As you enter this cramped, cash-only tropical drink bar, a giant portrait of founder Ray Buhen smiles back at you, as if to say “Welcome to the Island.”
The Tiki-Ti (which, according to Ray, meant “The God of Drinks”) opened for business on April 28th, 1961 on infamous Sunset Blvd. To this day, the bar remains in its original location with many of its original drinks still on the menu.
Ray Buhen became famous during Hollywood’s Golden Age for being the bartender to the stars. Throughout his distinguished booze-slinging career, Ray claimed to have served hundreds of celebrities including Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Bette Davis, John Wayne, Clark Gable, and Howard Hughes.
One of the more intriguing legendary stories about Ray involves the movie Mutiny on the Bounty. MGM had decided to shoot the movie on an isolated area of Catalina Island. The desolate location didn’t have much for the cast and crew to do after work hours, so Clark Gable bankrolled a bar on set and called it “Christian’s Hut” after his character in the movie. After the shoot, the bar remained, and Ray became the barkeep. Easier to reach by sea than land, the Tahitian-style watering hole was used almost exclusively by yachtsmen and celebrities in the know.
In 1960, Ray’s father-in-law decided he was going to sell his small violin shop on Sunset Blvd. When Ray expressed interest in purchasing it to establish his very own bartending school, his wife and her father balked. The father-in-law told him he would only sell it to him if he opened his own bar instead of a school.
Eventually Ray brought his son, Mike into the business and they bartended together, Ray passing on boozy family secrets. Years later, Ray’s grandson Mike Jr. became a bartender as well, and Tiki-Ti became a family business.
Ray continued to bartend until his death in 1999, only months before his 90th birthday. In his honor, every Wednesday night at 8:30pm, Mike Buhen Sr. toasts his father with the words, “To my dad, the Master Ninja. Thanks to him for the Tiki-Ti, the last of the Mohicans, the original in tropical drinks.”
Today, the bar is completely family-owned and the only employees of Tiki-Ti are Buhen family members. In fact, because the bar is family owned and operated, smoking is permitted inside of the bar, unlike most Los Angeles establishments which are subject to California’s anti-smoking laws.
Know Before You Go
On Sunset Blvd, near the intersection of Fountain and Sunset in Los Feliz.