Poof! Just like that it vanished and the villagers of Pao Pao were devastated. The destruction of Moorea’s landmark bar truly grieved the island’s residents--and a travel legend was gone with the wind.
In a recent weekend a high-velocity wind rushed suddenly up the glorious waters of Cook’s Bay on Moorea, taking with it a landmark known to practically every islander in French Polynesia. At the same time it picked up a skiff and snapped a stately pandanus tree like a feeble, dry twig.
But it was the loss of the island’s landmark bar, the One Chicken, that truly grieved Moorea’s residents. Landmark? Why, it was an institution. Poof! Just like that it vanished--and the villagers of Pao Pao were devastated. Old-timers will tell you how the One Chicken had been a hangout for years.
The One Chicken’s rusted tin roof was swept into the valley like a wildly spinning flying saucer, according to witnesses. The building’s aged fiberboard walls collapsed, crushed by timbers that had supported the roof.
In the 1950s, the One Chicken was known as “Papa Teiho’s,” which was the name of its proprietor, who, without question was the best-known Tahitian on the island.
Papa Teiho was an ageless, gray-haired, stocky, perpetually smiling and somewhat larcenous Tahitian (with a touch of Chinese in the eyes) who operated his bar/restaurant with great enthusiasm. This wasn’t another Spago’s, believe me. Papa’s joint consisted of a few wooden tables, a bench or two and a few empty beer cases that patrons used for chairs. There was a second room that was separated from the main one by a cloth banner that hung from the ceiling, and it was there that Tahitians guzzled beer from morning until the moon was high over the South Seas.
At a corner table an old man with snow-white hair would exchange pleasantries with the patrons, an old-time squeeze-box accordion at his feet. This was Papa Teiho.
In the early days, Papa Teiho’s bar was unique, for it served cold beer, which was unheard of on Moorea. That was accomplished by mixing ice cubes with Papa’s warm suds. Papa obtained the ice from a Chinese store where the proprietor had an ice box that ran on kerosene. Papa also had an old wooden ice chest that held a couple of dozen quarts of Hinano beer.
Usually on a busy night, though, the cold beer sold so fast that the only option left to customers was to drink the warm beer. Few complained.
As I said, the One Chicken was a joint. The music was performed on guitars that were passed around from patron to patron. Homemade ukuleles with nylon fish line for strings were played, and Papa Teiho joined in with his squeeze box. Islanders would drift in when they heard Papa play, and he’d look straight ahead and flash his magnificent Polynesian smile.
The One Chicken got its name in the early 1960s when an American yacht put into Cook’s Bay and the crew went ashore to check out the island. In those days, the village of Pao Pao consisted of a small infirmary, a Chinese store, a pool hall and, down at the end of the village, Papa Teiho’s, which was where the crew from the yacht settled in. During the course of this particular afternoon the crowd grew substantially, and one crewman asked Papa what was on the menu for dinner.
Papa Teiho suggested chicken, and the crew reserved a table for six. As plans for the party were being finalized, one of the crewmen asked Papa if it would be OK to invite a couple of new Tahitian acquaintances to join the group.
“No problem, plenty of chicken,” Papa assured him.
“Sure?” the American asked.
“Come, I show you,” Papa said. In the back room he pointed out a good-sized chicken, several cans of diced carrots and a package of noodles.
“See, plenty chicken,” the old man declared.
Later, the crew from the yacht met three Canadian hikers who were sightseeing with two Australian schoolteachers, and before long they joined the action at Papa Teiho’s. The bar was jumping and the yacht crew told Papa they wanted to increase the dinner party to about a dozen.
“No problem, plenty chicken,” Papa said.
About this time, the owner of the yacht and his wife arrived with another couple and they indicated they’d like to stay for dinner. Papa stopped playing his squeeze box: “No worry, plenty chicken.” Then he shouted a series of unintelligible commands in Tahitian to his wife, who was behind the bar.
Wooden tables were pushed together along with benches. By now the bar was roaring and the din was outrageous. After a fresh round of beer, the crew indicated they were ready for their meal. Papa Teiho said: “Soon, soon,” and proposed that they should have wine with their meal, whereupon six Hinano beer bottles filled with red wine were delivered to the table. Papa also produced plenty of local French bread.
Not long thereafter a soupy mixture was poured into bowls that were provided for each guest. The soup, the party discovered, was suspiciously clear. Papa Teiho dropped by. “Good chicken, eh?” he smiled . . . and suddenly it dawned on everyone that this was the first and last course.
As the crowd grew, Papa had merely added water to the one chicken. Later the crew from the yacht got together to figure the bill, which worked out to $15 per guest.
Papa was smiling hugely by now and everyone agreed that although the meal may have been a trifle disappointing, Papa Teisho deserved a gift for his ingenuity.
Months later another yacht dropped anchor in Cook’s Bay and the crew stormed off to Papa Teiho’s with a huge box containing a weather vane in the shape of a chicken. Struck beneath the vane were the words: “One Chicken Inn.”
Papa mounted the sign at the top of the building. He smiled hugely. Locals marveled at the design. Unfortunately, in those days French authorities were paranoid about signs that didn’t appear in their own language. As a result, the gendarme told Papa that the sign must come down. Papa obeyed. The sign was stored--but not forgotten. After regulations relaxed somewhat and the gendarme had left the island, the sign went back up: One Chicken Inn.
By this time, Papa had become an entrepreneur, having added guest rooms in the parking lot. There was only one problem: Anyone renting a room on a weekend found it best not to turn in before 4 a.m.--at the very earliest. This was because the One Chicken rarely closed till near dawn. What with all the dancing, the Tahitian shows and the drunks, brawls frequently spilled onto the parking lot (and occasionally into someone’s room).
The One Chicken was a Saturday night destination for guests from hotels and resorts throughout the island. The owners of one popular hotel would bring ice and extra booze, which Papa Teiho cheerfully accepted--and immediately sold back to them when they ordered a drink. Papa was indeed inscrutable.
As the legend of the One Chicken grew, its reputation approached that of the famous Aggie Grey’s of Western Samoa. But time took its toll of Papa Teiho, and as he began running out of steam, the One Chicken came under the command of Papa’s relatives. When Papa died in the early ‘70s, more than 8,000 mourners attended his funeral. They came from every major island in French Polynesia--Tahiti, Raiatea, Bora Bora, Maupiti, Huahine--and even from the Tuamotou atolls.
With Papa Teiho gone, the One Chicken continued to attract islanders and tourists--until the big blow, when it disappeared like a passing freighter. As I said, everything went--walls, roof, tables--along with the One Chicken weather vane that whipped through the humid heavens like a Frisbee.