Ladies Who Tiki at Tonga Hut

Ladies Who Tiki at Tonga Hut

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!

Women in Rum Take Over Trader Vic’s Emeryville

Women in Rum Take Over Trader Vic’s Emeryville

It’s no surprise that the world of tiki has transcended from what it once was in the 1950s. While many of the aesthetics remain, such as bamboo, palm fronds, hibiscus flowers, and of course delicious tropical cocktails; the world of tiki is developing into a much more inclusive community – with a high-level focus on rum, and what comprises these beautifully garnished drinks.

This transition was evident at Trader Vic’s Emeryville on April 7th, 2019.

Created by Vic “The Trader” Bergeron, Trader Vic’s opened in 1973, overlooking the San Francisco Bay and Emeryville Marina. With its tropical interior and exotic cocktails, it was the perfect venue to host a book-signing for the author, Shannon Mustipher on her successful new cocktail book, TIKI: Modern Tropical Cocktails, and hold a Tiki panel from prominent women in the rum and Tiki community.

Eve Bergeron, host and granddaughter of Trader Vic himself, brought together these women in Tiki, including our fearless leader, Michelle Perez!

Taking the stage of the panel was Shannon Mustipher, the Beverage Director for Glady’s Carribean in Brooklyn, and now the first female African-American bartender to create a cocktail book; Suzanne Long, founder of Longitude in Oakland and one of the only female rum experts in the world who has appeared in numerous symposiums and cocktail events such as Tales of the Cocktail, the Beverage Academy at Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco, Hawai’i Cocktail Week, and Tiki Oasis (just to name a few). Jeanie Grant, bar manager at Pagan Idol in San Francisco and the 2018 Tikitender champion (she won using Rum Fire overproof rum!); Humuhumu Trott founder and creator of Critiki, who has also appeared in symposiums at Tiki Kon, the Bar Institute, Hale Pele, and at her own home tiki bar, Balhi Ha’i. And of course, Michelle Perez, founder of Ladies Who Tiki who has hosted numerous meetups across the US, winner of Best Tiki Drink at Tiki Caliente 9, and has hosted rum sponsored room parties at Tiki Oasis, Tiki Caliente, and her own home bar, the Hollywood Lanai.

The panel of women answered questions about everything from rum to Tiki’s former days of cultural appropriation and to where they feel Tiki is headed today: A more inclusive community of people appreciating more than appropriating and completely revolutionizing this facet of Americana culture with a more modern approach.

Jeanie Grant told Ladies Who Tiki directly, “What I found most inspiring about the event was seeing how many people care about continuing the Tiki movement with a modern view. This view includes well-crafted cocktails, transparency in rum and the creation of an inclusive environment for all people. Being in a room full of people eager to talk about these aspects of Hospitality affirms that I am on the right path.”

When the panelists were asked what the new trend in rum was, there was a resounding agreement that the future lies in Rhum Agricole – a cane juice rum originally distilled in the French Caribbean islands from freshly pressed sugar cane juice rather than molasses. The term ‘Rhum’ is used to distinguish the fact that it is a sugar cane rum since most rums are distilled from fermented molasses. Rhum Agricole typically comes from Haiti, Martinique, and the Guadaloupe islands of Marie-Galante, Grade-Terre, and Basse-Terre, and throughout the Caribbean including Trinidad, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Grenada. Sugar cane is specifically grown for the production of Rhum Agricole, and the fields are managed and controlled like vineyards. Distillers first ferment the raw cane juice with wild, indigenous yeast to create a sugar cane wine, which they then distill into a raw, funky, and flavorful spirit that’s more vegetal than sweet. So when someone says they think rum is too sweet and they don’t like it, have them try a good Rhum Agricole.

From Mustipher’s new beautifully constructed book published by Rizzoli, a quote from the mixologist herself, “Mixing a fantastic cocktail requires a balance of art and science – knowledge of ingredients, flavors, and technique, and the skillful application of all three, Before being tasked with creating a rum-focused bar at Glady’s Carribean, I’d had very few craft cocktails made with rum, Tiki or otherwise. The latter I regarded with skepticism: While the restaurant’s interior – trimmed by jewel-toned formica, adorned with lush foliage, and energized by upbeat island music – created the perfect setting, I knew one of the challenges the bar would face was the perception of rum being too sweet, and Tiki as tacky.

It’s clear that bartenders in Tiki are changing this mindset with their new cocktail inventions and twists on some of the classics. “I made it my mission then to present bright, crisp, and nuanced drinks to not only debunk these clichéd notions but to show rum as an exemplary mixing spirit.” (7 Mustipher, Shannon. TIKI: Modern Tropical Cocktails. 2019)

As the panel continued on and Mai-Tais were sipped, it was a powerful moment to be surrounded by these female movers and shakers within rum and Tiki. It truly showed that women in this community are rocking the industry and they’re not stopping.

If you missed the opportunity to buy Shannon’s book in person, you can still purchase it online through Amazon. The layout is easy to follow and it’s the perfect size to prop open for mixing up delectable cocktails. The gorgeous photography is done by Noah Fecks.

“The key to making a truly special cocktail is to engage all the senses, and this is the heart and soul of Tiki.” – Shannon Mustipher.