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.

Lono Hollywood Meets The Ladies Who Tiki

Lono Hollywood Meets The Ladies Who Tiki

Hollywood Boulevard may be known for its glittering sidewalk of stars paying homage to the celebrities of old and new, but locals and tiki lovers alike are now familiar with Lono; a new den of tropical cocktails named after the Hawaiian god of agriculture and rain.

Opened on June 9th, 2017, by the Umbrella Hospitality Group, Lono combines the refined edges of old Hollywood glamour with the beloved kitsch of Polynesian and Tiki decor. Palm fronds and banana leaves adorn the corners and edges of the deep restaurant and bar, while rattan chairs rim tables that invite guests to have a seat and order a Pearl Diver and the avocado-yuzu creme fraiche dip.

After you enter the Instagramable neon-lit sign of “Where the Wild Things Are,” sounds of Martin Denny waft out of speakers as you sidle up to the bar and order a classic like the Navy Grog or a new take on the traditional called the Banana Boo Loo. A cocktail crafted by Helena Olsen with Bryan Davis’ Lost Spirits Navy Rum and fresh lime, pineapple, banana, and demerara. If you’re so inclined to stay for dinner, award-winning chef, David Lespron, can be thanked for the delicious food.

On an early Saturday evening in late March, the Ladies Who Tiki had the pleasure of hosting one of their fun and inclusive meetups. Victoria Barabas from Lono was our amazing ‘hostess with the mostess’ as she kept the appetizers and cocktails coming. We had ladies (and gents!) from far and wide packed into the back section of the bar. And with high atrium glass ceilings, five lage cabana booths, and another bar to accommodate everyone, it was a wonderfully roomy space for all the LWT guests. The beautiful and effervescent Miss Tiki Oasis 2018, Ruby Champagne, was in attendance and she graciously posed for so many pictures with everyone! The chic ladies of Vintage Life LA were also there looking fabulous and they were able to snag a Lono mug and snap some beautiful photos of the event.

It was an evening of meeting new and familiar faces with tropical cocktails flowing well into the night. Founder, Michelle Perez of LWT stated, “I’m so thankful to Lono for allowing us to host our event. They went above and beyond to accommodate everyone! With each event, I truly appreciate the support we continue to garner from the Tiki community. Ladies Who Tiki just turned ‘One’ and it has been the most humbling experience. Cheers to what the future holds!”

If you weren’t able to make it to this meetup we do hope you can join us for the next one! And definitely stop into Lono for a cocktail and some food. Their busiest “club and touristy” hours usually start after 9 and 10 pm on weekends so we encourage you to check out Lono on a weekday or earlier in the evening.

Mahalo, everyone!

Woman Crush Wednesdays at The Mermaid Los Angeles

Woman Crush Wednesdays at The Mermaid Los Angeles

The Mermaid in Little Tokyo, Downtown Los Angeles is home to tropical cocktails and nautical aesthetics. It’s an unexpected little pocket of paradise tucked away in the strip mall on 2nd Street and Alameda. While the area might be known for its abundance of Ramen, sushi, and other Japanese fares (and the popular Angel City Brewery), it’s definitely a spot worth checking out if you haven’t already. (Bonus: It’s only three bucks for parking!)

Katie Kildow and Arelene Roldan, who respectively opened Lemon Poppy Kitchen and Steampunk Coffee Bar and Kitchen first opened the Mermaid in August 2018. Since then, they’ve been mixing up nautical-inspired cocktails such as The Mermaiden Voyage and Ship of Fools, just to name a few. But it’s not just cocktails and mermaids at the little food and drink spot. They host a variety of events ranging from holiday fun to karaoke nights, to a monthly rotating bartender event.

Their recent monthly event held on Wednesdays, their Woman Crush Wednesday series (WCW), is a night where a female guest bartender from various hotspots is brought in to do what they do best: mix delectable potions behind the bar. A portion of the proceeds from each night is often given to a female-driven cause of choice.

Ladies Who Tiki had the pleasure of attending not just one Wednesday series, but two!

For the February WCW series, The Mermaid welcomed Marie King, head mixologist and bar manager of the Tonga Hut Tiki Lounge for Los Angeles and Palm Springs. Special guest DJ Jonpaul Balak (Tikiyaki Orchestra, Insect Surfers) was spinning the soundtrack for the night. Marie’s specialty cocktail proceeds went to Black Women For Wellness, an organization committed to healing, supporting, and educating black women and girls through health education, empowerment, and advocacy.

Marie King pouring Lau Lana

For the March WCW guest, Jeanie Grant from San Francisco’s Pagan Idol was behind the bar. She got her start in Tiki and rum culture in Seattle and now makes her home in the Bay as the Bar Manager for the popular Pagan Idol. She enjoys traveling to the source of spirit production (ie. St. Martinique, Jamaica, etc.), and creating the ultimate hospitality experience (as seen in her epic garnishes such as a Moai carved into a banana). Jeanie also holds the titles of reigning Iron Tikitender and Miss Speed Rack California.

Speed Rack is an event that features top female bartenders in key cocktail markets, putting them head to head in round robin style timed and judged challenges. It is the first competition to highlight the up and coming generation of strong women in the spirits industry. Jeanie’s specialty cocktails from this Woman Crush Wednesday series went to Speed Rack, which dedicates 100% of its National Cocktail Competition event proceeds to breast cancer education, prevention, and research.

Check out Jeanie’s cocktail menu below, and please check out The Mermaid soon!

Jeanie Grant of Pagan Idol
The Lost Isle

Ladies Who Tiki Meetup at Tiki Ti, Los Angeles

Ladies Who Tiki Meetup at Tiki Ti, Los Angeles

It was a chilly January Thursday night in Los Angeles, but the inside of one of LA’s oldest tiki bar was toasty as it became packed with ladies and fans of Ladies Who Tiki.

Tiki Ti, nestled in the heart of Sunset Junction was opened in 1961 by classic tiki cocktail mixologist, Ray Buhen. The small bar adorned with ephemera from its opening days and tiki treasures from over the years is now run by Ray’s son and grandson, Mike and Michael Buhen. This father-son duo, along with family friend Greg Bansuelo, pilot the bar and pour some flavorful and potent concoctions such as the classic “Ray’s Mistake” and the rowdy crowd-pleaser, the Ooga-Booga. (Rowdy because everyone repeatedly yells “Ooga-Booga!” while the bartender keeps pouring in a heaping amount of Myers! It’s eighteen dollars for the drink but you’ll be quite happy if you’re looking for something to knock the sober right out of you.)

Tiki Ti was the home of the first official Los Angeles Ladies Who Tiki meetup event. Michelle Perez, founder of Ladies Who Tiki, carried in a large box of stickers and pins to giveaway to fans while she greeted everyone. The bar was packed with a line out the door on Tiki Ti’s otherwise quiet night. Everyone was dolled up in their favorite Polynesian garb and accouterments. New friends were made and an overall welcoming feeling was prevalent throughout the whole bar. Ruby Champagne, Miss Tiki Oasis 2018, was present and received the “okay” from Mike Buhen Sr. himself, to pose on the bar top for a photo op. (Apparently, this was unheard of! Guess the Ladies Who Tiki made a good impression.) 

“I was super excited that this event was a huge success with a great turn out,” says Michelle Perez. “Seeing people interact with each other, taking photos, and exchanging info is always the best part of these meetups. It gives us ladies a chance to meet other like-minded women who all love tiki as much they do. There were a lot of people who had never been to Tiki Ti before and most simply hadn’t gone because they didn’t have someone to accompany them. This event gave them the opportunity and confidence to go to a bar by themselves. It can be intimidating putting yourself out there to meet new friends. With every event, I strive to create a safe space where people can feel comfortable networking with one another – and this last meet up at Tiki Ti, I truly feel that I accomplished that. Here’s to new friends and many more meetups in 2019!”


Please, stay tuned for the next meet up near you!

*Tiki Ti is in no way affiliated with Ladies Who Tiki LLC. Bar patrons were responsible for their own tabs. Founder Michelle Perez and her associates did not receive any profit from the bar at all.