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Bamboo Nation 

Hawaiian-print shirts, flaming cocktails -- who can resist the Tiki Bar Crawl?

Wednesday, Mar 31 2004
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The resurgence of tiki culture fulfills many needs. It gives enthusiasts an excuse to wear vintage Hawaiian-print shirts, indulge in early-'60s nostalgia, and quench their insatiable desire for flaming cocktails (which we all of course share). Though the jaded among us may chalk up the revival of this subculture as a fading mid-'90s phenomenon, the last year alone has seen the debut of two local tropical-themed bars: Oakland's Conga Lounge and Fairfax's Mr. Vise Grip's Bamboo Bar.

Mig Ponce, one of the moderating kahunas of the online Tiki Central community, explains the enduring popularity of these ersatz Shangri-Las. "It's a combination of escapism and kitsch. But tiki bars are also just plain fun. With a few drinks, you can be whisked away to a tropical isle." And at this year's San Francisco and Beyond Tiki Bar Crawl, an expected crowd of more than 100 exotica-loving enthusiasts hits the equivalent of a utopian archipelago -- all of the Bay Area's tiki bars in one long, liquored-up weekend.

Ponce organized the first barhop in 2001. "San Francisco is the only city where it is feasible to visit more than one tiki bar without driving long distances. In the Midwest, it's up to 12 hours between bars, but here you can hit four in one night." The annual trek has exploded from its one-night beginnings to a four-day blowout extending beyond the city limits to include the North and East Bay.

For those who fear driving while impaired, co-organizer Martin Cate has coordinated a bus to transport rum-soaked revelers. Though the idea of a mobile luau is clearly inspired, it was also a practical decision: "It was a pain having 45 people pouring out of a bar at once, flagging down as many cabs as they could," Cate says. "With the Tiki Bus, we just pull up, double-park, and everyone piles on." Onboard the decked-out bus are free-flowing spiked punch, videos documenting the rise of Polynesian pop, and an exotica-driven soundtrack. Those who forgo a bus ticket can follow along in a car-and-taxi caravan (be sure to pick a designated driver, if you're not in a cab).

The weekend's highlight is Saturday night, which begins with happy hour at the world-renowned Tonga Room. After a few potent cocktails, pop-culture anthropologists pay their respects to Tiki Bob, an icon from a long-shuttered watering hole that's still standing at the corner of Post and Taylor. Then it's on to North Beach's Bamboo Hut before die-hards cross the Golden Gate Bridge to Mr. Vise Grip's Bamboo Bar for tiki-inspired entertainment, including the theremin stylings of Project Pimento, comic/ukulele player King Kukulele, and goofy pop outfit Tom Jonesing. For tiki lovers, it's nothing less than paradise found.

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Jane Tunks

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  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
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