Long Beach’s sole bar dedicated to All Things Tiki will be opening its doors in March inside the space formerly occupied by the Tidal Bay bar on Anaheim Street.
Brett Gallo and Erick Verduzco-Vega, the men behind Fourth Street’s high-brow-low-brow Stache Bar, will be taking over the dilapidated space that was once home to both the Liquid Lounge and nightly regrets. (In a vain attempt to overcome its reputation as a disaster zone, the bar’s previous owner, Rob McCarthy, went on Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue” and converted it to the short-lived Tidal Bay bar.)
“We definitely want to maintain it as a neighborhood bar—there’s no reason someone shouldn’t be able to come in and buy a well drink or Bud,” Gallo said. “We won’t take that away. But man, when I first walked into here, I said, ‘This place is like a hut. It would be perfect for a full-on tiki bar.'”
Keeping the neighborhood vibe with the theme of a tiki bar is tricky: They’ll keep one pool table, for example, but also create individual huts that people can have more intimate exchanges in. They’ll host live music thanks to a partnership with 4th Street Vine’s Jim Ritson. But, as Gallo puts it, “There’s not question this is going to be 100 percent tiki.”
Gallo and Verduzco-Vega, knowing full well the niche-but-fanatic dedication of tiki culture’s followers, will not skimp on the details. Volcano water features. A drink program that will feature fresh ingredients headed by Brian Noonan and Dustin Rodriguez. An eventual full food menu but, for now, a focus on that drink program. The bar is being designed by none other than Bamboo Ben, Huntington Beach’s third-generation tiki bar builder and the man behind everything from San Francisco’s Zombie Village to Kansas City’s TikiCat, named the world’s best tiki bar.
And while the trend is one that is growing with wide acceptance—Beer Belly’s Thursday-through-Saturday tiki speakeasy hidden behind a wall proved Long Beach’s own admiration for the almighty tiki bar—it is somewhat odd to report that the city’s only dedicated tiki bar is about to open its doors.
Yes, we are as excited as you that this is happening. No questions. Zombies and mai tais for days.
But what makes it odd to report is the fact that Long Beach was once a tiki-rich town that had island-inspired watering holes, motels, and restaurants in practically every neighborhood—and it extends well past the the last attempt at a full-on tiki bar, the Puka Bar up on Willow Street that was open for five years before closing in 2011.
In fact, the Los Angeles region in general is important and largely considered the birthplace of the tiki bar with Don the Beachcomber opening in 1934 (though the history is nonetheless contested by some and, as it should be said loud and clear: The tiki bar is not an attempt at re-creating the South Pacific more than it was the very American ideal of bringing island-centric auras onto our nation’s soil. Think Disneyland’s romanticization of royalty but apply it to island living: A tiki bar let people escape without having to, well, actually get on a boat in the 1930s and travel to the South Pacific or Hawaii or…)
And Long Beach shares this history and Gallo plans on honoring that history.
“We are still working on the name—I know, I know: We plan on opening in March so I know we have to find a name,” Gallo said. “We were working with ¡Tiki Boom!… We even contemplated choosing Leilani Hut but we’re not entirely sold on either quite yet.”
Leilani Hut—once in the space that is now occupied by Legends—was the premiere destination for those visiting Belmont Shore. Its owner, Don May, was not only the honorary mayor of the Shore but was vastly involved in the city. (The famed floating Christmas trees? That was Don May.)
It was one of many tiki-driven destinations that were sprinkled throughout the neighborhoods of Long Beach.
Then there was the popular Java Lanes, the tiki-themed mid-mod architectural masterpiece that housed bowling lanes.
There was The Outrigger Motor Inn and other motels dedicated to the art of tiki culture (each with restaurants that offered some sort of Chinese cuisine, often Cantonese—like Leilani Hut—because Americans’ lack of geography skills and cultural awareness paired with the aforementioned desire to create an “escape”—and at the time, the variety of Chinese foods finding their homes in the Chinatowns across the nation was the most exotic cuisine one could get.)
The main bar for Long Beach’s sole tiki bar, set to open on Anaheim Street. Courtesy of Brett Gallo.
And perhaps most revered is Eddie’s Pago Pago at 131 E. First St. in Downtown Long Beach. Opening in the 1940s, it harkened to the Tonga Room in San Francisco with both staged raining sessions inside the lounge and a decadent array of interior design.
And like the rest of the country, tikis fell out of vogue, with their decline hitting the bottom of the well by the 1970s. Was drinking out of elaborately crafted skull mugs just not cool or did the reality of the Vietnam War—a tropical paradise turned into a war zone—pervert the fantasy of the tiki’s escapism?
Either way, with America’s love for cocktails moving beyond two ingredients paired with sharp political tension, a tiki bar might just be the perfect escape.
Long Beach’s to-be-named tiki bar will be located at 3522 E. Anaheim St.
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