Fall isn’t usually a time for Hawaiian shirts and tropical drinks, but L.A.’s latest immersive club experience dedicated to tiki culture reminds us that if it’s done right, it’s a lifestyle that can last all year round.
Earlier this month, Los Angeles-based team Cinereal launched the Acey Deucey Club experience in the Arts District in downtown L.A. The club’s immersive, tiki bar experienceis designed to simulate a swinging pleasure cruise in a submarine. It will continue to take audience members on mystical, musical, tipsy trips until Dec. 11.
Cinereal, which includes Billy Bell (design director and chief executive), Devin Compton Guzmán (narrative director) and Lyndie Raymond (project designer), has been producing events in and around L.A. since 2014. They describe their business as “a full-service production company that specializes in creating immersive environments, experiential marketing, and immersive theater.” Past productions have featured such themes as a 1950s Hollywood soundstage, the world of Alice in Wonderland and a dreamscape purgatory.
“The initial concept for the Acey Deucey Club was inspired by and grew out of our love for tiki bars and themed experiences,” the team told The Times by email. “Specifically a couple of ‘OG’ tiki establishments in the L.A., area including Tiki Ti in Hollywood, Tonga Hut in North Hollywood, and their newer cousin Trader Sam’s in the Disneyland Hotel. Although the original Trader Vic’s and Don the Beachcomber bars are no longer in operation, midcentury Polynesian pop culture is alive and well in L.A., and we’re excited to have an opportunity to add our own concept to the mix!”
Based on their years of field research (a.k.a. drinking mai tais) and having a career in themed entertainment, the Cinereal team discovered that there are several elements of tiki culture aside from the tropical libations that contribute to an immersive experience. First and foremost, the club needed a well designed and decorated environment, promoting escapism. Another key element is encouraging moments of camaraderie and synchronized interaction. If anyone has been to Tiki Ti and ordered an Ooga Booga or a Krakatoa at Trader Sam’s, you know what this means,” the team said. “The ordering of a certain beverage triggers a chain reaction starting with a flashy show moment where alarms are sounded, rain is poured, and the crowd cheers and chants … all depending on the specifics and theming of the beverage.”
They wanted to design a space that feels like it honors the nostalgia and roots of tiki bar culture while also feeling like a new take with a different perspective. “Even though we’ve put a tiki bar inside a submarine,” the team said, “we’ve taken care to reference and use specific materials, such as lauhala woven walls and thatched grass roofing, and have crafted a narrative that feels fresh, nostalgic, kitschy, and fun.” Additionally, lots of the decor and lighting fixtures were sourced from the famous but sadly now closed Oceanic Arts store in Whittier, which was co-owned by longtime tikiphiles and collectors LeRoy Schmaltz and Bob Van Oosting.
On the opening night of Acey Deucey Club, this reporter joined a full ship of guests for the maiden voyage of the experience at 613 Imperial St. After making sure the guests were ticketed, a doorman permitted their passage into the building.The first order of business was a liability waiver, and then guests properly checked in with the front desk operator, who allowed passengers to select their seats. At this point, VIP ticket holders were also given flasks with Acey Deucey Club designs and containing the first of several cocktails for the evening: Captain’s Grog, with Appleton Estate rum, crème de cacao, ginger, black tea, lime and angostura bitters.
After waiting a few minutes for the majority of guests scheduled for the 8:30 p.m. voyage, another door was thrown open and we left the cushy environment of a smallish burgundy-draped waiting room and headed to our next check-in point, where guests chose between two of the evening’s main course cocktails (Sea Horsin’ Around [coconut colada] and Monkey Sea Monkey Do [coffee colada]). After that, guests were handed ceramic, parrot-design shot glasses and invited to toast with the ceremonial utterance “Ca caw!” then down the mini cocktail.
Finally, guests entered the main room, which was decked out with a variety of nautical and tiki style accoutrements — puffer fish, a great white shark, ropes and netting, control panels, portholes with animated screens behind them (depicting oceanographic sights that changed throughout the “journey”). All of this was arranged around a stage, where a three-piece jazz band entertained guests with some very fine performances of jazz standards.
At that point, the Captain (Adrian Mustain) welcomed guests and invited them to join her in a toast using the next cocktail of the evening, the Skipper’s Sipper (Appleton Estate, campari, pineapple juice, lime, simple syrup and molasses bitters). She then crooned several tunes with the accompaniment of the band before excusing herself and encouraging Skipper Finn (Lucas Alifano) to take over the singing detail.
At a certain point, an alert siren sounded, and the Captain informed the guests that an unticketed passenger was aboard. Our final drinks were served (either coconut or coffee colada), and a search was conducted for the stowaway; this involved a series of casual inquiries and select interrogations, and then the mystery was solved and the remaining cast member (Kim Dalton) and her role were revealed (sorry, no detailed spoilers here). In all, the experience lasted 90 minutes, but given the colorful scenery, the fun performances, the great music, and the delicious beverages, it went very fast.
It went so fast that layers of the event’s details escaped the observation of some of guests. The Cinereal team is conscious of this, but they pointed out that they design their experiences so that the main plot does not elude anyone.
“We have recently been focused on presenting work that celebrates the joy of life,” the team said. We want people to laugh, reconnect, play, be curious, and build memories that they can associate with these fantastical worlds forever.”