In Los Angeles, one does not need to travel far to visit a Polynesian-themed bar where strong rum-based mixed beverages are served. Drinking establishments, featuring tiki-god masks, woven fish traps, lava stones and bamboo, are plentiful in this region. For more than 60 years, LA has embraced and promoted with great pride and enthusiasm the South Pacific’s rich history, ancient customs and that marvelous tiki décor that includes elaborate carvings, torches and indoor waterfalls or lagoons. Of LA’s many exotica-style venues, here are some of the best tiki bars this florid metropolis has to offer.
12808 Victory Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91606
A mainstay in the district of the San Fernando Valley, this effervescent venue holds the distinction of being LA’s oldest tiki bar. For more than a half-century, Tonga Hut has welcomed exotic cocktail enthusiasts with an atmosphere replete with bamboo, spotted cedar walls, animated fountains and the traditional kidney-shaped dropped ceiling to keep alive an era long gone. Inside the softly lighted Polynesian-style watering hole, guests are surrounded by eye-catching velvet paintings of island maidens to keep company with a staff of inventive bartenders that mix rum-based drinks in a muscular manner. Its selection of strong alcoholic beverages is not the tiki bar’s only magnetic draw. This establishment hosts art shows and provides a stage for some of the region’s more recognized Hawaiian and exotica bands.
4427 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
In vigorous operation for more than 50 years, this tropical drink bar may be tiny, but its beverage menu is quite extraordinary. With a collection of more than 90 alcoholic drinks from which to choose, the underground landmark offers a libations wheel indecisive patrons can spin to help them make up their minds. The cash-only site, which boasts only 12 bar stools and several wall-hugging tables, serves as a stomping ground for club-hoppers in the Silverlake-Hollywood area. Its entertaining bartenders are saluted for their heavy-handed procedures of mixing cocktails. Some of Tiki-Ti’s specialty drinks include “Blood and Sand,” a mighty tequila-topped concoction. When the drink is being made, guests shout, “Toro, toro, toro,” to pay homage to the late Tyrone Power’s 1941 film by the same name. Other chanting spirits include the “Uga Booga,” an original blend of intoxicating liquor whose vintage recipe remains classified to this day.
Purple Orchid Exotic Tiki Lounge
221 Richmond St.
El Segundo, CA 90245
Anyone cruising through the Santa Monica Bay area with a thirst to quench may want to check out this subtle hideaway near Los Angeles International Airport. In addition to a menu of popular alcoholic beverages, this Tiki dive offers something different than other bars of its type. If new patrons ever wonder why guests spend so much time in the lounge’s restrooms, the reason is literary. The walls surrounding the wash basin and commode are papered with pages from famed author and cinematographer Sven Kirsten’s “The Book of Tiki,” a 2003 publication considered to be a resource tool for tiki enthusiasts and collectors of tiki memorabilia. The Purple Orchid, which opened its doors in 2001, hosts occasional theme-related parties, in addition to providing a small stage for singers and bands. On Monday nights, both men and women are offered a manicure and martini for a combined cost of $10.
4657 Lankershim Blvd.
San Fernando Valley, CA 91602
After the curtain of darkness falls in LA, that’s when this site’s exterior looks its best. Its corner location is lighted brilliantly by the flames of tiki torches. The “No” in the venue’s name refers to its location in North Hollywood, as in the area’s nickname, NoHo. Once inside, guests are greeted by the cultural significance of bamboo. The interior is adorned with upholstered booths and a bar that features over-sized tiki carvings. Those who visit this popular neighborhood bar do so primarily for the stiff, rum-based tropical drinks. The menu offers an abridged selection of classic cocktails and specialty beverages. Tiki-No is also themed with a thatched roof to help make celebrants feel like they are in the tropics. Between 4 and 7 p.m. daily, the tab for select alcoholic beverages is reduced to $5 per serving. Coconut and pineapple lovers may want to sample the Blue Hawaiian, a rum-splashed pleasure.
21150 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90265
A trip to Los Angeles certainly would not be complete without a visit to the area’s most celebrated and romantic tiki bar and restaurant. Located at the water’s edge of the picturesque Pacific Ocean, Duke’s Malibu honors the late Duke Kahanamoku, a five-time Olympic medalist in swimming and the Hawaiian credited with spreading the sport of surfing. As resounding waves pound the rocky levee, guests are greeted with a gentle “Aloha,” an expression of affection, peace and compassion. While enjoying an impressive selection of authentic tiki cocktails and sampling an array of indigenous food items at the Barefoot Bar, visitors can absorb commanding views of the “Queen’s Necklace,” a strand that includes Point Dume, Palos Verdes, the Channel Islands and Santa Catalina Island. It is an experience that could be one of the more memorable series of tiki moments perhaps in a lifetime for families and couples. Remember to glance at the shoreline from time to time. You just might see a pod of dolphins swimming by to bid “Aloha” until you meet again.
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Sharon Raiford Bush is an award-winning journalist who covers topics of social interest in greater Los Angeles. Some news articles she has authored have been archived by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Sharon also contributes to Examiner.com.