For those unfamiliar, Tonga Hut is one of the oldest Tiki Bars in Los Angeles. Opened in 1958 by brothers Ace and Ed Libby, it became home to San Fernando locals (and a few celebrities). We all know that the Tiki craze was born in the 50s and 60s – a post-war era where many people wanted to escape and feel like they were entering an exotic world. The Tonga Hut became one of those destinations adorned with bamboo, cedar walls, fountains, Tikis, and the smooth sounds of Martin Denny and bird calls wafting throughout the bar. As patrons entered the very dimly lit Tonga Hut in their Hawaiian garb, people would sidle up to the bar and order a rum-filled tropical cocktail and be transported to an exotic paradise. However, when the 70s and 80s arrived and the Polynesian paradise fell out of favor, the fountains eventually stopped working, and Aloha shirts were hardly seen. Yet Tonga Hut still survived and played its part as a local watering hole with excellent drink prices, a jukebox, and good company.
In the new millennium, its newest owners decided to restore Tonga Hut back to its mid-century appeal and aesthetic by repairing the fountains, putting the Tikis back, removing the tell-tale remnants of a dive bar (bye-bye neon beer signs!), added a mid-century fireplace, converted the green leather booths into “huts,” and adorned the walls with island art by Jasin Sallin. Now it is home to potent beautifully crafted tropical cocktails with good spirits and rums, freshly squeezed juices and house-made syrups. While the Tonga Hut still retains its charm as a neighborhood watering hole with excellent drink prices and the best happy hour in the East Valley, it is now on the top of anyone’s list if you want to get quality tropical cocktails.
And of course, with Marie King as Tonga Hut’s bar manager and cocktail extraordinaire, the Ladies Who Tiki just had to host a meetup at this – still – very dimly lit location. “Blink ten times to acclimate yourself when you walk inside on a sunny day,” Marie advises.
The meetup was held on a hot Saturday afternoon in July with the bar opening earlier for the event. With drink specials created specifically for the meetup, Marie kept the delicious cocktails flowing as ladies (and gents) from all over met new and old friends alike.
The jukebox poured out the tunes as people enjoyed the air conditioning, liquid libations, and tacos from the back. It was a successful event with people meeting new friends and learning all about Tonga Hut and their “Loyal Order of the Drooling Bastard” – a special group of patrons who have completed all the cocktails from Beachbum Berry’s famous Tiki cocktail book, “The Grog Log.” Festooned on the wall behind the “Drooling Bastard” fountain, patrons can view the decorated plaques of those who have completed the Grog Log challenge.
From LWT founder Michelle Perez, “We would like to extend our gratitude to the Tonga Hut for hosting our meetup and opening their doors early. Tonga Hut holds a very special place in our hearts and we look forward to many more collaborations with them!”
Check out the photos below for a little visual view of the fun. We do hope to see you at the next LWT event. Mahalo!