Does El Segundo conjure up images of low-flying planes and plumes of smoke coming from the Scattergood electric plant? It should. There’s a heavy industrial feel to this city, but the Purple Orchid, a dive-y tiki bar just around the corner from Main Street, brings a lighter touch to the city (Oh yeah, and the Lakers and Clippers practice here, too). Pass by regulars smoking under the neon purple sign and enter a tropical mecca of fruity drinks and kitschy decor. There are the requisite bamboo-lined walls and tiki lamps, but the Purple Orchid also does tropical with a twist: yes, tiki masks hang throughout the bar, but there are barbies dangling from their mouths as sacrificial offerings, and a cage with tiny heads hangs by a big screen TV (nope, we don’t want to know their origins). The drinks, unfortunately, don’t always take such a creative turn. With an average (and hefty) price of $12, the menu lists classic picks like a Mai Tai, Scorpion, Blackwell Daiquiri and various coconut-infused libations. You may or may not get an umbrella (a must) depending on who is working, and sometimes the bartender confuses the Vic’s Grog with the Navy Grog (a tarter version of the rum-based cocktail). And the Dark and Stormy, a sailor favorite, has an unfortunate metallic aftertaste. Still, the place gets points for ingenuity, like its $10 Martini and Manicure special on Mondays. Where else can you get your nails done under hanging heads? Sign us up.
There are a few deciding factors that define a true tiki bar: It has to be a dive. There must be ample umbrellas in your cocktail. And the kitsch factor should be through the (bamboo thatched) roof. Sadly, the originators of this tropical trend that started in Los Angeles in the 1930s have been shuttering, despite the trend being on the rise—and yet, there are still a couple spots left, and a few newer spots worthy of taking up the mantel. We counted down the top L.A.-area tiki bars that will transport you to the South Pacific.
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