With the news that Rosemead’s 45-year-old Tiki shrine Bahooka Family Restaurant is set to close this Sunday, we again have to face the fact that the region’s once robust scene of kitschy Polynesian-style drinking and dining is at risk of disappearing. So where are you going to go to find wooden masks, split bamboo trim, jovial wastrels in Hawaiian shirts and leis, and tropical drinks now? Take a look in our guide to the few good Tiki bars still left in L.A.
Purple Orchid: A fairly compressed and concentrated dose of Tiki, this secretive El Segundo bar has reed-wrapped walls, tiki mugs, blowfish lamps, and masks standing tall behind its live house band. Hawaiian shirts, mai-tais, and Sublime on the juke complete the sense of island ease. 221 Richmond St, El Segundo; 310-322-5829.
Tiki No: With a ceiling that looks like it was crafted by The Professor on Gilligan’s Island, this tiny dive has the right vibe for a quick Tiki fix; its bottles glowing in blacklight, vintage vacation postcards, and stoic mask drinking vessels peeking from the top shelf. The cocktails may be a little cloying at times, but after a single Scorpion Bowl, good taste will most likely be the furthest thing from your mind. After all, you’re in a Tiki bar in North Hollywood. 4657 Lankershim Blvd. North Hollywood; 818-766-0116.
Tiki Ti: The spirit lives on at Silver Lake’s rowdy Tiki Ti, which boasts some of the most devastating cocktails in town on a roster of 92 tropical drinks. Some of these will even get the standing room-only, family-owned bar screaming at you, like the Blood & Sand and Uga Booga. 4427 Sunset Blvd. Silver Lake; 323-669-9381.
Tonga Hut: A dark dive with shrunken head decor, Easter Island mask drink ware, and occasional rock-fueled live luaus, this Valley Tiki shrine features not so politically correct cocktails such as the “Sun Ting Wong,” “Tonga Hut’s Big Brown Nut,” and a drink named after “Zorro: The Gay Blade,” along with rum punches and a dedicated crew of local drunkards. The place currently boasts that it’s the oldest Tiki bar still in operation in L.A., though it previously gave up on the theme before relapsing. 12808 Victory Blvd. North Hollywood; 818-769-0708.
Trader Vic’s: One of the originals on the Tiki restaurant scene, Vic’s has gone kind of corporate with its move to L.A. Live! Still, this is a perfect Tiki destination for anyone who turns their noses up at the dicier climes of its counterparts, with enough Tiki-style schmaltz to satisfy devotees, along with strong drinks, draft beer, and dishes like Indonesian lamb satay, crab rangoon, and pupu platters. 800 West Olympic Blvd. Downtown; 213-785-3330.
Tiki Central: Alas, only the memories and photos of vintage kitsch live on from great Tiki places like Kelbo’s and The Islander, which long dotted the Southland. A perfect place to mourn while we wait for 213 or The 1933 Group to restore us to our glamorous Tiki past.
Update: Tiki Magazine editor Kari Hendler writes in to remind us about three places we may have overlooked in the Southern California area, including Trader Sam’s at The Disneyland Hotel, Don the Beachcomber’s in Huntington Beach, and Damon’s Steak House in Glendale.