town in the high desert to have lunch at Pappi and Harriets Pioneertown Palace. Upon stepping out of the car, we realized that we had severely mis-judged the temperature of the high desert when we were greeted with cold winds. Our shorts and t-shirts/tank top did not suffice. I had a light sweater, but it wasn’t enough. We rushed into the restaurant.
Inside was a cozy, busy contrast to the chilly desolate desert outside. The restaurant was full of lunch patrons enjoying BBQ with a warm fire in a fireplace in the bar room area.
Pappi & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace not only has great BBQ, but is well known for it’s music shows in the evenings. Quite a few big name artists have performed at Pappi & Harriets. There is a small stage in the dining area, but the outside appears to be set up for large outdoor shows as well during warmer weather. If you’re in the area, you might check their calendar to see who is playing.
Having smelled the BBQ wafting through the restaurant, we figured it would be silly to order anything else. I had the pulled pork sandwich and mac and cheese, and Paddy had the beef brisket sandwich and coleslaw. Both were fantastic. The mac and cheese was very cheesy and homemade. It was extra delicious with a little BBQ sauce mixed in.
After lunch, we headed back to the main highway to continue toward Joshua Tree National park. On the way there we stopped off at a souvenir store so Paddy could get a sweatshirt, and at the visitor’s center so that we could get a park map and plan our route. It was a bit warmer in Joshua Tree than it was up in Pioneertown, but it was still not as warm as Palm Springs. Lesson learned–bring layers to the high desert. Admission to Joshua Tree National Park is $25.00.
Joshua Tree was beautiful. We stopped off at many pull offs along the way through the park to admire the trees and the views. I had originally wanted to do a short hike, but given that we hadn’t dressed warm enough and our limited time, we just did a drive through tour this time.
We detoured to Keys View point, one of the higher elevation points in the park and braved the cold winds for a few photos.
We kept seeing this sign in multiple places in the park. I think it’s best to stay on the trail…
We went as far as the Cholla Cactus Garden on the edge of the Pinto Basin. It was lower elevation in the basin, so it was a bit warmer down there. We did the short walk through the garden, admiring the unique cholla cacti, which look kind of like they are trying to be mini joshua trees.
It was getting late, so we began the drive back to Palm Springs, enjoying the sunset along the way.
Every Thursday evening in Palm Springs is VillageFest from 6-10 PM. In the main downtown area of Palm Canyon Drive, the street is closed off and vendors set up along the street. All the shops and art galleries in the area keep their doors open late for visitors. There are food stands, craft vendors, and lots of artists. We ditched the car and took a Lyft to downtown to check it out.
We walked around a bit and then saw the Tonga Hut tiki bar which was on our agenda to check out. It was busy but we were able to get a table in the lounge.
The drinks at the Tonga Hut were classic and top-notch. I tried the classic Navy Grog drink, which came with a rock candy swizzle stick so that I could control the amount of sweetness I wanted in my drink. Paddy was excited that there was Hinano beer on the menu, which we hadn’t had since our Tahiti honeymoon in 2010.
We also ordered the Pupu Platter, which we weren’t expecting to be anything spectacular–but we were surprised at how good everything was. The chicken skewers were juicy and nicely marinated, the coconut prawns tasted homemade, and the egg rolls were shockingly good. Get the egg rolls.
We ended up moving out to the deck and ordering the fried rice with prawns, and another round of drinks. I tried their house special Mohave Punch with hibiscus syrup, rum, passion fruit, and other fruit juices. It was delicious. The fried rice wasn’t my favorite, but it definitely tasted homemade and MSG free.
After getting our tiki bar on, we continued walking the rest of VillageFest. We found a lot of great art booths and bought several affordable small pieces and card prints that we liked. We really liked the variety of modern artists and had to get out before we spent too much money.
Friday was our last day with the car, and we were ready to explore some of the “desert weird” around the Palm Springs area. We grabbed a quick breakfast sandwich and coffee at Koffi, a local favorite coffee shop two blocks down from our hotel, and hit the road.
Our first stop was the Welcome to Sky Valley sign, which Paddy wanted to see since it is on the cover of a Kyuss album that he loves.
We then headed another hour east to Bombay Beach on the Salton Sea.
The Salton Sea is a lake that was accidentally created in 1905 by an overflowing irrigation canal system created off of the Colorado River. It was built up as a resort area in the 1950’s, including shoreline settlements such as Bombay Beach and Salton City. The lake became increasingly polluted from farm runoff and increasingly salty. Fish began dying, and the pollution and stench of dead fish on the shore dissolved the tourism industry, as you might imagine. Today people still live on the shores of the Salton Sea, but very few. There isn’t much more than a small store and a bar in Bombay Beach.
Bombay Beach now has become a tourist attraction for photographers and curious wanderers, coming to see the ruins of a resort town that once was.
We drove to the beach first, and once we got close to the water we became overwhelmed with the stench of death and pollution. A bit of advice–if you want to walk up to the shore, wear some rubber boots or shoes you don’t care too much about. Also, bring baby wipes and a trash bag to clean up afterward. I got the gross shore mud on my sandals and had to do the best I could with some kleenex and bottled water.
The town of Bombay Beach itself is pretty interesting. It is a mix of abandoned buildings and houses and inhabited houses and trailers. I can’t imagine living out here, but some people probably enjoy being a bit removed from mainstream society. Residents and artists have had some fun with the ruins of the town.
We moved on to Slab City and East Jesus art commune. Slab City is a community of artists, squatters, and snowbirds looking for a free place to settle. There is no electricity, running water, or sewer system. Most people live in campers with solar panels and generators. It is an anarchist’s dream–no charge to stay, no address, live completely off the grid. As you can imagine, this type of community breeds some interesting art.
We drove down the dirt road off the highway until we reached the East Jesus sculpture park. This is one of the most amazingly unique sculpture parks I’ve ever seen. It’s free, open to the public, and full of political statements and the completely bizarre. I loved it.
Down the road from East Jesus Sculpture Garden, we stopped at Salvation Mountain. You really can’t miss it. Salvation Mountain is the work of a man named Leonard Knight, and is an ever-evolving art installation about his devotion to god, and his attempt to spread god’s word to the world. It really is a sight to see.
Our last stop on our tour of desert weird was the International Banana Museum. I discovered this museum while exploring the area on Google Maps prior to our trip, and when I saw that there was an International Banana Museum out in the middle of nowhere next to the Salton Sea, it became one of the top priorities of this trip. Naturally, I wore my banana dress that day for the occasion.
The International Banana Museum is owned by a man named Fred Garbutt and his wife, next to a convenience store along Highway 111. Something possessed Mr Garbutt to purchase the Guinness World Record’s largest banana-themed item collection on Ebay and open this little museum in the middle of nowhere, and I salute him for it.
The museum is open Friday through Sunday, but possibly Thursdays? Not sure. Hours aren’t posted on the website, but I read that they were open weekends. Entrance fee is $1 cash, which is deducted off of any purchase you make. They sell postcards, some banana items, and banana ice cream. We passed on the ice cream, but I purchased a banana purse and a couple souvenir banana pens.
After satisfying my burning desire to see the world’s largest banana collection (it was everything I dreamed it would be), we headed back to Palm Springs to do a little shopping.
If you are shopping for Tiki mugs, decor, or clothing, Iconic Atomic is your store. The owner was super friendly, and we recognized him from the Caliente Tropics hotel promotion video (he was an actor playing a guest enjoying a tikilicious vacation). His vintage dresses are all sorted by bust measurement, so it is easy to sort through to find your size. I even found a plus size tiki dress (a reproduction, but still awesome). It is so hard to find plus size vintage fashion, but he had some options in his collection.
That evening for dinner, we wanted something a bit more budget-friendly, so we checked out Tlaquepaque on South Palm Canyon Drive for Mexican food. The margaritas were mediocre, but the food was excellent. Paddy had a chimichanga, and I had the chicken fajitas.
After dinner, we wanted to go to the Bootlegger Tiki Bar on North Palm Canyon Drive. It was a mile and a half up the strip from Tlaquepaque, but we were so full we felt like we needed to walk it off. The walk was pleasant and didn’t seem that long.
Bootlegger Tiki Bar was much tinier than we expected, but the atmosphere and drinks were on point. We found a couple stools by the entrance and patiently waited until some people left and we scored one of the coveted three booths.
The only food served here are some light bar snacks (nuts, banana chips, popcorn)—the main focus is the drinks. I ordered the Desperado’s Downfall and Paddy had the Mind Flayer. Both were flavorful and complex.
Of the three tiki bars we visited in Palm Springs, Bootlegger was my favorite. It was probably the most classic of the three, and I loved the ambiance. The drinks were fantastic and expertly crafted. However, patience is required here due to the limited space. You may find yourself having to wait for a seat. There is an outdoor area to sit in, but the main point of a tiki bar is the atmosphere and feeling like you are in an exotic, tropical destination. It’s hard to feel like that sitting outside on the side of N Palm Canyon Drive watching the cars go by.
Saturday was our last day, and we wanted to enjoy some sunshine and pool time before we had to go back to cold, rainy Seattle. But first, boozy brunch.
Pinocchio in the Desert is a local favorite, known for big affordable breakfasts and their bottomless $4.95 champagne special. A nice open-air dining area allowed us to enjoy the sunshine while we ate.
I ordered a bloody mary for $6.95, and the lobster benedict. My bloody mary arrived in an enormous goblet, and I swear there was at least 6 shots of vodka in it. I couldn’t even finish it by the time breakfast was over. I’ve NEVER met a bloody mary that I couldn’t finish, especially if it was my first of the day. I was concerned that if I drank the whole thing, I would have to crawl out of the restaurant.
Paddy had the California omelet, which he said was tasty, and my lobster benedict was delicious as well. The home-style potatoes were awesome. We would absolutely come back here again. Just be sure you don’t have to do anything for the rest of the day if you order the bloody mary.
We spent the rest of the day lounging by the pool at the hotel. There were plenty of chairs, it wasn’t crowded. There was one couple with a small child and a lady with a baby, but for the most part the pool scene was age 35+ with cocktails. It was the best pool scene I’ve been to. No screaming children doing cannonballs, and no drunk spring-breakers. Just a bunch of adults wanting to chill and have a relaxing time.
For dinner, we met up with our friend Andrea, who had just moved to Palm Springs in December. We made a reservation at the popular Tropicale restaurant, which was just my scene. Vintage-looking booths, tropical drinks, and a pink neon sign gave the place a classic Copa-Cabana feel.
I ordered the coconut martini, because it just felt like the right thing to do. I wouldn’t order it again, it was a bit to sweet for my taste. But it wasn’t bad if you like sweeter drinks. Paddy had the spicy mango mojito, which he enjoyed.
The dinner menu is an eclectic mix of items, ranging from pizza and a gourmet burger to pastas, meatloaf, miso salmon, fried chicken, and filet mignon.
I had the crispy goat cheese and beet salad with an orange vinaigrette, (which was lovely) and the Yucatan chicken sausage pizza. Paddy had one of their pasta specials. Everything was great, and with such a variety on the menu, there’s something for everyone here. I would go back here for atmosphere alone, but the food was great too. Reservations recommended though–this place is popular, especially on weekends.
It was time to go home on Sunday, but our flight left in the afternoon so we had time for one last brunch. We went to the King’s Highway diner in the hipster Ace Hotel next door.
The King’s Highway has the bones of a classic 50’s diner, combined with Coachella music festival hipster decor, and serves Portland’s Stumptown coffee and espresso (in hot or cold brewed options). There is a coffee counter serving espresso and pastries to go, or you can sit down and have the full diner experience.
We both had the breakfast burrito, which while tasty, was a bit overpriced at $14 each. It comes on a plate with no sides, no garnish, just a burrito on a plate. Nothing fancy. The ingredients were quality, but it seemed like it should have cost $9.50 at most.
We took a peek at the adjacent Amigo Room bar before we left, which looked pretty awesome. Big round booths and Spanish-style decor. Dark and intimate. And there is a photo booth in the hallway, if you feel so inclined.
We really liked Palm Springs and the surrounding area. It is the perfect getaway for couples without kids (or who want to leave the kids with grandma), and a great gaycation spot as well. More relaxing than Vegas, with a better chance of nice sunny weather in the winter. Just don’t visit in the summer–I hear it is sweltering hot and miserable. With such a short flight from Seattle, we will definitely be back for another tikilicious good time.
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Las Vegas 2017: Getting off The Strip–downtown Las Vegas and the Arts District. Checking out local spots and culture in Las Vegas’ historical downtown and the up-and-coming arts scene.
The last time we were in Las Vegas, when we left we decided we’d had enough of Las Vegas and probably wouldn’t be back any time soon. But…..Las Vegas always has a way of seducing you back. The inexpensive and easy 2.5 hour flight from Seattle, the escape from the Seattle rain, the abundance of cheap, nice hotel rooms, the ability to walk around the street with a drink in your hand, and the great restaurants are ever enticing. We needed a quick winter getaway to lift our spirits (January through April in Seattle is a miserable, rainy, cold, awful time) and decided that Las Vegas would be quick and affordable. We had also never made it to downtown Las Vegas during our first two trips, and decided that this time we would stay in downtown Las Vegas and avoid The Strip altogether.
It was a wonderful plan. We had a fabulous time exploring historical downtown Las Vegas, the Arts District, and a few other local spots. Not once did we go to The Strip, and we left Las Vegas with a new appreciation for Sin City. Our trip was made even better by reuniting with an old middle school friend of mine who was living in Las Vegas and producing a local burlesque show through the winter.
Our flight landed at 7:00 PM, but sat on the runway for 25 minutes because our gate was occupied by a delayed flight. Fortunately we had not checked baggage, so when we finally got off the plane we were able to dash down to ground transportation to catch our shuttle.
We had reserved a round trip shuttle through the aptly named shuttle service Airline Shuttle. It was very inexpensive at $18.00 per person round trip with direct hotel pick up and drop off. Online booking was easy. Be sure to print off your confirmation, however. They do not accept phone screen confirmations, you must print a copy with the bar codes. Their website made this pretty clear, so I printed two copies, just in case.
There are other transportation alternatives such as buses and taxis. A taxi to downtown Las Vegas will run around $40-$50 from the airport one way, and a bus will take a long time. The shuttle was definitely the easy and affordable option.
Finally , we arrived at our hotel, The Golden Nugget. After a bit of confused wandering around in the huge casino we made it from the back entrance where the shuttle dropped us to the front desk to check in. We had reserved the most inexpensive room through Booking.com –a Carson Tower King, non-smoking. We were informed that the only non-smoking rooms available had two double beds. Upon presenting the front desk lady with our printed confirmation for a king room, and informing her that I am allergic to cigarette smoke so a smoking room was not an option, she upgraded us to a Rush Tower king room at no extra charge. (This is why I’m old-school and print my confirmations, it’s easy to whip out and show at check in if something doesn’t match what you were promised.)
The Rush Tower rooms were NICE. The Rush Tower was clearly the newer, upgraded side of the hotel. Our trip was off to a great start.
After a speedy luggage drop and clothes change, we were dying for a drink and a snack. It was already 8:30. We headed down to the casino and into the Cadillac Tequila Bar.
The drinks and food at Cadillac Tequila Bar are a bit upscale Mexican, not outrageously expensive but not cheap. I ordered the Elote (Mexican street corn) and the Ahi Tuna Tacos appetizer and a guava margarita. Paddy ordered the Queso and chips, a beer, and a shot of tequila. The tequila menu was extensive, but the cheapest shot was $9.00. Whatever, we needed to get our night going. The tequila was high quality.
The food was great. Paddy was particularly impressed with the queso dip–real cheese (no Velveeta) and great flavor. The ahi tuna tacos were also very tasty. There was an Asian ponzu-style sauce to pour on them, and the shells were made from wonton wrappers. My guava margarita was delicious, but didn’t seem to have much booze. I ended up ordering another $9.00 shot of tequila to add to it.
After snacks and a couple first drinks, we were ready to check out Fremont Street.
Fremont Street is the heart of downtown Las Vegas, and the original thoroughfare through the city. Many of the casinos on Fremont Street including the Golden Nugget are still there, but with a modern makeover. The west portion of Fremont Street is the renowned Fremont Street Experience.
The Fremont Street Experience is a covered pedestrian-only section of the street. At night, a light and music show happens on the ceiling every hour. Cover bands play at two different stages on opposite ends of the covered street, tourists zip line over the crowds and under the covered light show, and various street performers and people in costume are stationed around the street providing photo opportunities for tips. There are flashing neon lights and alcohol for sale from street side bars everywhere you turn. I was able to procure a keg cup of cheap white wine for $6.00 (don’t judge).
The Fremont Street Experience was fun for approximately 15 minutes. After that, we were ready to get out of neon tourist fun-land. We kept walking down to the east part of Fremont Street, which was a much mellower and quieter experience. The covered pedestrian street turns into a regular downtown street with fewer large casinos and more small bars and restaurants.
Fremont Street East was recently re-vamped in 2002 and new, hip bars and restaurants have been popping up to revitalize the local downtown Las Vegas scene.
We wandered into Commonwealth, a hipster speak-easy style bar with dim lighting and 1920’s decor. The music was modern and the cocktail menu was fancy. We ordered drinks at the bar and walked around. It was about 10:00 PM, so the night was just getting started for the 20-something crowd that was beginning to trickle in.
We wandered upstairs to the rooftop patio, which had a DJ and another outdoor bar. A server came around with free shots of knock-off Fireball whiskey and tiny complimentary cupcakes. Who doesn’t like free shots and cupcakes?
I had read that there is a speakeasy within Commonwealth called The Laundry Room. The only way to get into the Laundry Room is to send a polite reservation request via text to (702) 701-1466. We sent a text to see if we could get in while we were there, and waited a little bit. We finished our drinks and about 10 minutes later received a response with an offer of a 12:15 AM reservation. It was 11:00 PM, and we were tired from working earlier that morning and then traveling, so we thanked them and declined the offer. We’d been to “speakeasies” in Seattle and New York and weren’t feeling like getting into the Laundry Room was that important to us. Maybe next time.
We wandered around Fremont Street a little bit more before calling it a night.
Friday morning we were greeted by 58 degree drizzle, very reminiscent of the Seattle weather we were trying to escape. Se la vie. We took that as a sign that we should go ahead and sleep in a bit longer.
Eventually, we were hungry. I had read that the buffet at the Main Street Station casino around the corner was supposed to be one of the best cheap buffets in town, a local gem. We put on our raincoats, walked to Main Street and got in the buffet line.
We waited in line for about 10 minutes, only to be told when we got to the front of the line that they would be closing at 10:30 (it was 10:15) for half an hour to switch over to lunch, at which point everyone in the dining area will be forced to leave. We decided that 15 minutes was not the time frame that we wanted for breakfast, so we opted out.
*Note–we learned that this is Main Street Station buffet’s weekday schedule. Saturday and Sunday have a champagne brunch buffet from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM for $11.99. We didn’t make it back to try this, but will definitely consider it for our next trip.
We were starving, so we wandered into the Plaza Hotel and casino next door on Main Street to see what they had going on. We found Hash House a Go Go inside the casino, which had a 15 minute wait but looked really good. We gave the host my cell number and walked around the casino until we got a text that our table was ready.
At first look, the prices at Hash House a Go Go seemed a bit high–most plates in the $16.99 range. But then we saw the food coming out of the kitchen—it was HUGE. We were hungry, but the portions this place was serving wouldn’t be something either one of us could finish individually. So we found a dish we both wanted to try and split it. We were really glad that we did.
We ordered the Andy’s Sage Fried Chicken Benedict, which the menu bragged to have been featured on Man Vs Food.
Andy’s Sage Fried Chicken Benedict is a split biscuit with two fried chicken breasts, bacon, mozzarella cheese, tomato, tomato, spinach, scrambled eggs and chipotle cream sauce, served on a bed of mashed potatoes. It was delicious, but massive. Eat this one with a buddy. I couldn’t even make it all the way through my half.
All things considered, the prices are pretty reasonable after all at Hash House a Go-Go, considering the portions. I think we’ll have to come back again on our next downtown Las Vegas trip and try the crab cake benedict.
After breakfast, we called a Lyft and took a short ride over to the downtown Las Vegas arts district.
The downtown Las Vegas arts district is a rapidly up-and-coming neighborhood comprised of several bars, restaurants, art collectives and galleries, and vintage shops. It is also the new home of the Burlesque Hall of Fame, which was our first stop.
We caught the Burlesque Hall of Fame during a transition period. It had previously been located on Fremont Street, but had recently moved to the arts district and was in temporary art gallery space while their new location was being renovated across the street.
The gallery was a small space, but had a few costume pieces on display from burlesque legends, and a well-constructed timeline of the history of burlesque with many photos and other memorabilia. The man at the front desk was more than happy to answer our questions.
You would think that a town like Las Vegas, with all it’s glitz and glam would have a great modern burlesque scene. Sadly, we were informed that has not been the case. In Las Vegas there are showgirls, and there are strippers. The art of the rhinestone-encrusted shimmy and a wink with costumes and dancing has been a little lost on sin city. It’s not large-production enough to compete with the big-time casino shows, and it’s too classy to be a raunchy modern striptease.
There are local burlesque performers who are trying to change this, however. Small-venue burlesque shows are becoming more frequent and the local arts scene is growing. The gentleman at the Burlesque Hall of Fame informed us that there were big plans in the works for their new space. He said they have tons of costumes, vintage marquees, and lots of other items in their collection that they are excited to exhibit. Check http://www.burlesquehall.com/ for updates.
Here are some burlesque show posters from current local burlesque troops. Look them up if you’re planning a trip!
We moved on from the Burlesque Hall of Fame to S Main Street to explore the vintage and antique shops.
If you are looking for vintage furniture, clothing, or random kitschy knick-knacks, S Main Street in the Arts District is the place to be. The only thing stopping us from blowing our tax return on a lime green 60’s sectional sofa at Retro Vegas was that we couldn’t take it on the plane home. And maybe a little common sense.
We had a lot of fun looking at all the shops on S Main Street. There was so much to explore. I really wanted to go to the Rockin’ Bettie store, a boutique with retro-style dresses and clothing, but sadly they were closed because they were at a rockabilly convention. Next time.
Later that afternoon we went and got foot massages at the Happy Feet massage place in the El Dorado casino on Fremont Street. $15 for 30 minutes. It was money well spent, we felt revitalized and ready to take on the evening.
After our foot massages were over, we got take out from the Cousins Maine Lobster food truck on Fremont Street. Their menu looked amazing (lobster tots!) I got a lobster roll, Paddy got the lobster grilled cheese, and we got some smothered tots to share–tots smothered in a creamy salsa sauce.
Overall everything was tasty and the lobster was great, but we both felt like our sandwiches were a little small for the price.
After dinner we got dressed up and headed to Atomic Liquors on Fremont Street to meet up with L, a long lost middle school friend of mine and her husband Sam (I am just using her first initial to protect her privacy). L had been living in Las Vegas since the fall, producing and performing in the Leather & Feathers Burlesque Cabaret show at the Erotic Heritage Museum. I grew up with her, but hadn’t seen her since middle school.
Atomic Liquors is the oldest free-standing bar in Las Vegas. It was formerly a cafe, originally built in 1945. The cafe customers used to watch atomic blasts at the nearby atomic test site from the roof of the cafe . In 1952 the cafe owners Joe and Stella Stobchik turned it into a bar. Rumor has it that the Rat Pack and the Smothers Brothers used to drink there after their nightly shows.
Slightly divey, but with a classy signature cocktail menu and a bartender who looks like she stepped out of a 1940’s pin-up magazine, Atomic Liquors was a great place to start the evening.
It was fun reuniting with L, who gave us the scoop on what it was like to live in Las Vegas. She said that everyone she’s met in Vegas has been surprisingly friendly. She thinks that it is because everyone she meets isn’t from Las Vegas. Most people are transplants from elsewhere, and know what it’s like to move to a new city and have to find new friends. She is also a huge fan of the plentiful cheap Sunday champagne brunch deals.
After a couple drinks at Atomic, we headed over to the Beauty Bar on Fremont Street to see a local band, Franks and Deans. There were many interesting photo ops along the way. And we found Vegas Santa! In February! He was urinating on the motel sign that advertised that llamas stay free.
We eventually made it to the Beauty Bar. The Beauty Bar is a chain bar, the original Beauty Bar is in New York. The bar offers booze and manicures during the day, and booze and live music at night. The walls were covered in pink and red glitter, and the bar and furniture are all vintage 1960’s beauty salon style.
The bands and atmosphere were great, the drinks were not. Weak, overpriced cocktails were served in crappy plastic cups and they didn’t serve wine. (Um, if I owned a bar plastered in pink glitter, there would definitely be wine on the menu. Possibly even mini bottles of Cooks served in a paper bag with a straw. Just sayin’.)
The bands made up for the lame drinks. The opening band was The Swamp Gospel, and they were great. Gritty, Southern-style blues-rock, complete with rubber snakes thrown into the audience.
Franks and Deans went on last, and they were fantastic. It doesn’t get much more modern, local Vegas than Franks and Deans. They do punk rock style covers of old crooner songs (their name is a play on Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin if you hadn’t put that together already). They put on a great show, complete with a go-go dancer.
We ended the night by soaking up the booze with pizza from Evel Pie across the street. The name is an homage to stunt performer Evel Knievel, and they always offer a $5.00 pint of PBR and a slice special. Open until 4:00 AM on weekends, it’s a good place for late night munchies.
Saturday started pretty late, on account of the alcohol-soaked late night before. The weather was also even worse than Friday’s, cold and pretty rainy. We took our time getting out of bed. Eventually, we got pretty hungry so we grabbed some coffee at the Starbucks downstairs and then headed down Fremont Street to the Container Park Mall.
The Container Park Mall is on the East portion of Fremont Street, and is built entirely out of recycled shipping containers. There are lots of little shops, a couple restaurants, a coffee shop, and even a little wedding chapel on the third floor. There is an outdoor stage in the center of the mall, and lots of tables and places to view live music should a show be going on.
We found sustenance at Cheffinis Hot Dogs on the ground level. Their hot dogs are some of the best we’ve had, with lots of options and toppings. I loved that they offered a turkey dog option in addition to beef and veggie dogs, since I don’t eat beef.
I had the Moshi Moshi dog with a turkey frank, which had caramelized onions, seaweed, jalapeño, wine sauce, and spicy mayo. Paddy had The Grandfather with a beef frank, piled with chopped pork belly, red bell peppers, caramelized onions, crushed potato chips, spicy mayo, basil aioli, pickled mango, and topped with a fried quail egg. They were delicious.
We then explored some of the container shops and admired the murals on Fremont Street.
On the way back to our hotel, we stopped off at The D Casino and went up to the second floor to check out their collection of vintage slot machines. We played a couple for fun, no wins. They are the classic kind with the pull lever on the side and the cherries, numbers, and other little pictures that spin and you try to get a match.
Later that afternoon, we headed to Chinatown for food and drinks. A lot of people (including us before doing research for this trip) don’t know that Las Vegas has a Chinatown, but it does. It isn’t the type of Chinatown you see in other cities, however. You won’t find a cute downtown area with hanging lanterns, Chinese archways and funky little side streets to explore. Las Vegas’ Chinatown is essentially one big long strip mall extending for miles west of The Strip on W Spring Mountain Road.
Don’t be put off by the strip mall appearance. If you like Asian food, there are many great restaurants here to explore. And one really great tiki bar.
If you’ve read much of our blog you probably have figured out that I have a tiki bar fascination. There are two great old-style tiki bars in Las Vegas, one of which is The Golden Tiki.
The Golden Tiki’s strip mall location gives a deceiving outward appearance, but once you step inside the large double doors, you enter another world. Clamshell fountains, dark, intimate booths and tables, a large wrap-around bar, and a ceiling covered in tiny LED star lights that flicker all create an exotic tropical wonderland. Tiki kitsch and tropical memorabilia abound, with the 1960’s exotica sounds of Martin Denny playing on the bar surround sound system.
We cozied up in a little side table and got out our cell phone flashlights to read the menu. Don’t expect food here. Their kitchen offers only 15 pupu (appetizer) platters each Friday and Saturday night that serve four people each, sold until they are gone. There are many other great food options in the area, so eat first and come here for drinks.
Since I’m a bigger fan of tequila than rum, I ordered the Coconut Sunrise, with coconut and aloe liqueurs, tequila, lime, orange juice, honey mango syrup, and grenadine. It was sweet but fruity and delicious.
You can also order a drink in a souvenir tiki mug, which was tempting but we didn’t want to carry it around for the rest of the evening. We had some time to kill, so I tried the Dole Whip, a soft serve pineapple sorbet. The Dole Whip was delicious, albeit a HUGE serving. I could only eat a portion of it.
Eventually, we were getting hungry, so we settled up and headed out to dinner. I couldn’t resist the photo in the giant clam shell before leaving, however.
Prior to our trip to Vegas, I had been browsing through restaurants on Yelp and Tripadvisor, and came across District One Kitchen on the outskirts of Chinatown on S Jones Blvd. We love Vietnamese food, and their menu looked enticing. The menu is more Vietnamese-fusion than straight Vietnamese, combining flavors of Japan, China, Thailand, and a little French.
We started with the oysters, which came with a light soy-ponzu sauce and caviar. They were delicious. The sauce wasn’t too much to overpower the flavor of the oyster, and the caviar was a nice touch, adding texture and a little boost of flavor.
Paddy tried the beef carpaccio, which he said was amazing (I don’t eat beef so I’ll take his word for it). We also shared the whole grilled squid with a spicy aioli, the Vietnamese-style green papaya salad with prawns and pork, and the “Belly Buns,” (pork belly pinch buns). We are suckers for pork belly pinch buns. Everything was outstanding. We would highly recommend the trek out to District One, it is worth it. The prices were reasonable for what we got.
We had tickets that evening to see my friend L perform as a guest in the Artifice Bar’s “Nerdlesque” show in the Arts District, so after dinner we caught a Lyft over to The Velveteen Rabbit on S Main Street to have some drinks before the show.
The Velveteen Rabbit is so hipster that if I didn’t know where I was, I would guess that I was in Portland.
There were antique velvet couches and chairs, chandeliers made from old bottles and canning jars, and a craft cocktail menu made zine-style in a booklet including poetry. You can cake the zine/menu home as a souvenir for $1.00.
I ordered the “Fireside” cocktail from their seasonal winter menu, which consisted of roasted marshmallow bourbon, salted hazelnut peppermint orgeat syrup, lemon heavy cream, and aztec chocolate bitters. It came in a teacup with a roasted mini marshmallow on a cocktail pic. It was impressive. Paddy tried the “Smoke & Cinder,” with rye whiskey, averna, cherry heering, black walnut bitters, ginger, and laphroaig mist. Don’t ask me to explain any of those ingredients to you, because I have no idea what they are. Paddy gave a rave review of the Smoke & Cinder. It seemed like the right thing to drink while wearing a red velvet blazer.
The Velveteen Rabbit makes a lot of their cocktail ingredients in house (I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to find salted hazelnut peppermint orgeat syrup in the store), and they do an excellent job. Their website even advertises cocktail making classes every other Saturday afternoon, if you’re interested in taking your cocktail skills to the next level.
It was early, so there weren’t many people in the bar yet. There was a small DJ booth in the corner and a small dance floor area, along with a projection light show on the brick wall near the dance floor. I did not see an event calendar on their website, but it looks like The Velveteen Rabbit is set up for some late night fun.
When it was time, we settled up with the bartender at the Velveteen Rabbit and walked up the street to the Artifice Bar for the Nerdlesque Show.
The Nerdlesque Show happens every third Saturday at the Artifice Bar in the downtown Las Vegas Arts District, and has a different, unique, and “nerdy” theme for every show. I was told that last month’s theme was Alice in Wonderland, while this show’s theme was DC Comics.
My friend L was a guest performer in this show and got special permission for me to photograph her act, which was a burlesque Joker theme. Other acts were based on Cat Woman, Poison Ivy, Raven, Harley Quinn, Superman (a fantastic male burlesque act), and a couple of characters that I wasn’t quite nerdy enough to know.
When we got to the Artifice Bar we met L, who introduced us to a friend of hers and we found seats along the side wall of the room. I sat down next to a petite older lady with big, beautiful copper red hair. After seeing a couple people talk to her and call her “Tempest,” I turned to L’s friend and asked if she was Tempest Storm. She was.
Tempest Storm is one of the greatest classic burlesque legends of all time, her exotic dancing and burlesque career spanning decades. She is still active in the Las Vegas community at 89 years old. I introduced myself to her and told her it was an honor to meet her. After the show, my friend L asked if we could have our photo taken with her, but she declined. It was a little disappointing, but I’m sure she is tired of having her photo taken all the time.
Tempest was soon moved by the show producer from the chair next to me to a nicer table location with a better view, but it was exciting to meet her.
The DC Comics Nerdlesque show was great. Each performer put a lot of effort into their costume and routine, and many included props. My friend L (stage name Katerina HoneyBunny) did a great Joker Routine to “Psycho Killer” by the Talking Heads, complete with a straight jacket. It was a fun show.
Sunday was a no-plans day. We had a dinner reservation later that evening, but other than that the day was scheduled to be a do-whatever-we-feel-like day. I’m a planner, but I always like to plan for no-plans days on trips.
We slept in again, and then made our way down to the Container Park Mall to have brunch at The Perch restaurant inside the park. A no-plans day seemed like a good time to take advantage of their unlimited bloody Marys, bellinis, and mimosas for $15.00.
Apparently, everyone else had the same plan so we had to get on a list for a table. It was a 30 minute wait, but it was worth it.
Paddy had the Short Rib Hash, and I had the Smothered Egg Biscuits, which was basically biscuits and gravy with scrambled eggs and cheese on top. Good dishes for a hangover.
The bartender was our server, and he was great. He kept our bloody Marys and bellinis full. We even got a couple bellinis for the road–although we learned that we weren’t allowed to take them out of the Container Park. It didn’t really make sense, considering that Las Vegas has allows open containers, and there were people walking around with drinks on Fremont Street right outside the Container Park entrance. But the security lady wouldn’t let us leave until we finished our drinks.
We considered going to the Mob Museum, which sounded interesting, but the ticket price of $23.95 per person seemed a little steep. That, and we had a pretty good bloody Mary/bellini buzz going and weren’t really in a museum mood.
So we walked back to the Golden Nugget and poked around. We looked at the pool and the big fish tank (formerly a shark tank with a water slide that goes through the tank in a clear tube, but there were no sharks and the slide was closed for repair). I’m not sure if they plan on replacing the huge tunas in the tank with sharks again, or if they learned that reef sharks shouldn’t be kept in small tanks. I hope it is the latter.
It wasn’t really warm enough to swim, but the pool was heated and a few people were swimming anyway. Up the stairs from the pool to where the top of the water slide was, were a bunch of fancy pool cabanas for rent (all empty) and a smaller adult pool with a bar where a bunch of drunk adults were partying.
Back in the casino we played a couple slot machines for a minute, but only because they had Gremlins on them. $2.00 down the drain. I’ve never been very lucky with slot machines, but I’m also not really a big gambler.
Finally, we decided to sit at the fancy fish tank bar near the Rush Tower elevator and have a drink and watch the fish.
As always happens with day drinking, we eventually needed a nap time.
That evening, we had made a reservation at Las Vegas’ most famous Thai restaurant, Lotus of Siam. I highly recommend making an online reservation a week or more in advance, this place is POPULAR. It’s been around for over 20 years, and has been given even more notoriety in recent years by being featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show Parts Unknown.
Housed in an unassuming strip mall location east of The Strip on East Sahara Avenue, Lotus of Siam specializes in serving Northern Thai cuisine.
We had read reviews and seen Parts Unknown, and knew two of the dishes we wanted. The menu was a bit overwhelming, however. Everything in the front of the menu is your standard Thai restaurant fare, while the Northern Thai dishes and house specialties are all towards the back. It was a huge menu. I think that a menu makeover might be a good idea–feature their house specialties right up front, and the Pad Thai and other standard Thai dishes that are not northern towards the back. Kind of like the hamburger at the back of the Chinese restaurant menu…”Yes, we have it. But it’s not what you should be ordering here.”
The server helped us locate the two dishes we were after–the Garlic Prawns and the Crispy Duck Khao Soi. We also ordered the Nam Prik Hed, described as a spicy mushroom dip with fresh vegetables. We were looking for a veggie dish to add and it was something we’d never had before, so we gave it a go.
The Garlic Prawns came out first. Deep-fried in the shell with garlic and black pepper. They lived up to the hype. We couldn’t stop fishing out forkfuls of the fried bits of garlic and cabbage at the bottom of the dish, it was delicious.
The Crispy Duck Khao Soi and the Nam Prik Hed arrived next. The Khao Soi came with an assortment of lime wedges, red onions, and pickled veggies on the side to add to our taste. We added it all. The noodles were flat egg noodles and the broth was a curry base. The duck was cooked perfectly with delicious crispy skin.
The Nam Prik Hed was a dip made from green chilis and pickled mushrooms. It wasn’t a very exciting dish, but it provided the perfect fresh vegetable component necessary to balance out the heavy fried prawns and crispy duck.
We were painfully stuffed when we left. Don’t miss this place if you like Thai food–it is worth the Lyft ride. Also, don’t forget to make a reservation. When we left the doorway was full of hopeful, hungry, reservation-less people, waiting for a chance at a table. If you do make a reservation, know that they will only hold the table for five minutes past your reservation time. Then it becomes available for someone else. And it appeared that there is always someone else.
After dinner, we called another Lyft to cap off the night at the other classic tiki bar in Las Vegas, Frankie’s Tiki Room.
Franki’s Tiki Room is on the outskirts of the Arts District in downtown Las Vegas, on W Charleston Blvd. It’s dark, open 24 hours, and serves only drinks (no food).
Tiki drinks are $10.00 each, or $25.00 if you want it in a souvenir tiki mug to take home. They had a lot of souvenir tiki mugs, all with the Frankie’s Tiki logo engraved into them on the back. We met a couple in the booth next to us who come to Las Vegas from LA a couple times a year and had collected almost all of them.
I ordered the Nakalele Knockout, which was said to be a tangy, refreshing blend of rum, hibiscus, and lime. All I tasted was rum–it was strong. Paddy had the Green Gasser, a mix of citrus rum, Red Bull, melon liqueur, and Bacardi 151 that was also really strong. The bartender wasn’t the friendliest, but he made some stiff drinks.
L and Sam joined us at Frankie’s. Sam liked the Frankenstein, and I had the Kapu I’a which was the one tequila cocktail on the menu. I liked it a lot better than the Nakalele Knockout, but I am partial to tequila. My third and last drink was the Scurvy, which was a pineapple and coconut sugar-bomb that I couldn’t finish (and was glad I didn’t). We all ended up with a bit more of a buzz than we intended.
The next morning, all the rum and sugar from the night before was making us a little green around the gills. It didn’t help that we had a 9:30 AM flight to get up early for.
Our shuttle arrived at airport terminal 1, which was a complete madhouse. Everyone in Las Vegas seemed to be taking a Southwest Air flight out that morning. Our driver told us that our terminal was the next one, terminal three. Everyone else in the shuttle got off at terminal 1 to battle the long security lines.
Terminal three was the complete opposite. We flew Alaska Air, and terminal three was quiet and mellow. We barely had any lines at security, and it was fabulous. The other domestic airlines at terminal three were JetBlue, and Virgin. Our shuttle driver said that terminal three is usually not as busy as terminal 1.
Moral of the story: If you are going to Las Vegas, try not to fly Southwest–try to get a flight with Alaska, JetBlue, or Virgin. Everyone seems to fly Southwest and terminal 1 is very busy.
We had the perfect ending to our trip at terminal three. Before we left for Vegas, my friend Keith told me that if I saw a Dolly Parton slot machine, I had to play it. I promised I would. I didn’t really expect to see a Dolly Parton slot machine… but low and behold, this is what was next to our airport departure gate:
I had spent almost all of my cash, but had one last dollar in my wallet. Dolly Parton took my last dollar like a cold-hearted temptress.
We didn’t win big in Las Vegas, but we didn’t really try. Gambling has never been our thing. There are many other fun reasons to go to Las Vegas, and we really enjoyed getting off of the strip and seeing downtown Las Vegas. We didn’t leave feeling like we were “over it” this time. We want to come back. On our next trip, we’d like to make it to some of the other local places that we missed, and maybe see a show. We still have yet to see an Elvis impersonator (although I think they are ore scarce these days). Coming back in warmer weather and spending more time at the pool sounds nice too. Not to mention all the unexplored restaurants in Chinatown. Las Vegas is a great, quick and easy and a relatively inexpensive grown-up trip. We will definitely be staying in downtown Las Vegas again on our next trip.
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Building a basement Tiki lounge: How we turned our drab basement into a retro tropical Polynesian retreat
I’ve always had a fascination and appreciation of Polynesian culture. I studied art and anthropology (including Pacific Island cultures) at the University of Hawaii Manoa on a year long program in college, and fell in love with Polynesia. We were fortunate enough to take our honeymoon in Tahiti and French Polynesia in 2010, and I’ve been itching to go back and explore more islands ever since.
When we decided to buy our first house last year, Paddy had a requirement that it needed to have a basement–with a bar. I was 100% in agreement, but it had to be a tiki lounge. We love the kitsch and retro nostalgia of the tiki bars of the 50’s and 60’s, when Hawaii’s statehood came to be and a booming post WWII economy allowed Americans to travel more. Polynesian culture and tropical exotica became all the rage, with restaurants such as Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s in California starting a nation-wide trend of Mai Tais and Zombie cocktails, “exotica” music and tropical fashion.
As luck would have it, we got a house with a basement. A finished basement at that. It was a dream come true.
The quintessential item in a tiki lounge is a bar.
Scouting Craigslist, we came upon several retro bars for sale but the prices were either exorbitant or they sold so fast that we didn’t stand a chance. I finally found a bar for $200 that looked cool, but the photo was terrible. It was covered with stuff, and taken at a bad angle. It looked like it might be cool, or at least we could make it cool with some work. I noticed it had been on Craigslist for awhile, so I finally emailed the guy and offered him $100 for it. He told me he was selling items from a family estate far from where he lived, so he didn’t want to go there unless we were definitely going to buy it. We decided to go for it as long as I could get it in my truck, and settled on $150. It was an awesome bar, in an awesome basement that hadn’t been redecorated since the 1960’s. There was even a rotary dial phone on the wall in the laundry area. We had a hell of a time getting it out of their basement through the garage, and strapped it rather precariously into my truck with rope, but we did it and the vintage bar made it back to our basement.
We already had a couple of vintage bamboo bar stools that Paddy had acquired somewhere down the line, and we found a couple more rattan bar stools and a bamboo/rattan style futon on Craigslist as well, which we ordered a new tropical cover for and matching pillows. We had a lot of unpacking to do and other more pressing home projects, so we hung up our tiki bar paddle, a few vintage framed records from Hawaii and Rarotonga, and called it good until we had time and energy to deck it out.
About 9 months went by, and finally we were ready to start finishing our tiki lounge. I wanted to go all out.
First, I measured the back wall of the room and the wall area behind the bar, and ordered several rolls of Lauhala matting (woven grass mats) on ebay (I found the best price on 48″ x 96″ rolls there), and four rolls of 36″ x 72″ natural bamboo fencing from Home Depot. We screwed the Lauhala mats to the wall, cutting out a section around the window. I used a stud finder to find the wall studs on the wall behind the bar, and marked them on the crown molding with masking tape so that we could easily find them later when we installed the bar shelves.
The matting was hard to keep completely flat, so we struggled a bit with some bubbles that kept appearing when we were installing it. We got it about as flat as we could.
When cutting around the window, it was hard to keep a straight cut line. Fortunately, we planned on covering the window frame with bamboo, so my bad cutting job would be hidden eventually.
I had to cut out around an electrical panel next to the bar as well, and it didn’t look so awesome with the frayed grass mat edges. I got a roll of Lauhala ric rac on Etsy for $15.50 and used it to frame the edges around the electrical panel by gluing it with a hot glue gun. It looked much better and kept the cut grass from fraying any further. We did a border trim along the top of the matting on the wall as well, which gave it a more finished look.
Next, I ordered a 30″ x 96″ Mexican palm thatch runner from Forever Bamboo. We were trying to figure out how to create an overhang behind the bar that we could drape grass thatch over to give it that authentic tropical tiki lounge look. I drew up a plan of a frame we could construct and hang on the wall, but Paddy thought we could find something pre-made. I couldn’t find anything small and pre-made online. While we were pondering this conundrum, I remembered that there were some closet bars in a storage room in the basement installed by previous owners. It was perfect! I was stoked–we didn’t have to buy or build anything!
At first we thought that hanging the supports upside-down would be best to give the bar the sloped-overhang we originally pictured.
Unfortunately, while this looked cool, it would have been better on a very high ceiling. It covered up too much of the wall that we planned to use for bar shelves.
We put them right side up, which helped hold it up a lot better.
Next we un-rolled the fencing and propped it against the wall and then Paddy screwed it to the wall below the matting. We had one electrical outlet we had to cut bamboo out of, but fortunately it was very low on the wall and we only had to cut a couple pieces off at the bottom end of the second roll. Paddy was able to do this (carefully) with a small hand saw.
As luck would have it, we had a couple pieces extra on the end of the last fence roll, so Paddy cut the wire holding them on and took them off. We screwed them to the wall above the fence roll to create a border and a more finished look.
Next, we got some inexpensive brown shelves and supports from Home Depot and screwed them into the wall studs behind the bar in front of the matting. The top shelf still wasn’t very visible with the grass overhang, and it was bothering us. It was also hanging at about eye-level and was very annoying if you were behind the bar.
We remedied this by getting two thin pieces of tack board cut 18″ wide by 48″ long (our bar overhang was 96″ long), which Home Depot cut to size for us, and put it under the grass to give it a wider “shelf” to hang over. It worked perfectly.
After the bar was set up, we had to do something about the window frame and my bad matting cut-out job. I ordered a four-pack of 60″ long 5″ diameter split bamboo poles from Sunset Bamboo. Unfortunately they sent us full rounds, and it was a several week ordeal with a call tag and a reshipment to get the right items, with very poor customer service. We finally got the right product though.
Two of the 60″ lengths we were able to install over the window frame on the top and bottom without cutting, and the middle ones we cut to size with a chop saw. We put screws in the wall and the window frame and wired the bamboo poles on, so that they would be easy to take off if we ever wanted to.
We were finally ready to decorate. The best part.
We added some fun lights that we got from the party supply store below each shelf behind the bar–bouys and parrots. To illuminate the top shelf, we got the Dioder LED 4 piece light strip pack from Ikea for $29.99. You can daisy-chain them together like we did for behind a bar, or seperate them out into four segments to put inside book cases. It was an awesome purchase. You can choose from a rainbow of colors, or make the lights fade in and out of each color with a handy little control.
A guy in a nearby neighborhood had a “tiki sale” at his house where we picked up some vintage tiki mugs, a poster, a really cool vintage bamboo chair, and some postcards from Hawaii and Tahiti from the 1960’s. No tiki lounge is complete without tiki mugs.
I got red and orange paper lanterns and pendant lights from Paper Lantern Store which added some warm funky ambiance to the room. The lime green rotary dial phone in the photo below is the phone I grew up with–and I’m so glad I kept it. It sits proudly in our tiki lounge in all of it’s lime green glory.
Shortly before we moved, I found this tiger print chair sitting front and center on display at the Ballard, Seattle Goodwill. I had to have it. The Goodwill employee I had write a furniture sale tag up for me said there was a lady who told her she was coming back for it. But she didn’t pay for it. And I had cash and a truck. I win.
Paddy added a Ralph Steadman poster from Hunter S. Thompson’s Hawaii-based book The Curse of the Lono. He’s a big fan.
We found a pretty cool coconut lamp/chandelier in Mexico, and a preserved puffer fish at a nearby antique mall in Burien, WA. We got a tiki mask at Home Depot and some glass floats at Party Display and Costume.
I re-covered all the bar stools with Tommy Bahama fabric from Joann Fabrics so that they would match.
My last addition to the bar was a painting of a hula girl in the moonlight that I painted myself.
We would like to re-do the floors in wood laminate next year and get rid of the old carpeting, and get some tiki god side tables to replace the boring ones, but for now we’re going to call it good. We finished the tiki lounge just in time for a Forbidden Island party we threw and it was super fun.
One of the biggest elements of a great tiki lounge is kitsch. As years go by, I’m sure we will find all sorts of things to add to the bar in our international travels and wanderings through antique malls. Our tiki lounge will always be a work in progress.
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