As It Happens

California tiki bar removes more than $10K in dollar bills from ceiling and walls

For more than a decade, when locals and visitors pop in for a mai tai at the popular bar, they pin a dollar bill to the ceiling with a cocktail umbrella. Last month, owner Michael Thanos decided it was time to pull the money down and add it up. 

The bar is donating all the salvageable money to local charities

Forbidden Island owner Michael Thanos, left, with general manager John Peterson, right, after they pulled the money from the bar's walls and ceiling. (Rusty Blazenhoff)

Transcript

There's a tradition at the Forbidden Island tiki bar in Alameda, Calif.

For more than a decade, when locals and visitors pop in for a mai tai at the popular bar on the island, they pin a dollar bill to the ceiling with a cocktail umbrella. 

Over the years, those bills have started to take over the bar. So last month, owner Michael Thanos decided it was time to pull the money down and add it up. 

The grand total was more than he ever imagined — $10,367 US, which is about $13,764 Cdn.

"I couldn't believe it," Thanos told As It Happens host Carol Off.

Tradition from Second World War 

The tradition started back in 2006, a few months after Thanos opened the Forbidden Island. A customer came in and noticed the cork drop-ceiling behind the bar. 

"He actually requested if he could stick in a dollar bill for good luck and then ... shared with us the tradition that, according to him, went back to World War II," Thanos said. 

The customer told Thanos that before sailors shipped off to fight in the South Pacific, they would leave a bill at their favourite watering hole with the intention of surviving the war and returning home for a drink. 

It took the staff five hours to pull down all the money. (Submitted by Michael Thanos)

From there, the practice stuck — and expanded.

Once the bar was full, Thanos said people started pinning bills to the walls, ceiling and decor. 

"I just figured that, you know, the time had come to just reset this or else it was literally just going to take over," he said. 

'Were you guys robbed?'

So one day in October before the bar opened, Thanos and his staff got to work pulling the bills down. It took more than five hours to put all the money into garbage bags, and then another three weeks to sort through it. 

"Initially, our guests would walk in and were like, 'Whoa, were you guys robbed?'" Thanos said. 

Another tradition at the bar was for customers to decorate their bill before pinning them up. The bar even left out buckets of markers so people could flex their creative skills. 

Dollar-bill artwork in the Forbidden Island bar. (Submitted by Michael Thanos)

"Oh, we got some great ones," Thanos said. "Most of them have, you know, it's sort of altering  ... George Washington into like Darth Vader or Bob Marley or something like that." 

That meant about $1,400 US in bills wasn't salvageable, along with foreign currency that had been added to the collection over the years. 

"The artwork is so intense on it that it could just no longer count as currency," he said. 

That stash went back up on the walls, and the rest will be donated to local charities, he said. 

But Thanos isn't worried that his bar will be bare for long. 

"It's already taking shape pretty rapidly," he said.


Written and produced by Sarah Jackson. 

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