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Tiki Central Forums General Tiki Pix of the Tiki Kai-New Mexico/Denver
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Pix of the Tiki Kai-New Mexico/Denver
Grand Member (6 years)  

Joined: Oct 15, 2002
Posts: 1560
From: Ventura County
Posted: 2003-06-17 6:57 pm   Permalink

Aloha....thought these pictures might relieve some of the post boredom....I did not see this place mentioned in James' book. Anybody have any more info on this place?

Neither locations interiors look very Tiki...

Kinda looks like a Tiki Bob type mug at the right side of the sign

Denver location


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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jun 26, 2002
Posts: 484
From: Denver, CO
Posted: 2003-06-18 12:42 pm   Permalink

Here's some of the info on the Denver location that I have collected over the last few years. It opened in 1963 and operated as the Tiki Kai until 1972. From 1972 thru 1975 it operated as the Islander. In 1975, they dumped the Polynesian name and operated as the China Town Restaurant until 1992 when the building was sold and razed. Blockbuster Video now stands in its place.

Here are the same pics of the Denver location that Bongo posted, but in color.

The text on the back of the postcard reads "Denver's finest Polynesian Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge. Featuring exotic rum drinks and Cantonese cuisines, steaks, chops, and sea foods. Dancing nightly. 4151 East Colfax Avenue."

Is that a Witco hanging on the back wall?

I think this ad has a typo. I'm sure the bar was called the Kahuna not Kahvna.

Here's what stands in its place now.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 11, 2002
Posts: 2026
From: Aku Hall, Chicago
Posted: 2003-06-18 12:48 pm   Permalink


On 2003-06-17 18:57, bongofury wrote:
Aloha....thought these pictures might relieve some of the post boredom....I did not see this place mentioned in James' book. Anybody have any more info on this place?

Nice pix, Bong.

The New Mexico one is indeed mentioned in Tiki Road Trip, on page 169, at the bottom.
It says:
"Tiki Kai, Central Ave., Albuquerque, NM
Opened in 1965 by Jane Ong and her brother in law, Harry. Seated 300 and featured a full Polynesian Revue. Closed in 1976, but reopened as Polynesian Lounge and New China Restaurant in 1990 (see above). The huge sign was in the shape of a palm tree. Next to it sat an enormous Tiki, at least twenty feet tall, carved in a Melanesian style."

There is a longer review of the New China, which is still open, on p. 168.

I didn't know about the Denver location, but given the history of the Albuquerque one, I am wondering if they are indeed related other than in name?

- James T.
My newest book is "Destination: Cocktails" - www.destinationcocktails.com.
See www.tydirium.net for info on Big Stone Head, Tiki Road Trip and all of my other projects!

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Sabu The Coconut Boy
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Aug 20, 2002
Posts: 2804
From: Carson, California
Posted: 2003-06-18 1:19 pm   Permalink

Great post guys! Nice photos and history.

The moai statue in this photo:

looks a lot like the moai on the roof of the Hawaiian Gardens in Holly, Michigan:

Has anyone else seen these before? Were they manufactured by the same company?


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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jun 26, 2002
Posts: 484
From: Denver, CO
Posted: 2003-06-18 1:29 pm   Permalink

I also have this long review of the place shortly after it opened. The review was published in the Denver Post on September 1, 1964 (written by Barry Morrison).

"Susu Curry and 'Suffering Things' at Tiki Kai"

It was a trader's moon that was hanging all golly-wampus and out of shape on the eastern rim of the city's skyline. It backlighted the huge tiki god that peered sightlesslt down at the folks walking beneath it. We started looking at what appeared to be a huge bamboo hut with a thached roof standing at the corner of E. Colfax Ave. and Ash St. and felt the excitement building within us. After all, how many times do you see a bamboo hut on E. Colfax? Obviously, it was a night for adventure. You could feel it in your very finger tips. As Brigham Young once said, "This is the place." And this place was the Tiki Kai, a new restaurant that we were going to roam through.

The parking attendant had taken our car and we stood beneath a thached awning that led to the door. Through that door was- we knew not what-but you could practically hear the rumble of Polynesian drums. As we stepped across the threshold we were met by a short man with a big smile. He turned out to be Harry Jew, the lessee and operator of Tiki Kai. Harry showed us about a bit and then took us to the lounge. We carefully selected from the drink menu. We chose an unholy terror of a drink, called a Suffering Bastard, while Pinky, being of more cautious nature, picked a Tiki Kai Sling.

As we sipped the drinks-and these things should be sipped-we gazed about the room. paper in the design of tapa cloth adorned the walls. bamboo has been used extensively, both to separate the booths and make partial walls. Fish nets are strung from the ceiling. Glass float balls are hanging here and there artistically, and big blowfish with lights in them cast a romantic light through the room. The formerly barn-like room has been split up for the sake of intimancy. There is one large dining room, a lounge, and then to the side, another, smaller dining room.

Waitresses clad in cheongsoms and waiters in mandrain coats were hustling about in great style to care for the capacity crowd. Harry introduced us to Bill Marchiorda and Mike Matarza, owners of the building, and while we sipped another one of those "suffering things", as the waitress called them, we also partook of some appetizers. Foremost, among these was Po-Po, which is pronounced "poo-poo", and they are tiny seasoned meatballs covered with a cheese that smells remarkably like Romano, and impaled on bamboo splinters. One cooks the meatballs to desired doneness over a small Hibachi stove. Trick is to get the meatball done before the splinter burns through. We also tried some butterfly shrimp, which is served with regular and hot sauce; some small and excellent barbecued ribs, and some crab Raingoon, which is done up in a ball, seasoned with all sorts of goodies, and is delicious.

We had been moved-during this operation-to a secluded nook in the small dining room and perused the menu. There are a host of goodies to be had and so we decided to roam at will. We decided on beef with oyster sauce, a Cantonese dish, in which the beef is sauted with an oyster sauce and scallions and is very rich but also very tasty. The next decision was for sweet and sour pork, wherein they fry the pork tenderloin in a batter, sauce it with pineapple and green peppers, and their own special sweet and sour sauce. Turning to the curry menu we chose Susu Curry, which is an exotic cream style. It is a mild and flavorfully blended cream curry base with fresh vegetables and the shrimp. We were "fraidy cats" about trying the Calcutta curry because we have, on occasion, wept tears over this sort of thing. Then to make sure we had the Far Eastern "potato", we ordered Yang Chow fried rice. In this case the rice is mixed with peas, bits of shrimp, and barbecued pork. It's great. We completly skipped the Luau dinners, three in number, in which you can have a variety of things. And we all eschewed the American type items available from the charcoal broiler.

The food came and silence fell as all hands began working on the delightful cuisine. With it we sipped the delicate Chinese tea. It seemed but moments before we all gave up. We would love to have tried some more Susu curry but there just wasn't room. Instead, we all settled for some kumquats and almod cookies, which settled down the full feeling and left a clean taste in the mouth.

We stepped into a star-shrouded night amd swore the sound of Polynesian drums was louder. but Pinky just laughed and assured us we were under the influence of a fertile imagintion sparked by "suffering things".

A side note is added to the bottom of the review and reads "Trader Vic's will open a new restaurant - its 15th- in Dallas in the spring of 1965, and also plans to move its New York restaurant before the end of that same year."

[ This Message was edited by: ZuluMagoo on 2003-06-18 21:28 ]

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Grand Member (6 years)  

Joined: Oct 15, 2002
Posts: 1560
From: Ventura County
Posted: 2003-06-18 4:36 pm   Permalink

Thanks for the info Zulu, Tikibars, and Sabu......No slight to you Tikibars, just my lack of vision (Mrs. Fury follows behind me at the thrift store to ask "Did you see this", the answer is usually "no").

Those pix I posted were off the back of the L.P. "Around The Town" by Ernie Menehune . "The 5 photographs shown are some of the top night entertainment places around the country that Ernie Menehune has performed and entertained at. Mountain Shadows and Camelback Inn in Phoenix, Spanish Trail in Tucson, and the Tiki Kai's which leads me to believe they were related......I wish I had a pair of bongos....

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Joined: Jun 02, 2005
Posts: 1
Posted: 2005-06-02 09:49 am   Permalink

I worked at the Tiki Kai as a waitress in 1966. Harry Jew was the owner, Gordon the manager, Lou the Maitre'd, Linda the Hostess, Mike the bartender, Speedy the back up bartender, Tommy the Chef. I left Tiki Kai when I married the Chef Tommy Jung.

Harry had another Tiki Kai in Albuquerqe, which is where he spent most of his time. That club had Topless waitresses which was always a great conversational piece amonst the men as they were always kidding around that our Club should do the same. Which did not happen.

We had a a lot of entertainers for our evening shows. The Biggest draw was Ernie Menehune who in my book was far greater than Don Ho ever thought of being. Ernie spent a lot of his time in Vegas entertaining when he wasn't at our place. His wife at the time, Bobbi, knew almost everyone of the Who's Who in town. She was a great PR agent for him.

I have a lot of wonderful memories of Tiki Kai. One of my memories was the Sunday evening when we closed down and decided to have a private Employees Only party. We were to have Chinese Food & Spaghetti. This came about as Lou the Maitre'd was Italian and we had been talking of how it really was the Chinese who gave us Spaghetti & not Italy. So it was decided.

Lou was assigned to prepare the Chinese Food and Larry Lee a Chinese gentleman who managed the place for a short time prepared the spaghetti. I believe we were to vote for which we liked best. Both were very Good!

Another memory was of my Busboy George, who later became my step-son. One evening he went to pick up a customer's plate & the fork fell into the man's lap. I apologized & offered to pay for the cleaning bill. I helped him finish clearing the table & asked George to get them some coffee. George promptly missed the cup & poured hot coffee into the gentleman's lap. Needless to say there was no tip from that table that evening.

Would love to find out if any of the "old" gang is still around. George has found Ernie in Arizona & has his phone number. He is going to try to get copies of all of his music that has been turned into CD's. He tells me Ernie is now 80 years old & still entertaining & his voice is as good as ever. Any one interested in contacting Ernie can e-mail me @
Thanks for Listening, Pat

[ This Message was edited by: Gramcrkr on 2005-06-02 09:53 ]

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 03, 2002
Posts: 3193
From: Las Vegas, NV
Posted: 2005-06-02 10:02 am   Permalink

I have at least one of his albums and was surprised to see that he had an engagement at Ye Olde Lantern Restaurant in Tucson a few years back when I was visiting.
Here is an image from a current ebay auction;

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Sep 01, 2002
Posts: 1676
From: next stop Hulaville!
Posted: 2005-06-02 11:17 am   Permalink

Gramcrkr thanks for sharing your memories! Bongo, Zulu and Sabu you boys never disappoiint! Great thread!

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Feb 15, 2003
Posts: 3006
From: San Diego, Ca.
Posted: 2005-06-02 2:27 pm   Permalink

I'm surprised that when I Googled Ernie Menehune I found so much, but that this is the only mention of him on TC!

Mr. Menehune wrote the Hapa Haole classic "My Hula Maid", and I just found a listing for him performing at Sun City on this past May 14th.

Here's a quote from the Arizona Star about a 50th Birthday party held at Ernie Menehune's Little Hawaii, Uncle Ernie's Polynesian restaurant in Tucson:
The Polynesian party was held right here in Tucson at Ernie Menehune's Little Hawaii, which feels a little bit like Hawaii. Southwest of Old Tucson Studios off Donald Avenue, Little Hawaii is a private venue complete with a lake, towering palm trees and a performance stage adorned with palm fronds.

Friends and family were presented with leis as they arrived, then directed to the open bar for pineapple soda, other soft drinks and bottled water. The menu featured roasted pork, chicken breast, cole slaw, rice, fruit salad and pineapple upside down cake. The only things missing were the mai tais.

Does anyone have more info about this place? It's not listed in Critiki or TRT/TBRP.
Rev. Dr. Frederick J. Freelance, Ph.D., Th.D., D.F.S

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Tiki Centralite

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 43
From: Tucson, AZ
Posted: 2005-06-02 4:34 pm   Permalink

It's not a restaurant, that's what he calls his house. I don't think he throws a lot of parties or performances out there anymore so I have yet to see the place but I've heard great things about it.

And yes, he still performs regularly. He'll be at the Ye Olde Lantern here in Tucson on June 26 (and usually at least once a month all year long). Everyone should see him perform at least once in their lives. Bit of a living legend around here...

I have about about 10 different albums of his and still find them pretty regularly. Of the dozens and dozens of copies I've seen over the years only two or three were NOT signed. He must've had lines out the door at every performance with people waiting for his signature. My wife and I had him sign a record the last time we saw him and he was so thrilled to see it he announced it to the whole restaurant!

If you Google him you'll find some nice stories from some regional newspapers and such. Fantastic guy.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 03, 2002
Posts: 5319
From: Hapa Haole Hideaway, TN
Posted: 2006-11-02 6:00 pm   Permalink

Fun times at the Tiki Kai in 1966.


"Mai-Kai: History & Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant" the book

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Nov 09, 2004
Posts: 3683
From: The thumb !
Posted: 2006-11-02 6:03 pm   Permalink

what great photos. Why does that tiki look so much like the Mai kai Muntiki 50th tiki?

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Basement Kahuna
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Oct 14, 2002
Posts: 3601
From: Jawja Province, Isle of North America
Posted: 2006-11-02 10:59 pm   Permalink

Because it was carved by Barney West, like the one in front of the Mai Kai that the Muntiki mug was modeled after.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 11602
From: Tiki Island, above the Silverlake
Posted: 2006-11-02 10:59 pm   Permalink

Good Tiki eyes! Because it is based on the Barney West Moai from the Mai Kai. Barney's Moais had a recognizable style, (see BOT p.???) and he also provided the Tikis for the Tiki Kai. If you look at the giant (Trader Vic's logo style) New Guinea statue at his Tiki Junction (in the last BOT chapter), that's the one that ended up by the Tiki Kai sign.

Haha, BK, you beat me to it by a second! (It's 8:00 am here in Bavaria, my call time is not before 10:00, and IT'S SNOWING...)

...sorry, I certainly do not want to detract from this great post by my good friends, seasoned Tiki archeologists all, but I could not resist to send this little culture shock image of "from where I am coming from" (...not from Tiki Island, these days). The view from my hotel apartment in Murnau, right now:

[ This Message was edited by: bigbrotiki 2006-11-02 23:19 ]

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