In his Ask Chris Blog for Los Angeles Magazine, Chris Nichols writes, "No! No! No! Bahooka, the most lavish, bizarre and wonderful restaurant ever built in Los Angeles ... a massive labyrinth of flotsam and jetsam, filled with hundreds of blue glowing fish tanks, tikis, street signs, plastic birds, and a jail cell ... will close its doors on March 10 after 46 years in business."
"They don't want tiki around here, they want Asian," says co-owner Suzanne Schneider. "The new owner just wants the building, the liquor license and the fish." A sick relative caused her to act quickly to dispose of the beloved restaurant.
Bahooka, on Rosemead Boulevard in Rosemead, just north of Mission Drive, is one of a dwindling number of true tiki restaurants, which are designed to transport you to the Pacifica that America came to know through Hawaii and that GIs knew during World War II. Grab a booth or a bar stool, and it feels like you're in Bikini Bottom with SpongeBob and Patrick.
Adriene Biondo is a preservationist and author and successfully fought the death of Johnie's Broiler in Downey, one of Off-Ramp's early crusades. I asked her to share her memories of Bahooka and an argument for saving it.
News that the Bahooka is closing hit hard. I had to fight back the tears because it feels so much like losing a friend. The Bahooka has been our family's go-to place since we were kids in the 1960s. The Bahooka is so cool and so trippy it naturally became our default destination, our local Polynesian hideaway where we'd go to forget about reality and enjoy a mega dose of escapism. Sometimes we'd pull into the parking lot in our 1952 Ford station wagon, with the radio blaring the Beach Boys on KHJ. Stepping inside I can still pretend I'm coming off of Malibu Beach smelling like Coppertone, wearing my blue Hang Ten shirt and jeans with sandy feet and flip flops.
At the Bahooka, it's not only okay to chill, be silly, eat Jell-O on fire and watch fishes, it's expected! And wandering around every corner we'd find unburied treasures ... glowing blowfish, diver's helmets, old gas pumps, World War II artillery and shipwreck debris. Even Johnny Depp has been here, back when he was filming the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In it, he shares a scene with Rufus the friendly carrot-eating Pacu fish and official mascot of the restaurant.
What's to become of us without the Bahooka? The Bahooka is everything from a cozy restaurant to a peek at a half-clad Hawaiian girl with coconut shells covering her tan boobs to a magnificent folk art assemblage. One eccentric man's crazy idea of paradise that grew and grew into a Tiki party wonderland that still touches all our hearts.
One-of-a-kind places like the Bahooka are on the verge of extinction. Many are gone, never to return. As demographics shift, the value of real estate escalates, and they face increasing competition, it becomes increasingly difficult for these operators to keep their doors open. We have to figure out a way to help them remain economically viable while preserving Southern California's unique culture and history. As each one closes its doors, a part of us dies.
Amen, Adrienne and Chris. Here's to your old friend, Bahooka.
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