The legendary Kona Lanes - Costa Mesa, CA
No discussion of wacky tacky would be complete without acknowledging the profound impact of tiki culture. The influence of the tropics by way of music, style, food and fantasy began as soon as explorers started charting the globe and discovering the beauty and richness of the island lifestyle. The general prosperity of the 20th Century combined with major advancements in both technology and travel allowed regular folks to start exploring places about which they had only ever heard or dreamed. Given its predilection for Hollywood spectacle and its proximity to the South Pacific, the "tikification" of Southern California was inevitable. From the earliest part of the last century until the present day, America's fascination with and glorious bastardization of Polynesian culture has never waned.
Fortunate enough to have been born and raised in a veritable hot bed of Polynesian Pop, Mr. Tiny grew up around the now demolished, but still world-famous, Kona Lanes and other South Seas inspired landmarks like the Ala Moana apartments.
Ala Moana Apartments - Costa Mesa, CA
In the quest to bring wacky tacky to the world, we decided to explore but a few of the many tiki-inspired watering holes around Southern California. This is in no wise a complete examination or definitive list of the all that is tiki in our area; it is simply a jaunt to a few fun places that had us longing to watch the sun slowly sink into the Pacific while palm trees sway and tropical breezes carry the lilting melody of ukuleles. Interestingly enough, of the three places we document here, the closest to the ocean is Don the Beachcomber, yet even there we had no view of the ocean. Perhaps, that is the fundamental thing that made tiki culture so popular - a desire to embrace the tropics wherever one happens to be!
Damon's Steakhouse (est. 1937)
317 N. Brand Blvd.
Our first stop was Damon's Steakhouse. Set on bustling Brand Blvd., Damon's first opened its doors on Central Ave in 1937. The 1980 move to its current location allowed for both expansion and a renewed zeal in a beautiful island-inspired atmosphere. Gorgeous murals line the walls of the foyer and dining rooms and the most amazing tiki lamps hang from the ceiling. Damon's is a real treasure because of its longevity, its gracious service and its facade which stands out on a street lined with dreary, uninspired, downtown storefronts.
A thatched roof extends over vinyl booths
lined with woven seagrass walls
Damon's wins hands down where lighting is concerned
Detail of a carved tiki mask and the Ladies' room!!
Reasons to go to Damon's - the light fixtures & it's proximity to Porto's Bakery (enough said)
Critiki rating: 7.4
wacky tacky rating: 9.5 - what it lacks in delicious food (none of us ate steak), it makes up for in
lighting, decor and island-style hospitality
Don the Beachcomber (est. 2009 - originally est. 1933)
16278 S. Pacific Coast Hwy
Huntington Beach, CA
Donn Beach, of Don the Beachcomber fame, was actually Ernest Gantt, equal parts rover and Renaissance man. He came to California from Louisiana in 1931 and worked in Hollywood before combining his love of the drink with his love of the islands. In 1933 he took his collection of South Seas souvenirs and established his first, and probably the first, tiki bar - Don the Beachcomber. While deployed in WWII, Beach's wife opened a chain of 16 Don the Beachcomber bars that spanned the continent. After many years, the bars closed and the trademark on the name lapsed. New owners are giving new life to the brand by recreating Beach's entire collection of signature tiki cocktails and serving island-inspired menu selections. The current location is in the old Sam's Seafood restaurant with its very recognizable swordfish sign.
The facade of Don's is tiki heaven
We're glad they kept the landmark fish sign!
Mary gets in touch with the tiki spirirt
The Dagger Bar - where all 84 of Don Beach's signature tiki cocktails are
still made to his specifications (aaah, if only I were a drinking man)
A small part of the tiki mug collection at Don's
Reasons to go to Don the Beachcomber - charming ownership &
regularly-featured Polynesian entertainment
Critiki rating: 8.9
wacky tacky rating: 9 - good grub, super-friendly & attentive staff, incredible facade,
a lot to see and many rooms to explore
Tonga Hut (est. 1958)
12808 Victory Blvd
North Hollywood, CA
Touting itself as the oldest, continuously-operating tiki bar in Los Angeles, the Tonga Hut opened in 1958 and has weathered many changes in decor and ownership but under current management maintains its tiki heritage and is a great place to have a birthday party.
While well-designed, the light fixtures were so few that my
obsession with them was left with a little something to be desired.
"The Drooling Bastard"
Interior stone water feature
Another amazing, tiered water feature behind the bar
A trio of tikis at the Tonga Hut
A smattering of tiki-inspired collectibles
Hand-carved outrigger wall art
Ashley, Cary, Christina & Rob The SideWynders
Reasons to go to the Tonga Hut - great friends & great music.
Critiki rating: 7.4
wacky tacky rating: 8 - mellow vibe, great water features, friendly staff
Let us know what you think of these titans of tiki and share some of your favorites as well!
Also, check out Critiki for a very thorough listing of worldwide pockets of Polynesian culture.