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

Lions and Tigers and Pin-Ups, Oh My! – Jungle Drums by Shag

Corey Helford Gallery downtown

The artist Shag (aka Josh Agle) has a new solo show, Jungle Drums, at the Corey Helford Gallery through February 13, 2016. But before you jump in your car to head for Culver City, you must know that the gallery has moved to a new space in the industrial Arts District of downtown LA.

Shag Jungle Drums

Before you browse the art, you should watch Eric Minh Swenson’s two videos on display in the entrance area (or check them out online). “Shag: My Tiki Cup Runneth Over” gives a glimpse at Shag’s collection of tiki mugs and carvings.

Shag's pin-up inspiration

Meanwhile, “Shag: Jungle Drums” presents some background on the show, including a look at the main source of inspiration: a set of vintage 1950s pin-up decals “in all their politically incorrect glory” that Shag found at a thrift store in his formative younger years.

Jungle Drums art show

One of Shag’s challenges for his first show in this new location was utilizing the “airplane hangar”-like space, so he designed these tall “spirit totems” peeking out behind this wall-sized piece. I like how subjects from his art often show up again in 3D form. (Even the stylized skull tiki torches were made tangible in a collaboration with Mod Fab Group to make the “Skorch.”)

Bunny and the Beasts by Shag

In the show’s artist statement, Shag says: “In the decades since, I’ve seen women reclaim the Pin-up Girl aesthetic: strong, tattooed models and independent female photographers have revived and revitalized the genre and turned themselves into pop culture stars.” This theme of empowerment is represented in “Bunny and the Beasts,” an idealized vision of a 1950s shoot with pin-up photographer “Bunny” Yeager and the iconic Bettie Page.

Primal Cuts by Shag

“Primal Cuts” is the largest painting in the show, clocking in at nine feet long. The female revelers are attired as panthers and their “man-eating” capabilities illustrated by the butcher chart emblazoned on the brown jacket of the man on the far right. (This reminded me of “Predators and Prey” from the 2012 show “Animal Kingdom.”)

close-up of Primal Cuts by Shag

A print of “Primal Cuts” was just made available for purchase online, and Shag: The Store Palm Springs is hosting a release party on February 13th. (Shag is also participating in a few other events during Palm Springs Modernism Week, including a fundraiser cocktail party at the recently restored Caliente Tropics hotel.)

Living room by Modernica Props

The highlight for me is this mid-century modern dream of a living room outfitted by Modernica Props. (It should come as no surprise that they’ve worked with “Mad Men,” amongst many other TV shows.)

Pinup with Tiger and Spirit Mask by Shag

This is also where visitors first encounter Shag’s series of tributes to those jungle pin-ups, each posed with a wild animal and a “spirit mask.” (I’m guessing they weren’t called “tikis” since they’re not in a Polynesian environment?)

Shag spirit masks

Corey Helford Gallery is open from 12 p.m.-6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. The address is on Anderson Street, but you’ll actually find the entrance and fenced-in parking lot by turning right onto Willow Street. The paintings can also be seen on the gallery’s website, but I highly recommend seeing this setup in person if you can.

Corey Helford Gallery
571 S. Anderson St.
Los Angeles, CA 90033
310-287-2340

Don the Beachcomber featured at “To Live and Dine in L.A.” Menu Exhibit

Entrance to To Live and Dine in LA

Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt essentially created the concept of what would later be called tiki bars when he opened Don’s Beachcomber Café in Hollywood in the 1930s. Naturally, he’s an important figure in tiki, but it was interesting to see him acknowledged in the overall Los Angeles restaurant scene at the Central Library’s recent exhibit “To Live and Dine in L.A.: Menus from the Collection of the Los Angeles Public Library.”

Green tables at To Live and Dine in LA

It was set up so that you could sit down at tables to admire the vintage menus under the glass. Each area corresponded to a theme — cafeteria-style counters for Clifton’s, a round table with a lazy susan stocked with condiments for Chinese restaurants, etc. — but all were painted neon green to provide some continuity.

Cruise line menu

In the section “Feasts, Balls & Banquets,” we saw some of the collection’s earliest menu specimens, which go as far back as 1875. According to curator Josh Kun, “The banquet tradition extended everywhere, from the SS City of Los Angeles [1930] steamer cruise to Hawaii, where you could feast on poi alongside spiced fig fritters.”

Don the Beachcomber 1941 menu

A 1941 menu for Don the Beachcomber was included under “The Menu as Map” as an example to illustrate “…how restaurants subjectively envisioned the borders and limits of the city that surrounded them…(what was on their maps was just as important as what was left off).” This cover draws a connection (literally and figuratively) between Hollywood and the Polynesian islands across the ocean that inspired the restaurant.

Don the Beachcomber

Don the Beachcomber was also featured among the restaurant photos plastered on the walls, along with other iconic spots like Bob’s Big Boy, Tail O’ The Pup and The Tamale.

Kelbo's menu

I also spotted the menu for Kelbo’s, a Hawaiian bar-b-q restaurant that was famous for its ribs and eclectic decor. (It shouldn’t be that surprising that a longtime employee of Kelbo’s was part of the family that started dear, departed Bahooka.)

Zamboanga

Previously unknown to me was Zamboanga, a nightclub that “tried to represent its vague ‘South Seas’ theme and Philippines namesake by turning its menu [circa 1940s] into a tailless pipe-smoking monkey.” (Tiki Central has a couple interesting threads on this spot with some lovely photos of the bamboo-filled space as well as context for the un-politically correct origin of the name and logo.)

A "My LA Menu" submission

Visitors to the exhibit were encouraged to put together their own “ultimate L.A. menu” to represent the city. Of the dozens up on display, I noticed this one mentioned their ideal appetizers and drinks as fried shrimp, spareribs and a Mai Tai from Don the Beachcomber. What would your ideal L.A. menu be?

To Live and Dine in LA

The exhibit has already concluded, but you can pick up the companion book To Live and Dine in L.A.: Menus and the Making of the Modern City by Josh Kun.