tiki bar closed due to covid-19 pandemic

Helping Tiki Bars Survive the Pandemic

“We rise by lifting others.”

-Robert G. Ingersoll

As we near the 9th month of the novel coronavirus pandemic, we’re reaching a very pivotal point. There’s been a lot of ebb and flow since life as we knew it changed completely, and the news about the direction we’re headed (not a very good one) has me thinking about a few things I feel I need to share.

Although my household has been fortunate to work from home, there are so many people who simply aren’t able to do that. Many of these people we know work in the hospitality and service industry, or are stakeholders in local restaurants and bars we frequented pre-pandemic.

Over the last 9 months, I’ve seen story after story about places here in SoCal, back home in Dallas, and all over the country that permanently closed because of the pandemic’s devastating economic impact. It’s especially jarring when they’re places that were around a long time and considered historic, local treasures.

A Precarious Time for Tiki Bars

Talk to anyone in the Tiki community, and they’ll probably have a Tiki bar they frequent that’s like their version of “Cheers”—everyone knows your name, and every visit involves imbibing in a drink or two, with a little friendly banter on the side.

Tiki-Ti in Los Feliz, CA
The Tiki-Ti, my personal “Cheers” (photo by Elizabeth Daniels)

True Tiki bars are a labor of love. They’re typically owned and managed by people who care, not corporations, which is why they’re successful in building a real following among their patrons and standing the test of time. They also require a very high level of commitment by owners who want to build relationships as well as business.

It’s scary when I think about how many of our beloved Tiki establishments are suffering right now and trying hard to stay open, if they’re allowed to even be open at all. Between ever-changing local health regulations and trying to keep staff safe, it’s got to be a fucking nightmare to even operate.

Every time I’ve had a conversation about this with a bar owner, I learn more about how hard it is. Staff concerns, layoffs, takeout and dine-in rules, enhanced cleaning procedures, paying bills…the list is endless.

Worrying Signs and Frustration

Martin and Rebecca Cate of Smugglers Cove in San Francisco laid their frustrations bare for an SFGate article back in July, which was heartbreaking to read. And Ed Rudisell of Inferno Room fame in Indianapolis also echoed similar sentiments in an interview for Indianapolis Monthly. Both are hanging on, but just barely, and assistance funds only go so far.

Then came the news that Max’s South Seas Hideaway, arguably one of the most impressive Tiki establishments to open in recent years, filed for bankruptcy, less than one full year after its opening. I know many of us haven’t been able to visit yet, which is a tragedy, given how much work Mark put into it.

Max’s South Seas Hideaway (photo from website)

Some, like SoCal favorites the Tiki-Ti and the Tonga Hut, have remained closed since the start of the pandemic. Others, like False Idol, Latitude 29, 4 Kahunas, and Trader Vic’s Atlanta have either only recently opened, or have opened and been forced to close once again after case spikes. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have the outdoor space to serve, and even when you do, if you don’t serve food, you often get shafted.

A Rallying Cry for Tikiphiles

More than ever, our Tiki establishments depend on us to help them survive. Unfortunately, I don’t think the pandemic will ever really stop being an issue until there’s a vaccine and accessible treatment options. Sadly, wearing masks and distancing have been politicized to the point of no return, so if we want our beloved places to survive, we need to help where we can.

Some things you can do:

  • If your favorite bars have merch, buy it. For some that are closed, it’s the only money they might have coming in for a while.
  • If they have takeout or delivery, order from them when you’re able, but PLEASE don’t use third party delivery apps like Doordash or GrubHub (these kill small businesses).
  • Donate to their staff fundraisers if they have them.
  • If they’re open and you feel comfortable, visit them and tip well.

Oh, and don’t be that guy (or girl or whatever) who pitches a fit about their mask policies. You might not care if you get sick, but the staff has a right to not be put at risk. One industry friend told me this past weekend that a recent group of out-of-towners balked at their mask policies, saying, “We didn’t have to wear them at the last place we went to.” Um, are you fucking kidding me?

With the holidays fast approaching, now is the time to be generous if you’re in the position to be so. One of the things I love about our Tiki community is how much we care about one another and lift our friends up when they need us. If you’re not in the position to financially support, share their social posts. We must support our local haunts in any way we can, or they may not be around much longer.

Tonga Hut interior
C’mon…do it for Big Mo. (photo by Christina Champlin)

How I Learned to Love Quarantine

How fast things can change in a week.

I sometimes think this when I look at the world I lived in and how I felt about it a week ago compared to now. Like many others, I’m in a self-imposed quarantine of sorts with, thankfully, my beloved Brian by my side. To say I’m grateful for his presence would be the understatement of all time.

It’s so easy to let my anxiety take over (which it has definitely threatened to do) because of how powerless the situation around me makes me feel. To the vast majority of the human population, the unknown is a colossal dick. So it’s only natural we’d flip out at what’s happening now.

I’ve definitely experienced grief. Right now, I grieve for the world around me, I grieve for the people who don’t get the luxury of staying home because we need them, I grieve for my friends who are suddenly finding themselves in a position of financial hardship, I grieve because I can’t see my elderly parents back home in Texas…the list goes on. Grief looks different for lots of people, so I thought I’d share my journey and where it’s led me to now.

I was initially incredulous at the thought of a pandemic causing this much upheaval. It was one of many who was guilty of feeling like it wouldn’t affect us the way it did. When it finally started creeping into my way of life, I was angry. Angry at the virus, angry at the spreaders, angry at the hoarders…you get the idea.

Then came the “if onlys”. “If only we’d taken this seriously sooner”, “If only our healthcare system was better equipped”, “If only we had a leader who knew what he was doing.” There are so many fucking if onlys. Guys, don’t think about them too much, or you’ll never get out of that rabbit hole, FYI.

Several days ago, I experienced my first bout of real depression. I was depressed at the thought of watching our retirement savings dwindle, the thought of my parents possibly becoming infected, the healthcare system finally collapsing, the thought of more and more people succumbing to the virus…holy shit, it was intense at times. But to my surprise, it didn’t last long at all.

It’s hard not to feel an impending sense of doom when you read the news or even go on social media, because all anyone can talk about is the virus, how it’s affecting everything, and how the world will basically shit on itself if we do nothing. But as the crisis deepened, I started to see signs…signs of hope, unity and good will.

“Innovation is born out of necessity.” I love that quote. And I am seeing proof of it everywhere I look. People are using their creativity and knowledge to come up with ways to help or enrich the lives of others. From people trying to make masks for healthcare workers to virtual concerts, classes and happy hours, our humanity is peeking like a slit out of our collective skirt of self-absorbance.

Earlier this week, a neighbor brought me kidney beans and canned tomatoes out of kindness, because every place I’d tried was sold out, and all I wanted was to make a pot of chili. Another friend messaged me today to see if we needed any toilet paper because he’d found some on his way home. I’m seeing communities come together to support their bars, restaurants, and other local businesses that have seen their revenue streams cut. And it’s giving me hope.

We are capable of so much good. We really are. I have a pretty fair amount of cynicism in me, but I’d like to believe that we’ll find ways to lift each other up during this time of extreme sacrifice and strife. Yes, even in spite of how shitty we humans are sometimes.

When I woke up yesterday, I looked out my window and saw a little hummingbird flitting around our trees, pausing here and there. I was completely mesmerized by it. It was like time stopped at that moment. When it flew away, I finally snapped out of my daze.

And it really hit me – when we’re finally able to step outside our homes and slowly rebuild ourselves and our communities, I hope our overall feeling is similar to the one I felt at that moment. A feeling of wonder, hope, and renewed gratitude for the little things that pass us by every day without us noticing much. A heightened appreciation for the things and people we take for granted and think we’ll have tomorrow, next week or next year.

I’ve entered the last stage of my grief and accepted what is happening now – that we need to do the right thing so we can fight back against this virus. So we can all go hug our loved ones again, even tighter than before.

How fast things can change in a week. Stay hopeful, stay safe, and for the love of all things, please stay the fuck home.