• Randy's Donuts (805 West Manchester Ave., Inglewood): randys-donuts.com • Pann's Restaurant (6710 La Tijera Blvd., Los Angeles): panns.com • Bob's Big Boy Broiler (7447 Firestone Blvd., Downey): bobsbigboybroiler.com • Pancake Circus (2102 Broadway, Sacramento): pancakecircus.net • Tadich Grill (240 California St., San Francisco): tadichgrill.com • Sam's Grill and Seafood Restaurant (374 Bush St., San Francisco): belden-place.com • Mark's Hot Dogs (48 South Capitol Ave., San Jose)
The '50s knew how to drink, as John O'Hara or Norman Mailer could attest. It was a decade of martinis—not white wine. Why then do so many contemporary cognoscenti of the period focus on drinks involving rum, citrus juices, and orange Curacao?
Because tiki culture is as much about style and fantasy as it is about drinking. And what tiki bar has ever been half as much fun as San Francisco's classic and now, alas, endangered Tonga Room?
The Tonga Room, in the basement of the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill, was created in 1945 by a Hollywood set designer and updated in the late 1960s with tikis from Oceanic Arts, the Southern California supplier. The bar features a tropical lagoon—complete with a bandstand on a boat, tropical thatch, and periodic bursts of rain and thunder.
No wonder plans to demolish the bar (to make way for a new, upscale tower) have enraged the tiki community, which is fighting for its preservation. They scored one victory recently, a determination by San Francisco preservation officials that the room is truly historic, "one of the last major, formally designed tiki-themed bars in California."
In Southern California, which is rife with Polynesian themed dives, Charles Phoenix recommends the 50-year-old Tiki Ti.
No one doubts that the 1950s was the high point of music. Rock 'n' roll was born, Fats Domino had his day, country music really came from the country, and Leonard Bernstein kicked off the decade with his symphonic work 'Age of Anxiety.'
You might play that one on your time machine's jukebox—or you might prefer something a bit more sinister. Consider 'Atomic Platters: Cold War Music from the Golden Age of Homeland Security,' put together by the jolly crew at CONELRAD, which dedicates itself to all things Cold War.
No? Then catch a gig by Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys. Big Sandy may have come into this world in 1964, but that's not how it appears when he's on stage—or off.
On stage, with his hair slicked back, using vintage gear and wearing vintage clothing, it's the '50s all over again—not a retro band with tongue in cheek but the real thing. Big Sandy has a rich voice that sounds like it is the 1950s, and his audience is just as authentic. So is the scene, especially if you catch the act at the elegant, 1930s-era club Bimbo's in San Francisco or De Marco's 23 Club in Brisbane, two historic venues that are among his favorite places to play.
"For me it is funny," Big Sandy says of his love for 1950s music. "It's not like it's nostalgia for me, because I wasn't around then. But certain songs will bring back certain memories that I shouldn't have. I don't know how to account for that."
• Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys: bigsandy.net • Bimbo's 365 Club (1025 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco): bimbos365club.net
• De Marcos 23 Club (23 Visitacion Ave., Brisbane): myspace.com/the23club
• CONELRAD (an organization devoted to 'all things atomic'): conelrad.com
Offstage, you'll often find Big Sandy perusing the vintage shops on Long Beach's Fourth Street, where he buys goods for his homes and for himself.