A Tiki Tour of the OBX

Posted by Jonathan Chaffin on

Right off the bat, let me say I didn't expect to find any tiki hiding out in the Outer Banks of North Carolina (OBX for short). Pirate themes, nautical and shipwreck dive bars, maybe, but not what I would call tiki in the Donn Beach poly-pop sense. Surprise! I found some! I also found some other neat things.

Strangely, I found a tiki Lelani mug as part of the decor in a "meat and three" restaurant in Columbia, NC called "Crossroads" as soon as I got to the area. Food was fair. Finding that before I even made it onto the islands is what inspired this article (no picture though).

Next tiki sighting was a Wayne Coombs style totem, 5 feet tall, painted in all the primary colours of tiki devolution. It was in the parking lot of a surf shoppe called Secret Spot Surf Shop in Nags Head, NC. I didn't get to go in, initially, but there will be a lot more on this place later.  


There was a place called "The Wrek" tiki bar (http://www.thewreckobx.com/) in a marina near the landing for the Hatteras ferry. It seemed to at least be trying to have a tropical/tiki vibe... the entry was surrounded by cheap wooden masks screwed together to make faux poles.  Sadly, it was only open lunch times and week ends, so we couldn't go inside. Snooping their facebook page on the long drive back to Kitty Hawk shows a fun looking marina bar with music and booze.

As a general note, we loved the look and feel of the small rental town area on Ocracoke island near the lighthouse. We'd love to rent a house with friends and stay there a week. Cars seemed outnumbered by rented bikes and a few golfcarts. It looked like a really chill place to spend a week and enjoy some old relaxed beachtime fun.

On the way back from Hatteras we stopped at the Froggy Dog...a seafood and grill place (http://www.froggydog.com/).  Not tiki in any way, but a good waystop. Food was fair, their Painkiller made an attempt at accuracy, and and their other drinks (like the hurricane) were at least tasty if not accurate. Also, the bar area looked like it had a great selection for a roadhouse or restaurant. Probably a fair place for a normal dive bar evening or as a place to break up a drive to see the Hatteras lighthouse.

Next day we tried a joint we had high hopes for..Mama Kwan's Tiki Bar & Grill. (http://www.mamakwans.com/). Mama did not disappoint! Food and drinks were great! Bac-bac matting, and bamboo trim covered all the walls and ceiling. The menu was filled with Chinese-Hawaiian tiki bar menu standard fare at great prices. The pork plate was savory and delicious! The fried dumplings were extra crispy, and the slaw and the cucumber salad crunchy and good.
(edited to add:  Evidently Mama Kwan's was in the book "Tiki Road Trip" so you know it's legit!)

Not only did they have a good drinks menu for a touristy eatery, the drinks were good, and served in Dynasty Wholesale mugs you got to keep. The joint would actually have a TiPSY (Tikis Per Square Yard) score, as there were totems and masks hanging around. Online reviews suggests the place actually gets hopping with a small dance floor some nights, but we enjoyed a leisurely meal with drinks with no wait.

Our "best cocktails" award (and food so good we went twice) went to the Black Pelican Seafood Company (www.blackpelican.com/). You should go, if you're  ever in the OBX. Don't fear the crowd or a wait (there will probably be one...the food is great) Get a buzzer from the hostess and go get drinks from the upstairs bar, browse the gift shop, or just sit and watch the ocean.  The restaurant is housed in the same life-saving station from which the Wright Brothers sent their historic telegram

"Success four flights thursday morning all against twenty one mile wind started from Level with engine power alone average speed through air thirty one miles longest 57 seconds inform Press home Christmas."

Seriously, the food was SO GOOD.

In the outside bar of the Black Pelican, ask for a Pelican Punch.  It's a tasty drink, made with locally distilled "Kill Devil Rum" from Outer Banks Distilling.  The hill at the Wright Brother's State Park is called Kill Devil Hill, reputedly because an old slang name for "Rum", "Rhum", or "Rumbustion" was "Kill Devil".  The hill was so named because barrels of rum would wash up in the Outer Banks amidst wreckage from shipwrecks and be hidden around the area by locals and smugglers and the hill was a popular place to do that. The area of the Outer Banks is called the Graveyard of the Atlantic because there are so many wrecks. (Maybe I can get them to carry some Cask of Amontillado Rum Barrels in the gift shop).

After having the Pelican Punch and learning Kill Devil Rum was local (on Roanoke Island), we HAD to go on the distillery tour (http://outerbanksdistilling.com/). It was very well worth it!  Outer Banks Distilling was the 14th private distillery in North Carolina, started by Adam Ball and Kelly Bray (who worked in local craft breweries) and Matt Newsome and Scott Smith (who have decades of bartending experience between them).  The distillery is very new (at the time of this writing I believe they were on batch 10) but the rum is good, the tour is excellent, and the guys are really nice. (I met Matt and Scot during the tour).  The still is a shiny gorgeous beastie from Germany.  The guys have all kinds of plans (they started a batch of what will be dark rum, and have plans for some very interesting rums in the future), and some excellent relationships with other local businesses.  (For example, contributing to rum balls, contributing fertilizer to a local farmer, etc). 

The guys are locals (a bartender told me 3 of them actually live in Kill Devil Hills) and they are REALLY passionate. Go give 'em a high five! Try their rum. Maybe help ‘em bottle (they sign all their bottles! Pro Tip: Look for the Blackbeard bottle, or the one “signed” in the name of Scott’s dog…I think his name was “Otto”?).

Remember I mentioned the Secret Spot Surf Shop with the painted tiki out front? (http://www.secretspotsurfshop.com/)  When I went closer for my obligatory tiki selfie, I saw that in addition to the one I could see, there were some other, MUCH BETTER natural tikis outside as well (carved with “Kapu Tiki” not sure if that is a carver or company). SO many that I had to go inside and ask about them...where I found something very cool. The owner had, at one point in the distant past, filled his garage with large hand-carved tiki from The Philippines. Like, more than I could take pictures of, and some of them were very interesting.

Massive score in Secret Spot if you are looking for a 3 to 6 foot tiki. Looks like the prices range from about $450 - $600.  It also looks like a great surf and skate shop. (For the surfers, OBX does seem to have reasonable waves for the East Coast, but I don't surf so I can't vouch). Regardless, finding that many carvings to browse was very very cool. The staff was very willing to chat with me about the carvings, and let me see some of the ones not on the floor yet...I highly recommend checking them out (and buying a little something).

Otherwise, I didn't see too much tiki in the Outer Banks (but I did see WAY more than I expected).

Several of the beach shops had the tourist junk tiki masks imported by the caseload from Bali.

If you are collecting tiki-selfies with Tiki carvings in OBX, there was a smoke shop that had a nice looking 5ft black plastic Ku with glowing eyes by the door on the east side of the road and a generic Coombs style guy at a seafood restaurant on the west side of the road...both north of the Wright Bro's park in Kitty Hawk. There are several outside the Secret Spot, and one at the base of Mama Kwan’s sign.  Any shop on the strip sells selfie sticks. (:P)


Edit: Other places I'm told I should investigate next time:
Goombay's - Not really tiki but good caribbean cuisine & serves a drink in a souvenir tiki glass. Rundown cafe - Pacific rim cuisine and a few totems.


Not Tiki, but there are two other things we did on the trip I can’t recommend enough for fans of anachronistic attractions.

First, the Lost Colony production (running on Roanoke Island since 1937!) was wonderful, and if you spring for the VIP back stage tour it is even better (http://www.outerbanks.com/the-lost-colony.html). Cannot recommend enough. Theater in the round, with pyrotechnics. Too cool.


Second, if it isn’t too far out of your way, consider hitting up the gloriously garish treat “Pedro’s South of the Border” (http://www.thesouthoftheborder.com). Stay overnight, even. The rooms are cheap, and you get to see the glorious neon. Seriously, the neon should be a protected American Heritage site. Don’t expect anything top flight, DO pay the $2 to ride to the top of the giant sombrero, and take a look around. Carnival rides are $8 for unlimited rides (and that includes minigolf) and you can get frozen margaritas in the Sombrero Restaurant. (DO get bumperstickers for a dime, DO NOT get the nachos).

SO; do you live in the Outer Banks?  Did I miss a killer tiki spot? Want to tell me how the surfing is, or share pirate stories? A coupon code to the first person who sends me a complete set of the "OBX tiki selfies" listed above.
Track me down at http://www.horrorinclay.com or  @Cthulhumug on Twitter.



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For more from views from the Corner-booth Blog, check out Death to False Grenadine and Horror In Clay Q&A: Jason Alexander.







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