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.
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.
Tiki Time Cocktail Hour #7: The Monkey’s Uncle cocktail: Coconut, banana, and rum. Strong, ridiculous, and banana-rific.
Technically, this drink was originally called the “Castaway” in Adam Rocke’s Tiki Drinks cocktail recipe book. But then we tasted it, and our friend Heather re-named it the Monkey’s Uncle cocktail, which is a much more befitting name.
I used Meyer’s dark rum, 99 Bananas banana schnapps, and coconut cream in a squeezy tube that I found at the grocery store. In retrospect, the coconut cream was probably not the best quality, and a true coconut cream made from coconut milk and not a crazy amount of sugar in a squeezy mayonnaise-like bottle may have been a better choice.
I’d be into trying this drink one more time with homemade coconut cream, but it was a bit much for me as it was. It was one of those drinks that makes you laugh after you take a drink, it was ridiculous. But hey, if you really like banana flavor—this one is for you.
The Monkey’s Uncle cocktail (“Castaway” in Adam Rocke’s Tiki Drinks recipe book)
2 oz dark rum
1 oz banana liqueur
1 oz cream of coconut
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add ingredients, and shake well. Strain into an ice-filled old fashioned glass.
Tiki Time Cocktail Hour #6: The Caribbean Hummer Cocktail: A slightly smokey scotch and rum concoction that may be an acquired taste.
On New Year’s Eve with a few friends, we embarked on another beverage adventure in Adam Rocke’s Tiki Drinks cocktail recipe book. The Caribbean Hummer cocktail had a bit of an off-color name, and a bit of an off-color taste. The mix of ingredients in the recipe were ingredients I would have never personally chosen to mix together, but the result was strong and unique. The scotch component was very prominent, and as a person who does not like scotch, it wasn’t the cocktail for me.
Paddy, however, loves scotch and enjoyed this one. Be warned, it’s a strong one. “Puts hair on your chest,” as my Dad used to say about such things.
Caribbean Hummer cocktail:
1 oz light rum
1 oz dark rum
1/2 oz. Scotch
1/2 oz pineapple juice
7-Up or Sprite
Fill a collins class with ice, add all ingredients (except 7-Up), stir and fill with 7-Up. Garnish with a pineapple wedge.
We didn’t have a pineapple wedge, which definitely would have made the drink more aesthetically pleasing.
Overall, I would only recommend the Caribbean Hummer cocktail to someone who likes scotch and wants to mix it up a bit. Cheers.
Tiki Time Cocktail Hour #5: Amberjack Cocktail. Simple and fruity, this tiki drink tastes like the tropics without a lot of fuss.
Cocktail number 5 in our Tiki Cocktails book by Adam Rocke was the Amberjack. The most difficult thing about it was procuring a bottle of applejack brandy, for which I had to visit a BevMo in a different neighborhood as the one nearest to our neighborhood was out of stock.
**Tip: BevMo has their inventory posted online, so you can look it up before you make the trek out to their store. I’m all about supporting small local liquor stores, but there aren’t many around me and the online stock tool is REALLY handy for unusual liquors.
The recipe was easy:
1.5 oz applejack (apple brandy)
1/2 oz light rum (we went with a whole ounce–no futzing around)
2 oz orange juice
1 oz pineapple juice
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add ingredients, and shake well. Pour into a chilled collins glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry.
The recipe didn’t say to pour over ice, but in retrospect a couple large ice cubes would have been nice for presentation (make the glass look more full and support the maraschino cherry garnish) and to keep it chilled.
The Amberjack cocktail was fruity and tropical. We enjoyed it and it was one of our favorites so far. Very easy to make. The applejack adds a very subtle apple component. By itself the applejack almost tastes a bit like whiskey with a subtle apple flavor. It isn’t sweet and artificial tasting like an apple liqueur.
Overall, we’d make the Amberjack cocktail again. It’s an easy one to make at a summer party, although we couldn’t drink very many of them on account of the sugary juice.
Tiki Time Cocktail Hour #4: Amaretto Sunset: A frozen blended citrus drink with dark rum and a bit of sweet Amaretto almond flavor.
The Amaretto Sunset was the fourth drink in my Tiki Cocktails book by Adam Rocke. It is another frozen blended drink, of which I’m a fan. I was new to Amaretto, however, and wasn’t sure what to expect. Sweet almond liqueur in a citrus drink? It sounded funky, but also like it just might work. We gave the Amaretto Sunset a shot.
Amaretto Sunset cocktail recipe:
1 oz. Amaretto
1/2 oz. dark rum (we went with a whole ounce of Meyer’s dark rum)
3 oz. orange juice
1 tsp. lemon juice
3-4 oz crushed ice
Blend all ingredients (except lemon juice) until smooth, pour into a chilled goblet or hurricane glass, and garnish with a maraschino cherry. Float the lemon juice.
We decided that a half ounce of rum was silly, and changed it to a whole ounce. We also ended up using fresh squeezed Meyer lemon juice as a float, because our friend Heather had brought some over. I misread the recipe and added a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon of the Meyer lemon juice as a float on top of the blended cocktail, but since Meyer lemons are sweet it actually worked out pretty well and wasn’t overpowering.
Overall, the Amaretto Sunset was good and the Meyer lemon juice was a nice touch. I think Amaretto might be one of those a-little-goes-a-long-way ingredients, and this cocktail balanced out nicely. We would definitely recommend increasing the rum amount to a whole oz (or at tiny bit more if you really want to party).
Tiki Time Cocktail Hour #3: Aloha Cocktail. Creamy, citrus-y and boozy, with dark rum, coconut syrup, orange juice, pineapple juice, lime, and vanilla ice cream.
Looking at the ingredients in the Aloha cocktail, I knew it would be a sugar bomb. That being said, I wouldn’t drink more than one of these at a time.
The Aloha cocktail was cocktail # 3 in the Tiki Cocktails recipe book by Adam Rocke. It requires a blender, so be sure to have one on hand for this recipe. I altered the recipe a bit because no one at any liquor stores I went to had heard of Meyer’s Rum Cream Liqueur. Since it already called for dark rum and ice cream, I figured that there was enough cream in the cocktail already and doubled up on the dark rum instead.
The Aloha Cocktail:
1 oz. dark rum (we used Meyer’s, easily found at most stores that sell liquor)
1 oz Meyer’s Rum Cream Liqueur (Again, couldn’t find this anywhere, so we just used a second shot of Meyer’s Rum)
2 oz orange juice
2 oz pineapple juice
1 oz coconut syrup (we used Torani coconut syrup)
1 tbsp. lime juice
1 scoop vanilla ice cream
2-3 oz crushed ice
Blend all ingredients until smooth, pour into a chilled goblet or hurricane glass, and garnish with a pineapple wedge. (We didn’t do the pineapple wedge garnish, as we didn’t want to purchase an entire pineapple for one drink. I do think it would have made for a nicer presentation, however).
The Aloha cocktail came out creamy and frothy, but not super thick. It was very sweet, but the lime juice and orange juice helped balance it out a bit. The rum, pineapple juice, and coconut syrup were the star flavors, making it taste a bit like a piña colada, but a bit more citrus-y.
Overall, we liked this drink. It definitely tasted like Hawaii. We couldn’t drink more than one in a sitting due to the sugar content and ice cream, but we would definitely make the Aloha cocktail again.
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.
Tiki Time Cocktail Hour #2: Agent Orange Cocktail. Vodka, apple schnapps, Midori, grenadine, orange juice, and ice. Blended, frozen, and very orange.
Continuing with our New Year’s resolution 2017 to make all the tiki drinks in the tiki drink recipe book Tiki Drinks by Adam Rocke, we concocted recipe # 2: The Agent Orange Cocktail.
The Agent Orange cocktail is a blended drink, and we actually invested in a blender for our tiki cocktail adventure. After reading up on good drink blenders under $100, we purchased a Ninja NJ600 for $89. We really wanted the Vitamix, but we didn’t have the funds available to live the fancy Vitamix lifestyle yet. Based on the reviews and our budget, the Ninja NJ600 looked like a good bet. Overall, it blended nicely and we were happy with our purchase.
We used Stoli vodka, Dekuyper Sour Apple Pucker, Midori, Rose’s grenadine, and natural orange juice. The Sour Apple Pucker and the Midori are both emerald green, so I wasn’t sure what they would do to the color of the drink, but the orange juice and the grenadine completely masked any green color when blended.
Agent Orange Cocktail:
3/4 oz. vodka
1/2 oz. apple schapps
1/2 oz. melon liqueur
2 tbsp. grenadine
4 oz. orange juice
3-4 oz. crushed ice
Blend all ingredients until smooth, pour into a chilled goblet or hurricane glass and garnish with an orange slice.
Paddy liked the Agent Orange cocktail a lot. I enjoyed it at first, but towards the last sip it started to taste a little sickly sweet to me. It really does taste like orange candy, sort of like an orange Jolly Rancher, but you can still taste the natural orange juice. If you had me try and guess the ingredients, I would never have guessed that Midori or Sour Apple Pucker were in the Agent Orange cocktail, but they really added to the sweet orange flavor along with the grenadine.
Overall, we both agreed that there was not enough booze in it. If we were to make it again, we would add an extra shot of vodka. 3/4 of a shot is not enough for this drink.
If you like orange-flavored candy and sweet drinks, you’ll like the Agent Orange Cocktail. Good for a hot summer day.
Adventures in tiki cocktails: recipe number one in Tiki Drinks by Adam Rocke. The Acapulco cocktail- rum, triple sec, lime, sugar, and egg white.
I’m not really big on New Year’s resolutions. However, this January I was flipping through Adam Rocke’s Tiki Cocktails recipe book that someone had given us as a tiki bar warming gift, and decided that our New Year’s resolution for 2017 should be to make all the tiki cocktails in the book and blog about them.
There are 60+ cocktails in the book, so I’m not sure that getting through them all in one year is realistic, but the journey of 60 cocktails begins with one drink, right? Right. And with the non-stop political horror show going on this year, I feel like this is a good resolution for 2017.
Cocktail #1 was the Acapulco cocktail. Seemed easy enough, although I’m always a little sketched out by drinks that have egg whites in them. We gave it a shot.
For the egg whites, I bought Egg Beaters pasteurized egg whites in lieu of fresh egg whites as I am afraid of salmonella. I doubled the ingredients so that we could each try one, adding them all to the martini shaker and shaking with ice.
1.5 oz. white rum
1/2 oz. triple sec
1/2 oz. lime juice
1/4 tsp. sugar
1 egg white (or three tablespoons Egg Beaters egg whites)
Mint leaf for garnish
The egg whites created such a froth that they oozed out of the sides of the shaker top a bit. The result was a frothy, opaque drink.
I would describe the Acapulco cocktail as the bastard love child of a Mojito and an Orange Julius. A bit more citrus than a traditional Mojito, and the creamy frothiness of an Orange Julius. I thought the mint was just a garnish to make it pretty, but it really added to the experience as you smelled it as you drank. It gave a nice mint essence without being a strong flavor.
Paddy and I both liked it. I don’t think I would go out of my way to make it again or order it in a bar–I’m still not a huge fan of egg whites in cocktails. However if someone made an Acapulco cocktail for me or wanted me to make them, I would definitely drink it again.