For those already mid-century inclined, the slow but steady revival of Tiki kitsch has not gone without notice. In what has become an alien subset of the re-tooled mid-century modern movement over the past decade or so, the cult of Tiki has easily taken on a more exposed role.
A certified design fad by the 1940s and 1950s, the Tiki “wave” was prominently imported by U.S. military personnel stationed throughout the South Pacific during World War II. Think early Waikiki, Palm Springs, Rat Pack-era Las Vegas, Hollywood’s infamous eatery Don the Beachcomber, and Victor Berger’s eventual institution Trader Vic’s (and their noted Mai Tai cocktails). In cities and suburbs nationwide, humble neighborhood Tiki bars sprouted exponentially, the lure of Polynesia’s exotica a genuine movement in American popular culture.
As the decades past by of course, such bygone tokens gradually lost their luster, sliding into relative decay, from trendy to tacky. That is until recently, as America’s long-lost Polynesian affair is being revisited, and thankfully revamped.
Like mid-century modernism has for some time now, Tiki is gaining street cred once more. Phoenix, once itself a mid-century haven, dotted with Tiki bars and similarly themed restaurants, has recently become blessed with renewed (and revisited) examples. Apparent by the growth in loyal popularity of Downtown’s Bikini Lounge over the past 10-15 years (the last original Tiki bar in Phoenix), Scottsdale’s Drift Lounge, and of course, the return of Trader Vic’s at Scottsdale’s Hotel Valley Ho, Tiki nostalgia is becoming ostensibly refreshed.
The latest local example borne of this re-examined trend is Hula’s Modern Tiki, one of Midtown’s most highly anticipated new restaurants, set to open in merely weeks. The California-sourced eatery (like-minded locations exist in Monterey and Santa Cruz) has gradually been taking form along Central Ave., just north of Highland.
The innately odd, standalone structure currently being overhauled and expanded, with its unmistakably large, floor-to-ceiling hexagonal picture window abutting Central Ave., is encircled by equally noble neighbors. Sharing respectable real estate with the likes of Lola Coffee and Haus Modern Living, the circa 1960s shopping center, itself once a dated afterthought, has recently become quite the hub of hip Midtown commerce.
The original concept for the Hula’s locations in California was the brainchild of brothers Chris and Craig Delaney, accomplished designer and restaurant biz veteran, respectively. After settling down in the Monterey area a little over a decade ago, the pair eventually joined forces, in that city opening their first Hula’s. Thereafter, eventually opening a second, similar restaurant in nearby Santa Cruz. Up until a few years ago in fact, the idea of opening a restaurant in Phoenix was a thought never even imagined. That is until Phoenix-based Dana Mule literally walked through the door.
“I used to travel extensively on business. I spent time each year in Pebble Beach, many, many nights enjoying the food & frivolity of Hula’s Monterey. I always thought it would do well in Phoenix,” Mule admits. “In February of ’06, I mustered the courage to approach Chris about coming here to open a Hula’s with me.”
And, so it began. After subsequent chitchat, and routine hops between Monterey and Phoenix, the deal was essentially made, and the foundations were set for the three men to open a restaurant in Phoenix. “The bond was immediate,” says Mule. “I finally physically drug them out here in March ’08, and within a week we had solidified our plan to open this restaurant.”
Thanks to Mule’s dedication of course, before the Delaney brothers even set foot on Phoenix’s soil, the local enthusiast had already spent his time and efforts searching the city for possible locations. “It took almost a year and a half to find the right spot, we probably looked at over 50-plus options in all areas of metro Phoenix,” Mule points out. “We wanted a place that had that perfect combination of older architecture, great visibility, community and soul.”
Initially in fact, the trio had their sights set on the old Katz Delicatessen, the historic mid-century building now home to the sparkling Postino Central. “We found Katz Deli and did a ton of research on the area prior to putting in an offer. After losing it, we knew that the North Central corridor was the area we definitely wanted to be in,” Mule adds. “Then we stumbled on 4700 (N. Central Ave) one day last August, and, the rest is history.”
Though the new restaurant will be connected in spirit to the two Hula’s in California, don’t expect a clone. “This incarnation of Hula’s is completely unique to this market,” says Mule. “The space will pay subdued homage to its Tiki foundations, but with a slick, urban twist to better reflect the new location. We’re attempting to create a warm space that has a cool mid-century vibe.”
Sounds good to me.
Food-wise, Hula’s Modern Tiki promises casual “modern island fare,” initially serving dinner only. Expect diverse options to be served, similar to its California restaurants. Sandwiches to sashimi, steaks to poke, and influences Chinese to Thai, American to Latin, Hula’s intends to cover multiple bases. Check out sample menu HERE.
The new space will also feature large bar and lounge areas, as well as an expansive outdoor dining space. The latter of which, during Phoenix’s more pleasant months of weather of course, will be accessed courtesy of large rolling, garage-like glass doors.
As of post date, Hula’s plans to open Monday, September 28st. As new information arises, I’ll will try keeping everyone posted. In the meantime you can check out Hula’s construction progress online, with photo updates, etc., on the restaurant’s blog HERE.
Hula’s Modern Tiki | hulasmoderntiki.com | 4700 N. Central Ave | Midtown Phoenix
* All photos and artwork sourced here, courtesy of Dana Mule’s expressed permission.