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The Thrillville Beat

By Will ("The Thrill") Viharo Waa! - Waa!


By Will "the Thrill" Viharo


I'm giving politics a rest in this column this time, and maybe forever. Well, at least for a while. There's plenty more to bitch about - like the recent FCC re-ruling regarding conservative corporate monopolization/manipulation of the media marketplace - but enough already. I need a break from this oppressive bullshit. We all do. And where should we take that break?


Screw Gertrude Stein and all other Oakland naysayers and putter-downers. Oaktown is becoming a Hipster Haven, at least in the Bay Area, and I am going to offer several examples backing up this controversial assessment. All the mainstream media wants you to know about are the drive-by shootings, drug deals, corrupt police, broke schools, Raiders riots, and annoying sideshows. Most of the crime you hear so much about takes place within a very limited area of the city - like along certain stretches of International Blvd or East 14th. Of course, there are dangerous areas to be avoided, as in all major urban centers, but it ain't all one big bullet-ridden ghetto, contrary to popular misconception. I mean, it's okay for us residents if the rest of civilization wants to think of Oakland as Hoboken West, since that might keep the housing rates down. But being from New Jersey originally, I really appreciate Oakland's homey old-fashioned vibe, as well as its preservation of its own historical character. (Downtown, though largely and sadly neglected and deserted, looks like an Edward Hopper painting.) I also dig Oaktown's ethnically diverse population; its cultural awareness; its comfortably temperate weather; its eclectic restaurants; its large and growing artist/musician/filmmaker community; its many unique, colorful, peaceful and pleasant districts - Rockridge, Piedmont, Montclair, Dimond, Lakeshore, Glenview, Elmwood & Claremont, to name but a few; its politics (mainly liberal, but we tolerate all points of view); and its travel-strategic location (Tahoe, Reno, Vegas, LA and Palm Springs are all within a day's drive or less, and Hawaii is a short air-hop away.) But these are generalities. Anyone can claim their town as being tops using this kind of sweeping rhetoric.

Now, to categorically extol Oakland's myriad, unsung virtues:


You can often distinguish a burg by the types of people it attracts. Case in point: Longtime SF resident and transcontinental tiki titan Otto Von Stroheim ( and his beautiful bride Baby Doe ( and of course their swingin' son Vander Vegas are moving to the Eastside of the Bay. (We're doing another big tiki event at The Parkway in August with the Devil-ettes, see Schedule link for details.) This makes sense, since Oakland is one of the birthplaces of "Polynesian Pop" (mahalo, Sven Kirsten), starting circa 1934. Hollywood is home to what is acknowledged to be the very first official tiki bar, Don the Beachcomber's, but hot on its heels, Oakland was a hula hotbed: Hinky Dink's and the Zombie Village opened cattycorner from each other on 65th and San Pablo Ave. Of course, Hinky Dink's went on to become the leading worldwide tiki franchise Trader Vic's, whose flagship restaurant later moved from Oakland to nearby Emeryville where it still resides in all its ginchy glory. Emeryville is basically a suburb of Oakland, the town between us and Berkeley, so we can still claim Trader Vic's (the birthplace of the Mai Tai, which means the Mai Tai was born in Oakland!) as a source of civic pride. The Zombie Village (what a great name!) is long gone, BUT...

The Tiki Goddess at the Conga Lounge
The Tiki Goddess
at the Conga Lounge

We now have THE CONGA LOUNGE above Cafe Rustica on College Ave. in the Rockridge District. Proprietors Michael and Mano are two of four South African brothers who fled the Apartheid mess for the Bay Area twenty years ago. They all opened the hip, upscale and popular pizzeria Rustica at two locations - the other is in Montclair - but they still had a dream of opening an authentic tiki bar catering to old school exotica scholars. They opened the Conga over a year ago but without a liquor license, and no matter how many tikis you spread around, you can't have a tiki bar without real exotic cocktails. Now that issue has been resolved, and the Mai Tais are flowing. Monica, Tiki Goddess and I attended their Grand Re-Opening recently, and have returned several times, as we are now regulars. As soon as we walked in and saw the big Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii wall hanging and Easter Island mural, we knew we had found our new haunt. The brothers have the decor just right down to the last detail, including framed Martin Denny albums and African tribal masks, and it's a work in progress (I donated an autographed photo of our pal Julie Parrish with Elvis and the other gals from Paradise, Hawaiian Style.) Behind the bar they play video comps of tiki/jungle/Hawaiian/lounge scenes from various TV shows and movies (Gidget Goes Hawaiian, Dr. No, King Kong, Scooby Doo, you name it.) Their drink selection is wide and strong. I dug the "Gilligan's Island" for is banana flavor. They plan many theme nights in the future like Tex Mex and a Hula Halloween, and Otto and I are already talking about making it a regular meeting place for local tiki enthusiasts (the opposite of AA - you have to drink to join). We'll most likely do a Blue Hawaii bash there for Elvis D-day this August 16, too - stay tuned. (Sign up for The Thrillville Flash newsletter for updates.) If you're heavy into tiki culture, get over there and patronize this place, since they're dong it for the purists - but if the people who think Greg Brady was the first guy to wear a tiki necklace are the only ones patronizing it, eventually they'll influence the vibe. Support your local (and only!) real tiki bar! See for more details.


Dave's Coffee Shop, on Broadway, the last of the local Twin Peaks-style diners, sadly closed its doors not long ago. BUT we still have not one but TWO old-fashioned fountains within miles of each other:

OZZIE'S in the Elmwood Pharmacy on College Ave. has been turned around from a fading memory to a vital destination by our pal Mikey. It's the stuff of Lana Turner's dreams - a vintage lunch counter in a cozy drugstore, and the food more than lives up to the rep. The delicious sandwiches, lime rickeys, sundaes and more are all made right in front of you, fresh to order, and the ambience is ably abetted by the choice of great pop music playing in the background, the classic album covers lining the walls, and the friendly, Mayberry-like atmosphere generated by the regular patrons. It's been around since the '40s or earlier, but under Mikey's shrewd and savvy leadership, it is one of the few hangouts around that carefully but seemingly effortlessly preserves a vanishing lifestyle in this cold and calculated century. See for more.

(NOTE: Monica just reminded me that the Elmwood District is in Berkeley, not Oakland, which means Ozzie's is technically not in our town. On the border, though - close enough. Just wanted to give them a plug anyway. And Berkeley's okay, too.)

FENTON'S on Piedmont Ave. is a classic creamery, and a local legend. Almost two years ago a few disgruntled employees tried to burn it down (and stupidly got busted loading the jukebox - the best in the Bay Area - onto a truck, after they set the blaze! Idiots.) They took their sweet time, but finally Fenton's is back in business. Though they chose not to replace the damaged jukebox (maybe insurance would only kick in for so much?), they will pipe in classic ambient jazz like Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman in the background, so at least there's no danger of being forced to endure the latest boy band or hip hop noise while you're trying to relax with your shake or split. The music selection also makes sense when you consider that during reconstruction they renovated the place from a '50s style hangout into a '30s style ice cream parlor. There's even a window in the back where you can watch them making their unbeatable ice cream. And instead of potato chips with the sandwiches, you can now order fries, a definite improvement. See for more.


An Evening with the Rat Pack
With "Sammy" (Reggie Dickerson) and "Dino" (Robert Ensler) at the Lake Merritt Hotel Rat Pack Show

The very same night we went to the grand re-opening of The Conga Lounge, Monica and I attended "An Evening with the Rat Pack" at the Clarion Suites Lake Merritt Hotel, put together by Laurie Gordon of and featuring our good pallys Bob Dalpe doing Frank (Bob sang for Monica's bachelorette and 30th birthday parties at the Compass Rose in the St. Francis Hotel in SF), Robert Ensler as Dino ( - our wedding minister, remember?), Connie Champagne as Keely Smith ( , she sang at my Parkway bachelor party along with Mr. Lucky and Sprocket Ensemble), and newcomer Reggie Dickerson as Sammy (though he only danced, didn't sing.) The Martini Brothers Band - Mr. Rick, Dan Kennedy, and Ann Gibson - as well as the luscious female dance ensemble The Decobelles also performed, making it a true Classic Vegas style Revue. Even the real Eddie Fischer was in attendance! Ocean's 11 played on a TV behind the bar. It was a little bit of Hipster Heaven right in the heart of Oaktown, only miles from the Thrill-Tikipad, just around the lake from The Parkway - and the fact that so many of our friends were involved made it a perfect pre-anniversary celebration (see below). We also made two new friends: Johnny and Ginger from Santa Rosa, who are REAL swingers - they do their own act called The Atomic Lounge! (see

Lake Merritt is the jewel in Oakland's crown. We used to live near there, on Alice St., and went jogging around it daily (or walking briskly, whatever). Besides The Parkway, it's also close to the beautiful Grand Ave./Lakeshore district, which has plenty of cool shops and restaurants, as well as the opulent Grand Lake Theater. It's also the home of the inspiration for Disneyland, Children's FairyLand - you need a tyke to get in, but make or just borrow one, it's worth it. See for more.

Two other Lake Merritt gems are just around the corner from The Parkway, both located on 18th, blocks from the water: There's the Merritt Bakery, a really cozy 24 hour coffee shop, and one of coolest little local bars in this or any other town, Baggy's - they make a mean martini and often feature live piano jazz. The jukebox is killer, too.


We just noticed on a recent weekend getaway to Jack London Square that the charming Jack London Coffee Shop in the Jack London Inn has closed - this is seriously jacked up. BUT this area still has many cool attractions - and the trains whistling by seemingly once or twice every hour add to the quaint atmosphere immeasurably.

The reason we were down there recently was to celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary (May 31) by staying in a yacht docked right in front of Scott's Restaurant, where our buddy, hep cat Big Jim Brown plays jazz and pop standards on his piano in the bar area. We ate and drank our way all over the Square, from crab cocktails and Mojitos at Kincaid's to tacos and margaritas outdoors at El Torito's to shrimp cocktails and martinis at Scott's to dinner and more drinks at Jack's Bistro (and god damn, that place is good! Try the tempura tuna sushi appetizer and the CocoJoe's desert). Luckily a snazzy Latin band was playing, too. And the next morning we had a scrumptious brunch at The Fat Lady. The only place we couldn't squeeze into our Jack London itinerary was Yoshi's , the greatest Japanese jazz club/restaurant in the world - but that was sold out because Diana Krall was on the bill. But we can do that next time, because hey, it's our town!

Oakland Vice? (Jack London Square)
Oakland Vice? (Jack London Square)

We shacked up overnight on Arnie's Ark, the smallest of the fleet but perfect for us. They even have a VCR and tiny color TV on board so I could enjoy my own aquatic film festival: Revenge of the Creature, Esther Williams in Easy to Love, two episodes of Miami Vice (Crockett lived on a boat, remember?), and of course a couple of episodes of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Monica enjoyed sitting outside on the deck reading and eating fruit from the Farmer's Market. The only relative drawback was the teeny bathroom, which doubled as your shower - and the toilet only flushed if you pumped it. For us, that's roughing it. We both loved when the boat rocked like a cradle, though. All in all, it was a very romantic and even glamorous getaway, in a Gilligan's Island sorta way - in our own backyard, too, which really saves on the gas money. I highly recommend it for your next floating fiesta. See for more.


I'm not a big baseball fan by nature, or any sports for that matter, but I'm married to the biggest A's fan in the world, who drags me to many games at the Coliseum. I usually sit there reading Damon Runyon when I'm not standing in line to get the Tiki Goddess a hot dog, but it's all in good fun. When they lose it takes quite a toll on the serenity of my home life, though, so you could say I have a vested interest in their success. GO A'S!

There's plenty of other swingin' scenes happening in Oakland - if you know of any that would be of interest to Thrill Seekers, email the details to me so I can plug your event in my Thrillville Flash newsletter. We're all one big family here. It's all about community, folks. And I'm proud of mine.

Of course, if I could afford a condo in Waikiki....


Of course, The Parkway Speakeasy Theater - along with The Paramount, an amazing art deco palace on Broadway downtown that features classic film series and live music - is the coolest movie theater in Oakland, and maybe the world. It recently was chosen #1 Most Appealing Spot in the Bay Area for a second year in a row in Zagat's Nightlife Guide 2003. (The Paramount was chosen once again as #2 - but hey, they're both in Oakland.) With our Monday night Baby Brigades, 2 For 1 Wednesdays, Rocky Horror Picture Shows every Saturday at midnight, and many other special events and fundraisers, not to mention our beer, wine, pizza, food, and couches, there just ain't no other place like it. And where is it again? OAKLAND! (El Cerrito, here we come!) And that is where I am lucky enough to hold court as The Thrill every other Thursday.

This month I'm bringing back more of the behemoths and beasts that trampled Thrillville back in January. First is 1955's IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (Parkway, July 3), where Oaklanders and whoever can kick back and enjoy watching Ray Harryhausen's famous six armed octopus trash San Francisco. This is one of my favorite '50s Giant Monster Movies, and I've shown it before as part of my annual Creature Features (which will return this October, stay tuned), but it was on the second half of a double bill, which means at least half of you early-rising wimps left early and missed it. So now I'm playing it by itself, no excuses for wussing out - though also on the bill is Chapter Nine of THE SHADOW (1940), since I am now hell-bent on finishing this damn serial this year. More chapters continue during our Fifth Annual Film Noir Fest in September (see Schedule page for complete program info). But there's friggin' fifteen chapters in all - I don't know if we'll make it in 2003, might have to follow Victor Jory over a cliff into 2004. We'll see.

Next, on July 17 at The Parkway, it's the return of everyone's favorite giant Japanese turtle in 1996's GAMERA 2: ATTACK OF LEGION (or ADVENT OF LEGION, whatever, depends on the translation), a spectacular sequel and absolutely kickass installment in what is arguably the greatest giant monster trilogy of all time. Gamera has experienced quite an image makeover from his childlike, cartoonish '60s origins (though I have a soft spot for that colorful crap, I admit), and if you think you know Gamera from enjoyably hokey schlock like Destroy All Planets, you are in for a major shock. Kaiju eiga experts Bob Johnson and Auggie Ragone ( as well as Gamera himself (!) are all slated for return in-person engagements, along with a special videotaped intro by the director, Shusuke Kaneko, made just for Thrillville courtesy of Bob Johnson that didn't arrive in time from Japan for Gamera: Guardian of the Universe back in January (hence the "Happy New Year" greeting). How do you say "better late than never" in Japanese?

Lastly, on July 31 at The Parkway, it's time for my annual William Shatner tribute, this time featuring the 1975 made-for-TV KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, from the voodoo vaults of The Werepad ( It was deemed too intense for mid-70s boob tube devotees, apparently, hence this rare 35mm print. I mean, Shat emoting against an army of arachnids in the middle of the desert - how nightmarish can you get? Or was it just too damn hysterical for the average viewer? You decide. No big bugs here, they're all just regular sized creepy-crawlers, but still pretty scary. It's not quite Tarantula or Earth vs. the Spider, but certainly a cut above The Giant Spider Invasion and especially Arachnophobia. Anyway, the critters aren't the real horrors on display here - Shat's overacting is. God, I love that guy. Who doesn't? And of course we'll show his timeless rendition of "Rocket Man," too, don't worry, plus a few other Shatner surprises as well, making this another must-not-miss evening.

One last shout out to Tamao Nakahara and Steve Seid for putting together the Trash Film Conference at UC Berkeley this past May, and asking me to help give out some impromptu prizes at a couple of the programs. Highlights included Jacques Boyreau's poetic rant at an on-campus conference on cult cinema, and the PFA screening of Raw Force, a 1982 Filipino flick with cannibalistic monks, kung fu zombies, bad hair, gratuitous nudity, and even piranhas! I just gotta get this one to Thrillville - can't have Berkeley beating out Oakland as the trash capital of the planet, now can we?


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