Tiki House Bali
Then, you'd step off the "taxi, " go into the restaurant - and you were in another world.
"It was very much Polynesian, " Norton remembers. "The wall covering was like stacked bamboo clusters, so it looked like a bunch of bamboo with palm leaves coming off the top of it. The ceiling was like a combination of burlap and palm tree leaves. The effect was strictly Polynesian, no question about it. A lot of tiki faces, tiki-faced totem poles, maybe 5 feet tall."
Fishing traps and Japanese fish floats also adorned the main dining room's walls and ceiling, along with Taiwanese spears, fishing nets and other Pacific-region artifacts. Groups could book private rooms, or "huts": the Bora Bora Hut, the Lanai Hut, the Samoan Hut.
On that first-date night, Norton remembers collecting an armful of ceramic "Tiki Bob" decanters, the smiling signature mugs in which the restaurant's popular Fogg Cutter cocktails were served. "If you paid, like, $7, you got the glass, " he said.
"Sometimes they left a bunch on the table, " he added conspiratorially, "Those were free."
After Norton and his dream girl ate - it might have been the Aku Aku Wings, a favorite of his, and it might also have involved the Po Po appetizer platter - he remembers leaving by the restaurant's rear entrance, which opened out onto the Pontchartrain Beach Midway, for a post-dinner stroll. He decided to try to impress her at the baseball toss game, promising to knock down all the stacked milk bottles with the first throw.
He leaned back, he let the ball fly - and it ricocheted right back at him. It didn't knock down the milk bottles, but it did knock down every one of the half-dozen Tiki Bob mugs he had set down on the counter. It was a total loss.
After that memorable mishap, he returned to the Bali Ha'i and explained his misfortune to the staff. They immediately replaced all of his mugs. "They favored me, " he said. "They favored everybody. They did. They treated everybody so well."
That, it turns out, was part of the charm of the place. In addition to the exotic food and the meticulous decor, the staff - most of them of Asian descent, to help sell the illusion - were always friendly.
"We always went with groups of people, and we always met people out there, " Norton said. "The nice thing was, we had enough to go out there and eat. All you'd have to spend was 25 or 30 bucks. You'd spend it all, but you'd have a good time. Today, that's the first hour."
As for his dream girl? Her name, it turns out, was Deb. Still is. Deb Norton, now. She and Tim have been married for 45 years and counting. They are the proud and happy parents of about a dozen well-cared-for Tiki Bob mugs.
Bali Ha'i may call you,