“Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,1
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same…”
If your familiar with the TV show Weeds, you’ve heard this song sung by Malvina Reynolds. The neighborhood Malvina was singing about was actually Daly City and she describes it perfectly. All the homes are literally square boxes that are different pastel colors and built on the side of a hill. Hidden in one of these “square boxes made of ticky tacky” lies the Alta Tiki Lounge.
Buz Deadwax is the proud owner of The Alta Tiki Lounge and here is his story…
What brought you into the Tiki lifestyle and how long has it been
part of your life?
Buz- I grew up in Hollywood and my parents had a convertible 1964 Impala. (My mom rationalizes selling it by convincing herself it would have been stolen by now anyway.) We didn’t have a lot of money for entertainment, so on warm nights we’d often go for drives—with the top down of course—all over the pretty parts of L.A. and La Cienega. (“Restaurant Row” was always a favorite.) Somewhere between Dino’s Restaurant and The Fish Shanty, was The Islander, jutting out seemingly way over the street, Tiki torches a-blazing. I begged my parents to take me there, but their disdain for anything touristy or ingenuine (or expensive) dashed my hopes. It closed in the ’80s before I could get myself there (#kickself). I’ve been playfully giving my mom much heck about that for decades now, but only just last year did she mention to me that she wanted credit since she and my father took me to Don the Beachcomber(!) when I must have been very small (WHAT?!). So between that and my love of kitsch, MCM, and “themed” anything (restaurants, bars, clubs, gas stations, etc.), plus my love of exotica and surf music, not to mention crazy fashions, Polynesian Pop (“Tiki”) culture is my happy place.
And Tikipeeps are my kind of lunatics! Smart, funny, fashionable, knowledgeable, and often drunk. What’s not to love?
When and what made you decide to build your own Tiki bar?
Buz- I had been collecting for many years, but mostly in the last 15, and ramping up a lot in the last 10. I had a little bar “area” for many years, but planned to build a real lounge as soon as possible. The home I moved to a couple of years ago has a garage perfect for a large lounge, but nothing was built. It was just raw studs without any electrical and it leaked! So it was going to be a long time before I got it in shape. A year later, I went through a very very bad breakup and was left with a very empty heart and a very empty extra room that I didn’t know what to do with. I didn’t want a roommate and didn’t want to AirBnB it, but I didn’t want it just sitting there, either. Early this year, I was out shopping with my dear friend Susan and scored a pair of key finds that kicked it all going: some inexpensive and very cool shelves on sale at Cost Plus World Market and dozens of bags of “party store” netting at a thrift store for like a buck a bag! I bought all the netting, then drove all over the Bay Area to all the Cost Pluses to buy any remaining stock of these cool shelves. They were marked way down and I thought it was the last of the stock, but I was wrong! They came back in a month! (Please let me rationalize that the sale markdowns made up for all the gas I used! I learned it from my mom!)
I spent the next few weeks working nonstop after work and sunrise to bar-closing time on the weekends. It was very therapeutic and I had a ball! I had a little opening party for my closest buddies that warmed it properly and it all felt “right!” But the next day, I was sitting in my new Tiki lounge, feeling very accomplished and proud of myself, then I realized something very grave: there is no such thing as a Tiki bar with white walls! For SHAME! I started looking for the perfect wall covering, and after more driving and massive Googling, I found some great rough burlap at a local hobby store. I then pulled ALL the wall decor and shelves down, tacked up the burlap, put everything back up, and presto! The AltaTiki Lounge (proper) was born-again after another opening party! (Why not?!)
Interesting note: aside from the shelves, the whole place is put together with thumbtacks, pin nails and staples, and can be brought down in a day. A very sad day, but a day.
How did you come up with the name of your Tiki bar?
Buz- I wanted the Silver Tiki or something like that. I have a few silver Tiki pendants that I love, and a silver car with hidden Tikis on it, but I couldn’t get the name to work. Then I borrowed Humuhumu’s idea (my extremely prestigious and “fancy” friend) and riffed off of my street name. Plus “alta” means “high” or “tall” in Spanish and I liked the culture mix and nod to Tiki’s California origins of “Tall Tiki,” especially as I live way up a very high mountain!
What is your favorite Tiki drink? What do you think makes the perfect cocktail?
Buz- The mighty Mai Tai of course, but I’m not ashamed to say that I feel I make the best (although not traditional) version. There’s a video on the Alta Tiki Lounge Facebook page, which shows how to make it (and the effects of drinking it!).
What makes the “perfect cocktail” is very relative to me. If I’m having raw oysters, I want ice-cold vodka, or a fine steak to me requires a perfect Gibson (which means one—and I do mean ONE—drop of bitters), and I could go on. But in general, the drink should be good on its own the start, as should all the ingredients individually, and it should meet the total experience. A gin martini in a beach bar would be very wrong, but so would a Zombie or Hurricane with sushi!
What really gets me though is the balance of alcohol “bite” with the sweet, sour, bitter, temperature, and dilution, plus presentation of course. When the flavors merge into a new one, especially one that interests and entertains the pallet, that’s where magic happens!
What is your favorite Tiki bar? Not including your own!
Buz- Number 1 is my home away from home. I’m way beyond lucky to have the world renowned Smuggler’s Cove in my town, and Martin and Rebecca Cate have been very dear friends for years. I met Martin when he was bartending at the Trader Vic’s on Golden Gate in S.F. (RIP), and I’ve been a regular at SC since it opened. They’ve taught me so much about the scene, the history, the many boozes, and the industry—and they’re a bunch of nutballs who know how to make and have a very good time.
Number 2 would be Tiki-Ti, because when I’d only been there twice, about a year apart, the second time I came in everyone remembered me and I was welcomed like a regular. Between the drinks, the crew, the decor, and the history, it’s the stuff legends are made of.
Forbidden Island in Alameda is very nearby, as is Longitude, and the new Pagan Idol, not to mention we’re blessed to have the amazing Tonga Room, and (the only family-run) Trader Vic’s right here, too. All these places are run by terrific people and they provide fantastic experiences. Don’t let the haters and snobs cloud your opinion. They’re all unique and praiseworthy.
But the mother load of all is of course the Mai Kai. If I could, I’d fly to Ft. Lauderdale just to go there for a few days, plus see MeduSirena at the Wreck Bar! Oh wait…I DID THAT!
Outside of great drinks, what do you think are essential elements in creating the perfect environment?
Buz- LIGHTING! Very, very important! I took advantage of the window I have, even though my Tiki-nerd friends were telling me to cover it over. I get some beautiful sun in the afternoon, then as it gets dark all my tiny lights take over. I also have a huge Japanese paper lantern in the middle, which was squeezed up to look like an upside down sea urchin. It has a slowly changing LED colored bulb that causes the room to feel more alive, but not flashy.
That, and although it won’t work for everywhere, I purposely overdecorated my very small space, which has the opposite effect of feeling claustrophobic. It makes it feel bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. I hear there’s some doctor lord guy who has some kind of special spaceship that does the same thing, only his doesn’t have Tikis or a bar, although it might have a pub.
Do you feel that music has an important role in creating a great Tiki experience?
Buz- Yes, definitely, but only when there are just a few people in the bar, of any size. When it’s too noisy with conversation, the music should only be just loud enough to be heard during lulls, not to pound on top of conversations.
What does the future hold for The Alta Tiki Lounge and you?
Buz- Since I’m renting and the Bay Area is nuts right now, I have no idea how long I’ll be able to stay, although I have no plans on leaving. But until I have reason otherwise, I’ll be always tweaking and adjusting and improving The AltaTiki. I was just gifted a mini-fridge and found a very tiny shadow box, just perfect for a tiny Tiki mug that I have. A proper Tiki bar (like Disneyland) is always improving and evolving, but keeping true to itself and not completely morphing into something utterly different.
Anything else you would like to add?
Buz- For anyone thinking of making their own bar or space, just do it, even if it’s just in the corner of your kitchen. I have friends who only have their bathroom “Tikied out,” because that’s all they could do for now, and it’s wonderful! Decorating and making a good space for yourself is good for the soul and it breeds good feelings and friendship. Everyone who has come to my lounge has immediately enjoyed themselves. I made a place that makes me feel happy, and it’s contagious!. Oh yeah…and chicks dig it!
Buz asks everyone who visits The Alta Tiki Lounge to sign his guest book…
I was happy to sign. I wrote the following…
“Why go into the outside world at all?”
(Taken from the song “TV Party” by the band Black Flag.)
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