Thursday, July 25, 2013

Mr. Lana Turner

Not all of our tiki forefathers have a colorful nickname. In comparison to the tiki’s other two heavy hitters, Stephen Crane was by far the most sophisticated and urbane of the bunch. While Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic established the tiki brand, Stephen Crane took tiki hospitality to a new level.

In 1939, Crane left Indiana for the hills of Hollywood and reinvented himself as an actor. He met and married Lana Turner in 1942, and realizing that was about as good as he was going to do in terms of the silver screen, he called it quits on his movie career. Even though Turner and Crane divorced two years later, he made the most of his red carpet status and went on to date other actresses, including Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner.

Though it seems he may have been relegated to trophy husband status, Crane did eventually find his true calling in the faux-Polynesian world of Southern California Tiki when he purchased The Tropics. Using Trader Vic’s as inspiration, Crane set about quickly remodeling and renaming the restaurant, and in 1953, he opened The Luau. Crane added a fair amount of glamour to the tiki movement, and because of his own social circles and la-di-da tastes, The Luau was known for its innovative tropical decor and high profile customers.

While Trader Vic teamed up with Conrad Hilton for his expansion, Crane struck a deal with Sheraton Hotels in 1958 to create a chain of Polynesian themed restaurants across North America. Through this partnership, his chain of Kon Tiki Ports began popping up in Portland, Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Boston, Montreal, and Honolulu.

Crane sold The Luau in 1979, and when it was immediately razed, many took it as a signal that the tiki era had ended. Feel like taking a Chicago tiki tour? There ain’t much left, but you can visit the former Chicago location of Kon-Tiki Ports, which is now a Michael Jordan Steakhouse.

More than just a pretty face surrounded by other pretty faces, Stephen Crane did end up making a major cocktail contribution to the tiki world (and one that you’ll find on our opening menu): the Jet Pilot.

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