The year was 1933. Prohibition had just been repealed. A New Orleans transplant named Ernest Gantt, in search of a trade to replace his bootlegging ventures, built a small bar on North McCadden Place just above Hollywood Blvd. Gantt adorned the bar with Polynesian artifacts; boat parts and fish nets, bamboo furniture, palm trees and real flowered leis. Customers were served exotic rum-based drinks, poured over shaved ice and garnished with fresh tropical fruits.
The bar, named Don the Beachcomber, soon moved to a larger space across the street and became a favorite watering hole for Hollywood notables. Ernest Gantt changed his name to Donn Beach. He told his customers, “If you can’t get to paradise, I’ll bring it to you.”
By 1940 the grip of the Depression had loosened and Hollywood nightclubs embraced the South Pacific-fantasy theme. Hollywood Blvd was the setting for glamorous, dimly-lit clubs such as 'The Jade Cafe,' 'The Tropics,' and 'The Seven Seas.' A few of the nightclubs featured fabricated rain...inviting patrons to escape the stark Los Angeles desert climate. Immigrants from the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia were hired to staff the kitchens and dining rooms. Customers relaxed in high-backed rattan peacock chairs perched under the fronds of fan palms and soaked up potent Mai Tais.
After WWII the love for Polynesian culture continued to grow as soldiers returned home with island mementos and memories of tropical lore. In 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein released the popular musical South Pacific, based on Michener's equally celebrated book, Tales of the South Pacific. Affection continued to grow for all things tropical.
By the 1950s, as the middle class flourished, Island pop culture was king, and Americans flocked to Polynesian-themed restaurants and lounges across the country. By the 1970's 'Tiki' culture had run its course. Today, with the exception of a few franchised restaurant efforts, Polynesian pop continues to suffer a sad persistent decline. Here is a list of noteworthy Los Angeles area 'Tiki' bars/restaurants that have survived: