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Tiki Central Forums » » Locating Tiki » » Ports O' Call, Dallas, TX (restaurant)
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Ports O' Call, Dallas, TX (restaurant)
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 24, 2003
Posts: 1207
From: McKinney, TX
Posted: 2007-02-07 07:46 am   Permalink

Name:Ports O' Call
Street:400 Olive St

Stephen Crane operated restaurant located on the 37th floor of the Southland Life tower, part of the Dallas Sheraton. Operated from 1960-1978. Had four different dining rooms similar to Crane's Kon Tiki Ports locations.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 24, 2003
Posts: 1207
From: McKinney, TX
Posted: 2007-02-07 07:46 am   Permalink

&PStephen Crane told the Dallas Morning News in 1960 that he got the idea for this restaurant in 1936 while attending the Olympics in Germany. “There was a restaurant in Munich called The Four Seasons which had 4 rooms,” he said, “each decorated to represent a season of the year. It gave me the idea for a Ports O’ Call, which would be four restaurants in one-each specializing in a certain kind of food.” He was obviously referring to the restaurant style for not only Ports O’Call in Dallas but what would later be Kon Tiki Ports in Chicago and Boston.

Ports O’ Call was permanently docked on the 37th floor in what used to be the Southland Life tower of the Sheraton Hotel in Dallas. The hotel itself opened in 1958 and the Southland Life tower in 1960. At the time the tallest building in downtown Dallas.

Southland Life built Ports O’ Call and leased it to the Sheraton, who hired Stephen Crane Associates to operate the restaurant. The restaurant officially opened on July 29th, 1960.

This is a picture from the Dallas Morning News of Stephen Crane, Louis Barenello (executive director of management for Stephen Crane Assoc.) and executive chef Al Alstad taken around the same time:

An ad from the August, 1960 issue of Dallas Magazine:

The Restaurant
Upon arrival by elevator to the 37th floor you were instantly transported to the mahogany deck of a ship, The White Cloud, complete with a real helmsman’s wheel to mark the reservation deck and the main sail beam from the ship used in the 1956 movie Around The World In 80 Days. Four dining rooms were ahead, each whisking you off to an exotic destination in the Far East.

To your left was PAPEETE. Here is the description from the Dallas Morning News:

In the Tahiti setting, rock lava and coral form a setting for a softly-lighted fountain, behind a curving bar of teak and monkey pod wood. Blowfish lighted in green, red, yellow and blue hang above the bar, where a Hawaiian war god rules. Other hand-carved gods from Maori and Tahiti stand at strategic points in the room.

Walls are covered with paper thin, hand-dyed fabric in soft browns and beiges. Hand carved weapons, including a hook on which heads were hung, decorate the walls. An outrigger canoe hangs on the ceiling, huge clam shells shade lights on the walls and polished monkey pod wood is used for the free-form shaped tables.

from the postcard: Nature has been tamed for this tropic hideaway. A waterfall babbles for your pleasure while local wild life stands motionless to keep you at your ease. But spears and pelts remind the diner that the simple life does have its excitements.

Across from Papeete was SINGAPORE YACHT CLUB

from the postcard: A gourmet’s corner of the Colonies with authenticity as the appetizer. Gas-lit, captain-chaired…very British and truly delightful. Your table, once the hatch cover of a ship that proudly carried Her Majesty’s flag to far-flung harbors.

Further down across the deck of the White Cloud were two more destinations.

First was MACAO

from the postcard: All the fascinations of foreign sorcery beguile you in this harbor of mystery where the rare sweet meats of Cathay tempt even the most sophisticated palate. Dine in the gaze of a noble Ming dynasty Kwan-Yin…delight in the lavish ebony and mother-of-pearl furnishings. You’ll be bewitched!

Across from Macao was SAIGON

from the postcard: A haven of pleasure…dedicated to delights in dining and décor. Rich silks and sacred carvings surround its fortunate inhabitants, heightening their enjoyment in the Oriental offerings. Surrender to the lure of this fascinating city of mystery. It’s inevitable!

Waiters dressed appropriately for the room they were waiting on. Head waiters and captains dressed in formal white naval dress uniform.

Although it was beautifully decorated and featured exotic food and drinks…the main attraction of Ports O’ Call was the view…especially at night. During the 60’s, Dallas was one of the fastest growing cities in the country. New buildings and skyscrapers were going up all around the Sheraton, and Ports O’ Call offered one of the most spectacular views of the fast rising skyline.

I’ve spoken with several Dallas natives who remember dining at Ports O’ Call, and the view from 37 floors up is always the first thing they mention. One gentleman told me he visited soon after they opened and couldn’t get over how far and wide he could see from the restaurant. It was the tallest building he’d ever been in so it was an experience he wouldn’t soon forget…sitting by the window able to see the entire city and watching the planes come and go from Love Field. But what of the restaurant? He couldn’t remember which dining room he ate in but he said the decor made him crave roasted pig. We’ll assume it was Papeete.

The Papeete room was obviously the most popular of the four dining rooms. “Visit our famous Papeete Club” is the wording at the bottom of this ad from the January 1969 issue of D Magazine.

Notice they’re really pushing the view as the big attraction to dining at Ports O’ Call. It’s a little different than the ad in the June 1968 issue:

Then came the 70’s. With tiki devolution in full swing, there sat Ports O’ Call with it’s Far East destinations...the same destinations people were watching turn extraordinarily violent on the nightly news. No longer an escape, it sat as a painful reminder of the world it was trying to an escape from. It’s amazing the restaurant survived as long as it did…and it was mostly because of that spectacular view no one could get anywhere else.

Not only was Ports O’ Call now considered “tacky” by the trendy 70’s nightlife, but stories began to spread that the food and service was terrible. There were also stories of embezzlement by employees (which apparently made the papers) but I haven’t been able to find any solid information.

Ports O’ Call did make an attempt at altering the menu somewhat to try to attract more customers as can be seen in this write-up from D Magazine, March 1978:

The menu now docks in many new ports (wiener schnitzel from Germany, steak au poivre from France, etc.) though the featured fare is still mostly Polynesian. And nothing special at that – but then that’s never been the appeal anyway. The attractions are the lavish (almost ludicrous) dining rooms, the 37th floor view with the “big city” feeling and the exotic rum concoctions in the tiki-god-and-blowfish bar – try the Test Pilot, limit 2 per customer.

The final blow to Ports O’ Call was handed down in 1978 when Reunion Tower opened across town. At the top of the tower, 55 stories up, was a brand new rotating restaurant. Ports O’Call no longer had the “best view in town” and by the summer of 1978 it was all over.

D Magazine managed to get in one more review before they closed for good. This is from the July 1978 issue:

The over-ambitious menu, which includes continental as well as Oriental dishes, has no outstanding items. Portions are large, as if to make up for the bland and uninspired preparation. But the fancy fruit and rum drinks are still fun, and if you have a tourist friend who’s trapped downtown, you can recommend it for what it’s worth.

No-one EVER knocked the drinks.

The Menu
The only menu I’ve had an opportunity to closely examine is the one pictured here. This menu was something the customer kept as it contained a swizzle stick, a pack of matches and a paper coaster. The menu was shaped like a piece of luggage with stamps from all four exotic destinations. (note - this is obviously not their complete menu and I’ve not been able to find any info on what exactly these were used for.) The selections are fairly limited…shirred eggs with chicken livers anyone? And what would happen if a woman tried to order the “Business Men Luncheon”.

Another look at the extras that came with the menu:

This brochure was also included:

The Dallas Morning News had this to say about the menu shortly before the restaurant opened to the public:

The Ports’ Saigon room will feature curried dishes, the Papeete will offer such delicacies as Chicken Taboo and rare porks, the Macao will present a superb Cantonese fare and the Singapore Yacht Club will be headquarters for such traditional British fares as steaks, chops and mutton.

The Drinks
I’ve yet to get a good look at a drink menu. They’re very rare and usually go for BIG bucks on Ebay. If anybody has one PLEASE post some pics!! I did notice these in the Macao postcard:

The Artifacts
One piece that’s quite intriguing is the covered coconut mugs that were used as condiment bowls similar to the ones at the other Stephen Crane locations. Here’s one missing the lid.

You can see them on the tables in the postcards:

Creamer and butter pat:

One thing I’ve yet to see is an actual tiki mug that is marked Ports O’ Call. We’ve all seen the many different mugs from the Kon Tiki Ports locations, but I’ve yet to see one specifically marked “Ports O’ Call.” It’s probably safe to assume they did use tiki mugs, especially in Papeete, but possibly unmarked? Here’s a Ports O’ Call tumbler, photo courtesy Unkle John:

The S shakers were pretty much identical to the ones used at the other Stephen Crane locations:

The Dallas Sheraton is still standing and is now the Adams Mark Hotel.

And what of the Ports O’ Call location on the 37th floor? Now just a series of meeting rooms, with less than exotic names like Majestic 1, Majestic 2, Majestic 3 etc...a far cry from Papeete and Macao.

The view from the 37th floor, however, isn’t as far and wide as in the days of Ports O’ Call, but pretty nice nonetheless:

[ This Message was edited by: Kenike (RESTORING MISSING PICS) 2011-03-17 11:21 ]

[ This Message was edited by: Kenike 2011-03-18 03:30 ]

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Tiki Centralite

Joined: Nov 17, 2004
Posts: 64
Posted: 2007-02-07 10:01 am   Permalink

[ This Message was edited by: bifcozz 2007-02-09 21:32 ]

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 24, 2003
Posts: 1207
From: McKinney, TX
Posted: 2007-02-07 10:14 am   Permalink

Great pics...thanks!! I forgot to post my pic of the cocktail glass. I stupidly traded it away back when I was only collecting "tiki" mugs.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jun 26, 2002
Posts: 484
From: Denver, CO
Posted: 2007-02-07 11:39 am   Permalink

Fantastic research!! Thanks for all the work you put into this post.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Aug 22, 2002
Posts: 1513
From: Houston, Texotica
Posted: 2007-02-07 4:46 pm   Permalink

*Damn* Kenike!!!
Out-STAND-ing research!
You have been squirreling away information for quite some time, as well as spending a good many hour at the library, no? Thank you so much for enriching us all!


Inspired to get on the ball herself,

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 22, 2004
Posts: 756
From: L.A. baby!
Posted: 2007-02-07 4:53 pm   Permalink

I am seriously impressed with the images!! A fantastic look at the Ports!!

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 07, 2004
Posts: 1961
From: North Coast/ DEAD
Posted: 2007-02-07 5:10 pm   Permalink

on the page that heads up
'PAPEETE" 'Paradise of the Pacific'there is a drawing of a "carved sepic river house hook" does any one know what that is ,or used for . and does anyone have one?thanks TD

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Aug 22, 2002
Posts: 1513
From: Houston, Texotica
Posted: 2007-02-07 5:25 pm   Permalink

Hey Tiki David-

I have one, yes; mine has only one double hook, not two as in that drawing.

I've been told they were used for both the mundane (hanging your food and whatnot upon to keep it off the floor) as well as the religious (hanging representations of what you hoped to gain on the hunt).

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Unkle John
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Oct 22, 2003
Posts: 1217
From: Middle-of-the-Ocean, TX
Posted: 2007-02-07 9:25 pm   Permalink

Oh man that is awesome!!
BTW You;ll have some more additions to the thread after the meet-up

Texas Tikiphiles Unite!

[ This Message was edited by: Unkle John 2007-02-07 21:26 ]

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 24, 2003
Posts: 1207
From: McKinney, TX
Posted: 2007-02-08 06:24 am   Permalink

Thanks for the kudos everyone. Yes, much time was spent at the Dallas library.

Ports O' Call was really big news when it opened in 1960 so the Dallas Morning News archive proved invaluable from that time period. The problem that I ran into was that there are no archives available between 1977 & 1983, which includes the time when Ports shut it's doors. Repeated calls to the Dallas Morning News have gotten me nowhere. There's probably some good info buried somewhere in there. D Magazine and Dallas Magazine were my other two big sources of info.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 11594
From: Tiki Island, above the Silverlake
Posted: 2007-02-08 09:24 am   Permalink

That hand holding the swizzle stick/ashtray holding the matchbook concept is just priceless!
...did they know about us then?

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Bora Boris
Mr. Unreasonable

Joined: Mar 25, 2005
Posts: 2617
From: Boogie Wonderland
Posted: 2007-02-08 09:54 am   Permalink

Wow great post! Thank you Kenike you rule!

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Limbo Lizard
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Aug 24, 2006
Posts: 779
From: Aboard the 'Leaky Tiki', Dallas
Posted: 2007-02-08 2:26 pm   Permalink

Amazing body of info you put together! I'll give you a menu lead, if you want to hit the main Dallas Library, again. In the late 70's, someone put out a few editions of a book named, "Dallas Menu". I ran across a copy I have a few years ago, but now I can't find it. It had reproductions of the menus of many Dallas restaurants (the ones that paid to be put in the book, I'm sure). One of them was Ports O'Call. The library has copies of this book, but it doesn't circulate - reference only. If they don't have a scanner, maybe you can copy it on the copy machine.
I have an ulterior motive to this, too. As soon as one of us goes to all the trouble of downtown parking, library copying fees, etc., and finally posting the menu here,... my copy will magically turn up.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Aug 22, 2002
Posts: 3691
From: San Francisco
Posted: 2007-02-10 02:29 am   Permalink

This is terrific, terrific stuff -- thank you so much for taking the time to compile all of this and present it in such a wonderfully digestible way, Kenike! It's given me a much better sense of what the Ports o' Call restaurants were like than anything else I've seen.


Critiki - Critiki News - Ooga-Mooga

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