Monday, August 8, 2016

Remembering Tiki Boyd's

Tiki Boyd's
Boyd Rice: Designer & Tiki Consultant
Tiki Boyd's designer, Boyd Rice.

Tiki Boyd's was a somewhat legendary tiki bar designed by tiki-hound and Modern Drunkard magazine staffer Boyd Rice. Located in a Ramada Inn in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver, Colorado, it existed from early 2005 to mid 2006.

Prior to the inception of Tiki Boyd's, the hotel's bar had been a floundering, ill-conceived cross between sports and Southwestern themes blandly named The East Coast Bar, which enjoyed almost zero non-hotel clientele. After mixologist Lorin Partridge (née Ferguson) began bartending at the E.C.B., Rice and his friends soon became its only sizeable group of regulars, and the bar began to generate modest profits. When management enquired as to how sales might be further increased, Rice's friends suggested that he be enlisted overhaul the E.C.B. and convert it into a tiki bar, a proposition Rice eagerly accepted.

Entranced by the tiki phenomenon as a child in the 1960s, Rice had rediscovered and rekindled his love of tiki culture at the end of the '70s when he first began exploring the dwindling number of original tiki bars and restaurants still operating near his home in Southern California. In the early 1980s (along with his tiki enthusiast friends Jefferery Vallance and Michael Uhlenkott) Rice was involved in organizing tiki-themed parties at which he and his friends served fruity umbrella drinks and played exotica and surf rock records.

Boyd Rice and friends at a tiki party - California, early 1980s

Boyd Rice with a Tiki catamarran - Hawaii, 1982

On the cusp of the first wave of tiki culture revival, in 1982 Rice traveled to Hawaii to interview exotica music pioneer Martin Denny for the magazine Ungawa!, and would do so again (via telephone) for Seconds a decade later.
Taboo: The Art Of Tiki
By the 1990s, such activities had established Rice as a serious tiki-hound, and at the end of that decade he penned an introduction to Martin McIntosh's art book Taboo: The Art of Tiki and acted as a consultant for the BBC's Rapido TV program on tiki culture, "Air-Conditioned Eden." Thus, having been a devoted tiki-hound for more than two decades, it had always been his dream to create his own tiki bar, and the E.C.B. was the perfect opportunity for him to do so.

Immersing himself in the project, Rice quickly redecorated the bar, transforming it into a lavish tiki environment replete with bamboo huts, colored lights, hanging lanterns, carved wood masks and stuffed blowfish lamps - all of which was complimented by the exotica sounds of his own collection of Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman and Les Baxter LPs.

The East Coast Bar (before)

Tiki Boyd's (after)

Soon after Rice's reworking of the locale, business picked up as expected and management of the E.C.B. rechristened it - appropriately enough - Tiki Boyd's. Serving as Modern Drunkard's staff hangout and being the only tiki bar in town, Tiki Boyd's quickly became a highly profitable watering hole, where an unusual cast of characters from all walks of life took in the lurid exotica ambience while imbibing incandescent, rum-based cocktails topped with umbrella-skewered fruit.
As word of the popularity of Tiki Boyd's spread during its first few months as Denver's only tiki bar, a local tiki aficionado and expert in Denver's tiki history, Tiki Central's "Tiki Mike," combed through the city library's microfiche collection and uncovered the surprising revelation that back in the heyday of American tiki culture (the 1950s and '60s), a tiki bar occupied exactly the same spot as Tiki Boyd's locale. As it turned out, the Ramada Inn in which Tiki Boyd's resided was originally called The Heart O' Denver Motor Hotel when it was built back in the 1960s, and its bar was called simply the Tiki Lounge - designed by none other than legendary beachcomber and consultant to Disneyland, Eli Hedley.

All of this information was presented by Tiki Mike at the first of several "Night Of Tiki" history events at Tiki Boyd's, during which Mike gave slideshow presentations about the history of tiki culture, using photographs and postcards from his own personal collection. Mike further revealed several of the original advertisements for the Tiki Lounge, which were promptly converted into ads for Tiki Boyd's.

Unfortunately, there was trouble in paradise ...

Patrons drinking at Tiki Boyd's
Rice, who had decorated Tiki Boyd's in exchange for an open bar tab, had no direct control over how it was run, and thus was forced to work with management inherited from the bar's previous incarnation. As the months wore on, the bar's manager came to hubristically believe that Tiki Boyd's overnight prosperity had come about as if through sheer luck, rather than the efforts of Rice and his friends who bartended there, and he increasingly took both for granted. Compounding this, Rice was never reimbursed for the materials or labor he put into creating the bar's tiki theme - essentially meaning that regardless of Tiki Boyd's cash-register-bulging success, Rice still technically owned every bamboo stick, colored light bulb and vinyl platter in the place. As his involvement was increasingly downplayed and as the bar's management began to mistreat his friends who were employed there, Rice soon became frustrated with the situation. Thus, sadly for Denver's tiki enthusiasts, after about a year of doing business, Tiki Boyd's disappeared even more quickly than it had arrived.

One Spring afternoon in 2006, on Rice's direction, a dozen members of both the Modern Drunkard staff and a group called The Denver Gentlemen's Pipe Smoking League set upon the bar with a barrage of power tools and moving boxes, dismantling it completely and essentially stripping it bare in under an hour. Despite management's subsequent attempts at implementing a faux-tiki theme, the bar failed shortly thereafter and later incarnations of short-lived theme bars to follow at The Ramada Inn's bar-space never even remotely approached the success of Tiki Boyd's in its rum-slinging heyday.

Although Tiki Boyd's only existed for about a year and a half, it left an indelible impression on Denver's collective consciousness, and remains one of the city's more legendary bygone haunts to this day.

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