A. I want a shirt like that.
B. There are no Tahitians in that photo.
C. I don’t care what they’re playing – the music is great.
UPDATED 27 August 2016:
When I originally posted this I viewed it merely as a silly retro postcard curiosity – I liked the image and the vibe. Thanks to commenters Tom and Denny, I’ve since been enlightened (and my comments above still stand).
Say “the Castaways” and longtime Miamians might raise their eyebrows, widen their eyes, smile or even smirk.
Guests could raise a glass at seven bars. The most famous was the subterranean Wreck Bar, decorated in a sunken galleon theme. Cypress planks covered the walls. Ropes, nets, and chains hung from the ceiling. Seven porthole windows behind the bar allowed an underwater view into one of the swimming pools.
Open from 11 a.m. to 5 a.m. daily, the Wreck earned an international reputation as a decadent hot spot where bikini-clad go-go dancers (dubbed the Wreckettes) would gyrate on tabletops under kaleidoscopic lights while live rock and roll music blared from the 5,000-watt sound system. Patrons were given maracas, tiny tambourines, and mallets to make noise.
The Wreck always attracted visiting celebrities. The Beatles hung out there in 1964. During the spring of 1968, Jimi Hendrix showed up and reputedly jammed with Frank Zappa and Arthur Brown. In 1971, pundit Bill O’Reilly taught high school English in Miami by day and worked as a bouncer in the Wreck at night.
Deid sah Milk Yelnats” March 10, 2005
Deid sah Milk Yelnats. The longtime Castaways bartender was 77. The cause was lung cancer, said his wife, Wanda, who had no good explanation for how the backward name gag started. “He was a funny guy. He liked to make people laugh. Yelnats – it doesn’t take much when they’re half-loaded. But he was funny.
Stanley Klim worked behind the bar of the Tahitian Lounge at the Castaways Motel and Night Club from 1947 through the early 1980s, when the building – on Collins and 163 Street – was razed to make way for luxury condominiums.He set the atmosphere by crowding the place with stuffed parrots and wearing leis and Hawaiian print shirts – by the time of his death, he had more than 50 – to work every night of the week.
Over the years he added hula hoops and hand buzzers, which drove away fewer customers than you might think.
He founded the Roving International Association of Turtles, which had no dues, nothing to do with turtles and no real purpose for existing. Nevertheless, it assumed brief world-historical significance in 1968 when Apollo VII astronaut Walter Cunningham, a loyal customer of Klim’s, held up an are you a turtle? sign in a high elliptical Earth orbit on live international television.
Klim had a prodigious memory, matching thousands of faces to first names and bar tabs. Many of his customers were tourists who wrote postcards from back North. Klim stapled the cards to the Tahitian’s ceiling and bet those who returned months, sometimes years later, that he could point out the postcard they’d sent. He won enough bets one year, Wanda said, to pay for a considerable portion of a European vacation.
But Klim’s finest hour came with perfection of the drink-balancing act. The act involved cowbells, trays of drinks and a very steady head. It commenced whenever the jukebox in the Tahitian started to play “The Battle of New Orleans.” When this happened, Klim balanced a tray of drinks on his head and made a slow pass down the length of the bar. At the end of each pass he added another tray, all the while ringing his cowbells in time with Johnny Horton’s voice. It is believed he worked his way up to three trays before certain laws of physics interceded. In interviews he claimed there were nights when his bar “looked like a bombed-out window factory. …. I broke thousands and thousands to get to where I am today.”
His wife said he never dropped one, and had superior balance, though she never found the trick awe-inspiring. “Ah, nothing impressed me, ” Wanda said.
After the Castaways closed, Klim did part-time work at the Sonesta Resort on Key Biscayne but in recent years limited himself to a few private parties. He did his last in December. “He knew they were going to ask him to do the balancing trick, ” said Wanda. “He was out in the garage practicing with those glasses. All night, back and forth, back and forth. I was listening – he didn’t drop any.”
UPDATED 27 December 2022:
Susan Tilly found her Official Turtle Card! What loyalty!