LA County Has 12 Tiki Bars, And We Want To Try Them All
Tiki bars came into vogue in the wake of the Great Depression. Since you couldn't afford to sail to a tropical island, you could at least drink away your cares in a place pretending to be one. Nearly 80 years later, a sweet cocktail consumed against a backdrop of lava rocks is still the most "exotic" adventure many of us can hope for.
By the 1950s, you couldn't swing a tiny paper umbrella in Los Angeles without it landing in a Singapore Sling. But tiki bars, like 24-hour Googie coffee shops, fell out of fashion.
One by one, their torches were extinguished. We lost Bahooka in Rosemead in 2013 and Trader Vic's at the Beverly Hilton in 2017. Now, only a few remain thanks to a handful of proprietors and their dedicated patrons, who have kept the flame alive. After a careful survey, we're happy to report that Los Angeles County is currently home to 12 tiki bars, and that's where you'll find us when the craving comes.
L.A. County Tiki Bars
The Bamboo Club
Long Beach's Bamboo Club, which opened in March 2019, may be the newest tiki bar in L.A. County but it has alredy made an impression. Situated in the space formerly occupied by the Tidal Bay Beach Bar, the Bamboo Club was designed by Ben Bassham (aka Bamboo Ben), the third-generation tiki builder responsible for Zombie Village in San Francisco. Together with executive chef Melissa Ortiz, the owners have crafted a full dinner menu with sustainability in mind. Classic tiki drinks like the Painkiller tend to be big and strong, so soak them up with a poke bowl or that staple of Hawaiian cuisine, a loco moco. Their version of the dish, called the Coco Moco Loco, involves a beef patty served over garlic rice and topped with an over-easy egg. As a bonus, you can sip and nosh while listening to live punk and rockabilly acts.
- 3522 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; 562-343-2534.
Bar Tiki Tiki
Downtown Long Beach is home to Bar Tiki Tiki, a cozy space inside Beer Belly. (Hot tip: To gain entrance, you have to press on the restaurant's western wall just right.) Open on Friday and Saturday nights, the speakeasy-style space is on the more subdued side, decoration-wise, although it has bamboo bar seats and blowfish-shaped lanterns. Stop by for a volcano bowl (a massive, flaming rum cocktail you're required to share with at least one other person), or belly up to the bar for a Frozen Bird (an alcohol-packed slushie adorned with a pineapple wedge). You can also order from Beer Belly's kitchen, if you're in the mood for some duck fat fries, deep-fried Oreos or a platter of hot wings.
- 255 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach; 562-436-2337.
The Clifton's on Broadway (currently open Thursday through Sunday nights after shuttering in late 2018) isn't the only Clifton's that has ever called DTLA home. From 1939 to 1960, Clifton's Pacific Seas was located at 618 S. Olive Street. With indoor waterfalls, aquariums, tropical plants, thatched huts, a meditation garden and lava rocks, this piece of paradise — believed to be the cafeteria Jack Kerouac references in On the Road — was eventually paved to put up a parking lot. The venue may be gone. It hasn't been forgotten. Andrew Meeran and the team behind the Broadway Clifton's remodel used it as inspiration for their tiki bar. Hidden behind a mirrored door on the third floor of the sprawling establishment, the dimly lit space designed by Bamboo Ben features decor that local tiki enthusiasts will recognize from the late, great Bahooka. Order a Terra Incognita or a Navy Grog from the boat bar at the center of the room, then sit back and soak in your surroundings.
- 648 S. Broadway; downtown L.A.; 213-627-1673.
Established in 1937 by Oregon-born entrepreneur Loyal Damon, the Glendale staple — opened on Central Avenue but located on Brand Boulevard for the past 35 years — isn't the kind of place that expects you to drink on an empty stomach. Damon's famous garlic toast will help soak up a Mai Tai or two, and a double pork chop pairs perfectly with a Lychee Martini. Take some time to look around. Whether it's the canoe hanging from the roof of the main dining room, the Polynesian murals lining the walls, the thatched ceiling or the funky light fixtures, there's a lot to take in. The drink menu is extensive. Try the Tangaroa Twist (a concoction of light rum, pineapple, blue curacao and coconut) and the Pineapple "Dole" Whip (you know, like the Disneyland favorite, only with alcohol).
- 317 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; 818-507-1510.
Hale Hawaii Lounge
Another option in the South Bay? Yes, please. Hale Hawaii Lounge is a cash-only tiki dive located next to a florist in a Torrance strip mall The space, which dates back to the late '60s, is worth a visit — if you happen to swing by when the owner decides to open it. (Hours can be unpredictable.) It's not the kind of place you go if you're looking for elaborate presentation or organic ingredients. It's the kind of place you come for strong, cheap Mai Tis and Scorpion Bowls (served in giant clamshell-shaped bowls) and the sense that you've been timewarped back to a groovier era.
- 3144 Pacific Coast Highway, Torrance; 310-539-3480.
San Fernando Valley friends, don't think you've been forgotten by the tiki gods. In North Hollywood, Kahuna Tiki has all the Blue Hawaiians, spiked punches and Pineapple Sours your summer evenings demand, plus a full menu of Hawaiian and Polynesian dishes like spicy tuna, teriyaki chicken and fish tacos. If you still have room, a deep-fried Twinkie or cherry pie — sensing a theme? — are waiting for you. Grab a seat on the patio beneath an umbrella and watch the hula dancers or snag a chair inside, beneath a tiki mask, next to the sushi bar.
- 11026 W. Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; 818-853-7447.
Every time we leave a screening at the Egyptian Theatre, we crave two Old Hollywood experiences: a seat at one of the iconic red booths at Musso & Frank, across the street, and a stiff, fruity cocktail at Lono, a few blocks east. Step inside either of these bars and you may find it hard to believe you were just wandering grimy Hollywood Boulevard. Every detail in Lono is spot-on. The tiled walls, the private cabanas, the wicker furniture. As for the menu, you can't go wrong with yakisoba noodles or jackfruit sliders. If you don't know what tiki tots are, it's high time you find out. Onto the booze. After you try all the usual suspects (your Pearl Diver, your Painkiller), you'll be prepared for the Curse of the Lono, a stiff concoction with mysterious ingredients. Looking for more Hollywood bars that aren't tourist hellholes? They do exist.
- 6611 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; 323-848-4475.
Be prepared to make a trip out of this one. Luau Larry's is located on Catalina Island, meaning you'll need to take a one-hour ferry trip from Long Beach or San Pedro to reach your destination. Founded more than 20 years ago, the family-owned bar is steps from the beach and offers a more casual experience than most tiki bars. Known for signature drinks like the Wicker Wacker and the Buffalo Milk, Luau Larry's also serves oysters on the half shell, chicken wings with varying levels of spice and several burgers. Stay on theme and order the one that comes with pineapple and teriyaki sauce. Straw hats aren't mandatory but they're highly recommended.
- 509 Crescent Ave., Avalon; 310-510-1919.
In 2010, Dave and Rebecca Fernandez began transforming a neighborhood dive in downtown El Segundo into a killer tiki spot. Nearly a decade later, they've attracted a devoted following to their cute, dimly lit space on Richmond Street, which remains relatively dive-y. Purple Orchid is a no-food, no-frills joint that specializes in classic tiki cocktails like the Scorpion and the Dark & Stormy. Almost all of the drinks on the menu can be served volcano-style — in a giant, volcano-shaped bowl with a flame in the center — should you be in the mood to share.
- 221 Richmond St., El Segundo; 310-322-5829.
Venture to North Hollywood to check out another Bamboo Ben-designed space. Open since 2010, Tiki No has loads of charm thanks to snug, date-ready booths and bamboo-lined walls. As for cocktails, the bartenders can whip up all the usual suspects but they also make a range of worthy originals like the Lychee Luau (gold rum, aged rum, lychee liquor, Falernum, pineapple juice and lemon juice) and the Angry Olmec (silver tequila, Lejay Cassis, lime juice and agave).
- 4657 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; 818-766-0116.
Los Feliz's Tiki-Ti is a classic and well worth the wait you'll likely encounter if you come on a Friday or Saturday night. We've been there. The bar opened in 1961, when Ray Buhen, formerly a bartender at the historic Don the Beachcomber's, built the teeny tavern on Sunset Boulevard. These days, Ray's son and grandson are at the helm, and the drink menu remains mostly the same. Cocktails like the signature Uga Booga ("a very strong rum drink made with Myers' dark rum and various juices," according to the bar's website) and the Blood & Sand (an orange-flavored concoction inspired by the movie Blood and Thunder) are beyond stiff, so you'd be forgiven for thinking the stuffed monkeys on the walls are talking to you. We've been there, too.
- 4427 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; 323-669-9381.
If it's L.A. County's oldest tiki bar you want, hit up Tonga Hut, a North Hollywood staple more than 60 years ago. The bar has changed hands several times since brothers Ed and Ace Libby founded it in 1958. It has had its highs as tiki waxed in the '50s and '60s, and its lows as the trend waned in the '70s and '80s. Recent owners have taken paints to restore the space to its former mid-century glory. Inside, you'll notice velvet paintings, lava rocks, a cozy fireplace and quilted seafoam booths. Tonga Hut is known for house drinks like the Bermuda Dunes (rums, almond, citrus and all-spice) and the Ginger Flame (vodka, peach, raspberry and ginger beer).
- 12808 Victory Blvd., North Hollywood; 818-769-0708.
These bars aren't fully tiki but they've got a kitschy, retro, tropical vibe or they serve killer rum cocktails.
Caña Rum Bar
The south downtown bar whips up some mean rum cocktails and has a nice nautical ambiance. The Ankle Breaker — made with rum, cherry brandy and lime — is the strongest offering on the menu, so grab your Metro card for the ride home.
- 714 W. Olympic St., downtown L.A.
Cha Cha Lounge
With its quilted leather booths, straw-roofed bar and dim red glow, the Silver Lake dive (open since 2005 in a space that formerly housed a Mexican restaurant called La Ronda in the '60s and a strip club called Le Bar in the '80s) offers punk-rock ambiance. Often crowded, especially before and after Dodger games, it's known for its cheap drinks.
- 2375 Glendale Blvd., Silver Lake; 323-660-7595.
Swim on over to this Little Tokyo jewel to sip on cocktails like the Siren Song (gin, lime cordial, lime juice and fresh dill) under a bar trimmed in faux seaweed. Also on offer: fantastic bar food like brisket tacos, pineapple pulled pork sliders, nori guacamole and tropical Chex mix.
- 428 E. Second St., downtown L.A.
This tiny, reservation-only Marina del Rey speakeasy isn't a full-on tiki bar. It's also the place you go when you want to impress your Instagram followers. The bar's host will take your phone at the door before you're whisked inside the 25-seat space. Bless! It is where you come to sip some $eriou$ly fancy drinks made from top-shelf spirits. With mid-century-modern decor and a cocktail menu with a robust tiki section, the vibe is Don Draper's Hawaiian getaway. Looking for a $20+ drink garnished with a giant flaming marshmallow on a stick? You've found your spot. No food here but it is attached to and owned by the same folks who own Scopa Italian Roots, so you're not far from a nice plate of bucatini.
- 2905 Washington Blvd., Marina del Rey; 310-821-1100.
Out on the pier at Redondo Beach, Old Tony's has been serving up Mai Tais for over half a century (in souvenir glasses, no less). Decor-wise, it's very Gidget in all the best ways.
- 210 Fisherman's Wharf, Redondo Beach; 310-374-1442.
The Know Where Bar
Situated on an unassuming stretch of Hollywood Boulevard, this cozy tropical-themed Streamline Moderne speakeasy can be easy to miss from the outside. It's an excellent place to sip a Cubano (Flor de Cana rum, mint, agave bitters and lime) as you take take in live jazz on Wednesday nights.
- 5634 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; 323-871-4108.
Looking for more tiki bars? The torches don't go out once you cross the Los Angeles County line.
- Aloha Grill (Huntington Beach)
- Billy's at the Beach (Newport Beach)
- Palapa Grill (Fullerton)
- Royal Hawaiian (Newport Beach)
- Sandy's Beach Shack (Huntington Beach)
- Stowaway (Tustin)
- Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar (Anaheim)
- Twisted Tiki (Santa Ana)
San Bernardino County
Sorry, folks. While the distinctive building that housed Trader Island (and later, Mandarin Garden, Imperial Palace Inn and Edwin Tan's Chinese Garden) still stands at 868 E. Highland Ave., San Bernardino County is currently home to exactly zero tiki bars.