With what’s left of his hair turning whiter than Coco Lopez cream of coconut, it’s hard to believe there was ever a time when the Beachbum was below drinking age. But in 1974, the 16-year-old aspiring vagrant was legally barred from Tiki bars. To get his Tiki fix, he had to go to a museum. Specifically, the Hall of Pacific Peoples wing of New York’s American Museum of Natural History. (That’s the bum pictured above in the summer of ’74, communing with the museum’s Easter Island moai.) The wing is a treasure-trove of authentic Polynesiana. On June 13, it will be a treasure-trove of faux-Polynesiana.
Because this Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., amid the wondrous, mysterious tribal artifacts of the museum’s South Pacific collection, the bum will present a 90-minute slide-show lecture — chased with three vintage Tiki cocktail samples — on America’s 40-year faux-Polynesian restaurant craze, particularly its impact on New York City’s dining and drinking scene.
In the 1960s, at the height of the 40-year Tiki drink craze which began after Prohibition and died with Disco, Manhattan was sometimes referred to as “Hawaii’s ninth island.” Sophisticated young professionals hired caterers to throw “urban luaus” in their apartments, and dined in Manhattan’s lavishly decorated, high-priced, South Pacific-themed restaurants: Hawaii Kai on Broadway, the Gauguin Room at Columbus Circle, the Luau 400 on East 57th, The Hawaiian Room at the Hotel Lexington and Trader Vic’s in the Savoy-Plaza Hotel, to name a few.
We’ll take a guided tour of them all, under the watchful eyes of the Polynesian, Melanesian and Australasian gods of the museum’s Pacific wing — whose wrath we shall endeavor not to incur. For ticketing info on the seminar, which is part of the museum’s “Adventures in the Global Kitchen” series: