LAD Goes Tropical: LA’s Finest Tiki Bars
Mix your best Mai Tai, pull out your ukulele, and take a seat. Now, if you want to live in a world where tiki bars were created in Polynesia by a Samoan named Tiki, SKIP AHEAD to our team recs below.
To those who are still with us: you’ve chosen wisely — the truth is way more interesting. The first tiki bar in the world, Don the Beachcomber, was created in Los Angeles in 1933 by a New Orleans native named Ernest Gantt. Gantt had done consulting work in Hollywood on shows and movies set in the South Pacific… jobs he got by lying and saying that he had lived there. (Maybe he created the term “fake it ‘til you make it” too?)
In designing Don the Beachcomber, Gantt focused on kitschy bamboo décor and a rum-based menu, since rum was the cheapest liquor around. Gantt’s drinks (a total of 84 cocktails) were revolutionary because they each had several ingredients at a time when most drinks had only two or three. Famous patrons poured in, including Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin, and the Marx Brothers.
Of course, behind every great lad is an even better woman. Gantt’s then-wife, Sunny Sund, took over the business when he was deployed for WWII (service for which he earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, NDB). Sunny expanded Don The Beachcomber nationally, popularizing the tiki bar aesthetic around the country.
So there you have it. When some tiki bar trivia pops up on HQ, you won’t have to use that extra life. You’re welcome.
In honor of one of the best origin stories to come out of a Hollywood lie, we asked our crew about their favorite tiki spots… and what to drink and wear to the party.
FAVORITE TIKI BAR: Tonga Hut
WHY IT RAISES THE (TIKI) BAR: Tonga Hut was built in the 50s and has that classic retro-cool vibe, which adds to its old-school charm. It can get pretty packed sometimes, but the drink selection is good and the ambiance is great, so it's definitely worth checking out.
DRINK OF CHOICE: Dole Whip
L/A/D PIECE YOU RECOMMEND WEARING: The Otomi Short Sleeve Shirt
FAVORITE TIKI BAR(S): Pacific Seas at Clifton's Cafeteria and Kahuna Tiki
WHY THEY RAISE THE (TIKI) BAR: Clifton's is an awesome place to drink. There are five floors with five themes, and one is the tiki themed Pacific Seas. Kahuna Tiki on Magnolia is literally a slice of Hawaii — it's all closed in with bars and waterfalls.
DRINK OF CHOICE: Zombie
L/A/D PIECE YOU WOULD WEAR: The Cozumel Short Sleeve Shirt in Cactus
Sales & Operations Coordinator
National Sales Manager
FAVORITE TIKI BAR: Samantha and Jessica agree: Tiki–Ti is their favorite.
*Editorial Note: The original owner, Ray Buhen, worked at Don the Beachcomber back in the day, so you know it’ll be authentic.
WHY IT RAISES THE (TIKI) BAR:
Samantha: When you walk into Tiki-Ti you are immediately overtaken with a carefree Hawaiian vibe. From the Tiki statues and faces to the plethora of tropical (fake) birds you can celebrate 'Aloha Friday' any day of the week with your friendly bartender and neighbors.
Jessica: What makes Tiki-Ti’s drinks so awesome is the copious amount of booze cleverly disguised by delicious fruit juice. Not every bartender can master the art of perfectly blending booze and juice; Tiki-Ti does an amazing job at this. It's also small, family owned, and filled with locals, and they pass out a delicious chip mix to go along with your drinks if you need a snack.
L/A/D PIECE YOU RECOMMEND WEARING:
Samantha: the Rosarito Short Sleeve Shirt in white
Jessica: the Pineapple Express Short Sleeve Shirt in white
DRINK OF CHOICE:
Samantha: Kactus Kula.
Jessica: The Bayanihan, a Tiki-Ti signature (made with pineapple juice hence wearing the Pineapple Shirt).