Bahooka: The “Wingdingiest” Restaurant Around
One of the best-loved and much-missed Tiki bars in Southern California is Bahooka in Rosemead, CA. In 2008, the Orange County Register called it “A Little Piece of Tiki Heaven”. The sign outside referred to it as Bahooka Family restaurant, while the old menu and the check referred to it as “Bahooka Ribs & Grog”. Newspapers described it as an “old-school oasis” and one of the “last of the original generation” of Tiki bars and restaurants.
Exterior Sign Photo from Bun Boy Eats LA Blog
Established in 1967, Bahooka was a family run business. Founded by two brothers and a sister, brother Jack worked for ten years at Kelbo’s. Bahooka was originally located in West Covina from 1967-1980, and was a Tiki haven in a sea of Googie architecture. A second location opened in Rosemead in 1976 which allowed Bahooka to expand its dining area, and add a new room.
Bahooka menu front cover photo from eBay listing
“A Darker, Seedier Version of the Enchanted Tiki Room”
A 2014 article in the L.A. Times said Bahooka “…looked like the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland---but a darker, seedier version that the Pirates of the Caribbean might have hung out in…”. Bahooka was often visited just to feast one's eyes on the Tiki splendor. Not only were there boats in the parking lot, but nearly every square inch of wall and ceiling space was occupied to display Tikis, nautically themed bric-a-brac (don’t forget the globes and puffer fish lamps), and fish tanks. To say there were a lot of custom-made aquariums would be an understatement. How many were there? Try over 100 with many of them exceeding 100 gallons in capacity. Hundreds of fish flitted about amid more than 1,000 sea creatures: red devils, silver dollars, sharks, goldfish, and koi (Not to mention a legendary Pacu fish named Rufus). Many patrons felt as if they were eating under water! The aquarium bar featured a large turtle---a huge gourami floated behind the bartender! Hope Bahooka received a discount on plastic kelp as well as fish tank maintenance!
Photo of Rufus the Fish courtesy of a Yelp review
Street View of Bahooka, courtesy of a Yelp review
Food and Drink
Customers enjoyed food typical of Polynesian restaurants such as “Bahooka's Special Exotic Polynesian Ribs”, lobster tails, teriyaki chicken breast, barbecued ham, and, on the 1970s menu, Kosher Salami (polynesian style) with “Kraft” American cheese! I guess barbecue and soy sauces were more tropical and mysterious than chicken gravy! In later years, they had a two pound plate of ribs as an appetizer (!)
Bahooka's Exotic Ribs courtesy of Yelp review
(1972 Bahooka Menu, via the Los Angeles Public Library collection)
That’s all fine and good, but Tiki-philes are there for the drinks! What about the cocktails? Bahooka didn’t disappoint---they had over 60 different Tiki drinks such as the “Jolly Rogers Bowl”, Island Itch, Ko-Ko-Kow, and of course it wouldn’t be a real Tiki bar if it didn’t have blazing drinks---such as the “Bahooka Bowl”, Scarlet Sails, Gung Ho, and the Honey Bowl. Even children could receive a fiery non-alcoholic “mocktail”; the Flaming Captain Cooke Goat was lit on fire with a lemon-extract soaked crouton. In fact, fire was a regular part of the food and drink experience, a Bahooka patron recounted her memories in a Critiki post---“…the staff used fire… in everything from Jet Pilots to cole slaw.” Even revered L.A. Food critic Jonathan Gold lauded Bahooka's drinks in his book, Counter Intelligence: Where to Eat in the Real Los Angeles (2000); “Fish puffs go with a Monsoon or a Flaming Honey Bowl better than you might think...” (p.18).
Flaming Honey Bowl photo courtesy of Yelp review
Last Days and Living On at Clifton’s Pacific Seas
In the last few weeks before it served its last Scorpion Bowl, thousands of Tiki aficionados waited up to four hours for their final Bahooka meal…they even ran out of food at one point!
Photo of the permanently closed Bahooka courtesy of a Yelp review
March 9, 2013 was the sad date that Bahooka said “Mahalo” to its faithful tribe, and closed its doors permanently. However, Bahooka’s Tikis and other fixtures now reside in Clifton’s Pacific Seas, downtown Los Angeles. Clifton’s owner Andrew Meieran purchased pieces dating to 1963 such as Tikis, gas pumps, canoes, and a diving helmet.
Clifton’s Pacific Seas Interior courtesy of a Yelp review
We invite you to commemorate Bahooka with our new limited-edition hard enamel pin. The Bahooka sign was a beacon to adventurous flaming cocktails and Polynesian cuisine. Celebrate the exotic ribs, strong cocktails, and the mysterious atmosphere of Bahooka with this 1.5 inch pin (38 mm), limited to an edition of 400.
If you'd like to share any memories or photos of this uniquely Southern California Tiki bar/restaurant, feel free to do so in the comment box below!