Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tiki Time: Hong Kong Inn

I recently watched friends and acquaintances profess their undying love for tiki culture in the well-received documentary, "Plastic Paradise."  With a Polynesian bruddah-in-law, a hapa-haole nephew, and a mother who spent many of her formative years on the island of Oahu, I feel like there was no escaping my own predilection for Polynesian pop.

Incredible logo and art direction by Kevin Kidney

As much as I enjoyed the program, I was a little disheartened at the documentary's discussion of the fundamental role Chinese food played in the tiki movement; it made me think of Hong Kong Inn, Ventura, CA's recently-shuttered outpost of 1960's-era Chinese food and Polynesian entertainment.  I was sad that I'd never had the chance to enjoy the hopistality of the Kwan brothers who opened Hong Kong Inn in 1964.  Seeing Hong Kong Inn's final Facebook post that read, "After 48 wonderful years, 100,000 Scorpions and Mai Tai's, 3,600 Polynesian revues, 10 children, and 15 grandchildren, the Hong Kong Inn of Ventura will be closing its doors on November 30, 2012.  We're retiring," I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to survive on the myth, the legend that was Hong Kong Inn.

Hong Kong Inn - Ventura, CA
Good wicky wacky tiki tacky always begins with a good sign!

Then one happy day, about two weeks ago, my uncle sent me a beautiful picture. 

"Grand Re-Opening: Under New Management"
Could it be true?!

Without dallying, I hopped straight onto the Google and searched for documented proof of Hong Kong Inn's rebirth.  I nervously dialed the phone number that I found online, half expecting a disconnected line or an interminable ringtone.  I was overjoyed at the sound of a sweet human voice who confirmed the restaurant's reopening and the perpetuation of Hong Kong Inn's finest traditions.  At the very first opportunity, all available members of the wacky tacky adventure team hit the road for old Hong Kong.

Emily was so happy when she learned that at Hong Kong Inn she wouldn't
have to make a choice; they have Chinese AND American food!!!

The rest of us were immediately impressed by the lanterns, the twelve-foot mural of
Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour, the highly-decorated bar, and the awesome placemat graphics!

I have never considered the position of celebrity-chef, Gordon Ramsay, a particularly enviable one; on top of the
daily root touch-ups and impossible highlight maintenance, there is the relegation of all that shameless, persona-propagating, coronary-inducing, red-faced bellowing to Friday nights on the Fox Network.  Never let it be said, however, that I am not a sucker for a good makeover.  I don't want to intimate that Hong Kong Inn is a prime candidate for Ramsay's "Kitchen Nightmares," but it wouldn't take much doing, in terms of decorating and recipe revision, to make it a "Kitchen dream come true."

Instead of dwelling on paltry, culinary quibbles, let's take a moment to observe Jesse
performing what I can only assume is a tiki mating ritual - the offering of the half-eaten rib.

Even if the food at Hong Kong Inn isn't the very best "Chinese & American Food" you've ever eaten, I'm told that the wealth of rum-infused tropical drinks more than makes up for any deficits.  Plus, the real purpose of our pilgrimage north of the Los Angeles/Ventura County line was Hong Kong Inn's finest offering, the "Polynesian Review!"* 

"Expressions of Polynesia," the exotic, island-style floor show as masterfully
presented by the talented performers from Kealoha & Company, is Hong Kong
Inn's greatest legacy.

Did someone say hips?!?!!

With more than twenty performers (dancers, singers, musicians), more than twenty musical numbers, and more than twenty costume changes, "Expressions of Polynesia" is more than enough fun for the entire family.  The two-hour spectacle is an interactive experience with opportunities to join the dance troupe on stage for some hip shaking and ball swinging - poi balls, that is.

Usually it's a bad night when a pair of poi balls makes intimate contact with another 
very significant pair but nothing could dampen the fun of participating in the show! 

My poor poi performance notwithstanding, the whole show was wonderful!
My very favorite performers were actually a dynamic mother-daughter duo.
Tina (mother) was the stage manager, musical director, comic relief, and
songstress for the evening; if you've never heard the bone-chilling beauty
of Polynesian harmonies, then do yourself a favor and find Tina ASAP.  Her
daughter was a premier dancer among the spectacular troupe; I was so taken by
her dancing, particularly the mind-blowing, Tahitian duck walk, that I completely
forgot to capture it on video.

We had such a great time at Hong Kong Inn; by the end of the evening, all typical restaurant protocol was broken as we chatted, mixed, mingled, and table-hopped.  Hong Kong Inn's Polynesian review had all the luxury of a lavish luau and all the honest charm of a homespun hukilau.

Mahalo, Mauru'uru, and Fa'afetai, and Xie Xie to Kealoha & Co. and Hong Kong Inn!!! 

If you have a taste for tiki, if you want for wacky tacky, if you long for old Hong Kong, be sure to make your way to Hong Kong Inn.  Go for the chow mein, stay for the ALOHA!!!

Hong Kong Inn
435 E Thompson Blvd
Ventura, CA


*The Polynesian Review is only performed on Friday and Saturday nights from 7:30-9:30PM (early arrival is highly recommended)

Cheers and Talofa!

Mr. Tiny


  1. Awesome news. Looks like so much fun!

    1. It's a little bit corny and a whole lot of fun! Check it out!

  2. We need to get here next time we are in CA!

    1. Yes, now that it is open, we should definitely go. Mom says she is interested too!

  3. I am super interested in this documentary.!!! My mom lived in Hawaii in the 60s in her teens and 20s (she was born in NY and when her parents died she went to go live with her kooky rich aunt in Honolulu...I swear everytime I say it I feel like she is a Danielle Steel novel) . She met my dad there, yet both of them dated pretty much just asian people prior to meeting each other. A part of me wishes I was half asian...instead I am just SUPER whitebread and know a great deal about tiki culture.

    1. That does sound like the beginning of a DS novel; is your mom's name something like "Erika Chastain" or "Ariana DuBarry?" My mom was there in the late 50's-early 60's (Elvis time). I love looking at her school class photos because it is impossible to miss her; she is the only face so white that it practically glows. My sister met her Hawaiian/Samoan husband on Oahu and they lived there for a few years. She signs all of her letters/cards, "Much love and Aloha," which sickens and delights me in equal measure. The documentary was playing on PBS stations so you might still be able to catch it inbetween pledge breaks...hahahaha!!!

  4. Love this! I adore classic Chinese restaurants. The place near us (in Indiana) is titled: China Koon -- I kid you not. They even have t-shirts. If you are in Chicago, be sure to go to Chef Shangrila in Riverside, IL (the burbs) or the Orange Garden right downtown and just blocks from Martyr's - home of the Big C Jamboree - our monthly open mic rockabilly nite.

    1. Awesome! I love adding places to our list. It is high time that I get back to Chicago! I might be craving superdawg....