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Pix of the Tiki Kai-New Mexico/Denver

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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


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.

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?

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?


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."

[ Edited by: ZuluMagoo on 2003-06-18 21:28 ]

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....


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 @ [email protected].
Thanks for Listening, Pat :)

[ Edited by: Gramcrkr on 2005-06-02 09:53 ]


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;


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

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.

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.

Swanky posted on Thu, Nov 2, 2006 6:00 PM
teaKEY posted on Thu, Nov 2, 2006 6:03 PM

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

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

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:

[ Edited by: bigbrotiki 2006-11-02 23:19 ]

Nice! Cold! But the best beer in the world!


Sadly the New Chinatown (Tiki Kai) in Albuquerque has completely closed.

I posted the following in this year's Chinese New Year thread...

Living in Albuquerque fourteen years ago we and all our friends enjoyed annual reservations at the New Chinatown's Polynesian Lounge with Freddy Kekaulike Baker playing and crooning poly-lounge's greatest hits right next to our table. The serenity would be interupted suddenly while an energetic Chinese Lion danced through the bar but the mellow Hawaiian mood would return as Freddie's sister enlisted tipsy regulars to join her in a hula exhibition (Sure I've hula'd with Freddie's sister, but who hasn't?!) Sweet Jeezus I loved that place! RIP New Chinatown, I'll never forget you.

As I remember...the lounge had curvy a sunken bar low enough for comfy swivel chairs on the east wall covered by a thatch roof. This way Freddy's wife and bartender was at eye level with you even though you were seated. A dark vaulted ceiling contained a nice old outrigger and glass floats. Freddies stage was on the south wall and cozy booths lined the west wall where window's looked out on the resturant's asian style entryway. I wonder what became of the Tikis that sat in the asian garden outside the entrance...


Posted in Albuquerque's Weekly Alibi:

Music to Your Ears

By Mel Minter

Mahalo, Freddie— Freddie Kekaulike Baker, the Hawaii-born singer and multi-instrumentalist who entertained a couple of generations of Albuquerqueans, passed away suddenly on Feb. 5, two days shy of his 86 th birthday, leaving a hole in the city’s musical heart that will not be filled.

“He must have been sick, but he never complained,” said his wife, Jane Ong-Baker. “That’s, Freddie, you know. He just enjoyed playing and making other people happy. He had to have been not feeling good for a long time because he had pancreas cancer, and he never complained.”

A popular musician in Hawaii, Baker came to the mainland after WWII. Initially unable to work because of union issues, he depended on the kindness of friends quickly made and on his own resourcefulness, charm and curiosity.

“I have all this energy and willpower,” he said in a 2005 interview.

That energy and willpower soon had him teaching movie stars how to surf, playing small parts in the movies, headlining in some of the biggest rooms in Las Vegas and national tours as Hawaii-mania swept the country in the late ’50s.

In Albuquerque, he met his wife-to-be, Jane Ong, while eating at her family’s restaurants. “I’m lucky,” he said, referring to their meeting. “So I made my home here.”

A fixture on the Albuquerque scene since the mid-’60s—at the Ongs’ Tikki-Kai nightclub and their New Chinatown restaurant, and most recently at the Town House—Freddie brought a little island magic to the high desert. Crooning in his soft falsetto, he summoned up a bygone era of gracious sophistication and offered listeners a respite from harsher modern realities. When the vibe was right, he would play for hours without a break.

“I get so involved with the people because I enjoy them enjoying themselves, when they have family and friends and they come to a nice place. I just play nice, the songs they like, old songs. I enjoy watching their expressions,” he said.

The show was not about Freddie. It was about his audience, about remembering what song you liked, about finding the right tune for the moment, about creating a comfortable atmosphere.

His sweetness and generosity of spirit will be missed, but friends and fans will have at least one more opportunity to say good-bye and then take some memories home.

“There will be a memorial,” said Ong-Baker. “It’s going to be a little different. You know, Freddie never made a CD or anything like that. He didn’t want the pressure of time. Let it happen as nature would. But he was taped live by KOB and KUNM, and we have those tapes. We’re putting some songs together, and we’ll make a CD for people, in his memory.”

A memorial service for Freddie Kekaulike Baker will be held at French Mortuary, 10500 Lomas NE, on Saturday, Feb. 24, at 1 p.m. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to The Kawaiaha’o Church (www.kawaiahao.org), where Freddie first sang as a choirboy.

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?

Neither locations interiors look very Tiki...

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

Denver location


None of these pictures are working for me...


A little addition to an old thread.

Hey, Bongofury! How about re-posting those photos from the start of this thread?

In the mean-time, here's an ad for Ernie at the Tiki Kai.


At last, some photos and from the Tiki Kai in Denver. Spotted this postcard on ebay.

Close ups of the exterior signs and building.

Interior, nice Witco Outrigger.

Found this info on the Denver Public Library website.

Looks like it opened in September 1964 and ran into a little obscenity problem in 1966. The Kahuna club opened in 1966.



I am the only one that thinks we need a topless Tiki bar? :D

No sir, I'm all for it too.

Jeff btd

Here's another Tiki Kai ad:

DC, also see Tiki Modern, Page 99 :D


Saw this on ebay, nice to see a Tiki Kai menu

Ad for the Ink Spots at the Tiki Kai.


This photo shows a peek of the Tiki Kai A-Frame posted by Historic Modern Denver. Also shows the Armet & Davis designed Big Boy Restaurant next door.


Great interior photo of the Tiki Kai with a nice Witco.


Dustycajun thank you for the new postings. It's always sad to see the old threads with the missing images. Your are a restoration specialist! Wendy

Moving on from Denver

to Albuquerque, here is A postcard from the Tiki Kai in New Mexico. You can spot two nice Barney West Tikis - one by the road sign and one by the front door. Part of the restaurant complex included the Geisha Room which was advertised as New Mexico's only Japanese Restaurant.


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