Tiki is about to blow up.
We already have a number of great tiki bars in L.A., as well as all the history to back it up (the tiki craze started here, back in the '30s). But I sense a resurgence, a murmuring among the bar folks I know that suggests a growing fascination with tiki culture. A tiki renaissance is coming.
To help aid and abet this phenomenon, I thought I'd take a peek into the LAPL collection and see if there was much in the way of inspiration for folks who might want to see the great tiki menus of the past. As usual, the collection didn't disappoint. Here are 5 great historical tiki menus to get your tropical creative juices flowing.
5. Tonga Lei
The Tonga Lei in Malibu opened in 1961, a motel and restaurant and tiki lounge on the ocean, next to the Maliby pier. It was demolished in the late '80s to make way for a modern beachfront resort, at which time the tiki component was branded Don the Beachcomber. But this menu, from the '70s, still advertised the restaurant and drinks lounge as Tonga Lei. Check out the drink names, including the “suffering bastard.”
The literature accompanying the drinks at Kelbo's, a Hawaiian-themed restaurant that opened one location at 11434 W. Pico in 1947 and a second in 1950 at 101 N. Fairfax, is probably more exciting than the drinks themselves. Behold, the grand literature of tiki:
With this initial copy of our drink list, we are inviting you and your friends to join us in the pioneering of a new field of pleasurable, exotic drinking and in the initiation of several more Kelbo's “firsts” : For the first time — anywhere in the world — the featuring of Tropical Gin and Vodka drinks in such a grand scale, novel manner and on a par with rum…For the first tim — “Tropkols” — our name given to certain of our select cocktail sand punches where we use a combination of our premium tropical ingredients with rare spirits to bring out the ultimate in taste treat… For the fist time — publicly presented — the use of “Fresh Hawaiian Passion Fruit Juice” ( mentioned in Biblical times) with tropical drinks. A continental United States first ! For the first time — fresh Hawaiian Guava and Papaya Fruit Nectars publicly acknowledged as drect credit in helping make our tropical drinks so refreshing above others.
3. Trader Vic's
Of course, you can still visit Trader Vic's, downtown and in other locations around the city and the country. But the above menu is from the original Oakland Trader Vics in 1941, and shows a tiki menu near the very birth of the genre. As is traditional with tiki, the descriptions are much more poetry than they actually are a listing of what's in the drink. I love the Bloody Mary description: “Lots of people drink it, personally I think it stinks.”
This touchstone of tiki culture in L.A. just closed only a few months ago. The menu the in the LAPL collection is from 1972, shortly after the restaurant and bar moved from West Covena to Rosemead. Why knew you could get a Singapore sling for $0.95 in 1972?
1. Don the Beachcomber
There's no way to talk about tiki at all, let alone in L.A., without talking about Don The Beachcomber, which opened in Hollywood in 1934 at 1722 N. McCadden Place, right off of Hollywood Boulevard. Its owner, Donn Beach, is credited with inventing the genre, which was the result of his many travels around the Caribbean and South Pacific. There are still restaurants operating today with this name, but the original is long gone, as are the ones that came closely after.
The above menu is from 1941. I decided to go with the beautiful artwork here rather than the drinks list, which is similar to the other menus. If you could capture the sense of adventure in a glass that this menu conveys, you'd get to the heart of the spirit of tiki.
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