Recently, Rob and I drove down to San Diego and went…
Pacific Seas is a tiki bar located inside of Clifton’s Republic (aka Clifton’s Cafeteria) in downtown Los Angeles. The tiki bar was a much-hyped revival of Pacific Seas, a Polynesian-themed restaurant that opened in 1932, just a few blocks away from where Clifton’s itself still stands.
Visiting Clifton’s itself is quite the experience, as the “cabinet of curiosities” name suggests, with all kinds of (vintage) taxidermied animals, nooks and crannies with museum-like window displays and a five story high redwood tree stretching up through the center of the building. The tiki bar happens to be located on the fourth floor of the building and you can find it by locating the secret entrance behind a mirror on the third floor.
It is worth noting that Pacific Seas is not always accessible because it has fairly limited hours. At the time of writing this, the bar is only open Wednesdays – Saturdays from 6pm until closing. The hours have been known to change and it was often closed for private events in the first two months that it was operating. Erratic hours and a rather mysterious schedule definitely angered some people we talked to, who drove quite a distance only to discover the bar was closed for an event, but the space is so amazing that it is worth a bit of a wait and a call ahead of make sure they’re open for business when you plan to visit.
We went around the holidays, getting in on a quiet night after a private party had finished up, and were blown away by how beautiful the bar is.
The centerpiece of the room is a polished wood boat that appears to be jutting out of the end of the bar, but everywhere you turn you’re going to find tikis, murals and other goodies to look at. There are many separate seating areas around the room, each with its own unique personality. The bar is quite dark inside and, while your eyes will adjust to the lighting, it makes photography challenging. We used our iPhone for these photos with pretty good results, however. The interior was designed by Bamboo Ben and he paid attention to every detail.
The bar features life Polynesian dance shows at night by CocoTiki, which is a very unique addition to the space and really sets it apart from other tiki bars when it comes to the overall atmosphere. Unfortunately, our videos of the show didn’t turn out as well as we had hoped, though we were still able to grab a couple of photos of one of the sets. The costumes pictured here were some of the less elaborate ones we saw during the night if you can believe it and all the dancing was fantastic.
And by now you’re probably wondering about the bar and the drinks. We also had a lot of questions when we were at the bar because Pacific Seas does not have a drink menu, unlike most tiki bars. The bartenders are happy to suggest a variety of classic tiki drinks – fog cutter, zombie, mai tai, navy grog, Singapore sling, Painkiller, etc – to you when you ask, but the list isn’t extensive and there is a shortage of cocktails that are unique to Pacific Seas. They have well-stocked bar and a very good selection of rums.
With our small group – and limited time, due to it being late in the evening – we ended up being able to try several drinks on this visit: a Painkiller, a Navy Grog, a Jungle Bird (pictured below) and a Mai Tai (second picture below). The Painkiller was a standard Painkiller, made with Pusser’s rum and all the right ingredients. The Navy Grog really reminded me of the Beachbum Berry recipe (not a bad thing). It was boozy, but on the sweet side and had a strong aroma of honey. I’m not sure what kind of honey they’re using, but it’s floral and aromatic.
The Jungle Bird was a little on the light side, with only a mild orange bitterness from Campari. The Mai Tai was a respectable version of the Trader Vic’s recipe, though the pansy garnishing the drink was a little odd when orchids are the universal tiki drink garnish (and considering that a mai tai is usually garnished with some mint).
We’ll definitely be back and hope to see a few more operating days in the week and a printed menu that not only outlines their drink offerings more clearly, but encourages all the people we saw drinking rum & cokes to branch out a little. It is a tiki bar, after all!
648 S. Broadway
Los Angeles CA 90014