Preview of Pacific Seas Tiki Bar at Clifton’s Cafeteria – Los Angeles

Clifton's Cafeteria in LA

Los Angeles has some of the oldest and greatest tiki bars in the country, but the opening of Pacific Seas has still been much anticipated. (It’s officially on Saturday night!) There was talk that a tiki bar would be part of the revival of LA’s historic Clifton’s since Andrew Meieran, the nightlife entrepreneur behind The Edison, purchased the last surviving location of the cafeteria chain in 2010.

Monarch Bar at Clifton's

After undergoing a massive renovation, the multi-level bastion of kitsch and comfort food finally re-opened in Fall 2015 — but with no sign of a tiki bar yet. That didn’t stop Clifton’s from becoming one of my favorite places in LA, with its faux woodsy wonderland atmosphere (and Art Deco style mugs shaped like an owl and bear, manufactured by Tiki Farm and designed by The Pizz and Thor, respectively).

Gothic Bar at Clifton's

I was lucky enough to attend a preview night for Pacific Seas last week. To get there, we were instructed to go up the staircase to the third floor that houses the moody Gothic Bar (pictured) and The Brookdale room, then seek out the speakeasy-style entrance “through the looking glass.” Once you venture past the mirrored door, you’ll continue up even more stairs and past a vintage phonebooth (for a second I thought it might be like the secret door at Tonga Hut Palm Springs, but no) to arrive in tiki paradise.

The Map Room at Pacific Seas

The bar is named after the long-gone founding branch of Clifford Clinton’s “cafeteria of the golden rule,” where those suffering from the Great Depression could pay whatever they wanted for a meal (nothing, in many cases). In 1939, that location was given a tropical makeover and dubbed Clifton’s Pacific Seas. The first thing you’ll see in this modern tribute is the Deco Map Room, a “departure lounge” to this world of fantasy, featuring a gorgeous mural from Sammy Beam.

Bahooka relics at Pacific Seas

It feels somewhat bittersweet to browse around the space, because everywhere you look you’ll see something from Bahooka. When that beloved nautical establishment shuttered in 2013, Andrew Meieran managed to snap up a lot of the artifacts, including humongous outriggers (26 feet long!) and other boats, tikis, netted fish floats and more. (But not poor Ruffus, alas.)

Bamboo Ben's decor at Pacific Seas

Responsible for putting all the pieces together was Bamboo Ben, who also outfitted the interiors for tiki bars such as Frankie’s Tiki Room in Las Vegas, Tiki No in North Hollywood and Forbidden Island in the Bay Area. With Pacific Seas, he’s really gone above and beyond. There are so many different carefully curated areas where patrons can settle in for a drink, from a table next to a shipwrecked boat on a rocky shore to the cozy “living room” (pictured) to the “chief’s hut” with an outrigger serving as a place for patrons to sit beneath the thatched overhang.

Vintage Clifton's ad and "spears"

The décor is a wonderful mix of old photographs, advertisements and relics (like original plaques and a slit gong) from Clifton’s Pacific Seas, flotsam and jetsam collected by Meieran throughout his travels, more amazing murals from Sammy Beam, contemporary carved tikis from folks like Jason Joffe and Smokin’ Tikis, and clever custom creations from Bamboo Ben, such as these “spearheads” made from classic car hood ornaments.

Bar and rum jail at Pacific Seas

Bamboo Ben also crafted the display area behind the bar out of pieces of antique rattan and bamboo furniture. To the right of the bar is the jail (from one of my favorite dining nooks in Bahooka) that will store bottles of rum for regulars. If you take a closer look, you’ll notice that the top piece is actually the wing of a DC-10.

Bar boat at Pacific Seas

Jutting out from the bar into the middle of the main room is an antique Chris Craft boat. A DJ was spinning tunes from it that night, and an acrobat showed off her balance skills on the foredeck.

Mermaid serenade at Pacific Seas

We were also entertained by Polynesian dancers performing on the stage as well as some artists from the avant-garde circus Lucent Dossier Experience, like this mermaid singing haunting tunes with a ukulele.

Chief's Hut at Pacific Seas

At the cafeteria on the ground floor, diners can nosh on traditional turkey dinners and jello, but up here you’ll choose from a completely different menu that includes reinvented versions of shrimp cocktail and pupu platters, along with larger plates like poached Maine lobster stuffed with scallop dynamite and avocado. We sampled coffee-rubbed steak and diced yellowtail with avocado on a rice cracker, but I don’t see those listed on the full menu uploaded by Eater LA.

Cocktails at Pacific Seas

For the media night, they offered three cocktails: Singapore Sling (gin, Cherry Heering, Benedictine, orange and Angostura bitters), Mai Tai (based on Trader Vic’s 1944 recipe with house-made orgeat, lime and Jamaican and Martinique rums) and Daiquiri (aged white rum with lime, apricot, cinnamon and orange bitters). Other classic tiki tipples (Navy Grog, Fog Cutter, Painkiller) will also be on the menu alongside a few original creations, all priced from $12-$14, except for the $40 four-person Scorpion Bowl and Bird of Paradise (a riff on the Jungle Bird).

Clifton's barrel mug

I adore these Pacific Seas coasters evoking the golden age of travel. Ceramic fanatics will want to take note of the custom barrel mugs emblazoned with “Clifton’s” (made by Tiki Farm). There are clamshell bowls that are not exclusive to Pacific Seas (though they are stamped with the name). I also saw a slew of other recent Tiki Farm mugs behind the bar, including Pau Hana Honu by BigToe and Marqo-Coco and Nari Rani Tiki Mug by Flounder.

Blackbeard's telescope at Pacific Seas

One last thing: Keep an eye out for the pirate Blackbeard’s telescope in one of the dioramas! Pacific Seas officially opens November 12th, and the hours will be Tuesday and Wednesday 5 p.m.-midnight, Thursday through Saturday 5 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Reservations can be made for parties of 10 or more.

Pacific Seas
4th Floor of Clifton’s Cafeteria
648 S. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014
213-627-1673

Get Bombed at The Bikini Lounge – Phoenix, AZ

Bikini Lounge exterior

Tiki is having its second (or third?) wind, with new spots still popping up, but few bars remain from its original heyday in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The Bikini Lounge opened in 1947, making it one of the oldest remaining tiki bars in the world — and the only vintage tiki bar left in Phoenix.

Interior

For decades, Bikini Lounge seems to have done just fine as a local’s dive, but since current owner Matt Tomb took over, he’s made an effort to preserve the bar’s history and bring in more tiki elements, including décor, drinks and mugs.

Tiki decor

Carved tikis, restored hanging bamboo lights, fluorescent-painted tapa print and local artist Tom Cooper’s contemporary tiki art (some of which is for sale) coexist among neon beer signs, a pool table and booths patched with duct tape.

Painting

The bartenders are a loyal bunch, and if you’re lucky, they might regale you with some stories about the bar’s history. They told us how this painting behind the bar was originally a nude, but then in the ’60s a grass skirt was added for a bit of modesty.

Internet jukebox

Bikini Lounge often hosts DJ nights starting at 10 p.m. — check their Facebook page to see the schedule. Before that, you can set the sonic mood yourself with the hulking internet jukebox by the entrance.

Patio

A door to the right of the pool table leads to the patio, which is populated with a picnic table and plastic lawn chairs. Tom Cooper recently added some tiki murals to spruce up the space. (I especially like that tiki with the glowing toothy grin.)

Cocktails

Everyone else seemed to be drinking pitchers of beer, but our crew insisted on ordering off the menu of tropical drinks. The dozen options include a Mai Tai (with pineapple juice, FYI), Blue Hawaiian, Painkiller and Scorpion, plus original concoctions like the Mr. Howell (coconut & spiced rums, mango puree, pineapple juice, sweet & sour). They’re not craft cocktails by any means, but it’s hard to complain too much when they’re priced between $6 and $7.50. Meanwhile, Maui Brewing Co.’s Coconut Porter and Tahitian lager Hinano bring some island influence to the beer choices.

Bikini Lounge mug

On New Year’s Eve 2015, Matt Tomb introduced the bar’s first custom tiki mug, the Laughing Moai, and followed up the next year with the Angry Samoan (a Tom Cooper design). Both of these $10 limited-edition mugs have since sold out. However, you can still purchase Bikini Ka Blammi ($50), a collaboration between Bikini Lounge and Jimmy Smith. The mushroom cloud sculpt references the bar’s namesake, the 1946 nuclear testing site. You can’t really get a sense from the photo but this is one hefty piece of ceramic — it holds 64 ounces.

Bikini Lounge in Phoenix

Comparing the tiki bars in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, Hula’s Modern Tiki may have better drinks and a full food menu, but Bikini Lounge has them beat when it comes to history and personality. It is open every day from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. and keep in mind that it’s cash only. The Grand Avenue arts district is lined with studios and galleries, but at night it feels industrial and rather desolate. (At least it’s not hard to find parking.)

Bikini Lounge
1502 Grand Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85007
602-252-0472

More Tiki Treasures – The “Collecting Disneyland” Auction

Disneyland auction at Van Eaton Galleries

One of my 2016 goals was to be more timely with my posts — obviously, I’m already slipping — but in the meantime I’ve got some catching up to do. Last February, the Van Eaton Galleries in Sherman Oaks presented “The Story of Disneyland,” a massive auction of Disneyland memorabilia (as covered in a previous blog), and it was so successful that they did it again in November.

Mad Tea Party concept art

The first auction was the stockpile of one person, while “Collecting Disneyland” featured items from more than 20 different collectors. They ranged from souvenirs and ephemera like popcorn boxes to concept art, cast member costumes, Imagineer prototypes and models, attraction posters and even ride vehicles.

Adventureland salt and pepper shakers

Some of the lots were repeats of things we’d seen in the last auction, like these Adventureland Moai salt and pepper shakers.

Indiana Jones hand

Among the more oddball items was this prop hand from the Indiana Jones animatronic figure in the final scene of the Indiana Jones Adventure attraction. Its value was estimated at $5,000-$7,000 but it went for $10,000.

Pirates of the Caribbean cups

I adore most things mid-century so I guess it shouldn’t have been surprising that I was drawn to the items from the 1960s, like this set of condiment jars themed to Pirates of the Caribbean ($2,250).

Disneyland suitcase

This 1960s canvas suitcase emblazoned with “I’m Going to Disneyland” ($2,250) was another of my favorite finds. The origin is a bit of a mystery — it’s unclear whether it was ever for sale at the park or of it was part of a store window display or other promotion.

Enchanted Tiki Room shield by Rolly Crump and more

Also towards the top of my wish list would have been this Enchanted Tiki Room shield ($6,500) molded after the ones Rolly Crump designed to surround the “magic fountain.” Apparently, it had been part of a juice stand at The Poly in the 1970s.

Enchanted Tiki Room art by Shag

More recent items up for auction included “One Enchanted Evening,” an original Shag painting ($15,000) created for the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room in 2003.

People Mover and more

What really made this exhibition special were the retired ride vehicles from the PeopleMover, Skyway and Space Mountain housed in a separate room next door. Visitors even had the opportunity to get in and take some photo ops. The PeopleMover vehicles (restored with the help of original designer Bob Gurr) were valued at $200,000-$300,000 but I didn’t see a final sale price, same for the Space Mountain car ($50,000-$60,000). In comparison, the Skyway bucket must have seemed like a bargain to the person who snagged it for $11,500.

Disneyland collectible

Alas, the auction has already come and gone, but you can still purchase the catalog for “Collecting Disneyland: An Exhibition and Auction” on Van Eaton Galleries’ web site for $30 for the softcover book and $95 for the hardcover (also includes the softcover).

Related Posts:

Tiki Treasures from The Story of Disneyland Exhibition & Auction