7 Interesting Facts About Tiki (and where to drink it in LA!)

5137 York Blvd · Highland Park, CA 90042 · Neighborhood: Highland Park

How much do you really know about Tiki culture? You may envision umbrella topped cocktails, bamboo, Hawaiian shirt themed bars and being on a beachy island vacation somewhere. But, did you know it was actually invented in California, by a… Texan??

After sipping on some delicious Tiki themed cocktails at Sonny’s Hideaway, I was inspired to do a little more research on the history of Tiki and I learned some really interesting facts —

Read on to learn more and to see where you can drink it in LA…


Tiki Facts!

  1. Tiki culture was inspired by the art, style, and attitudes of Polynesia. Tiki became huge in the 1940’s and 50’s and especially in America it was seen as a way to unwind after a long day at the office.
  2. A Texan is actually credited with starting the Tiki fad. After having visited the Caribbean and South Pacific, this dude named Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt aka “Donn Beach”, aka “Donn Beach-Comber” wanted to emulate the laid-back times he experienced in the tropics.
  3. Los Angeles was home to “Don the Beachcomber” the world’s first Tiki Bar (opened by Gantt) in 1934.
  4. Also in 1934 Trader Vic was a similar bar which opened in Oakland, Seattle and Hawaii (way before it became a state).
  5. Your typical Tiki cocktail is a mix of light or dark rum, flavored syrups, and tropical fruit juices.
  6. The Mai Tai was actually born in Oakland, CA.
  7. Despite being linked to Hawaii and the South Pacific, Victor Bergeron, who founded the original Trader Vic’s, is credited with creating the Mai Tai cocktail in 1944 for friends visiting from Tahiti. They allegedly exclaimed “Maita’i roa ae!” —  meaning “very good!” — upon their first sip. The name stuck.

Bar Manager, John Kelly O’Hare of Sonny’s Hideaway

Where to Tiki –

I don’t often make it all the way to Highland Park, but when I do get to make it to the York Street, I’m rarely disappointed.

I was recently invited to sample the new summer menu at Sonny’s Hideaway, a neighborhood bar hangout which recently celebrated it’s 1-year anniversary, and I got to try their Tiki Tuesday special cocktail menu featuring some delicious over proof (aka really strong!) punches curated by bar manager, John Kelly O’Hare. A standout drink for me included the Cast Off (Navy Strength Gin, Guyana Rum, Acqqua Di Cedro, Herbsaint, Lime, Passion Fruit, Coconut), which is made in small batches so it’s worth while to get it when you can.

Sonny’s Hideaway is not really noticeable from the street, unless you were looking for it, so it serves as a sort of modern day “hideaway,” which is just how owners, Derek Lyons and Ryan Ballinger like it.

And while it is not really a “Tiki Bar,” the vibe is relaxed-casual and if you sit at the front entrance at the bar, you’re likely to take in the warm vintage vibe, most likely among locals. Be sure to take advantage of their happy hour drink specials; E.g. Old Fashions and Moscow Mules under 6 bucks!

Tip: If you really want to feel like an insider, request a seat in the “hidden” back patio for more private time with your date as you dine on some contemporary american innovations from exec chef Alexander Abdel-Monem.

Check out the gallery below for more of what you can expect.


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