Liquid history Of New Orleans: Chapter Tiki !
Just say Pontchartrain Beach and most people my age who grew up in New Orleans will grin like a overgrown kid.
And there was no “beach” to speak of but an amusement park that rivaled the best we’d ever seen. The Zephyr was a roller coaster that would give any grown up whip lash and scare the dickens out of any kid.
Ferris wheel, bumper cars and the scariest of all, the Wild Maus. Don’t even ask. Let’s just say the Wild Maus ride had a harrowing 90° right turn several stories in the air over the parking lot. Sometimes the right turn was scarier than planned.
The Batt family ran the amusement park that even hosted Elvis on its stage…
…and their own Polynesian themed restaurant (the adult’s playground) Bali Hai.
Bali Hai had the whole schtick: thatched roofs, coconut drinks served in coconuts, umbrellas in all the drinks and on and on. Trader Vic would have been proud. You would go out to dinner with your parents and they’d order a few Polynesian treats and send you on your way to throw basketballs at rigged milk jugs, or stand in a room that spun so fast when the floor dropped out beneath you you stuck to the wall. Fun! You’d run back into the restaurant for more tickets and your parents would gladly oblige having run into loads of people they needed to share a hairy coconut drink with. What a racket! We all loved it!
The Batts were the perfect hosts and since we were family friends with the Batt boys, Jay and Bryan. We even got invited to private parties!
Little did I know that my mom Ella and Aunt Dottie had befriended Trader Vic himself, Vic Bergeron.
Revered in the cocktail world for the entire genre of Tiki drinks, restaurateurs call him the originator of the “theme restaurant.” He developed the Polynesian theme in a Quonset hut bedecked with palm fronds and thatched roofs, drinks served in exotic glasses with flowers floating in them and fire and on and on.
His theory on food was to never serve anything your guests could compare with what anybody else was serving. If the guy down the street put out grilled shrimp, he’d serve Polynesian shrimp on a stick that he flared at the table.
Mom’s stories of being flown around California on Trader Vic’s own airplane (we didn’t know anyone who had their own airplane in the ‘50’s. He called it TWA – for “Teeny Weeny Airline”) thrilled us all.
But back at our very own Polynesian wonderland we came of age drinking Mai Tais and Fog Cutters.
Just another chapter in the “liquid history of New Orleans.”
Many of these fantastic photos come courtesy of the site Pontchartrain Beach Remembered. Thanks so much!
Another great site we found for photos is PontartrainBeach.com.