Tiki-Ti

Last night I wandered into Tiki-Ti. I knew little about the place other than what my friend had told me, that it is one of the few establishments in Los Angeles where you can still smoke. Tiki-Ti is a 51 year old Tiki bar on Sunset Boulevard in Los Feliz. It doesn’t have any employees… that is to say.. it’s family owned. We were greeted at the door by the owner Michael and The Dude, who was smoking a cigar in his bath robe. We took a seat at the bar and asked what we should order. They had an extensive selection of tropical drinks, with a few highlighted specials. The bartender served up two of Ray’s Mistake, which we later found out was an actual mistake.



The bartender was Ray’s grandson. So was the other bartender. And the owner at the door? He was Ray’s son. Actually, they are all owners of the bar.. not employees.. that’s how they get around the no-smoking laws. Last year when I was researching Tiki culture I learned that it all originated in Hollywood at a place called Don the Beachcomber. Since then I had been meaning to figure out where the original location was in order to do some urban archaeology. I inquired with the bartender. He didn’t seem to be too much older then I am, and preceded to tell me about his grandfather Ray:

Ray was one of the original four bartenders at Don the Beachcomber, which opened in 1934. Mark, our bartender, told us that Donn Beach would stand at the bar and call in the drinks through a small window to a team of bartenders behind the wall. Donn wanted to be the face of the bar, after all, it was his bar. He even legally changed his own name from Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt to Donn Beach after the bar became a success. But he apparently didn’t come up with all his own drink recipes.

Ray Buhen opened Tiki-Ti in 1961. Ray’s Mistake happened one night when he used the wrong ingredients to make a drink called an “Anting Anting” for a regular customer. The Anting Anting calls for rum.. and more rum. Ray accidentally poured it with rum.. and gin (as I recall… this secret information was disclosed during my second Mistake…). The customer told the bartender that it wasn’t what he had ordered. The bartender apologized for the mistake and offered to take the drink back, but instead, the customer ordered Ray’s Mistakes for everyone at the bar that night, and Ray never looked back.

As for the original location of Don the Beachcomber? As Joni Mitchell sang in “Big Yellow Taxi” – “They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot.” I still might have to track it down some day.

2 Comments

  1. Milda Simaitis
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting cultural find and story!

  2. David Cruz
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 1:53 am | Permalink

    My father Alberto Cruz was also one of the original bartenders for Donn. Together this team of bartenders actually came up with the Mai Tai and many other drinks which Donn got credit for since it was his restaurant.

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