We’ve passed through Ventura many times driving on the 101 from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, but we were never really compelled to stop by this coastal town until VenTiki Tiki Lounge & Lanai came along.
This new tiki bar in Ventura opened its thatched A-frame entrance to the public in July 2013. Owners Scott Noble and his cousin Stacey grew up visiting Polynesian-inspired restaurants and, along with their friend Kari Lewis, they’ve created their own slice of tiki paradise.
The smallish bar area inside has some classic elements of tiki décor, including bamboo, lauhala matting on the walls, netted fish float lamps and a tiki (carved by VonTiki, who also made the one outside). The TV behind the bar is often tuned to suitably tropical-themed entertainment like “Gilligan’s Island” and “Swiss Family Robinson.”
Meanwhile, there’s also a mid-century modern/vintage-style vibe from the hexagonal bar shelves, pop of bright orange paint, Witco wooden sword and resin chunk lamps (made by Nelson’s Tiki Hut). My favorite feature may be these borders filled in with pieces of bamboo in various sizes. That’s something I don’t think I’ve seen before.
I’d say the best seats in the house are at the bar, though it’s tempting to enjoy the sunshine on the pet-friendly patio. There are rattan tables and chairs plus an elevated little seating alcove among the palm trees, tiki torches and a neat blue rock firepit that must look neat at night.
Behind this volcanic rock waterfall with a Moai at the top is a mural based on the menu art from Zombie Village in Oakland, CA. (The maiden was originally topless like the source material, but a flower lei for modesty had to be added because some locals complained, apparently.)
VenTiki’s cocktail menu features 11 “Classic Tiki” drinks, with each credited to its inventor, place of origin and year created — a little history lesson with your rum. The Mai Tai ($11) is based on Trader Vic’s 1944 recipe, and it’s exemplary. Another favorite of mine is the Lapu Lapu ($12), here made with Ron Matusalem Clasico, Whaler’s Dark Rum, passion fruit, pineapple and citrus.
There are also several “Modern Tiki” drinks unique to VenTiki with wonderfully evocative names like Lagoon of Forbidden Desire and Voodoo Temptress of the Seven Pleasures. I snapped this photo too late to capture the effect, but the Altar of Sacrifice ($10) is presented with a float of Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters that drips down like blood. (It also tastes quite good in addition to looking cool.)
Everyone who completes the VenTiki Challenge by drinking their way through the menu — and having the bartenders stamp a card to prove it — gets a T-shirt, VenTiki coconut mug (produced by Tiki Farm) and a mini drink umbrella to personalize and put behind the bar. The first 100 people to finish will also be honored with their name on a plaque. A fair amount of imbibers have already accomplished this so I have some catching up to do. (Tiki tOny designed the logo tiki that appears on the card as well as on the souvenir Mai Tai glasses, T-shirts and hoodies available for purchase.)
A new chef is running the kitchen so the food offerings have evolved a bit. Build-your-own burgers, sushi and a few more poke variations have recently been added to the menu of pupus, salads and torta sandwiches with kahlua pork, salmon or seared tuna. The latter come with a choice of sides: macaroni salad, potato salad, pineapple coleslaw, Hawaiian chips or sticky rice.
I think I would have been a bigger fan of the Cali Poke Bowl ($16.95) if the chopped ahi tuna had been marinated more like traditional Hawaiian poke. Sabu’s Coconut Chicken Skewers ($9.95) should be familiar to frequenters of Tiki Central, though here they’re served with a “secret tiki sauce” and seem to be missing the curry flavor from the original recipe. (Not a complaint — just an observation.)
We were trying to decide on one of the sushi rolls, and they recommended the eel roll ($11.95), a tasty combination of blue crab and mango topped with eel, avocado and eel sauce. I also couldn’t resist getting an order of the Kraken salmon sushi ($4.95) so I could sample the Kraken rum sweet soy sauce.
Cast all dietary cares aside and dig into the loco moco ($9.95), that infamous Hawaiian dish made with sticky rice, Spam, two eggs and brown sauce. I prefer my loco moco with runnier eggs and thicker gravy, but the sambal chile sauce gives this version a nice kick.
There are “Tsunami Warnings” aka happy hour Mon.-Fri. from 4 p.m.-6 p.m. (and all day Tuesdays) with half off Mai Tais, Modern Tiki drinks and appetizers (except the pepper seared tuna). Keep an eye on the VenTiki Facebook page to hear about nightly specials like Magnum Mondays and Beachbum Wednesdays plus events like the recent VenTiki Whip Weekend. (They served up their own version of Dole Whip in a float with Whaler’s Dark Rum and pineapple juice. If only the Enchanted Tiki Room could do the same!)
Hopefully I’ve convinced you that VenTiki is worth a detour, if not a dedicated roadtrip. It’s just an hour-long drive from LA — provided the tiki gods don’t curse you with bad traffic.
Another bonus? Within stumbling distance of VenTiki is the beach and the Ventura Pier. Just walk south on Ash Street for a few blocks and you’ll find the pedestrian bridge over the freeway to the beach.
VenTiki Tiki Lounge & Lanai
701 E. Main St.
Ventura, CA 93001