Saying Goodbye to Bahooka

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It’s always a bummer when tiki bars shut down, but hearing last month that Bahooka would be closing was a particularly tough blow (as you might have been able to tell from all my tweets on the subject).

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It was such a unique place with its mazelike corridors and intimate booths surrounded by fish tanks. (See my previous review for more photos of their nautical style.)

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The owners said they wanted to sell due to an illness in the family and wanting to retire. Word on the street is the space is going to be turned into a new restaurant, which would be better than a parking lot as was also rumored. The fish tanks are supposed to stay but the tiki stuff is going. The Bahooka owners are also keeping the rights to the name with the intent to start selling their signature salad dressing. (UPDATE: The building’s fate is apparently in limbo again…)

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Bahooka had long been a special occasion spot for local families, and they turned out in full force to say farewell. The response was so great that the restaurant stopped taking reservations a few days after announcing the closing. I snagged one for Saturday, March 9th, the night before they were supposed to officially close. (Although they ended up deciding not to re-open the next day.)

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These fellows donned their best “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas” attire to pay tribute to Bahooka’s cameo in the movie. Probably not a coincidence that they were standing next to the framed film stills of Johnny Depp.

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As the kitchen was running through the last of the food supplies, they were serving a limited menu of sandwiches, teriyaki chicken, fried shrimp and ribs. (Glad I got my fill of crab puffs and stuffed shrimp on a previous visit.) But more importantly, all their cocktails were still available so we shared a couple of Honey Bowls.

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They’ve been selling off bits and pieces of the decor for the past couple weeks, but I’ve heard the big stuff will be sold in a yard sale on March 17th. The details are supposed to be announced on Bahooka’s Facebook page. (UPDATE: Andrew Meieran purchased many of the iconic items for his upcoming relaunch of Clifton’s Cafeteria. Los Angeles magazine has more on the story.)

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By the entrance they had a table where they were selling those glowing tikis in the photo above ($75 & $100), wine glasses ($2), drinking goblets ($5) and this 46-year-old paiting ($100), which Mr. Baseball saw somebody later purchase.

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Behind them was a pile of plastic parrots waiting to be adopted into new homes for $20 each.

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Some tiki artists were inspired to create commemorative items for Bahooka’s closing, like these tiki pendants ($40) made by Tiki Al. “Goodbye Bahooka – 2013” was written on the back.

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Also on offer were postcards featuring Eric October‘s drawing “Last Bowl at Bahooka.” I love how it captures so many iconic things about Bahooka, including tikis based on ones in the restaurant, bucket lamps, parrots, a chain running through the table, and of course Ruffus noshing on a carrot.

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I couldn’t resist giving a goodbye kiss to that famous fishy face. Here’s hoping our currents cross again someday…

Related Posts:
Bahooka Ribs & Grog Review
Tiki Treasures & Polynesian Pin-Ups Event

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Bahooka Ribs & Grog – Rosemead, CA

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A night at Bahooka is like having dinner in Davy Jones’ locker. The restaurant’s booths look as if they were constructed from driftwood, while more than one hundred aquariums emanate a mysterious glow. It’s a bit of a hike east from Los Angeles to this part of the San Gabriel Valley, but I love to make it out there whenever the opportunity presents itself.

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If you’ve seen the movie “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” then you’re already slightly familiar with this place. In the first several minutes of the film, Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke (Hunter S. Thompson) peels into the parking lot and uses a pay phone inside. (If you ask the staff, they might be able to direct you to Depp’s favorite table.)

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Making his silver screen debut in that scene was Rufus, the giant, carrot-eating pacu fish by the check-in stand. He’s 35 years old! Here he is munching on his favorite snack — you can even hear him crunching away if you stand up close. I absolutely adore this guy and I’m certainly not the only one.

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Bahooka’s first restaurant, which is no longer around, opened in 1967 in West Covina. This Rosemead location came about nearly a decade later. The name Bahooka supposedly means “shack,” but that’s not a reflection of its size. The restaurant is so large that it’s pretty easy to get lost in the labrynth of seemingly endless aisles.

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The décor is flotsam and jetsam at its finest, with huge glass fish floats, several tikis, random street signs, and authentic nautical equipment the owner had picked up at a naval shipyard. I love the hefty anchor chains that go right through the middle of some of the tables.

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Try to keep your mutiny conspiring to a minimum, or you and your dining companions might find yourselves eating with the other scurvy dogs in the brig!

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Bahooka is known for its ribs, which are pretty good. The rest of the menu features teriyaki chicken (also on the plate above), steak, fish, burgers, sandwiches and lots of fried fare (shrimp, chicken strips, cheese sticks, zucchini, onion rings, etc.).

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Crab rangoon is one of my favorite tiki menu staples, but the closest thing they have here are “crab puffs” ($10.75). An order comes with 20 bite-sized pieces and three sauces, though I thought they tasted best on their own.

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I’m also partial to another deep-fried delicacy: the stuffed shrimp, which are filled with crab and cheese, then breaded and fried. Luckily there’s the best of both worlds with the $20 combination dinners, such as ribs plus two stuffed shrimp. (You don’t really want to consume more than two in one sitting, but I doubt you’ll get that far since it also comes with soup or salad and a starchy side like fries or baked yam.)

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The drinks can be a bit too sweet and seem to disguise the rum rather than complement it. But they’re potent enough to do the job, and who am I to argue with Jonathan Gold? He deemed Bahooka’s Flaming Honey Bowl one of LA’s Best Cocktails, praising its presentation and nostalgia factor.

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These sunken treasures are Bahooka’s first signature tiki mugs from Tiki Farm. They’ve since produced two more designs: a nautical style one (now sold out) designed by Book of Tiki author Sven Kirsten and the blue “Rufus” mug by The Pizz that was just released this weekend.

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Before you seek out Bahooka on your own ersatz South Sea adventure, take a moment to print out the $5 off coupon from their web site. (Click on the menu link and scroll to the bottom of the page.)

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UPDATE 2/15/13: It gives me great sadness to report that Bahooka is closing on March 10, 2013. Read more on Chris Nichols’ Los Angeles magazine post.

Bahooka Family Restaurant
4501 Rosemead Blvd.
Rosemead, CA 91770
626-285-1241

Bahooka on Urbanspoon