I had a meeting at “The Luau” in Beverly Hills…

“I eased into the Chevy and very carefully joined the rush hour traffic heading west. The sun was in my eyes the whole trip, and by the time I reached Rodeo Drive I was in a bad way. I valet parked, nodded to the doorman and brushed past the ferns into the Luau’s air-conditioned interior. It was early and the place was virtually empty, so I chose a table over by the tropical pool at the back of the room. It was secluded, but I could still see everyone who came in and, if they were looking, they could see me. The gentle sound of the mini waterfall behind me helped soothe my nerves, but something told me they wouldn’t stay that way long…I ordered food and a Zombie cocktail. In my state the Zombie seemed appropriate. The waitress who served me seemed worried by my appearance, so, after she left I shifted my chair back so my face was more in shadow. Maybe people would think I was one of the wooden Tiki statues dotted around the place…..Half an hour later Vicki arrived. She glanced round the room, picked me out and hurried over. “Why the hell do we always have to meet here?” she said as she reached the table, “It’s always full of Hollywood phonies and hookers who think they’re Ava Gardner.”

The Luau, Beverly Hills, Tiki bar, Tiki restaurant, tiki decor
The interior of the Luau, Beverly Hills in 1950.

The Luau was probably one of the most upmarket Tiki bars in Los Angeles during the 1950s and its atmospheric Polynesian decor and well crafted Rum cocktails made it a firm favorite with the Hollywood elite of the time. Opened by former actor and playboy Steve Crane in 1953, The Luau had become so famous by 1958 that Crane struck a deal with the Sheraton Hotel group to open a chain of Polynesian bars to replicate the Luau in cities across America.

Sadly, the golden age of Tiki Bars ended during the 1970s but over the last twenty years they have started to make something of a comeback thanks to the Tiki revival movement that began on the cusp of the new millennium, and to recent books like “Tiki Pop” by Sven Kirsten that show just how prevalent the Polynesian Pop phenomenon was in Mid-Century America .

Falling In Love At Canter’s Deli

We’d first met in 1950. I was bumming around from one dead-end job to another, still using the war as an excuse for screwing up. She was a rich man’s daughter who had the good sense to know she’d been spoiled rotten. bobby-socksWe were both in Canter’s Deli at three in the morning one aimless Friday night. She was dressed in rolled-up jeans and bobby sox with a bunch of giggling girlfriends. I was on my lonesome, hunched over a cold coffee and a slice of apple pie covered in the gloop that was once a scoop of ice cream. She reached over to my booth and asked to borrow the sugar. I said something smart and she said something smarter. She joined me at my table. Her eyes were blue-green, her sun-kissed blonde hair was in a ponytail. An hour later I was in love.”

Canter’s -2Deli is a Hollywood landmark and has been serving traditional Jewish food and American diner fare 24 hours a day since it opened in Boyle Heights in 1931. In 1948 it followed a Jewish migration to West Hollywood and relocated to Fairfax Ave. In 1953 it moved again, up a block into larger premises, and looks pretty much the same today as it did back then. I visited the place many times during my first few trips to LA in the 1990s and often sat in a booth with friends after a night of clubbing or bar-hopping, and it was easy to imagine a scene in the old Canter’s where a couple could meet for the first time in the balmy small hours of a weekend morning…