The Great Aku Aku!

Dreamsville... Las Vegas, 1966... How about dinner and drinks at the Aku Aku? We'll follow it up with some rockabilly from The Collins Kids (!!) and  afterward, some bachelor-pad space-jazz by Esquivel (!!) in the lounge. 

Oh man... There was a time when this was reality. 

After I came across that marquee image, I thought it might be cool to do a little feature on the amazing Aku Aku!
The restaurant opened in January of 1960. It was located in the super atomic Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas.  

From what I can tell, this was the entrance to the restaurant from the inside of the casino. 
Dig that guy's suit and sideburns! That chick is something too!

The front door of the restaurant. Note the two large moai, flanking the door. A lot of tiki bars/ restaurants/ apartment complexes featured a short bridge to cross over... It was the literal crossing out of reality and over into 'paradise'.

My buddy, Bamboo Ben, has direct legacy to this place. His grandfather, Eli Hedley, carved the giant featherstone maoi for the Stardust’s Aku Aku. He also decorated the tiki bar, Pago Pago, Lake Tahoe restaurants, Trader Dick’s and Harvey’s, and was even hired by Walt Disney to decorate Adventureland. He eventually sold hand-carved tikis from his Island Trade Store in Disneyland and at the Orange County Fair in the 1950's. 

In fact, I just found these tikis at an estate sale in Santa Ana. The original owner bought these brand new at the OC Fair in 1959. 

Ben told me that these are Eli Hedley moai, carved from the scraps of the Aku Aku tiki. I have these two tikis, another that looks like it was kinda started and given up on, and one big boulder. Pretty cool to find out about the history of them! 

(Side Note: I put the big boulder in the pond as decor and it FLOATS! I have never heard of floating rocks before. Blew my mind.)

In family tradition, Bamboo Ben designed and decorated the interior of the only tiki bar in Las Vegas today, the amazing Frankie's Tiki Room.

All of the chairs in Frankies were carved by the San Diego carver, Buzzy.  Moss, the owner of Frankies, actually just sold those Buzzy-carved chairs because they kept falling over every night. Now two of them live in my Breezeway bar! I have no issues with them being wobbly. They make for great decore anyway!                                                                                                                                   I believe that they replaced those tiki chairs with vintage chairs from Sam's Seafood (now Don the Beachcomber)... but I'm getting off track here... Back to the Aku Aku!

So welcome to the Stardust's Aku Aku! Where you can get a Zombie for $2.00 (in the 1960s)! Just as at Don the Beachcomber, you can only order two per visit.

These are some of the only interior pictures of the Aku Aku that I've been able to find. Very dark and atmospheric. I wonder if those table lamps are tikis... It looks like the room divider is made up of tikis or kava kava men or something...

Here's a lighter picture of the interior. You can actually see that the table lamps are small boxes with lamp shades. Not tikis. If you look on the tables, you can see some of the barware and plating that they used. Everything was themed perfectly!

They had a pretty good collection of tiki mugs that they used for their cocktails. There's something about vintage tikis mugs that lots of the modern ones just kinda miss. Maybe it's the glaze or something. These two are from my personal collection. 

These folks are drinking out of the black moai mugs....

You can see that they really played up the moai tiki thing by offering two different mugs with that type of design. Perfect theming in tying back to the big moai outside! 

They also offered a standard coconut mug and a rum barrel type mug. I 'm still yet to find these for my own collection.

 A three moai Scorpion bowl too!               

(floral background images: HangTenTiki)

But it doesn't end there! They also had their own branded plating, 'personal clean-up towel', and a hand fan? I guess the fan makes sense for the heat of Las Vegas, right?

One of my absolute favorite tiki finds is this gambling token for the Stardust Casino. Branded to promote the Aku Aku, the other side reads, "Rub my nose for luck". Did they mean rub the nose on the coin, or rub the nose of the giant one outside of the casino?

After seeing this photo,  yeah, they meant on the coin... Unless they were challenging you to climb that thing! Work for your luck!
I wonder where those two moai flanking the restaurant door ended up? They didn't just throw those away when they closed the restaurant, did they??

The mind blowing signage of the Stardust at night! And a little neon tiki for you too...

This was from a vintage postcard (image: HangTenTiki)

After all of the glory that the giant Aku Aku tiki had been a part of, it was eventually appropriately retired to it's own private island at Sunset Park, Las Vegas. It lives on as a bird perch. You can still see it there today!

I hope you enjoyed this look at a piece of tiki history. If you have any more info on the Aku Aku, I'd love to hear it! Please send messages to me at The Hula Girls on Facebook.

For more information, go see the Aku Aku thread on Tiki Central 

No comments:

Post a Comment