Monday, April 22, 2024

Five years in, Bamboo Club represents the pinnacle of tiki in Long Beach (new brunch menu included)

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The Bamboo Club is unquestionably the epicenter of Long Beach’s love of tiki bars and drinks, echoing to a time when our city was flush with tiki concepts and spaces, from underground bars like The Outrigger that was once underneath The Lafayette to the famed Hawaiian that once graced Pacific Coast Highway from 1955 to 1969.

And as the space formally celebrates its fifth anniversary, it’s time for them to launch into their new brunch menu, reflect on the evolution of the space, and for us to uplift the restaurant and bar that brought full tiki right back to Long Beach.

The evolution of The Bamboo Club in Long Beach

Operated by Brett Gallo (of Stache Bar) and Jim Ritson (of 4th Street Wine and Ya Sabes), Bamboo passionately embodies tiki culture: The bar was designed by none other than Bamboo Ben, Huntington Beach’s third-generation tiki bar builder and the man behind everything from San Francisco’s Zombie Village to Kansas City’s TikiCat.

It took over what used to be the dilapidated, full-of-regrets space that was The Liquid Lounge, in which owner Rob McCarthy, in some vain attempt to overcome its reputation as a disaster zone, went on Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue” and converted it to the short-lived Tidal Bay bar. It was then that Gallo and Ritson—joined by bar masters Brian Noonan and Dustin Rodriguez, along with a then fairly unknown Chef Melissa Ortiz—truly had what could be considered a Long Beach dream team.

“When we started, I think the original had maybe 12 or 14 drinks—which took us over a month of R&D at The Stache,” Rodriguez said, nodding toward the current menu of nearly 60 tiki concoctions. “We would be offering five-dollar cocktails on Fridays—called it ‘Tiki Fridays’ so we could get a feel. I mean literally five-dollar Zombies or Penicillins…

“I feel like the more the we built out, the more our menu and identity expanded. Like this out here,” Rodriguez said, gesturing to the outdoor patio, “wasn’t built out for months. It was, in the beginning, a perpetually dark tiki bar.”

Even amidst the space actually still remaining incomplete upon soft opening, they pushed forward with what would become Long Beach’s best and most consummate representation of Tiki culture and cocktail menu—and the kitchen, headed by Ortiz, was no different.

The kitchen has always been essential at The Bamboo Club—and with spring here, it’s time to showcase outdoor brunch

Ortiz—who would go on to be known as one of Long Beach’s great chefs, even though her stints were sadly sparse given her love of exploring the world—had a menu that was so on point that often people missed it.

“Ideally, we had this crazy setup: We had Brian, Mel in the kitchen—it was a wild thing right off the bat with everything dialed in,” Rodriguez said. “And that includes the food, even if it was avant because it was Mel. But it was unquestionably Long Beach’s coolest menu at the time. It wasn’t massive, it was interesting, as it was tasty as fuck.”

Rodriguez was right: From tamagoyaki and dehydrated-then-rehydrated-then-fried shiitakes to a nearly perfect burger and a tea-brined chicken sandwich that remains on the menu to this day, Ortiz’s menu was a thing of a wonder—and perhaps, yes, it was too far ahead for the space’s initial patrons.

Nonetheless, The Bamboo Club has always been connected to its kitchen—and its launch into a formal, weekend-only brunch is the thriving thrust behind reinvigorating (and reminding folks) that they are a space to eat and drink. Even more, the menu feels in tune with what The Bamboo Club represents.

Yes, yes, there are finally things like potatoes and bacon—the latter of which goes for that old school O’Brien potatoes vibes with peppers and onions—and yes, they have coffee thanks to Common Ground and mimosas.

But then they have small little wonders like Spam eggs Benedict and breakfast fried rice, where chunks of Spam in soy sauce-heavy rice is paired with toast and eggs because carbs-on-carbs are a wonder in themselves. The Benedict? They use the sweet, buttery-ness of King’s Hawaiian rolls as their based, browned to a crisp on the outside before being topped with Spam, fried (not poached) eggs, and hollandaise. With a side potatoes and fried rice, it’s a wonderfully savory, salt forward dish that is great for a hangover.

There’s a stellar breakfast burger where your yolky dreams come true, melding with cheddar cheese, bacon, spicy mayo, and a beef patty for an umami-meets-salt bomb.

There’s a tropical parfait where half of a hallowed out pineapple shell uses the innards to mix with Greek yogurt, granola from Sconage, seasonal fruits and berries, and a drizzle of agave.

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There’s a simple eggs’n’bacon plate.

There’s event a custard French toast that, yes, can be ordered plain but should definitively be ordered encrusted with Fruity Pebbles: No syrup or butter needed, wonderfully sweet’n’salty, this is a dish that should be shared by the table because we all have a sweet tooth in there somewhere.

With a soft launch this weekend, March 30 and 31, and an official launch April 6 and 7, this is the kinda brunch that is, well, definitively Bamboo Club-y.

There’s also a ton of things planned for The Bamboo Club’s fifth birthday

The crew at The Bamboo Club has always been active in events, but for their fifth anniversary, they are going all out:

  • Live music daily until Saturday, Mar. 30
  • Every Tuesday, they host an industry night where all industry workers receive 50% off their bill.
  • The Bamboo Club’s unofficial fifth anniversary “party” is our LA Witch show on Friday, Mar. 29. Tickets can be found on their website. That night, they also have Action Packed, a free DJ night with Boss Harmz and Roger Mars, two great DJs who do this night some 5th Fridays with us and guest at other residencies in Long Beach.
  • And, of course, the merch: 5th anniversary shirts, hoodies, and glassware are available online and in store while supplies last.

The Bamboo Club is located at 3522 E. Anaheim St.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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