Tiki bar pulls thousands of dollars from ceiling and walls, donates it
It started innocently enough. A single dollar bill was pinned to the ceiling of a tiki bar in California — with a tiny paper umbrella, no less. That lone bill soon inspired many more.
For over 10 years now, patrons of Forbidden Island, a popular tiki lounge in the island city of Alameda, have been leaving legal tender suspended above their rum-filled cocktails. Using their drink's umbrellas, or swizzle sticks, the bar's customers stick the cash up, but not before they decorate it in some way. Some pen their name and the date, while others get more elaborate and make their offering a rectangular piece of art.
It's become such a popular pastime, the bar keeps a bucket of markers and unused umbrellas for those who want to leave their mark.
But it recently got out of control, at least in the eyes of my pal Michael Thanos, the bar's owner. He invited me down to get the whole story.
"There was simply no more room to put the money in the ceiling," Thanos told me. "So people started sticking money all over the place," motioning to the Lauhala-matted walls and tapa-covered light fixtures.
"It was just too much."
Before (photo by Alex T./Yelp) and during (photo by Michael Thanos)
So, in October, he and his staff spent an entire day carefully pulling the cash off of everything.
It was a bigger job than they had first realized. As it neared opening time, they had to stuff the cash in four big garbage bags to deal with at later time. "And it was a really dirty job. We had to wear gloves and face masks because there was layers of fire retardant and dust," reported General Manager John Peterson. When they got back to sorting and counting it, they were surprised to learn they had a significant amount of money on their hands.
"$10,367 to be exact," said John.
Michael Thanos (left), John Peterson (right), and 10 grand (big pile).
Now, Forbidden Island's first dollar-bill-on-the-ceiling came with a story, from the gentleman who placed it. He told staff that the tradition dated back to World War II. "Servicemen headed to the South Pacific would have their final drink before being shipped out and stick a dollar in the bar's ceiling as a sort of a visual promise that they'd return home," recounted Thanos, "And when they did return, they would head to that same bar to find it."
(The United States Bartenders' Guild dates the tradition back to the California Gold Rush days.)
When the bar re-opened with a bare ceiling, some regulars were upset that their contributions had been removed. So when the Forbidden Island crew was deciding what to do with all the money, they kept them in mind.
"We wanted to be sensitive to the fact that our guests had memories and important dates attached to these dollars. We want them to know that we're going to do good with it. That's when we took a poll of the staff to select the top three charities," Peterson remarked.
Thanos and his staff believe charity begins at home, so they have chosen three local organizations to receive the bulk of the money. Over $8,000 will be divvied up between Building Futures, Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter, and Alameda Family Services.
"Since the day we opened in 2006, we have been pro-Alameda in every way, from promoting Alameda causes and events to carrying Alameda-produced spirits and brews in favor of the big name international brands. So naturally we decided that the beneficiaries of our donation should be organizations that specifically benefit Alamedans in need," said Thanos.
To continue the goodwill, on Tuesday, November 26, the bar is having a pop-up benefit event, hosted by Tiki Lindy. All proceeds will be donated to Stand for Kindness, a charity that helps Northern Californian wildfire survivors.
The remaining nearly $2000 of the ceiling money will, well, remain. The more unique (decorated or otherwise) currency was put back on the ceiling.
Some big spender left ten trillion... Zimbabwe dollars.
Thanos shrugged, "In 10 years, or maybe sooner, I'm guessing we'll be pulling money off the ceiling again. And again, we'll do the right thing for our community."
The "Forbidden Island" bill, photo by Michael Thanos
Forbidden Island is located at 1304 Lincoln Avenue in Alameda, California.
If you go: Dress "Aloha," order a tropical drink, and bring some dollars to play the "Money Ceiling" game.
photos by Rusty Blazenhoff, except as noted
Radicalized is a Canada Reads finalist, will be a graphic novel, and is eligible for the Hugo Award!
My 2019 book Radicalized has been named one of the five finalists for Canada Reads, the CBC's annual book prize -- Canada's leading national book award, alongside of the Governor General's award!
In 1975, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia after expelling a US puppet regime, surviving a brutal US bombing campaign despite the massive asymmetry between the Cambodian forces and the US military. Tian Veasna was born three days after the Khmer Rouge took power, and spent his formative years in forced labor camps as his family were beaten, starved, tortured and murdered. Today, Veasna is a comics creator living in France, and in Year of the Rabbit, Veasna creates a coherent story out of his family's narratives, giving us a ground-level view of the horrors of the Pol Pot regime, whose campaign of genocide led to the deaths of more than a million people.
Chicago's Volante (previously) bills itself as "streetwear for superheroes," and I love their clothes. They've just released an addition to their existing canon of Star Trek-themed, cosplay-adjacent clothes: the Picard Sweater, a stretchy knit tribute to Jean-Luc himself, the perfect thing to wear while you're watching Wil Wheaton host "The Ready Room," which airs after […]
The Nintendo Switch is an undeniably awesome gadget, pairing old-school gaming styles with modern-day graphics and functionality for a new generation of gamers. The only complaint people seem to have is that its controllers are somewhat lacking, which is why more and more Switch-enthusiasts are picking up this Gbros. Wireless Adapter that lets you play […]
More and more people are flocking to a wide variety of careers in IT, thanks mostly to the high pay, plentiful advancement opportunities, and an exciting atmosphere that offers new challenges every day. The only problem is that this high demand means competition can be fierce if you’re entering the job market for the first […]
Going to the beach is almost always an enjoyable experience, but trekking back through your house on the way to the shower can leave a trail of sand the quickly saps the day of its sunny fun. Thankfully this BeachBox: Portable Shower & Storage unit has you covered the next time you hit the beach. […]