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

Like Disneyland for Adults: The Golden Tiki – Las Vegas

The Golden Tiki sign

With its rum-spiked Dole Whip and profanity-spouting animatronic skeleton, The Golden Tiki in Las Vegas is like Disneyland designed for adults. It’s even sprinkled with tributes to (and/or props from) Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, Indiana Jones, Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion.

Bar

The driving force behind this tiki bar, which opened in August 2015, was Vegas marketing and nightlife impresario Branden Powers. (Back in the ’90s in San Diego, he spun exotica tunes for weekly events at the Hanalei Hotel’s Islands Restaurant, before it was gutted.)

The Golden Tiki is sandwiched in a seemingly endless strip mall called The Center at Spring Mountain in Chinatown, which is only a couple miles west of The Strip.

Outpost near entrance

The fantastic décor was masterminded by Tiki Diablo, whose previous projects include the Tonga Hut Palm Springs (and its secret tiki room) and Mission Tiki Drive-in Theater in Montclair. Billy the Crud devoted half a year to making masks, carvings and more for the bar.

After entering through a lava rock cave serenaded by the familiar refrain of “Yo ho, yo ho, a pirates life for me,” you’ll find yourself next to a trading outpost (future souvenir stand) stocked with curiosities like The Chachapoyan Fertility Idol.

Headhunters Village

The design incorporates the legend of the Golden Tiki, which you can read on the back of the menu (or on the website). It’s the story of Captain William Tobias Faulkner, who flees from vengeful pirates and lands on Skull Island, reputedly populated by Cyclops who melted down treasure in a volcano to make the Golden Tiki. His crew is attacked by inhospitable natives, as represented by the “Headhunter Village” on the left. Three booths, each able to sit at least six, are adorned with skulls, spears and other weapons, as well as masks from Oceanic Arts, the famed tropical warehouse in Southern California.

Along the wall is a shell waterfall reminiscent of the one from the aforementioned Hanalei Hotel. Meanwhile, the backs of the bar chairs feature Bosko carvings that correspond to each area’s theme (skulls, cyclops or seahorses).

Golden Tiki interior

If you walk straight in instead, you’ll find tall tables along the wall below A-frames and custom black velvet paintings that also illustrate this backstory. Behind the bar is a large thatched hut with a tiki drummer from the Enchanted Tiki Room perched on top. You’ll also notice the illuminated face of “Goldy,” an animated special effect contributed by “Irk” Hedman. A faux night sky stretches over all this space with twinkling LED stars and bursts of fireworks.

(I hear there used to be TVs behind the bar, so I was happy to see that they’ve since been cleverly concealed…though there is still one remaining screen on the rear wall next to the DJ booth.)

Mermaid's Cove

The tale continues with the Captain being saved by seductive sirens. “Mermaid Cove” is portrayed by this giant pink clamshell bathed in a fluid lighting effect to illustrate the “Diamond Falls” (where Faulkner discovers and steals the Golden Tiki). It’s a popular spot to pose for photos, so I had to continue the tradition.

This corner has a small raised platform where live bands occasionally perform. (The Golden Tiki has been open for less than a year, but they are already looking to expand into the space next door to create the “Cyclops Burial Ground” and a larger stage.)

Skeleton

Finally, you’ll reach the “Pirate’s Lair.” Moored in the middle of the room is a ship with the skeleton of Faulkner, who wasted away gazing in wonder at the Golden Tiki. Periodically, he comes to life and regales those seated on the surrounding banquettes. (I guess dead men do tell tales…)

Adjacent to this room is the hall of curiosity (also the corridor to the restrooms). It’s worth a wander even if you’re not in need of the facilities.

Dole Whip with rum

Dole Whip, that frosty pineapple treat people line up for at the Enchanted Tiki Room, can be ordered on its own for $6, as a float with pineapple juice for $9 or with Coruba dark rum for $11.

Banana Batida, Painkiller, Golden Tiki

Dole Whip even makes its way into some of the drinks, like the Banana Batida (left) and The Painkiller (middle), where it stands in for the pineapple juice. Aside from that, they stay faithful to the recipe for this litigious libation with Pusser’s Rum, coconut cream, orange and grated nutmeg on top.

The other cocktails range from tiki classics (Mai Tai, Navy Grog, Three Dots and a Dash, Jungle Bird) to original creations that incorporate Asian flavors like lemongrass and Thai basil. For example, the signature Golden Tiki features five spice syrup along with Jamaican rum, Michter’s rye, apricot liqueur, ginger and mango.

Drinks

Of the drinks we sampled, my favorites were probably the Painkiller and the Kokonut Sunrise (left), made with tequila, mezcal, honey syrup, pineapple and homemade grenadine. If you prefer something that’s not as sweet, the Hotel Nacional (middle) may be up your alley. The Honey Mango Java Punch (right) is interesting, though I’m not a huge fan of bringing coffee liqueur into the mix.

Most of the cocktails are priced at $11, but there also are a few bowls (Scorpion and Zombie Punch), Martinique Ti’ Punch prepared tableside from a cart, and the $500 Treasure Chest that comes with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne and Appleton Estate 12 Year Jamaican Rum (the tiki equivalent of bottle service, I suppose).

Menu

Tiki Farm mugs are available for purchase for $29 (including the drink), but the ones pictured on the menu have since sold out. Instead, they offer some of the other recently released designs, like the Marqo-Coco and Lightning.

Upcoming mugs for The Golden Tiki

However, The Golden Tiki is working on some unique signature designs for mugs, including one featuring Tiki Diablo’s sculpt of the logo tiki from Doug Horne’s menu cover art, as well as a Cyclops sipper from Tom Thordarson (aka Thor). The former should be available in March.

The Golden Tiki

In true Las Vegas style, The Golden Tiki is open 24 hours (same as Frankie’s Tiki Room, the other must-visit tiki bar in town). Food isn’t served here except during happy hour (Monday through Friday 2 p.m.-6 p.m.) when there is a free mini-buffet of Chinese food (chicken wings, egg rolls, potstickers), plus $5 Mai Tais and $1 off all drinks. (The drink specials are also available weeknights from 4 a.m.-8 a.m.)

Check out their Facebook page for a heads up on DJs (cover charges sometimes apply after 8 p.m.), live music, burlesque shows, etc.

The Golden Tiki
3939 Spring Mountain Rd.
Las Vegas, NV 89102
702-222-3196