Old Town Orange – Classic Cars, Soda Shops & Tikis

Whenever I’m in Old Town Orange, I feel like I’ve stepped into the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It has an old-fashioned small-town feel that you would never think you’d find in Southern California. Disneyland and its reproduction of an idealized Main Street are just five miles away, but lovers of vintage Americana will find the real deal right here.

Walking distance from Chapman University, Orange is apparently the only city in the county built around a plaza. The space was turned into a park in 1887, and the fountain was replaced with a “new” one in 1937. The neighborhood is particularly notable for the many pre-1940 buildings and homes that have been preserved. (Therefore even the two Starbucks locations in the plaza actually look kind of neat.)

This sign for Rod’s Plaza Beverages was one of my favorites. The Old Town Orange Historic District is lined with antique malls and vintage shops, restaurants and Watson’s, which is The OC’s oldest operating soda fountain and featured as a film set in “That Thing You Do.”

And right next door to Watson’s is a branch of the World Travel agency, where I happened to spot some tikis and a United Airlines Aunty Menehune figurine in the display window.

Just as tikis help sell jacuzzis at the fair (via the idea of creating an island paradise at your home), we have these tikis tempting you to an exotic getaway. Well, they caught my attention anyway.

Although, I nearly walked right past them because I was too busy checking out this beauty. Classic car owners love to cruise around these streets, especially on Sundays. (There’s also an annual show in April.)

This guy gets bonus points in my book for having a dashboard hula girl!

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Tiki Night at the Egyptian Theatre: Bird of Paradise

Even with the dreaded “Carmageddon” happening over the weekend, there was no way I was going to miss the annual Tiki Night at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. We were prepared to take the subway (free that weekend!), but the gridlock warning turned out to be a bust so we did the typical Angeleno thing and drove instead.

Ukulele Dave kicked things off with some lovely Hawaiian melodies and there were tempting things to buy from tiki vendors like Eric October.

King Kukulele and the Friki Tikis even had a special song written for Carmageddon, to the tune of “Viva Las Vegas.” Their little band of hecklers really adds to the show, kind of like Martin and Lewis.

This year’s format was different than previous events. The catered picnic-style dinner was out and guests were encouraged to order from Maui and Sons, a surfwear-inspired restaurant that opened in the courtyard earlier this year.

I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they ran out of proper glassware and don’t normally serve non-beer beverages in Dos Equis glasses.

Also new for this year was a “tiki fashion show” featuring the costumes of the Polynesian Paradise Dancers.

Richard Sherman, the composer of The Enchanted Tiki Room theme song, was supposed to be at the event but apparently there was a scheduling conflict. Instead, the show started with a tribute to Wally Boag, who provided the voice for Jose and wrote most of the script for the attraction.

He also performed as Pecos Bill in literally thousands of shows with Betty Taylor at Disneyland’s Golden Horseshoe stage, and Steve Martin credits him as an early comedic inspiration. We watched part of this very entertaining clip from a 1962 episode of “The Wonderful World of Disney.”

The main event was a screening of “Bird of Paradise” from 1951, a South Seas drama filmed in Hawaii several years before the islands were even a state. Debra Paget is captivating as the Princess Kalua, although she barely says a word, mostly batting her technicolor blue eyes. (Oh, and there were some tikis in the movie, too.)

Trader Vic’s Los Angeles – L.A. Live Downtown

While many major cities lack even one Trader Vic’s, Los Angeles is lucky enough to have two! (Sort of. The Beverly Hills “lounge” is a story for another time.) This is one of the newer locations of this historic tiki chain—it opened in 2009 in the LA LIVE complex downtown.

Being so close to Staples Center, the bar is the perfect spot for a postgame drink—win or lose. Suffering Bastards are particularly popular when it’s the latter. Happy hour is Monday through Friday from 3 p.m.-6 p.m., offering discounted appetizers and a handful of $6 cocktails (Mai Tai, Bahia, Navy Grog, etc.).

The dining room does an elegant take on tiki decor, with high, angled ceilings, lots of bamboo, lanterns, green booths, green Chinese tiles and beautiful tapa cloth covering some of the walls. It’s a lovely oasis amid all the glass and steel of downtown.

I always try the signature drink for each location, here it’s the Big Kahuna ($12) made with light rum, undisclosed fruit juices, passionfruit, grenadine and brandy. Even better, you can order it in a Tiki Farm mug specially designed for Trader Vic’s LA. We also opted for the Peach Tree Punch ($10), a sweet slushie-like drink with light rum, peach, orange and coconut

It’s widely assumed that the food at tiki spots usually doesn’t compare to the quality of the drinks, but Trader Vic’s has a reputation for serving pretty good grub. The meal starts off in a unique way, with bread and peanut butter!

The Bongo Bongo soup ($8) is a classic Trader Vic’s dish, and according to Jeff Berry’s Taboo Table, this velouté of oysters and spinach was inspired by a special type of clam the Maori ate in New Zealand. It kind of looks like a swamp and it has a very distinct flavor that’s not for everyone, but I liked it.

Mr. Baseball is a bit of a pyromaniac so he loved that the Beef Cho Cho ($11) was served with a mini hibachi to finish cooking the seared steak with soy sake sauce.

And what could be a better follow-up to meat than…more meat? He thought the wasabi crusted filet mignon ($32) was well-prepared but he wasn’t so crazy about the smoked Asian ratatouille. It looks like they’ve added Hawaiian spiced fries to this item since we dined there awhile back.

I was really blown away by the chai tea duck with yam-scallion puree, long beans and sherry ginger reduction ($24). It was so tender and flavorful. Overall we had a wonderful meal and our server couldn’t have been nicer.

Trader Vic’s has also teamed up with the Regal Cinemas at LA LIVE to offer a dinner and a movie special that includes a three-course meal and movie ticket for $30 per person, just in case you needed yet another reason to get down there.

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UPDATE: Sadly, Trader Vic’s LA closed March 18, 2014.