Donald was a good man.

When Aaron told me that his dad, Donald, loved The Big Lebowski, I couldn’t help but re-envision the final eulogy scene with Dad in the role.

“Donald was a good father, and a good man. He was one of us. He was a man who loved Martin Denny and his family, and as a surfer he explored the beaches of the Space Coast, from Satellite Beach to Port Canaveral.” 

Aaron’s father loved it when his son would quote scenes from The Big Lebowski. Growing up on the Space Coast, Aaron remembers his father putting on Martin Denny albums when he was young. Aaron remembers playing The Floor is Lava on the family furniture. There were father-son fishing days and frequent trips to Disney World. Later, the family would move to Asheville, North Carolina, and new adventures were always close at hand. As Aaron recounted his memories to me, I saw a clear theme. Aaron dearly loved his dad.

So, when Aaron’s father passed away four years ago, it was difficult for him to cope. By that time, Aaron and his wife had moved to California, and trips to spots like Tonga Hut and The Shag Store in Palm Springs would bring back happy childhood memories. Soon, Aaron purchased his first Tiki mug and visited more Tiki bars. For the next year and a half, Aaron admits that collecting Tiki mugs felt like a coping mechanism for his grief. One day he decided to pick up a copy of Martin Cate’s Smuggler’s Cove, and his path toward becoming a Polynesiac was finally set. Aaron began to read more about Tiki culture and style from Sven Kirsten and explored the original cocktail recipes catalogued in Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s books. He fell into the delightful pit of learning as much as he could about rum. When he and his wife decided to move back home to Asheville to be close to family, Aaron, like many people who turn sadness into hope when grieving, turned his happy memories of Dad into something tangible, a home Tiki bar.

The name of Aaron’s home Tiki bar, The Lava Pit, connects to three notions. It’s an allusion to his childhood days avoiding lava by jumping around the furniture. It’s a nod to an adventure’s vibe, and Aaron loves how the word “pit” suggests a dive. In fact, Aaron loves the name so much that he also dreams of opening a public Tiki bar one day with the same brand. His home bar might be just the first step to an escapist and child-like whimsical place that Asheville, North Carolina will love.

The Lava Pit is heavily influenced by Aaron’s frequent trips to Disney. While he and his wife were living in Los Angeles, they obtained an annual pass and visited Disneyland 65 times in one calendar year. Adventureland was clearly his favorite spot. As you might expect, The Lava Pit is full of explorers’ treasures. There’s an original porthole from the long-gone Nautilus ride in Disneyland. There’s a collection of more than 100 Tiki mugs. Crates, weathered lanterns, jungle vines, knick-knacks, and flotsam abound. There’s even a decommissioned fruit cake prop that had floated around in the hippo pool when the Jungle Cruise became the Jingle Cruise during the holidays. In fact, Aaron keeps an aluminum Christmas tree fully decorated and lit in the space all year round. He figures that if a kind spirit is likely to get lost in time at the Lava Pit, why not make it Christmastime? Tangible reminders that trigger feelings of happiness and comfort are welcomed at The Lava Pit.

Speaking of kindly spirits, I had a sense that Aaron’s father was present during my brief visit. He was somehow beaming, just out of sight from the corner of my eye, standing there like any proud father might do when a son honors your memory in such a fun and wonderful way.

As I said my goodbyes, the final words from The Big Lebowski’s eulogy seemed all so appropriate:

And so, Donald, in accordance with what we think your dying wishes might well have been, we celebrate your spirit at the Lava Pit, which we suspect you would have loved so well. Good night, sweet explorer.”

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