Five years ago, when the Tiki Ti celebrated its 50th anniversary, the line to get into the tiny Los Feliz bar stretched down Sunset and around the block until well after midnight. Today, for its 55th anniversary party, some die-hard fans are planning to get in line at noon (the bar opens at 4 p.m.). After all, when you’re a hand-built shack that has survived more than a half-century on nothing but stiff drinks, snack mix and heavy smoking, birthdays are a big deal.
Tonight (and into tomorrow), from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., the Tiki Ti will celebrate the big 5-5 with live ukulele music, a raffle, plenty of Tiki Rum Punch and an inevitably packed house. They’re also selling a $30 55th-anniversary commemorative tiki glass.
The space maxes out at around 50 patrons. After that, it’s one-in-one-out. Pablo’s Crazy Tacos will be parked outside to cater to drinkers lucky enough to make it inside tonight for a Ray’s Mistake (the bar’s most popular drink), Uga Booga or Blood and Sand (both orders that come with loud crowd participation and extra booze).
The bar’s owners — Michael and his sons, Mike and Mark — will be slinging drinks that were originally created by Ray, Michael’s father and the man who hand-built the Tiki Ti structure and opened the bar in 1961.
Ray’s story is rich. One of four Filipino bartenders at Hollywood’s first tiki bar, he worked at nearly every important post-Prohibition, island-themed bar in Los Angeles. He also mixed cocktails for Old Hollywood stars at the Dresden when it first opened. Ray died in 1999, just before his 90th birthday, but his legacy, and his drink recipes, are still strong.
Last night, Tiki Ti closed early to prep for tonight’s celebrations. But at around 6 p.m., it was slammed with regulars, first-timers and vacationers. The revelry already had begun.
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The owner of the Shameful Tiki Room in Vancouver was enjoying a Ray’s Mistake out of a boob-shaped glass. He and his friends flew down from Canada yesterday just for Tiki Ti’s 55th (they came for the 50th, too). They’ll be there again tonight, obviously. You can spot them by looking for the giant traveling penguin perched on the bar next to them.
Tiki Ti always feels like the happiest place on Earth — there’s some sort of magical joy potion mixed into those fruity, slushy, boozy drinks.
One note: If you haven’t been to Tiki Ti in a while, you’ll notice a major difference at this party. The infamously smoky spot finally banned indoor smoking just under a year ago. Comforting cigar smoke still wafts in through the door, but the air is noticeably cleaner. So breathe deep, drink hard and wish this little shack a very happy birthday.
Tiki Ti, 4427 Sunset Blvd., Los Feliz; (323) 669-9381, tiki-ti.com.