As a child I remember watching re-runs of the 70’s World War Two television series, The Black Sheep Squadron. Loosely based on the real life Marine VMF214 fighting squadron led by the infamous Gregory “Pappy” Boyinton, the television show became much of what I identified with life during the war on the islands as the military hopped from one piece of rock to another in victories over the Japanese air and naval fleets, until the final invasion of Okinawa and the eventual dropping of the bombs. From this television series as a child I visually stereotyped typical mess halls as boarded-up shacks and small dusty buildings with bamboo siding and thatched roofs. Places where beer was served that only contained 3% alcohol, and finer liquors were left to the smuggling and fermenting ingenuity of the men in the field.
According to my grandfather who served in the second war and was part of the invasion of Okinawa, the safer locales of Honolulu and Oahu had many drinking establishments that featured this typical Polynesian decor of bamboo and fishnets, much of what I associate today with your typical Tiki bar.
Back in the 1800s the Alibi was established along the dirt interstate road in North Portland. Then known as The Chat and Nibble, it provided a horse-and-buggy stop for those on their way to or from Portland. Much later in 1947 Roy Ell bought the business after spending some time in the Hawaiian Islands and retrofit the decor to match that Polynesian style which remains today.
Tiki bars are not common in the Portland area, and thanks to recent developments of the light rail this historic bar with the flashing Alibi sign in twinkling lights has become one of the more well known bars in Portland.
Dark, tropical, and impeccably decorated in the Polynesian fashion, not only does the Alibi offer any variety of umbrella drinks and a host of colorful and loyal locals, it also offers me a chance to imagine a foregone era that I am too young to properly appreciate.
As I have never been to war, never picked up a rifle, and have never been placed in harms way, after downing a few cocktails my mind will turn to thoughts of what life must have been like for veterans of the Pacific War like my grandfather, and what an oasis these lone thatch-and-boarded bars must have offered to the fighting men who put their lives at risk so that my generation could nestle into a booth next to neon dancing hula girls and order Mai Tai’s and Rum punches.
For me the Alibi is more than a bar, it is a time machine. Certainly more ornate that anything that existed during the war, it still provides a reminder of the sacrifices my grandfather made during his call to duty, and it makes me grateful that when I finally walk out the door in the evening, with that twinkling Alibi sign above me, the worst thing I will face the next day is rush hour traffic and the evening news.