Tiki-Ti: The Story of an L.A. Icon

Ooga Booga!

Tiki-Ti exterior
Photo: Tiki-Ti

It's easy to miss Tiki-Ti, the tropical hut located on a busy stretch of Sunset Boulevard at the border of Los Feliz and Silver Lake. You'll notice the people milling about outside - there's usually a wait, but once you're inside the tiny 12-seat bar it’s one of the most fun and unique neighborhood bars you’ll ever experience. Covered in signed placards from friends and legends, draped in glowing pufferfish and tiki lamps, and filled with art from masters in the tiki scene, it’s always a party at the Tiki-Ti.

Ray and Mike Buhen at Tiki-Ti
Ray and Mike Buhen | Photo by Jim Staub, courtesy of Tiki-Ti

Opened by legendary bartender Ray Buhen on April 28, 1961, Tiki-Ti occupies a former violin repair shop owned by Ray's father-in-law. Ray originally wanted to open a bartending school, but was convinced by his wife, Jerry to open a bar instead.

Ray Buhen was one of the "Four Boys” of the original Don the Beachcomber, which gave birth to the global tiki movement when it opened in Hollywood at the end of Prohibition. The Four Boys were four Filipinos who worked endlessly behind the scenes creating secret syrups, squeezing fresh juices, and carving ice to make drinks that would become tiki staples, like the Zombie and Missionary’s Downfall.

The anonymous Four Boys were instrumental in creating the foundation of today's tiki cocktails. But Ray didn’t want to stay in the background, and after leaving Don the Beachcomber he built a following at other famous Polynesian hotspots like the Seven Seas in Hollywood and The Luau in Beverly Hills before he opened Tiki-Ti.

Mike Buhen behind the bar at Tiki-Ti
Mike Buhen Sr. at Tiki-Ti | Photo by Tom Stratton
"There are still a lot of people who think tropical drinks started in Hawaii, and I tell them, no – they started right here in Hollywood." ~ Mike Buhen Sr.

“There are still a lot of people who think tropical drinks started in Hawaii, and I tell them, no – they started right here in Hollywood,” says Mike Buhen Sr, Ray’s son and the current owner who runs the landmark tiki bar with his son, Mike Buhen Jr.

“My mom and my dad opened this place in 1961, from 11am to 2am seven days a week,” says Mike Sr. Back then, the clientele was mostly employees of the nearby Allied Artists movie studio, who would come by on their lunch break to pound a few beers. When the studio folded in 1965, Ray stopped serving beer and only served the exotic cocktails that would make him famous. To this day, there is no beer for sale at Tiki-Ti, except for “the last beer.” If you look over the cluttered shelves of mugs, toys, and various tropical objects, you may see a bottle of beer with a sign proclaiming, “The Last Beer.” It is one lone beer (with an ever escalating price) to be sold to someone desperate enough - or in on the joke - to want it.

Friday night at the Tiki-Ti
Friday night at the Tiki-Ti | Instagram: @tikiti1961

Tiki-Ti flourished even when tiki bars fell out of fashion. “People used to come here and get loaded before they went to the discos,” laughed Mike Sr.

"We made it through the '80s because there weren’t a whole lot of options when it came to tiki," recalls Mike Buhen Jr. “Some were seeking tiki, others were just looking for a good drink.”

Ray's Mistakes at Tiki-Ti
Ray's Mistakes at Tiki-Ti | Instagram: @davestolte

The Tiki-Ti menu features more than 90 drinks, including rum classics like the Mai Tai, Navy Grog, Nui Nui and Shark's Tooth. Order the Blood & Sand (choice of bourbon, scotch or tequila) and be prepared to watch a tiny wind-up bull charge along the bar top while patrons shout “Toro! Toro!”

Tiki-Ti's signature drink is the Ray’s Mistake, which was accidentally created in 1968 when Ray was making a drink for a customer and realized he had mixed up the syrups. He was about to dump the concoction, but the customer wanted to try it anyway, and liked it enough that it became a menu item.

The Toast to Ray at Tiki-Ti
The Toast to Ray with Mike Buhen Sr. at Tiki-Ti | Photo by Tom Stratton

The Ray's Mistake is on special every Wednesday until the Toast to Ray at 9pm, when Mike Sr. rings a bell, raises a glass, and everyone in the packed joint salutes the "Master Ninja," as Ray is affectionately known.

Quentin Tarantino in a Tiki-Ti jacket on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!"
Quentin Tarantino wears a Tiki-Ti jacket on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" | Instagram: @tikiti1961
Quentin Tarantino wears a Tiki-Ti Golden Anniversary jacket on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!"
Quentin Tarantino wears a Tiki-Ti Golden Anniversary jacket on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" | Instagram: @tikiti1961

Generations of celebrities have been regulars at Tiki-Ti, including Marlon Brando, Burt Reynolds, beloved California's Gold host Huell Howser, and Nicolas Cage, who once finished a cocktail ordered by a couple of regulars that was so potent even Mike Sr said it's "like drinking gasoline."

Oscar-winning director Quentin Tarantino is also a fan. In October 2022, Tarantino - promoting his first nonfiction book, Cinema Speculation - sported a Tiki-Ti Golden Anniversary jacket on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

Mike Buhen Jr. behind the bar at Tiki-Ti
Mike Buhen Jr at Tiki-Ti | Photo by Tom Stratton

Ray bartended until he was 88, and passed away in September 1999. "The Mikes" can still be found behind the bar to this day. According to Critiki, in 2015 the Buhens hired their first employee, Greg Bansuelo, to help behind the bar.

"Ray's Mistake II" by Shag at Tiki-Ti
"Ray's Mistake II" by Shag at Tiki-Ti | Instagram: @tikiti1961
"Family Tree" by "Crazy" Al Evans at Tiki-Ti
"Family Tree" by "Crazy" Al Evans at Tiki-Ti | Instagram: @thelostgrotto

Ray Buhen's legacy has inspired artists like Shag, who presented Tiki-Ti with Ray's Mistake II in October 2021. One of the newest additions to the Tiki-Ti is Family Tree by "Crazy" Al Evans. Mounted above the bar, the carving is a "tiki within a tiki within a tiki" that represents three generations of the Buhens: Ray, Mike Sr. and Mike Jr.

In recognition of its importance, the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation selected Tiki-Ti for the Timeless U.S. Award at the 2023 Spirited Awards, widely regarded as the James Beards of the global cocktail culture.

Lantern at Tiki-Ti
Lantern at Tiki-Ti | Instagram: @castawaygrotto

4427 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 669-9381

Tiki-Ti closes for "Spring Break" and during the holidays. Follow @tikiti1961 for updated hours.