Tuesday 03 July, 2012

Transformed By Tiki Temptation at Tonga Hut

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On this US Independence Day holiday, I can’t think of any better way to pay tribute to the “Spirit of ’76” than to talk about one of the most original, purely American institutions: The Tiki Bar. Yes, despite the fact that, on the surface, Tiki bars may seem like an imported adaptation of another culture, […]




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2012-06-16_19-29-57_275On this US Independence Day holiday, I can't think of any better way to pay tribute to the "Spirit of '76" than to talk about one of the most original, purely American institutions: The Tiki Bar. Yes, despite the fact that, on the surface, Tiki bars may seem like an imported adaptation of another culture, they really are purely American exotica, tribute to a native Pacific Islander culture that may never have actually existed in quite the way it been interpreted (certainly not with such temple of inebrietion). Regardless, though the culture of cocktails is now a worldwide phenomena, there's just nothing quite like a vintage, genuine American Tiki bar.

I’ve been driving by the Tonga Hut, nestled in the mid-San Fernando Valley, for years, meaning to stop in and check out this iconically alluring vintage Tiki dive. But according to one of the current owners (who happened to be at the bar when I finally did), it’s a good thing I waited. Because while the circa 1958 bar on Victory Blvd. east of Coldwater Canyon may have always had the monstrous totem by the door, alluring waterfall behind the bar, naked lady velvet paintings and somewhat unique “drooling bastard” statue indoors, it turns out it didn’t really serve Trader Vic-style tropical drinks. Or at least, not anymore. Until a group of Tiki-obsessed folks bought it in the last two years and decided to restore it to its (perhaps) former glory, adding a swinger’s pad fireplace, huts over the booths, and more.

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Marie's the name of my latest (mixology) flame.

Now, the bar offers a somewhat exhaustive selection of some 78 tropical drinks, many original, served with style and still somehow under $10 a tipple. Consider me impressed. Their bloody mary is built like a salad bowl (they pickle their own asparagus!) and bartender Marie’s originals like the Bermuda Dunes, hit the complex citrus and tropical flavor notes without excessive sweetness. I’m a fan.

Still, I’m not sure if I’m quite up to the challenge of joining the Loyal Order of the Drooling Bastard. That takes some dedication. The requirements? Only that you finish at least one of each of the 78 tiki drinks on the regular menu—yes, including the monstrous Scorpion Bowl--which will not only offer you a place of honor in their hearts (and probably a custom-molded barstool) but also a carved-wood plaque on the wall next to Mr. DB himself. Should I point out that Drooling Bastard shares initials with the legendary Don the Beachcomber? I guess I just did.

Tonga Hut


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