advertise on Tiki Central

Celebrating classic and modern Polynesian Pop
  [Edit Profile]  [Edit Preferences]  [Search] [Sign Up]
[Personal Messages]  [Member List]  [Help/FAQ]  [Rules]  [Login]
Tiki Central Forums » » Tiki Travel » » JOHN-O's Mid-Century Guide to the San Gabriel Valley, CA
Goto page ( 1 | 2 | 3 Next Page )
JOHN-O's Mid-Century Guide to the San Gabriel Valley, CA
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 16, 2008
Posts: 2691
From: Dogtown, USA
Posted: 2009-10-01 6:22 pm   Permalink

OK, so mention the 2 cities of Rosemead and Whittier, CA to your average person. You're likely to get the response of "Why would I ever go there?" After all it's not like they're major tourist destinations like Santa Monica or Hollywood. A Tiki-phile however will immediately recognize them as the otherwise obscure cities for the Bahooka and Oceanic Arts.

Now people making the trek out to Tiki-Ti (Hollywood/Silverlake), Trader Vic’s (Downtown LA) and Don the Beachcomber (Huntington Beach) will have no problem finding other interesting places to visit. I have a feeling, however, that when Tiki fans schlep out to Rosemead and Whittier from Orange County, Northern Cal, or even New York or Germany, they ask themselves the same question. What else is there to do around here?

The greater San Gabriel Valley gets no respect. Even in tourist guides, the Bahooka gets lumped into the Pasadena section. It's like anyplace that isn't the beach, Hollywood, downtown LA, or the Westside doesn't exist. Now I know Tiki people have an appreciation for the mid-century historic, kitschy and divey. That was the point of my Las Vegas guide:


What I'd like to do in this post is point out all of the cool mid-century (or otherwise unique) spots that survive in the SGV. It is after all where I grew up (I went to high school across from the Bahooka.) You'll find that most of these places fly low under the radar since they're not located in hipster neighborhoods like Silver Lake or Echo Park. If they were, you'd have the skinny jeans crowd queued up down the block to get their "ironic" old-school experience. Why do you think Tiki-Ti gets so crowded on weekend nights? (Beside the drinks that knock them on their ass.)

Let's start with the area surrounding Rosemead.

1. North Woods Inn (1959)

This place is a tribute to the days when restaurants were shaped like hot dogs, derby hats, and chili bowls. The building itself is almost the point of the visit. Things really get surreal in the summer when you're entering into a "snow" covered log cabin and the outside temperature is 90+ degrees. FYI, kids love this place. The interior is as kitschy as the exterior, and you can throw your used peanut shells on the floor.

The North Woods Inn is located 3 miles from the Bahooka at 7247 Rosemead Blvd, San Gabriel.

2. The Hat (1951)

This greasy pastrami joint is SGV's answer to LA's Johnnie's Pastrami (or Pink's or Tommy's.) There are several branches but the original is located 4 miles from the Bahooka at 1 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra. (There’s also a much closer location at 5505 Rosemead Blvd, Temple City.) It's like they dropped a 1950's American hamburger stand in the middle of Taiwan. Don't know what I'm talking about? Keep reading. BTW this is great drunk food, they stay open until 1am.

3. "Who says Tiki-philes have to eat bad faux Chinese food?"

If you didn't know, the SGV neighborhoods of Monterey Park, Alhambra, and San Gabriel are home to the word's first suburban Chinatown. There are several hundred (!!) dim sum, seafood, dumpling, etc. restaurants in the area. I won't even begin to make a specific recommendation here. You can "Yelp" it as places tend to go in and out of favor as quickly as chefs jump ship.

What's that you say? You only like exotic things after they've gone through an American strainer (like Tiki). Ok, let's talk about Italian food, what’s more American than that?

4. Di Pilla’s Italian Restaurant (1967)

This place is near and dear to my heart. I’ve been eating their pizza since Kindergarten when the owners’ 5-year old daughter passed out business cards to all the kids. This food is imprinted on to my DNA. The old-school cuisine is great and the décor is classic Italian restaurant clichés (plastic grape vines, exposed brick walls, vintage photos, etc.) Another nearby SGV institution is Petrillo’s (1954). Growing up, the classic argument was Di Pilla’s vs. Petrillo’s. I was always a Di Pilla’s man.

Di Pilla’s is located 1 mile from the Bahooka at 9013 Valley Blvd, Rosemead.

OK, enough childhood nostalgia, I’m sure every (lucky) suburban neighborhood has pizza places like these. Let’s jump into something a little more unique in nearby Monterey Park.

5. Venice Room (1957)

This dark bar definitely vibes old-school with its Venetian murals, red vinyl booths, and gilded wallpaper. What’s really unique is that you can grill your own steaks in the adjoining dining room and I understand they serve free tamales and menudo on Sunday mornings. Even though it borders a Chinese neighborhood, it primarily draws in a middle-class Mexican American clientele. Check out weekend nights for the popular karaoke and Latina cougars on the prowl. This scene could only exist in LA.

The Venice Room is located 7 miles from the Bahooka at 2428 S Garfield Ave, Monterey Park. (FYI, even though they serve food, this is a bar. 21 and over please.)

Now it's time to move towards the southern border of the SGV where Oceanic Arts is located. Now I know some of you might be saying “John-O, most of your suggestions around the Bahooka are pointless since we’ll already be eating and drinking there”. (FYI, I may drink there but I never eat there.)

Well that might be true for a Bahooka visit but the last time I checked, OA wasn’t serving Mai Tais. In which case, I recommend the following mid-century gem to get your drink on after a hard day of Tiki shopping.

6. Embers Lounge (1963)

This is the dive bar from Hell (literally).

This place is famous for its murals and portraits of nubile devil girls tempting men into the service of Satan. The artist was Frank Bowers who in the 1930’s did murals for public spaces like the South Gate City Hall (I’ve included an image.) What a contrast !! This guy might have experienced his own personal descent into Hell as the Embers paintings were his last work before he died in 1964.

During the day this is a friendly enough place frequented by local bar flies. I understand in the evenings though, the crowd can get a little rough. Last year, a woman got stabbed in a cat fight near the restrooms. So if you should happen to visit after dark and find yourself getting the (unlikely) stink eye from OG veteranos at the bar, you might want to grab some BBQ at next door Chris & Pitts instead.

Embers Lounge is located only 2 miles from OA at 11332 Washington Blvd, Whittier. They open for drinks at 11am !!

For more info on Frank Bowers, please go to:


7. Tamarack Inn (1961)

Imagine if Clifton’s Cafeteria had a bar, this would be it. (Thanks to Kim Cooper of 1947project for the analogy. She nailed it.) It's like drinking in a cozy forest cabin.

What, you’ve never been to Clifton’s on Broadway in downtown LA before ?? !! You need to knock 5 points off your LA mid-century pop culture credibility. You're just a Tiki poseur.

In addition to the bar, they serve a BBQ menu.

The Tamarack Inn is located 3 miles from OA at 9257 Slauson Ave, Pico Rivera. They open at 11:30am Tu-Sa and 3:00pm Su-Mo (I’d call to verify.)

8. Dal Rae (1958)

So what kind of place is the Dal Rae? Let’s say the year is early 1960, and Frank Sinatra is planning a big Tiki bash at his groovy Palm Springs pad for (the then) Senator John F. Kennedy. The booze and broads are lined up but a Tiki party needs tikis. Frank and Peter Lawford jump in the caddy and head out to Oceanic Arts where they pick out the goodies and arrange for a delivery. In the mood for a steak and 3-martini lunch, where do they decide to go? The most swinging place in close proximity – the Dal Rae. Dino and Sammy drop by later.

Did this really happen? Maybe not, but if the Rat Pack ever did visit OA, you can bet they would have ended up at the Dal Rae. It’s that kind of place.

The Dal Rae is located 3 miles from OA at 9023 Washington Blvd, Pico Rivera. They open for lunch at 11am M-F and dinner at 5pm nightly.

9. Steak N’ Stein (1946)

Not Frankenstein, I said Steak N’ Stein. Brought to you by Clearman's, the good people behind the North Woods Inn. Besides the Dal Rae, this is the other place in Pico Rivera to get an old-school steakhouse experience. While the Dal Rae is upscale 1950's modern, Steak N' Stein is 1940's dark and rustic. Check out that circular lounge around the flaming fire pit !! This is truly a great mid-century time machine and arguably better value than the more expensive Dal Rae.

Steak N’ Stein is located 3 miles from OA at 9545 Whittier Blvd, Pico Rivera. They open for dinner at 5pm.

So there you have it. Sometimes you just need to get out of that Tiki ghetto and try out some other mid-century fun. I hope you find these recommendations useful. Please feel free to add your own suggestions.


[ This Message was edited by: JOHN-O 2010-07-06 00:20 ]

 View Profile of JOHN-O Send a personal message to JOHN-O      Edit/Delete This Post Reply with quote
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 16, 2008
Posts: 2691
From: Dogtown, USA
Posted: 2009-10-01 6:28 pm   Permalink

If you're looking for the thread on Frank Bowers paintings and Sabu's urban archeology expedition, please go here...


If you're interested in even more SGV mid-century goodness, watch for future posts where I answer the burning questions:

1. So what ever happened to the Big Boy on Valley Blvd in Alhambra ?
2. What dive bar can I visit in Whittier where I won't run into weird Tiki people looking for Frank Bowers paintings ?

[ This Message was edited by: JOHN-O 2009-10-01 18:41 ]

 View Profile of JOHN-O Send a personal message to JOHN-O      Edit/Delete This Post Reply with quote
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 16, 2008
Posts: 2691
From: Dogtown, USA
Posted: 2009-10-11 8:28 pm   Permalink

Here's some new additions....

OK, so after a hard day of Tiki shopping at Oceanic Arts, you might be asking what other fun mid-century bars are in the area besides Embers? Look no further than this place just down the street from there.

1. Poor Denny's Saloon (1964)

Man, does this place ooze dive bar charm. It's the same owner as Embers, and the theme is nautical (Tiki's kissing cousin). I swear, if this place was located in Silver Lake or Echo Park, it would be hipster central it's so ironically cool. You however, get to enjoy it in the company of friendly neighborhood locals. Knowing some Spanish wouldn't hurt. Poof-a-doof, mixed cocktails are only $3.50 !!

Poor Denny's Saloon is located only 2 miles from OA at 8020 Boer Ave, Whittier. I think they open at 11am.

OK, let's say you're in the mood for a steak. The problem is you've spent so much money at OA, you can't afford the Del Rae or even Steak 'N Stein. What to do? Check out this popular local spot.

2. Steak Corral (1968)

This place is a throwback to the days when themed family restaurants were the rule. Check out that covered wagon salad bar and beverage machine !! Here you can feed a family of 4 for less than $50.

I think the greatest thing about the Steak Corral is the 7-foot Tiki that sits out in front. Now I know you're probably saying "JOHN-O, are you on drugs? That thing's not a Tiki !!".

Well it may not vibe Polynesian symbology, but it is an AUTHENTIC mid-century kitsch icon that was intended to be worshiped. I think that's pretty close to a Tiki.

Besides "Westy" (that's what I call him), has been standing guard for over 4 decades protecting the right of Whittier families to have an affordable steak dinner. Since Tiki had to be revived, I would argue that Westy is more powerful and enduring than any traditional Tiki. Check out how he lassoed that steak in the air, can a Tiki do that? No way, most regular Tikis don't even have hands.

So go now and show your respect, Westy will probably still be there when this current Tiki revival is ancient history.

The Steak Corral is located only 2 miles from OA at 11605 Washington Blvd, Whittier. They open at 11am.

View Profile of JOHN-O Send a personal message to JOHN-O      Edit/Delete This Post Reply with quote
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Aug 10, 2004
Posts: 8896
From: Anaheim,Ca.
Posted: 2009-10-11 8:37 pm   Permalink

I used to have a friend in Whittier, and saw that steak coral place,
wanted to go there, but he moved away.

thanks for reminding me about it.
must go there.


View Profile of bigtikidude Send a personal message to bigtikidude  Email bigtikidude     Edit/Delete This Post Reply with quote
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jun 11, 2003
Posts: 213
From: Huntington Beach CA
Posted: 2009-10-12 09:06 am   Permalink

Yeah, I love steak coral! Reminds me of that movie, Gunfight @ the OK Coral! How they kept their guns dry, I dunno.

View Profile of MamboKing Send a personal message to MamboKing  Email MamboKing Goto the website of MamboKing     Edit/Delete This Post Reply with quote
Grand Member (first year)  

Joined: Jan 29, 2004
Posts: 2079
From: San Pedro, CA
Posted: 2009-10-13 7:02 pm   Permalink

John-o! thanks for the in depth (and rather humorous) listing of restaurants/ bars to check out.

I loves me my mid century italian restaurants, so I gots to check out Di Pillas

OMG! I'm on Instagram!

 View Profile of Polynesiac Send a personal message to Polynesiac  Email Polynesiac Goto the website of Polynesiac     Edit/Delete This Post Reply with quote
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 16, 2008
Posts: 2691
From: Dogtown, USA
Posted: 2009-10-21 10:59 pm   Permalink

Look, what's that? It's a Bob's Big Boy holding court over a SGV noodle house !! (In what was a former Bob's Big Boy restaurant.)

OK, so Alhambra's majority Asian population would rather eat a bowl of noodles than a chain restaurant hamburger. At least the Big Boy doesn't have to stand outside anymore exposed to the elements and now has a rightful place of prominence. I always kneel and bow twice towards him before chowing down. It's a sign of respect.

Initially the Bob's Big Boy corporate lawyers filed suit against the Noodle World's owner when they discovered the unauthorized use of their company's trademark. The owner complied but as a result many young children were emotionally traumatized when they couldn't slurp down their noodles within sight of their chubby old friend. Touched by this sentiment, the Big Boy corporation relented and allowed use of their mascot for a licensing fee of $1 per year.

Now I know that a lot of you have been saying "JOHN-O, you're posting on Tiki Central. What about the Tikis? WHERE ARE THE TIKIS ?? !!" Sorry kids, you don't alway get a Tiki from me. This is better than a Tiki.

Anyway you need to go now before the next major LA earthquake. When that happens both Noodle World and the Big Boy corporation will be sued when a 80-year old Vietnamese matriarch who survived refugee camps and pirates to get to America is crushed to death by a mid-century cartoon icon.

Noodle World is located 5 miles from the Bahooka at 700 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra.

View Profile of JOHN-O Send a personal message to JOHN-O      Edit/Delete This Post Reply with quote
Bora Boris
Mr. Unreasonable

Joined: Mar 25, 2005
Posts: 2585
From: Boogie Wonderland
Posted: 2009-10-21 11:26 pm   Permalink


On 2009-10-21 22:59, JOHN-O wrote:
This is better than a Tiki.

I'm gonna disagree on that one John-O.

View Profile of Bora Boris Send a personal message to Bora Boris      Edit/Delete This Post Reply with quote
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 16, 2008
Posts: 2691
From: Dogtown, USA
Posted: 2009-10-22 08:16 am   Permalink

OK, let me rephrase that. This is better than a post-1970's carved-in-a-Balinese-sweatshop passing-as-authentic Tiki.

View Profile of JOHN-O Send a personal message to JOHN-O      Edit/Delete This Post Reply with quote
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 16, 2008
Posts: 2691
From: Dogtown, USA
Posted: 2009-11-29 9:09 pm   Permalink

OK, this SGV dive bar favorite of mine is just 2 miles from the Bahooka. There's no Tikis and it's not quite mid-century (I think it opened in the early 1970's).

Here's why I like it:

1. Cheap drinks - Mixed cocktails are $3.50.
2. Classic "Old Man" bar - Old men dispensing out their old man philosophy.
3. SGV dive bar completism - It has the same owner as Embers and Poor Denny's.
4. Near my old high school - I run into former classmate burn-outs. Not only don't they remember me, they don't remember high school. That's how much dope they smoked.

The Crest Lounge is located at 5921 Temple City Blvd, Temple City

[ This Message was edited by: JOHN-O 2009-12-22 20:52 ]

View Profile of JOHN-O Send a personal message to JOHN-O      Edit/Delete This Post Reply with quote
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 16, 2008
Posts: 2691
From: Dogtown, USA
Posted: 2009-12-22 8:51 pm   Permalink

Some unique SGV culinary delights. This is cult Asian food. (Because you can't eat a Tiki)



[ This Message was edited by: JOHN-O 2009-12-22 21:26 ]

 View Profile of JOHN-O Send a personal message to JOHN-O      Edit/Delete This Post Reply with quote
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 09, 2003
Posts: 3817
From: LA-2547 mls east Hawaii &5500 Easter Is
Posted: 2010-01-23 2:23 pm   Permalink

I will visiting the Venice Room shortly, as my girlfriend lives not too far away:

View Profile of christiki295 Send a personal message to christiki295  Email christiki295     Edit/Delete This Post Reply with quote
Bora Boris
Mr. Unreasonable

Joined: Mar 25, 2005
Posts: 2585
From: Boogie Wonderland
Posted: 2010-01-29 8:31 pm   Permalink


I’ve been quietly waiting for you to mention Goody’s which is not far from Bahooka at 865 E Las Tunas Dr. in San Gabriel but then I read in
LAOserved that it closed a few days ago.

“Goody's, a San Gabriel culinary landmark, moves on
Kevin Roderick • January 26 2010 4:50 PM

Food blogger Mike Tanner discovered the news while driving yesterday in San Gabriel: the sign on Goody's was dark. Sitting down to order, he was told by the waitress that today will be the end of the line after 50 years at that location.
The landlord was raising the rent and the owner was moving on. And it was sad. Antoinette and I had stumbled into not just witnessing a bit of history, but being a part of it.
The neighborhood and the economy had changed. Was there no room for Goody's in San Gabriel? It is no doubt that in a few short months a new pho or dim sum place would open in this building. Now, I love pho and I love dim sum but you know what Las Tunas Avenue doesn't need? More pho and dim sum.
Goody's was winning us over already based on more than just sympathy. How would it fare with the coffee test though? Well, okay. It did poorly on that front. It was bitter and had clearly been sitting on the burner for too long. Antoinette traded hers in for tea. I soldiered on and I must say that after that initial cup, fresher coffee was made and was much better.
Antoinette ordered the Chicken Pot Pie with a salad and side of green beans. I ordered the "Dutch Treat" with spicy red cabbage.

The owner, who apparently started at Goody's as a 14-year-old busboy, is building a new location in El Monte."

Hopefully the new location will be something special.

Tiki-Kate and I discovered it while looking for remains of the Kon Tiki in Temple City that now appears to be a liquor store.


 View Profile of Bora Boris Send a personal message to Bora Boris      Edit/Delete This Post Reply with quote
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 16, 2008
Posts: 2691
From: Dogtown, USA
Posted: 2010-01-30 7:45 pm   Permalink

I remember eating a chicken pot pie at Goody's when I was six years old.

I didn't like it.

This place in nearby Arcadia is still serving them up right.....

No Googie-style but sometimes you can't have it all.

View Profile of JOHN-O Send a personal message to JOHN-O      Edit/Delete This Post Reply with quote
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jun 10, 2004
Posts: 3110
From: Reseda, calif.
Posted: 2010-03-22 7:19 pm   Permalink

John O, thanks for all your recommendations, I just came back from SGV and visited Dal Rae, spelled Dal not Del, someone corrected me on that one. Anyways, I went for lunch and the place was packed, food and service were both very good, and the place was well kept up.

View Profile of hiltiki Send a personal message to hiltiki  Goto the website of hiltiki     Edit/Delete This Post Reply with quote
Goto page ( 1 | 2 | 3 Next Page )

[ About Tiki Central | Contact Tiki Central | Advertise on Tiki Central ]
(c) 2000-2014 Tikiroom.com (tm), Tiki Central (tm)

Credits & copyright infomation