CLOSED – Bahooka Ribs ‘n’ Grog, Rosemead, California – 1976-2013

This blog is primarily intended to celebrate classic and historic restaurants that still exist, but occasionally I will be mentioning a restaurant that is gone or recently closed.

As you may have heard, another original Polynesian / Tiki restaurant closed its doors for good last week. Southern California lost three classic Tiki restaurants in the last few years: The Islands in San Diego (gutted by the Crowne Plaza Hotel chain in 2007), the Royal Hawaiian in Laguna Beach (also gutted in 2007), and Trader Vic’s in Beverly Hills, which was the oldest Trader Vic’s (open since 1955) left in the country when it closed in…you guessed it, 2007. All three carried on in name only as bland “tropical” restaurants. Now the fabulously unique Bahooka in Rosemead has entered the Tiki history books. In case you’re counting (and why wouldn’t you be?) that leaves only three original Polynesian / Tiki restaurants in Southern California (Damon’s, Don The Beachcomber , and the Bali Hai).

Why does a place like the Bahooka, that started in 1967 (in a long-gone original location in Covina, California) close after over 45 years in business? Did business decline in the past ten years? Every time I went it didn’t seem very busy. Could it have held on a little longer if the food and drinks were better? I may have gone more often if it wasn’t just the atmosphere that made me want to visit. Apparently the owners needed the money so they put it on the market and it sold quickly. I guess they have every right to sell a place they have kept going for 35+ years.

In the last three weeks since the announcement that they would close was released they have done massive business, with lines forming an hour before they open at noon and waits for a table reaching to 3 and 4 hours. When I was waiting in line to say goodbye on a recent Sunday morning I wondered when was the last time many of the people there had visited. I know my friends who are into Tiki bars went occasionally, but the Tiki crowd isn’t enough to keep a large restaurant in business. I must say the staff was incredibly patient and friendly dealing with the onslaught of customers, but the drinks were worse than I remembered (I always thought they were mediocre) and the food wasn’t very fresh tasting. I’m glad I got to see it one last time but I felt bad that I’ve only been a handful of times since I first ate there in the late 1990s.

In case you have never been, the best way I can describe it is a huge, labyrinthine maze of over 100 fish tanks built into floor-to-ceiling dark wood walls and partitions separating the many intimate tables, with interesting details such as a large jail door, chains anchored to the wooden tables, Tikis here and there, numerous hanging lamps and decorations, signs, and artifacts covering every bit of space. There was a small bar with a large fish tank actually built into the bar counter. Near the hostess stand there was a large tank that contained an ancient (in fish years) pacu named Rufus who liked to eat carrot sticks.

This is what the Bahooka looks like now:


Visit your local Tiki bar or restaurant now, and seek them out in every town you visit, because they need the business and you never know how long they will remain.


2 thoughts on “CLOSED – Bahooka Ribs ‘n’ Grog, Rosemead, California – 1976-2013

  1. It bothers me that the owners apparently did not give their longtime Tiki fans any time – perhaps a month – to find a potential buyer who would have retained the Bahooka’s atmosphere while improving its food and drinks. If no sympathetic buyer could be found then selling it to the first Joe who came along would have been more understandable.

    When I asked them a week ago if they could show a friend of mine one of the special Bahooka Tiki mugs that Sven Kirsten designed for them, their response was “We don’t have any, we sold them all.” That says it all.

    • Exactly, Peter. If they had been more discerning and patient they might have found a buyer who was willing to maintain the decor at least (and they would have made a boatload of money from increased business in the meantime).

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