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Chill factor makes Mai Tai a hot spot

September 28, 2006|Steve Baltin | Special to The Times

TO the rest of the world L.A. is the home of California dreaming, a haven for the chill and laid-back. But where do Angelenos dream of going to get away? The islands, mon, or at least so goes the philosophy behind Long Beach's Mai Tai Bar.

"Everybody wants to feel like they're in the islands," J.T. Niumata, one of the Mai Tai's managers, says of the venue's success. Since opening in July 2005, it has become a respite for people of all ages.

Indeed, while most L.A. bars bank on sizzle, the Mai Tai Bar is all about the chill. From the outdoor patio, with its panoramic view of Long Beach harbor under the overhead fans and light of the blazing tiki lamps, to the reclining cushioned two-person love seats, the Mai Tai Bar can make you feel downright vegetative. And that's not even taking into consideration the soothing sounds of the likes of Bob Marley and Jack Johnson accompanying the appetizer portions of coconut shrimp, chicken satay and house special calamari. "We like to pride ourselves on being a bar for adults to come out and relax, the kind of place where you can wind down after work," Niumata says.

It works. "I feel like I'm on vacation at Mai Tai Bar," says Shannon Pittman, a 24-year-old bartender at neighboring super-club V20. In fact, Pittman says Mai Tai Bar is where she and her co-workers go to get away from it all, frequently congregating there before facing the masses.

Of course the islands illusion only goes so far. Even with its view and tiki fetish, Mai Tai Bar is located at the Pike, one of those "retail and entertainment destinations" where chain restaurants thrive. And sure the Mai Tai's crowd is laid-back, but maybe the lure of the multiple big-screen TVs has something to do with that.

The venue's ambitious schedule of live music includes two sets of music seven nights a week, rotating between acoustic acts such as frequent performer Jason Feedy and full bands, who add a bit of sizzle to the place after the sun goes down.

On a Friday night, for example, it's not unusual to see a line of up to 150 people waiting to get in. "Make no mistake about it, we are a bar. Because of our live entertainment we have in here that creates that environment of a nightclub," Niumata says.

But even when the dance floor gets elbow to elbow, sweat starts to pour as free as the icy Mai Tais, and the music goes from reggae to rock, the customers retain a courteousness and smile more at home in the islands than most L.A. spots.

Says Niumata, a one-time personal bodyguard who started as the bar's head of security: "If I wasn't working here, I would probably be in trouble. I love this bar."


Mai Tai Bar

Where: 97 Aquarium Way, Long Beach

When: 4 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Monday through Friday; noon to 1:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday

Cover: None

Info: (562) 435-1200

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