The Martini Kings, one of L.A.’s favorite retro bands, crooned soothing island classics while romantic couples partook of overflowing pupu platters and sipped mai tais. Stunning Oceanic and Pacific art pieces and actual carvings gazed from the bamboo and rattan walls. Colorful cocktails punctuated with little umbrellas sat on the upstairs patio tables while a rainbow of vintage fishing net buoys hung overhead like glass planets in the sky.
You would have thought you had ended up in a 1950s South Pacific-style lounge, but this was the scene this pastValentine’s Day for the much-anticipated opening of downtown’s newest bar and restaurant, Tonga Hut Palm Springs
. The desert days of Don Ho are in full resurrection with this neo-retro Polynesian palace - the first honest-to-goodness ‘Tiki’ establishment Palm Springs has seen in decades.
Located above the pizza eatery NYPD on North Palm Canyon Drive, the fanciful and, yes, fashionable Tonga Hut Palm Springs is the offspring of L.A.’s oldest existing Tiki-themed watering hole – the Tonga Hut
. Built in 1958, The Los Angeles Times recently dubbed North Hollywood’s Tonga Hut “an icon of the umbrella-drink lifestyle.”
And by the looks of it, the new Tonga Hut Palm Springs may even outshine its parent.
Tonga Hut Palm Springs houses a neo-retro Tiki bar (pouring classic “island drinks” like Old Skool Zombie and Voodoo Juice) as well as an adjoining Polynesian/Cantonese restaurant called The Hideaway
. Items like meat-skewer pupu platters are served on carved wood dishes, and unlike L.A.’s Tonga Hut, this menu even features authentic Pacific cuisine like purple yam mash (a more tasty tourist-friendly version of the starchy Hawaiian staple poi
Designer Chase Marshall – who helped Beauty Bar in L.A. and Cobra Lounge in NYC gain cult followings – has luxuriously decked out the Tonga Hut Palm Springs with a clamshell-and-lava-rock fountain, rich dark wood walls, and authentic Pacific objects d’art, many of them museum-quality.
The restaurant’s booths display photos and memorabilia from Palm Springs’ rich Tiki past, as a nod to the historic Desert Polynesia legacy the Tonga Hut is now part of
. As the first full-fledged Tiki bar to open in Palm Springs in decades, Tonga Hut is at the forefront of a Desert Polynesia renaissance wave of local Tiki art and culture festivals, as well as a newfound scholarly appreciation for this often-derided mid-century style of architecture and design.
Sherman Chan, a classically-trained Cantonese chef, heads up the Tonga Hut’s menu
of tasty dishes, which includes items like Huli Huli Cornish Hen and traditional slow-roasted kalua pork.
But many will simply comes for the drinks. Tonga Hut’s superlative cocktail menu is filled with classic recipes
: Mai Tais, Blue Hawaiians, Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, Dark and Stormies.
“In the mixology world we’re known for using high quality ingredients and crafting really good drinks,” Claudia Murphy, one of the partners of Tonga Hut, recently told the Desert Sun
“If you love a certain cocktail, we want you to know what the possibilities are with different alcohols,” explained co-partner Amy Boylan. “We make a Mai Tai, which is probably the most classic rum drink, and we make it with rye, and call it a Rye Tai.”
As for Palm Springs being the case study for the Tonga Hut’s first-ever brand extension after nearly half a century, Murphy feels it’s just fine to make Tonga Hut Palm Springs its own unique entity from its namesake.
“We might be more than a little different. I think if the food and the cocktails are as good as they are in LA, we will have a place for people in Palm Springs to come, hang out and get away for awhile.”
And she added confidently, “When you come to the Tonga Hut, you’re having an experience, not just a meal.”
The Tonga Hut Palm Springs is located upstairs at 254 North Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs. It’s open daily from 3PM to 2 AM. For more info, call (760) 322-4449 or surf to www.tongahutpalmsprings.com.