Modern tiki bars are serving up fruity drinks with a side of nostalgia

In case you missed last year’s article in The Atlantic, we’re entering a “new golden age for the tiki bar.” Whether America desperately needs the escapism that a kitschy bar with little paper umbrellas can provide, or the cyclical trends are bringing midcentury nostalgia back to the forefront, tiki bars are quickly becoming the staple they once were.

It’s been widely reported that Don the Beachcomber, which opened in 1933 in Hollywood, was the first “tiki bar.” Through the ’40s and ’50s, it expanded to a chain with 16 locations around the country. The founder, born Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, went on to move to Hawaii and change his name to Donn Beach. Around the same time Don the Beachcomber opened, Victor Bergeron opened Hinky Dinks — which later was renamed Trader Vic’s. There are still Trader Vic’s in existence, and even the popular grocery chain, Trader Joe’s was inspired by the tiki chain.

Both Beach and Bergeron made huge contributions to tiki culture, having been the minds behind some of the most iconic tiki beverages still served today. Beach created the Zombie, made with white, golden and dark rums, apricot brandy, falernum, bitters and a fruit juice like lime or pineapple. Bergeron is credited as the creator of the Mai Tai, made with rum, orange Curacao, syrup and lime juice. Of course, due to the competitive history between the two bar owners, there are some disputes.

Around the 1960s, America’s fascination with the tiki lifestyle started to wane and most of the country’s tiki bars shuttered. Some cite Hawaii becoming a U.S. state in 1959 as the beginning of the end of the tiki bar. While the excitement that this “exotic land” was now part of the United States lasted a few years, the fact that it became a more accessible vacation destination took the novelty away from tiki bars.

Let’s take this opportunity to address the elephant in the room. Tiki culture is not an accurate representation of Hawaiian, Polynesian, South Pacific, or any other type of culture. Despite the mishmash of menu items, complete with the mysterious crab rangoon, and the fact that your drink is very likely served in a hollowed-out pineapple, tiki culture is an American fantasy of island life. In the Pacific Islands, actual Tikis aren’t fun vessels from which to drink your rum. An NPR article compared this usage to Americans going to a Christian-themed bar.

This is part of what sets the tiki culture of the past apart from the tiki bar revival. Now, we visit a tiki bar for the retro island kitsch, not so much expecting an accurate representation of the Polynesian Islands. Rather than feeling like we just stepped off of a plane, we feel like we just stepped out of a time machine.

Mic talked to Kevin Beary, beverage director at Chicago’s Three Dots and a Dash, a frontrunner in the tiki industry, saying that Beary “sees these neo-tiki bars as part of a larger narrative rooted in a respect for the genre’s deeply rooted history coupled with a 21st-century perspective toward cultural sensitivity.”

Nothing is too much for a modern tiki bar. An entire fruit salad skewered on cocktail umbrellas in your drink? A bowl of punch big enough to quench the entire table’s thirst, which is subsequently set on fire? Servers in grass skirts? Women in mermaid costumes SWIMMING IN A GIANT FISH TANK? All of this is completely doable. Rather than trying to create a culturally authentic atmosphere, modern tiki bars revel in the midcentury-influenced campiness, and patrons love every second of it.

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Let’s talk about how Richard Nixon allegedly showed The Honeymooners’ Jackie Gleason some aliens

Image: AP Photo / Harold Valentine

While calling the City of Stars “Hollyweird” is a fairly recent development, there are a number of tales and urban legends about celebrities and their kooky ideas that date back to the very beginning of the industry. Tippi Hendren had a lion named Neil that she treated like a house cat, Natalie Schafer subsisted on just ice cream, and The Honeymooners star Jackie Gleason was invited by Richard Nixon to see proof of extra terrestrials. Okay, that last one is just an urban legend. But Gleason really was super into aliens.

This is a well-known Hollywood rumor, as even MeTV fave William Shatner has tweeted about it.

Where did this story originate, you ask? Why, from his second wife, Beverly Gleason (and also the National Enquirer). In 1983, eight years after the two divorced and two years before he died, she wrote an article that outlined the alleged encounter.

“I’ll never forget the night in 1973 my famous husband came home, slumped white-faced in an armchair and spilled out the incredible story to me,” the story read. Apparently arranged for Gleason to be escorted through Homestead Air Force Base in Florida to view four little embalmed aliens, “with small bald heads and disproportionately large ears.”

It’s never been made clear whether Beverly herself actually wrote this story, or if the National Enquirer just put her name in the story’s byline. After all, the publication isn’t quite known for its journalistic integrity. As far as our research could tell, though, neither Beverly or Jackie ever confirmed nor denied this story. However, Nixon’s official diary conforms that he certainly did meet Gleason in Florida, in 1973.

Snopes classified the Nixon time capsule story as “unproven,” stating “insufficient evidence exists to establish the given claim as true, but the claim cannot be definitively proved false.” So, if it can’t be proven that Nixon had a few aliens stored in Florida, it surely cannot be proven whether or not the former president showed said aliens to the Honeymooners star.

In fact, according to Nixon Administration staff member, Frank Gannon, Nixon didn’t seem to believe in aliens at all. When he pressed the former president on the subject, Nixon “raised his eyebrows and rolled his eyes,” so Gannon changed the subject. Could he have just been saving face? After all, he can’t divulge that information to any midlevel staff member — just comedians who happen to be his golf buddy.

What can’t be disputed, though, was Gleason’s affinity for the space age and cornerless furniture. One could even argue the late star is just as famous for his round house, dubbed “The Mothership,” than he was for his “To the moon!” catchphrase — though we must admit that the latter is quite on-brand.

His UFO house was even up for sale last summer for a mere $12 million. Gleason also amassed a huge collection of books on the paranormal, parapsychology and UFOs, most of which were donated to the library at the University of Miami after he died.

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Would you wear disposable clothes like they did in ’60s?

Image: AP Photo

We’ve all been in there: staring at a full closet with nothing to wear. Maybe you’ve grown tired of your current wardrobe or maybe your clothes don’t fit you like they used to. Either way, has the idea of clothes that you wear once, so you have a constant rotation of fresh, new looks ever crossed your mind?

It was a hot new idea back in the 1950s and gained a bit of cult notoriety in the 1960s. Post-war, the U.S. was riding high after having to ration so much during World War II. So why waste time washing and repairing clothes when they finally had the means to actually throw things away? There’s no shame in discarding clothes that just don’t fit your vibe anymore if they were literally made to be discarded.  After all, this was when disposable cups and cutlery were hitting shelves because it was just so much easier to throw things away than to wash them, and such a novel idea!

When you think back to the clothes you wore as a child or the vintage pieces you find on the rack at an upscale thrift shop, you likely notice how much nicer they are than the clothes you find at department stores today. Jackets were made with real fur or wool without a second thought, dresses had union tags boasting that they were made in the USA, and they even kept excess fabric in the seams in case the garment had to be taken out.

That was not the case with paper dresses. Most of these pieces were trendy miniskirts and dresses in funky patterns, able to be trimmed to your preferred length and customized with just a pair of scissors — no sewing necessary! When you got bored with it, just toss it in the fire. Yep, they weren’t marketed as recyclable or anything, just their own kind of kindling.

According to a report from Paleofuture, the disposable clothes could be worn about six times (how many wears does it usually take for you to get bored with a skirt?) and were sold for anywhere from $1 to $20. Though they tended to be marketed as “paper” dresses, a lot of these garments were really made of synthetic fabrics like rayon, cellulose, nylon and Reemay. That’s not to say paper was never an option, though. Scott Paper Company — yep, the toilet tissue company — got in on the game, with their disposable garments made of fireproof “Dura-Weave” paper.

When the paper dresses were most popular, in the late sixties, dozens of companies were jumping on the bandwagon. Mars Hosiery allegedly produced over 100,000 dresses per week. The “Souper Dress,” based on Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans even ended up on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The trend didn’t stop at dresses and skirts, either. Vests and ties for men were popular and even wedding and bridesmaid dresses were made to throw away! (OK — maybe a disposable bridesmaid dress isn’t the worst idea in the world.)

While these paper garments were quirky fun for a while, they didn’t take off as people had expected. Whether people were concerned with the durability of a paper dress or had reservations about how truly wasteful they really were, clothes made out of actual fabric won out in the long run.

Honestly, though, this isn’t too far off from the fast fashion lifestyle we’d be living six decades later. We’re betting you have some stuff made with rayon in your closet right now.

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Who remembers the goth beauty pageants of the 1970s?

When you think of beauty pageants, buxom women in glamorous gowns is what likely comes to mind. However, that wasn’t always the pageant standard. At least for a few years in the 1970s. That’s when goth women who never felt like Miss America got their chance to be crowned titles like Miss American Vampire and Miss Ghost America.

In 1970, goth soap opera Dark Shadows was nearing its end, but the spinoff film House of Dark Shadows was about to hit theaters. With interest in the series waning, the word needed to be spread. Dark Shadows was never your typical TV show, and basic marketing just wasn’t going to cut it.

According to Atlas Obscura, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer placed ads in newspapers across the country for regional beauty pageants, targeting young women aged 18 to 25 with “vampire looks.” The contestants were to be judged on their “interpretation of the vampire aesthetic, charm, poise, stage presence and videogenic qualities for television.” The pool of winners was to be narrowed down and the first place winner would score a trip to New York for a guest spot on Dark Shadows. The final competition in California was hosted by Regis Philbin.

The pageants weren’t all fun and games, though. Nancy Barrett, who played Carolyn on Dark Shadows was a judge at a New Jersey Miss American Vampire pageant. In The Dark Shadows Companion: 25th Anniversary Collection, she was quoted as saying:

“It was fun, for the first five minutes. After that, it got terribly depressing. Some of the girls came in bikinis. Some came dressed as witches or vampires or dead bodies. One girl stood in front of me and just stared at me. ‘Am I supposed to smile at you?’ she asked. I gave a nervous laugh and said, ‘No, that’s all right. You can go on to the next judge.’ Another girl told us she was a witch. We all decided to make her a semi-finalist for fear she might ‘get us’ afterward.”

So who went on to become the ultimate Miss American Vampire? Jonathan Frid, who played Barnabas Collins crowned Christine Domaniecki in New Jersey. There were some disputes over the true winner, however. Prior to Domaniecki’s trip to New York, actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather was named final competition winner. However, nobody knows if she declined the offer to appear on the show or the producers didn’t invite her. Domaniecki played a barmaid in episode 1126 and had made appearances at Dark Shadows conventions.

Littlefeather went on to gain notoriety as Marlon Brando’s representative at the 1973 Academy Awards when she declined his Oscar for The Godfather to protest the treatment and portrayal of Native Americans, according to Atlas Obscura. Afterward, she left Hollywood to pursue activism full-time, producing documentaries and working with organizations for Native American civil rights.

Due to the huge turnout of the Miss Vampire America pageant, another goth pageant followed in its footsteps the next year. Since Dark Shadows had ended its run, producers looked for “haunting beauties” to participate in the Miss Ghost America pageant for a $250 savings bond and a spot on The Dating Game.

While turnout left much to be desired — apparently there were more vampires than ghosts in America in the 1970s — the winner, 18-year-old Kate Sarchet ended up being crowned on an LA-based horror show called Fright Night. According to her date on The Dating Game,  who went on to become famed writer Will Durst, though… she lived up to her title and ghosted him on their date.

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A comprehensive history of the iconic Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses

Despite there being countless styles of sunglasses, from this summer’s tiny shades trend to the bug-eyed styles of the early 2000s, there’s one style that probably comes to mind when you think of crucial summer wear: the Ray-Ban Wayfarer.

Rocked by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi in The Blues Brothers and name-dropped by Don Henley in 1984’s “Boys of Summer,” the Wayfarer is a vital part of pop culture and fashion. The style was designed in 1950 by Ray-Ban’s parent company, Bausch and Lomb, and exploded in popularity throughout the decade and early 1960s.

The thick, sturdy design was considered to be masculine, yet stylish. They were favored by businessmen and beatniks alike. Later on, the edgy frame was described as a “mid-century classic to rival Eames chairs and Cadillac tail fins” by design critic Stephen Bayley.

Andy Warhol was photographed in them, as was Bob Dylan. Cary Grant donned them in North by Northwest in 1959 and Marilyn Monroe slipped them on to hide from the paparazzi. Wayfarers were the quintessential “cool” set of shades, with a timeless look. At least, that’s what it seemed like then.

In the ’70s, the Wayfarer’s popularity waned in favor of wire frames and rounder shapes. While the Wayfarer was still popular in the rock & roll scene, it wasn’t enough to keep the style afloat. In the year following the 1980 Blues Brothers film, there was an uptick — to 18,000 pairs sold. Ray-Ban decided to make one last-ditch effort to revive the once reigning frame.

In 1982, Ray-Ban signed a $50,000-per-year deal with Unique Product Placement, guaranteeing the sunglasses would be featured in at least 60 movies and TV shows per year. And it worked.

According to CNN Money, after Tom Cruise donned Wayfarers with his tube socks in 1983’s Risky Business, sales skyrocketed to 360,000 pairs in the following months. The next year, Don Johnson wore them in Miami Vice and sales catapulted to 720,000 pairs. When Bruce Willis put them on in Moonlighting, sales reached 826,000. Thanks to Cruise again, Top Gun’s release in 1986 helped Ray-Ban sell 1.5 million — even though people really just remember his Aviators. This deal lasted all the way until 2007.

What started as a midcentury staple quickly became the look of the 1980s. Musicians like Debbie Harry, Johnny Marr, Michael Jackson and, of course, Corey Hart, rocked their Wayfarers throughout the ’80s.

Corey Feldman even wore them on the red carpet. It’s impossible to read any work by Bret Easton Ellis without imaging his sociopathic characters in the thick black frames.

The resurgence of the Ray-Ban Wayfarer can be compared to John Travolta’s comeback in Pulp Fiction or Neil Patrick Harris’ in How I Met Your Mother. And like those, it had to come to an end.

Sales tapered off in the ’90s, but have yet to drop as low as they were in the 1970s. Ray-Ban has redesigned the frames in a number of colors and styles, and the Wayfarer also the most commonly knocked-off shape of sunglasses. While the sunglasses will likely never reach their 1980s peak again, it seems safe to say they’re here to stay.

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