On November 28, 1943, after eight days of heavy battle against strongly fortified forces, the United States finally secured the tiny tropical island of Tarawa from Japan. Tarawa, located almost directly on the equator in the East Pacific was a very important strategic objective for the allies due to its airstrip. The possession of this airstrip was viewed as essential for the United States and its allied forces if they were to continue to experience success in the Pacific operations.
In January of the following year on Tarawa, a 27 year old fighter pilot named Jimmy Phipps stepped off a cargo transport plane that he was jumpseating a ride on back to the states after receiving his discharge from the Air Force. Phipps had completed over fifty successful missions without a scratch and was one of the most decorated pilots of World War II. He had a few hours to kill while the plane was being refueled and its cargo unloaded.
Phipps was instantly mesmerized by the tropical beauty of the island with its turquoise waters and enormous palms and the mere setting of the place made him want to celebrate his good fortune with a drink and a good meal. When he was told that his only option for food and drink on Tarawa was the tiny mess hall – which, after five years of eating mess hall food did not sound very appealing – he had a great idea.
On March 3, 1944 Jimmy Phipps opened the Big Bamboo, a bar and grill overlooking the Pacific. The place was constructed of bamboo, corrugated tin, palm fronds and whatever else Phipps was able to get his hands on. Food and liquor were brought in weekly on cargo planes by people that ex-fighter pilot knew who were still serving the air force. The menu featured foods from various regions of the United States – food that soldiers desired most while being so far from home. The Big bamboo became a place where people could get away from the rigors and worries of the real world and it was not uncommon for pilots to complain of engine problems near Tarawa just as an excuse to visit the place. And, on any given night, the sound of Big Band music spirited conversation carried by warm tropical breezes could be heard across the tiny island.
On November 2, 1945, two months after the surrender of Japanese to General MacArthur, a typhoon ripped through the Gilbert Islands, destroying everything in its path including the original Bamboo. Jimmy Phipps was never heard from again, but those knew him refuse to believe that he would succumb to a mere typhoon.
Welcome to our version of the Big Bamboo, constructed as closely as possible to the configurations of the original. We still feature great food from across the United States. The conversation still flows as freely as the drinks. And the lively sound of Big Band music can be heard on any given night. Here’s to Jimmy!