I already like The Beachcomber Cafe in Malibu on its own merits, but its crown jewel is The Tonga Lei Room, located at the end of the bar in the building next to the restaurant.
This little enclave of tiki fabulousness can be reserved for private parties of up to 10, but we’ve had the pleasure of dining there for lunch and on slow winter nights. (The full menu is offered.)
This Bamboo Ben (Frankie’s Tiki Room, Forbidden Island) project pays tribute to the Tonga Lei, a tiki restaurant and motel from the ’60s portrayed in that framed picture. (He even incorporated the signature font into the signage.)
When I met Bamboo Ben last week, he told me that if you look out the window pictured above, you can actually see where the old Tonga Lei used to be before it was turned into a branch of Don the Beachcomber. It’s now the Malibu Beach Inn.
Towards the bottom of this Maori tiki it reads: “No Push Button – Make Tiki Gods Angry.” So what happens when you push the button? I guess you’ll just have to go and find out!
The whole room is wired with a sound system so you can set the mood with exotica music, though you’ll most likely have to make a special request to the staff. (On one visit it took a lot of tinkering for them to get it to switch from the sports station!)
As if there wasn’t already enough to look at, the glass tabletop displays shells and ephemera like postcards and swizzle sticks from various tiki spots and Hawaiian landmarks.
I love this place so much that we came here for my birthday lunch, and one of the new things I tried was The Bootlegger made with banana rum, orange and pineapple juices ($9). I’m not a banana fan so it wasn’t my favorite, what I really wanted was the accompanying mug, which is designed to look like a rum running crate. Crystal Cove, where the other Beachcomber Cafe can be found, has historical ties to that era. (For more, see my post on The Bootlegger Bar.)
Editor’s Note: Unfortunately the Beachcomber Cafe in Malibu, and therefore the Tonga Lei Room, closed at the end of 2011. The Beachcomber Cafe in Crystal Cove (Orange County) remains open.