06 April 2010

Holy Scorpion Bowl! Actual Pictures of the Actual Dragon Seed!

My two-month-old obsession with long-gone-but-sorta-still-there Jackson Heights tiki restaurant The Dragon Seed has been given a very happy ending. Back in February, I posted something about the still-warmly-remembered place at 86th Street on 37th Avenue in Queens, a tropical wonderland owned by Charles Bow and favored by Louis Armstong. Then, in March, I visited the space, which is now a Columbian restaurant, but retains much of the original decor, including the elaborate fountain at the entrance, and two tiki figures out front.

Owner George Bow, still alive and well, contacted me after that post, saying "For more interesting photos of the Dragon Seed Restaurant, visit George Bow on Facebook. I owned and ran the 86th street Restaurant since the 1960's. My family opened that Restaurant in 1949." Holy pu pu platter! I went directly to the site, and what a treason trove of images.

Here's the Dragon Seed, close to the time it opened, I'm guessing, given the classy awning and the absence of the tiki gods that came later. I think that's George Bow's father.

Dragon Seed was legit and famous enough to merit a picture postcard, which shows what the main dining room looked like. Much more brightly lit than in it today. I believe this was the original layout, with the thatch-roofed booths coming later. And the frontage seems quite different in this image. Notable, the place's name is in neon up top. Of course, maybe it always was; the top photo is cut off at top.

Here's George at the bar. He smiles in every photo. The bar is still there and recognizable. I spy Drambuie, Old Grand Dad, Chivas Regal, Kahlua...

Here's a page from the Dragon Seed cocktail menu. Scorpion's Bite, Hawaiian Daiquiri, Aloha Orgy ("for four or more happy people"), Love Potion, Tropical Madness Polu Lai, Luau Mea Huna ("Secret Nectar of the gods").

Here's the Dragon Seed matchbook.

Here's George another facade later. Note the tiki figures' appearance. Nice frock.

George and friends just inside the entrance.


Upstate Johnny G said...

It's great to see some background on what must surely be one of the last places in NYC you can see evidence of the tiki craze that popped up in America in the decades after WW2. Growing up in Connecticut in the 50's and 60's I remember a restaurant in Hartford called the "Hukilau". The family next door used to go there for dinner once in a while. Their son was my best pal and would explain to me what a constituted a "pu pu platter". "Polynesian" food was something my family considered too exotic to ever sample. By the late 60's I thought of tiki culture as distinctly Southern Californian and connected with surf culture. But it never really caught on in Southern New England...not surprising....and just faded away. As an adult I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area I became aware of Trader Vic's and the West Coast origins of tiki culture thanks to the late, great columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, Herb Caen.

There's a good article in American Heritage on the history of tiki in the USA....http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/web/20060916-tiki-ernest-gantt-don-the-beachcomber-donn-beach-victor-bergeron-mai-tai-restaurant-bar-trader-vic.shtml

There's also a pretty good website, critiki.com , where you can search for tiki bars all over the world. They show 11 in Manhattan, most of which are long gone. Who remembers when there was a Trader Vic's in The Plaza???? Otto's Shrunken Head is at 538 East 14th Street and since it only came into existence in 2002, exemplifies the tiki revival movement. Critiki also lists a joint called The Lei Bar on lower Ave A, and of all things, a Maori-themed wine bar on Hudson called The Kava Lounge. In Flushing, 18108 Union Turnpike, King Yum looks like just a Chinese restaurant from the street but inside it's full of tiki masks, lamps, fronds, bamboo etc. There's also Jade Island on Staten Island, and two newish tiki joints in Brooklyn: "Brooklyn's Tiki Bar" (885-B 4th Ave) and The Zombie Hut (261 Smith Street), where, I assume, they mix a good zombie.

Jack Womack said...

I remember the Trader Vic's at the Plaza. It was on 59th, around the corner from the main entrance. If I recall correctly, there were large tiki heads on either side of the entrance. Gone since the early 80s?

Of course there was Hawaii Kai on Broadway, in the same building (or next door) to the Winter Palace theater. That was there until the mid 90s.

The Tonga Room, I'm happy to say, is still in the Fairmont in San Francisco. There is a rainstorm every half hour or so.

Steve Buccellato said...

Wow! Thanks for this excellent post, and the links! I used to live right around the corner from the Dragon Seed, and it occupies a special place in my childhood memories! I adore the whole tiki aesthetic as a result of that early influence!

Roe said...

Thank you so much for this post! My friends and I grew up in the area and went to the Dragon Seed when we were kids. We were recently talking about the place, so finding this post was great.