On The Road:
ON the ROAD with JAMES TEITELBAUM
Tiki Bar Expert & Author of Tiki Road Trip
James Teitelbaum is a songwriter, producer, sound engineer, keyboard player and the undisputed authority on Tiki bars in North America. He has put 102,000 miles on his Nissan Sentra in the past 7 years in his continuing pursuit of mid-20th century American culture. He is the author of Tiki Road Trip and Big Stone Head and the creator of "Left Orbit Temple," a collaborative multimedia ensemble that explores tribal art and music. He has performed with bands as diverse as Royal Crown Revue, Ministry, Pigface and others. James and his two resident tortoises can sometimes be found in Chicago. His Tiki Bar Review Pages list Tiki Bars found all over the world.
TIKI WONDER OF THE FAR NORTH: THE CAMELOT RESORT
by James Teitelbaum
Southern Canada... 200 miles north of Toronto. North Bay residents think of their little hamlet as being part of southern Canada (just barely: it is nicknamed "the gateway to the north"). Aside from being a picturesque vacation spot that gets busy during July and August, the area is probably best known as the place where the Dionne quintuplets were born in 1934. The small cabin that the quints called home is preserved as an attraction next door to a modern building offering a Dionne museum, an area visitors center, and a model train museum.
This little oasis of culture is the last frontier of humanity before the northward traveler leaves all pretense of civilization behind, in favor of dirt roads, bait stores, and moose. Fortunately, certain conveniences have crept as far north as North Bay, including as thrift stores, bad Chinese food, a few mid-century motels, and muffler shops that will replace the exhaust system on a 1994 Nissan Sentra in under an hour.
Imagine the loudest, ugliest, most cataclysmic sound you have ever heard coming from a car. That is the precise sound made by a 1994 Nissan Sentra after losing (without warning) its exhaust system in the middle of a dense forest a couple of hundred miles north of Toronto.
One minute we're purring along looking to spot a moose, and the next: a grinding, eardrum-ripping apocalypse. Local hunters barely refrained from aiming their rifles at our silver Japanese target as it drove every potential trophy within 100 miles scurrying deeper into the woods, even as it drove my traveling companion and I noisily towards our destination.
And this destination was...?
A Tiki bar, natch.
Tiki Road Trip has been on the shelves for just over a year now, but the research continues. A trip to Toronto was the perfect excuse to take a side-trip up Canada route 11 to Corbiel (next to North Bay) to inspect the Camelot Resort.
Owned by Doris Agnew, the widow of a doctor with somewhat eccentric tastes, the Camelot Resort exists on a backroad in the middle of nowhere. Driving by on the small residential road, one would be likely to miss the place altogether; it looks like any other house on the street. Inside the brick dwelling are three fully furnished suites, each with bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, and sitting room. The suites are clean and well maintained; the one in the basement even sports a wet bar (and a giant, blue-lit mirror behind the bed's headboard!).
The main areas of the house are furnished with Dr. and Mrs. Agnew's sundry collections. Dr. Agnew's paintings dominate the main hallway, and Doris's collection of colored glass trinkets are displayed in front of a picture window overlooking lake Nosbonsing. Native American artifacts and antique farm implements round out the decor.
There is a pedal boat and a canoe tied to a dock for use by the guests, as well as a barbecue and patio. A large billiards table fills a library room inside. Also of note is the spectacular breakfast provided by Doris each morning.
For the most part, it is a clean and comfortable place to spend a little down-time, or possibly even a honeymoon. So where is the Tiki connection, and why has someone who relishes quirky mid-20th century artifacts gone so far out of his way to stay at this seemingly tranquil and sleepy resort?
It's all behind the door in the basement...
The unprepared visitor cannot possibly be equipped to fathom the insanity hidden behind the small door at the cramped landing at the bottom of a staircase. It reminds one of a scene in the film Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in which the titular mad candyman leads his guests down a narrowing passageway. As his followers cram themselves into the increasingly confined space and begin to complain about their discomfort, Wonka flings open a tiny door and his bewildered visitors find themselves in a fantastic wonderland.
Same thing here.
At Camelot, the opening door reveals a gigantic underground cavern containing a pool, a Tiki bar, and a huge gorilla. Upon turning on the lights, a dusky grey cave, seemingly as big as the rest of the house combined, spreads in front of and below the visitor. A wooden bridge provides access to the Tiki bar on the opposite side of the room. The brilliantly illuminated pool is inviting, below and to the right. A six-foot tall Easter Island moai statue sits on the rock slope leading from bridge to pool, and a mannequin keeps pool goers company next to a shack marked "Trader Vic's". The bar area, elevated atop the rock slope above the pool, will meet the approval of Tikiphiles everywhere. The gorilla greets swimmers atop a curved water slide.
A Jacuzzi and a sauna complete the aquatic pleasures, but there is so much more. The subfusc grotto is full of surprises; I won't spoil the contents of the subterranean room accessed via a cave-like opening below the slide. This place is a combination of the Playboy mansion's famous Grotto, Disneyland, and Los Angeles' famed Tiki Ti bar.
Go visit right now: Doris has the property up for sale, and who knows what will become of this buried treasure when someone all-too-sane takes it over.
On your way north from Toronto on Canada route 11, pull over for burgers at the locally famous Weber's char-grill (a soft-serve ice cream stand, a picnic area, and some cool old trains exist on the same property), but skip the Chinese food at Rose Garden in North Bay.
July 18, 2004