Sunday, October 26, 2014

Moor dead than alive: The Saltair Pavillions of Magna, Utah

 The first Saltair Pavillion, circa 1900...

 ...featuring fun in Salt Lake

 Pavillion II, probably around the 1950s

 Today's Pavillion III, on a lonely stretch of I-80

 There are tons of little black birds who nest in the pavillion and swoop down within an inch of your life.

 The interior. Bob Dylan played here. Is there anywhere he won't play?

 The Great Salt Lake, right nearby. No swimming, though.

 You'd think the owner of this magnificent structure would have a more prestigious parking space.

We love middle-of-nowhere places and there's a real doozy off lonesome Interstate 80 in north-central Utah. Just a mere 16 miles west of Salt Lake City sits an eerie structure with a doomed past called the Saltair. Back in the late 1800s, a giant, Moorish, onion-domed pleasure palace was built on the shores of the Great Salt Lake as a "Coney Island of the West" where the mostly Mormon population could have some good, clean, turn-of the-century fun. It was quite successful until the pavilion and other buildings were destroyed by fire in 1925. The structures were rebuilt but bad luck followed by a more devastating fire in 1931. The lake also receded, making it much more difficult for guests to go swimming, one of the main attractions. They closed during World War II and when they reopened after the war, competition made it difficult to attract customers way out to their remote location, and they finally shut down for good in 1958. Attempts were made to revitalize Saltair over the next decade, but were put to an end by an arson fire that destroyed the place once and for all in 1970. But like the owner of Swamp Castle in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," they weren't ready to give up and a Saltair Pavilion III was constructed out of a decommissioned Air Force hangar dragged near their old location in 1981. Almost immediately bad luck again ensued when the lake flooded the structure, then receded much too far away. The location was eventually used as a concert venue but by the late 1990s had run out of gas. Still Python-esque, it wasn't dead yet, though, because a group of music investors bought the place in 2005 and have been hosting the likes of Bob Dylan, the Dave Matthews Band, Rob Zombie and Keisha since. Their upcoming lineup of shows seems to be a little less stellar, but if you've been hankering to catch Tech N9ne's Band of Psychos tour, you're in luck: they're playing Saltair on November 2.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Pumped up kicks: Gas station memories from along the way

Stopping for gas is a necessary, albeit mundane, task while on a long road trip, especially depending on how much diet soda you've consumed along the way. We strive to enjoy every second of being on the road, though, and have sought out some pretty awesome petrobilia -- sometimes well-preserved antiques, especially along Route 66 in Illinois, but more often than not the melancholy, decaying, abandoned filling stations of yesteryear, often left to rot like so many bald tires. So here, without further ado, is proof that there's no fuel like an old fuel.









 Nebraska/Wyoming state line



Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Nothing you can say can tear me away from Mai Kai -- Fort Lauderdale, Florida's retro tiki treasure

 The fabulous Mai Kai cocktail menu...

 ...featuring the world-famous Mai Kai Mystery Bowl (these last two pictures are from the tiki gods at

 Dinner is served...

 ...and don't forget the gift shop, featuring these tiki-tastic salt and pepper shakers.

 Now on with the show!

 That's real fire, you know. Ouch!

 Audience participation. Bring on the Mai Tai's!

 Come back and see us real soon!

Even though we've traveled thousands of miles across the USA, we've never made it to Hawaii. And if we never do, we think we've found a worthy surrogate -- the Mai Kai Polynesian Restaurant of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Dating back to 1956, it's been Dole-ing out (as in the pineapple) powerfully intoxicating exotic drinks from ceramic coconuts, tiki heads and rum barrels to go along with the (mostly) Chinese food and thick steaks on the menu and the South Pacific native dancers' floor show. Originally located in an empty field along a then-two lane stretch of Route 1, it's lush acreage is now surrounded by the hustle and trafficy bustle of outer Fort Lauderdale sprawl, and its old-timey oasis-like feel is quite refreshing. Easter Island-like sculptures mingle among the flaming torches, lush palms and waterfalls of the Mai Kai's grounds with a thatched tiki roof on their A-frame and retro neon sign thrown in for good measure, hearkening back to the glorious post-World War II era when America was gaga for all things South Seas.  They've expanded many times over the years but the fun, 1960s retro vibe (when tiki was at its "peak-i") has not been lost. You can dine outdoors, or go for a Zombie, Mai-Tai or Sidewinder's Fang served by pretty bikini-topped, sarong-bottomed waitresses at the Molokai Lounge. But for the full Mai Kai experience, you must take in the Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest running Polynesian dance show in the continental U.S. Pretty girls shaking their hips in grass skirts? Got 'em. Beefy guys in warrior paint walking on fire? Got 'em. A rockin' hula band with Hawaiian drums and ukuleles? Got 'em! And all for only $12 a head more than your meal. For devoted fans of tiki, this place is mecca. For everyone else, we say "Be there. Aloha."

Friday, September 26, 2014

Nude kid on the block: The naked man carpet store of Fort Lauderdale, Florida

If you're going to emulate someone, you could do a lot worse than the great Burt Reynolds, you know.

Eccentric Roadside recently moved from its home base in Rhode Island to Bradenton, Florida, and then a couple of months later to southeastern Florida and I think I speak for the blog when I say, boy are we tired of moving. We're slowly getting acquainted with our new region, called South Florida by the natives, and the eccentric roadside wonders it has to offer. Case in point: Don Bailey Flooring, a chain of carpet and flooring stores from Miami to Deerfield Beach. What's so eccentric about a flooring store, you ask? Well, the sign, for one. It depicts its namesake, Mr. Bailey, posed ala 1972 Cosmopolitan magazine centerfold Burt Reynolds. As a non-native driving past their Fort Lauderdale emporium, I really had to do a double take. Now there's something you don't see everyday, I says to myself. Turns out Mr. Bailey went into the flooring store business the same year the Cosmo centerfold was published and his borrowing of the idea for his corporate identity turned his business around and made him a controversial local celebrity. Burt's people saw it and complained that Bailey had taken his head and put it on Burt's body, which Bailey disputed. In 1988, the city commissioner in nearby Miramar tried to get Don to cover up and remove his signs and billboards, but she stopped complaining when Don donated the carpet for Miramar's youth center. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the sign in 2012, Don, then 78, posed again in his Speedo, looking, well...we all get old, you know (check out a video here). But good for him for seizing the day, or, bare with me here, carpet diem.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sven ball in the side pocket: The Viking-themed billiard mural of Riverhead, New York

If you look at a map, the eastern end of Long Island, New York looks like a fish tail, with beautiful Orient Point on the northeastern tip and tony Montauk on the southeastern tip. In between the two by land lies the working class town of Riverhead, with its cool, revitalized old downtown and hardscrabble outer regions. We recently delighted upon an eccentric sight next door to our humble motor lodgings: a mural combining the unlikely duo of Vikings and billiards, painted on the back exterior wall of Billiard World, a pool table sales and service company. It is executed with wit and craft, depicting Norsemen with pool cues and darts, and a mermaid or two also thrown in for good measure. Why this unlikely combination? Could the owners be of Scandinavian heritage? Vem vet? (That's "who knows?" to you non-Swedish speakers). We just know that, as with ABBA, Ingmar Bergman movies and Volvos, it's Scandanavian, we like it and we don't know why.