Tiki is sort of alive and well in Montreal

Tiki isn’t dead, a fact that our visit to the institution to the Jardin Tiki proved.

The restaurant was busier than it looks here

On a recent evening, two dining companions and I strode purposefully into Jardin Tiki (5300 Sherbrooke E.), Montreal’s last-remaining tiki bar and (not-last-remaining) Chinese buffet, only to come to a crushing realization: We were there on the wrong night. Lettering underneath the Jardin’s sign and on posters throughout the place alerted us to the “souper dansant” on Saturdays. It was a Friday, and there was not a hula girl in sight.

One of several “exotic” drink-carrying vessels

But all was not lost. We had come for the time warp more than anything else. Situated in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve among other relics — the Olympic Village, numerous old-age residences — Jardin Tiki harkens back to a more innocent era, a time before kale was a fetish item and Yelp was required reading before eating out. It’s a time I, as only a 2006 arrival, don’t remember, but my companions, two native sons, recognized it well from family outings of yore. Jardin Tiki opened in 1985, and when you pull open the tiki-statue doorknob, that’s the year you’re immediately transported to. We entered and were greeted by dim lighting, a bizarre pool of turtles who have probably never seen a ray of sunlight and a soundtrack of soft luau music.

After making drink choices based on carrier vessel (hollowed-out pineapple or ceramic coconut?), we bee-lined it to the buffet, free of the shackles of millennial foodiedom.

The steam tables held untold wonders, most of which were bathed in fluorescent sauces or encrusted in deep-fried batter. Indeed, distinctions like meat, vegetable, carb don’t apply at Jardin Tiki; a well-rounded meal there consists of equal parts red, orange and grey.

Cowardice got the best of us when it came to the mussels, but we happily partook of such authentic Chinese fare as pineapple chicken, General Tso’s chicken, onion rings and bacon-wrapped mini hot dogs.

The music seemed to lull the room into a hush. Families chewed contemplatively, enjoying the $5.95 under-10 buffet price, while couples stared at each other blankly, intoxicated by vast quantities of MSG and sugar.

There was a dessert table that included three (three!) different kinds of Jello and a soft-serve machine, but, at that point, we too had succumbed to the MSG stupor. With great effort, we pried ourselves out of our seats and reentered 2013. ■

For a look at tiki at its height in Montreal, check out this gallery

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