Wan-Q a Tiki Feast for the Eyes
So, how is it that a mild-mannered Chinese restaurant in a nice Jewish area of Los Angeles could become one of the coolest Tiki landmarks of its day? Today we look at a classic example of the first wave of Polynesian pop called Wan-Q. In some of the early images of Wan-Q, you can see it was a pretty standard storefront Cantonese restaurant from the late 40-early 50’s.
A pre-Tiki ad for Wan-Q
But as the craze started by Don the Beachcomber years earlier began to spread across the country like wildfire, owner Benny Eng was caught up in the Polynesian net and turned Wan-Q into a little piece of Tiki heaven.
Wan-Q in its Tiki glory
Like most Polynesian restaurants of the time, Wan-Q carried rumaki (a Don the Beachcomber invention) and the Mai Tai cocktail (a nod to Trader Vic's). A look at the menu shows they didn’t hold back when it came to cocktails. This place was a legit Tiki bar.
Look at those prices!
A 1973 restaurant revue by Larry Lipson noted, “After or during a round or two from the extensive list of "tropi-cocktails", from whence you can easily become pie-eyed from a pi-yi, swizzled from a rum swizzle or catatonic from a zombie, there is a wonderful dipping-and-eating-of-appetizers ceremony.” Sounds like fun!
“Tiki bars were having great success with serving [their own] version of Cantonese cooking in the 1950s,” says Martin Cate, author of the book Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki; “Basically the Cantonese restaurants all started to say, Hey, they’re already serving our food, why don’t we serve their drinks?”
The food and drink are only part of what made Wan-Q special enough to garner a mention in Sven Kirsten’s Book of Tiki. The décor both inside and out were adventurous to say the least. Benny Eng outfitted his restaurant with rattan, bamboo, Tikis and waterfalls. And of course there was the exotic tinseled glory that was Wan-Q’s exterior which included a thatched A-frame roof, tapa cloth details, Chinese jade tiles and float lamps.
Sugar Shack used Wan-Q's Tiki sign
Unfortunately, Wan-Q faded into the Tiki sunset years ago. It was replaced for a time by the Sugar Shack, which kept the exterior (including the sign) mostly intact. Today the location houses another Chinese restaurant called Fu’s Palace. Unlike Wan-Q, Fu’s Palace has no tropical decor or bubbling streams (but I believe one waterfall survives). However, it does have a cool Google street view that lets you enter the building to see the layout of the old Wan-Q.
Wan-Q PinTiki pin
Our Wan-Q PinTiki pin is a tribute to the Tiki-tastic sign that stood over Wan-Q. This sign had an amazing geometric Tiki face and torches along with the name Wan-Q. I hope you take some time and learn more about this tropical jewel on places like Tiki Central.