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Name:Hele Mai Restaurant & Club
Street:1414 EAST 6TH ST

Not much to be found online about this one. Property is a stand alone building sharing a parking lot with the River Forest Inn. Currently known as Pablo's On The River. Original elements of its tiki past remain.

Last week while passing through a small Texas town, I decided to pop into a vintage shop and while thumbing through some old matchbooks nonchalantly mentioned to the teller I was looking for anything tiki related, especially of Texas origin. Lo and behold, he tells me he just went to a restaurant the week before, one town over, that was a former tiki place called Hele Mai and a lot of the tiki elements are still on display. He said it made no sense why any of it was still there, but they make a great burger. He also told me has has an old menu from its time as Hele Mai that he'll give me next time I come through.

Although I had just eaten 10 minutes prior, I couldn't resist the urge to check the place out. To my great fortune, the hostess was a native of the area and was happy to give me a tour. She remembers the place fondly from the 70s when her parents took her there as a child. She said there was a giant tiki face outside and her mother likely has photos of it she'll try to dig up.

Here are some I took, starting with the sign. I imagine the structure is original and based on the font, the word “Restaurant” likely is as well.

Upon entering, there's this large three point boomerang shaped Witco hostess stand that's seen better days, but is still here!!!

Behind the hostess station is the bar area which is surprisingly still intact featuring the original bar top, the reed covered pitched ceiling, hanging canoe and a couple old light fixtures. I'm not sure if the stools are original but the vinyl appears to match the booths in the main dining room, which are original. I so wonder what the back bar used to look like. I imagine an elaborate mural or shelves loaded with delicious bottles of rum. And of course no white walls!

The main dining room has a very open plan with lots of generic tables flanked with truly stunning rattan chairs in incredible condition. The far wall has heavily tufted, cozy looking booths. She said the flooring is all original. Again, I wonder what lined the walls before they covered them in mirrors. The center of the room has a highly elevated ceiling. I can only imagine what kind of feature or lighting they had hanging from up there.

The place was rumored to have opened in the 60s, although the Incorporation Date I found online is August 28, 1973 with a Dissolution Date of February 21, 1983... cause: Forfeited Franchise Tax. Although, an article about a long unsolved murder near the premises indicates it was still in operation as of 1990 under the Hele Mai name. The lady I spoke to said it was atleast two different steakhouses and several other restaurants before becoming Pablo's. Amazing no one tossed all this décor!

Here's an interesting read:

And a couple old ads:

The second one indicates to me they had far more Witco than just the hostess stand!

[ Edited by: mikehooker 2020-02-23 14:16 ]

There is carved wooden trim all around the ceiling, and peeking in the gaps between the booths and wall, it appears that there is tapa wall coverings behind those mirrors. I lived one town over throughout the 90s and drove past this place several times a week and had no idea it had ever been tiki. To be honest, I had no idea tiki existed in any fashion at that point in my life, but still...

I was perusing eBay and spotted this token for Hele Mai. 3B1B9FE0-C42E-477E-AE7C-ABF036775270

Ha! Yes, I grabbed one of those off Ebay a little more than a year ago for a couple of bucks. I've yet to see a menu or mug from that place, tho.

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