Los Angeles is home to movies, make-believe, and the tiki bar. Paola Mardo recently dove deep into the history and Filipino origins of tiki bars from one of the oldest in Los Angeles that’s still owned by the same family who opened it back in 1961: Tiki-Ti.
“My dad came here in 1930 from the Philippines. He started working at the Figueroa Hotel as a bellhop. Then he got a job at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The manager told him Prohibition was ending, and [they wanted] to send him to bartending school. He went and when he got out, Donn Gantt was opening Don the Beachcomber [the first tiki bar] and he hired him,” says Mike Buhen, son of original Tiki-Ti owner Ray Buhen.
Ray was part of the first big wave of Filipino immigrants to the US. Because of restricted immigration laws, Filipino immigrants at the time were mostly men. This was the generation of manongs, or uncles, who came to LA in search of the American Dream but had to settle for something completely different instead.
Ray was one of these men, and despite the odds, he worked his way up through different tiki bars, mixing drinks for Hollywood celebrities and Angelenos for decades. These places hired a lot of Filipino workers to do everything from serve food to carve ice sculptures. But his drinks were so famous that he was able to open a tiki bar of his own: the Tiki-Ti in 1961.
Ray Buhen passed away in 1999, but his son, Mike, is continuing the family business.
*Article via KCRW’s Good Food
🎧 Hear more on this piece of family and Los Angeles history on @longdistanceradio in addition to the latest episode of Good Food wherever you get your podcasts. | 📷: Patrick Epino