After World War II, Florida experienced one of those growth spurts it's famous for, as many GI's moved their families south to the Sunshine State. One of those vets was George W. "Bob" Gill, who built six properties in Ft. Lauderdale including the Yankee Clipper Hotel, an enormous beachside building that looks like an oceanliner washed up on the shore. Well kinda.
Vintage postcards show the Yankee Clipper during it heydays
The 1956 structure, which today is part of the Sheraton Hotel chain, was the first in the area to host a large scale Polynesian revue, according to the hotel's mermaid-in-residence, Medusirena Marina. When the shows stopped in the 1960s, many of the performers moved onto Ft. Lauderale's legendary Mai Kai, according to Marina. Fortunately, the Yankee Clipper's Wreck Bar, a lounge created to look like an old Spanish Galleon, endured.
When I first learned of the Wreck Bar, I heard that there was a chance of it going the way of the Dodo during the hotel's renovations a couple years ago. But that didn't happen and if the crowds squeezing into the tiny bar during Hukilau are any indication, the future of this dark little bar looks bright. The tikiphiles were all there to see the show, for the Wreck Bar is one of only a handful of surviving "porthole" bars with windows into a swimming pool just behind the bar. And in this pool, live mermaids put on acrobatic, alluring shows like you used to see in movies like "Where the Boys Are".
Marina is the star of the show, and this half fish/half human performer is responsible for the resurrection of this lost art, and she is truly an artist, combining "aquatic theatre, dance and spectacle." She has a "pod" of aquatic performers, and for the performance I witnessed it included three mermaids, three pearl divers, a pilot (or boat captain) and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Obviously they were pulling out all the stops for this large, appreciative audience.
By the time Mrs. Ephemera and I got to the Wreck Bar, it was too full for two more, so we went topside and enjoyed being "backstage" throughout the bulk of the show. Marina was like a circus ringmaster directing her pod and I was amazed at how long they could all hold their breaths underwater (no Newt Perry breathing apparatus for these mermaids!) I squeezed into the bar towards the end of the performance and captured a few below-the-surface images, but the sheer volume of appreciative fans made it tough to get into position.
In the tiki community, Marina is a widely known, and I have enjoyed her entertaining Facebook posts for about a year. So it was an honor to meet her and hear her speak about her craft the next day. Stay tuned for part 2.