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Name:El Tiki
Type:restaurant
Street:Highway 111 at Worthington Rd
City:Imperial
State:CA
Zip:92251
country:USA
Phone:
Status:defunct

Description:
This was a Tiki Bar/Mexican Restaurant that opened November 15, 1961 and operated until about 1978. These tikis were carved during the Golden Age of California Tiki and most are 7-8 feet tall. The restaurant owner and tiki carver, Ben Wilson, has converted the building into a house and still lives there.


El Tiki viewed from the front

This building was intended as a gift shop but I don't believe it was ever used as one.



A Japanese Lantern carved from palm wood

[ Edited by: MadDogMike 2020-01-15 19:34 ]

Wow. Not too long ago, someone posted the menu from the El Tiki here:

...which I tought was a great example of cross-cultural Tiki inspiration back in the day. The menu text says it all.
So Mad Dog, do you know the guy?

Wow...anyone have pictures of what it looked like back in the day?

Interesting, it looks like it is out in the middle of nowhere! Are there other businesses around it? Very cool...there's a million Chinese Tiki themed temples, but this is the first Mexican Tiki place I've seen. Neat find Mike.

My first job was as dishwasher at the place in about 1975, I lived about 1/2 mile away and way able to ride my bike to work. Yes, it was out in the middle of nowhere, about 15 miles from town, but people came for the food and the atmosphere. I've known Ben all my life, talked to him this morning when I went and took the pictures. I'm sure El Tiki was what influenced my love for tiki.

Nice menu photo, where was it posted? I'll check with Ben and see if he can dig up any old photos.


Anything worth doing, is worth doing to the point of wretched excess.

[ Edited by: MadDogMike 2008-06-19 15:19 ]

Unfortunately I can't remember who posted the menu here, maybe the person will chime in, I could not dig it up per the Search function.
I just really like the way the menu explains how he came about the decision to create the Mex-Tiki concept, and how he describes the decor ("modern lamps from Tikies" ?). He seems to have been acutely aware of the style elements for the time, even mentioning an Exotica music type of atmosphere at the end. Usually people were not so reflective and conscious of the details, at least I have not seen it written down like that back in the day.

On 2008-06-19 22:12, bigbrotiki wrote:
Unfortunately I can't remember who posted the menu here, maybe the person will chime in, I could not dig it up per the Search function.

That was me. But purloined those photos from an eBay auction that I ended up not winning. One of the big tiki-collectors owns that menu, though.

Really cool that the building still exists. Great A-frame.

Sabu

Lyrics from their 70's radio ad jingle:

Once upon a time, a long time ago
A thought was conjugated about a place to go
A place out in the country, a place with atmosphere
A place where you could go and drink a glass of beer.

El Tiki, El Tiki, El Tiki is nice
El Tiki, El Tiki, is like paradise
On Highway 111, north of IVC
Mexican food from A to Z

Found the rest of the menu at http://www.tikiroom.net, thought I'd post it. I loved the "Tiki Toes"; nachos made with big fresh fried tortillas chips, real cheese, shredded beef taco meat, tomatoes, sour cream, etc. Yummmm. I like the prices too; shrimp plate $1.50, T-bone steak $2.95 :o

A

The "wine cocktails" make me shudder. Did they use red or white Almaden wine to make their Zombie?

Amy's place is amazing (that's your work, isn't it Ben?) She's about 80 miles North of here but all of the El Tiki tikis are still in place, her's must have come from somewhere else

hi all,

Yes, I was on my way to mexicali and saw this place. I stopped knocked on the door Mark, the son, I believe, told me his dad had carved the older tiki's and the place was a restaurant and bar years ago. It's now his house. Some booths are still inside, still very retro looking, but not much else. I asked if I could buy some of the tiki's and we made a deal. I bought 3 with the largest being 15 feet, now 12 above ground. I was there last, about 5 yeras ago.

I always wanted to go back

Mad dog, I think his son is mark, Ben wasn't home when I was there, I met the sister though. Also, when your looking at the front of the main building, there was a drive entrance to the right, 2 of the tiki's I bought were at that entrance, all 3 that I have were carved by his dad as told to me. Mark had palm logs on the side of the house he said he was trying to learn to carve tiki's.

I might try to take another ride over there, they were widening the road when I was there, We borrowed one of the road plows to help get the tiki's out of the ground. Then Benny who built my yard, hauled them back to Palm Desert.

Amy

[ Edited by: Queen Kamehameha 2009-04-09 18:21 ]

Shows how much I know :)
Amy, I'm glad you ended up with some of the tikis - what a great home for them!

I haven't seen him in a while, but I've known Mark since he was just a pup, and I took his sister to the prom :)



I'm gonna sit right here, I'm gonna watch the sun
Disappear into the ocean, it's been years since I smelled this salty sea.

[ Edited by: MadDogMike 2009-04-09 20:03 ]

MD, wow! small world, I am not generally good at names, but I spent 4 hours that day with him, getting those statues out and loaded, what a nice guy and his sister was nice too.They showed me around and it was great. My first real successful tiki find. I wasn't a Tiki Central member yet, so I never posted the about the Tikis.

It's nice to know someone who knew about the place, thanks for all the info and pictures. I never took pictures that day, so I will put this with my yard folder to keep a record.Thanks again!

Amy

Z
Zeta posted on Fri, Apr 10, 2009 12:38 AM

El Tiki with a sombrero... Now I have seen it all!

Mike, Just so you have them in one thread here are 2 of the El Tiki...Tiki's That I have.The third I dont have a pic of but will get one, it way up at the top of the yard

Thanks Amy, they look right at home in your yard. Much happier than they were off the side of some abandoned country road. Seems like I don't see many new tikis carved upside down with the rootball for hair.

Here is another of Ben Wilson's Tiki creations. This one migrated to a residence during the great tiki diaspora after El Tiki closed. This is a lousy cell phone picture taken through a dirty windshield, I'll replace it with a better one sometime.

EDIT - New picture posted 4/23/10

[ Edited by: MadDogMike 2010-04-23 18:49 ]

This is funny my mom was telling me stories about her childhood bestfriend Benjamin Wilson sharing a song el tiki jingle for show and tell in the fourth / fifth grade she was singing it to me I thought it was cute so I tried finding it and she remembers the whole song, her name is Monica. I thought my mom was going nuts.

O
Otto posted on Sun, Jul 10, 2011 11:39 PM

On 2008-06-19 10:58, bigbrotiki wrote:
Wow. Not too long ago, someone posted the menu from the El Tiki here:

...which I tought was a great example of cross-cultural Tiki inspiration back in the day. The menu text says it all.
So Mad Dog, do you know the guy?

Hey! This would be a great idea/theme for a South of the Border style Tiki Oasis?

Now where the heck did John-O get that shirt?

DC

Otto - Ben Wilson, the owner of El Tiki, had built some fiberglass sombrero'd tikis in the late 70s for a chain of Mexican fast food restaurants he tried to open. I don't know if any of those are still around but they would be cool decorations for Oasis (though Sven would say they were "Tiki Devolution Style" and he would be right)

Edit - DC, he said he had HB Tiki print it for him.


Hey look, mister. We serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don't need any characters around to give the joint "atmosphere". Is that clear?

[ Edited by: MadDogMike 2011-07-11 15:40 ]

April 9, 1963 - Imperial Valley Press

A 6-foot tiki god, which weighed more than 300 pounds, was stolen from the front of El Tiki Restaurant in Imperial. Ben Wilson, the restaurant's owner, said he was busy with customers most of the afternoon and when he went outside at 7 p.m. to turn on the outside lights he discovered the tiki missing.

Looks like a case for...Chuck Tatum, Time Travel Detective!

Somehow I missed this thread. I'm so happy you posted it again with your special proposal. Now back to the main thread! Wendy

Found this posted on FaceBook yeasterday. An El Tiki float in the 1963 Imperial Fair Parade. Talked to Ben (the owner of the El Tiki and soon to be my father-in-law), her doesn't remember much in the way of specifics but that he opened the bar the year before and was probably looking for a little advertising. The picture is not so clear but when you zoom in you can see a tiki head on the front, two palm trees on the back, and two or three people sitting on the float. One is a girl with a pink flower in her hair and the middle one looks like it could be Ben. He still owns the 1924 Model T and still drives it in parades.

FM

That's pretty awesome! And congratulations!

1965 Yellow Pages ad

Our local paper has a column where they reprint old "Stories From the Past", this was printed 4/16/14 so the original story was in April 1974.

(The location that was cut of the bottom of the article was 2nd and Ash in downtown San Diego)
The "fast service gourmet" Mexican food restaurant didn't fly. I expect that area is a pretty high rent district now, located near "The Tower" and Sempras Energy.
PS - Teresa mentioned in the article is now my wife :D

On 2014-09-22 09:57, MadDogMike wrote:
...
PS - Teresa mentioned in the article is now my wife :D

Ha! That's great!

I posted a picture a page back of a tiki that Ben Wilson, the El Tiki owner and now my father-in-law, sold after El Tiki closed. It has been guarding the driveway of a house down the road from me for 25 years. I had always admired it but never thought about buying it. Last month I noticed it was leaning and in danger of falling so I contacted the owner of the property and we made a deal for me to buy it. At 10 feet tall, it is heavier than I expected - I estimate it to be about 300 lbs. It was carved in the 60s so it is close to 50 years old, but is in great shape due to our dry desert climate.

Ben had cardiac bypass surgery and does not yet know that I bought this tiki, I wanted to get it all set up before I showed him. After he is feeling a little better I will take a picture of him next to his tiki and post it here :D

H

Lucky guy.

congrats on gettin that Mike.

Does anyone in the family have photos of the house when it still was "El Tiki"?

Very cool!

Thanks guys, I'm excited to show the Tiki to Ben as soon as he is feeling better
Sven, I am trying to track down some photos but have not had any luck yet :(

I had seen and posted the first part of this story a while back, now I found the exciting conclusion of the story.

April 9, 1963 - Imperial Valley Press
A 6-foot tiki god, which weighed more than 300 pounds, was stolen from the front of El Tiki Restaurant in Imperial. Ben Wilson, the restaurant's owner, said he was busy with customers most of the afternoon and when he went outside at 7 p.m. to turn on the outside lights he discovered the tiki missing.
April 12, 1963 - Imperial Valley Press

El Tiki Restaurant’s tiki god is home-complete with a new and brighter face.
The 6-foot, 300-pound-plus wood image had a black face and orange eyes when it was stolen from in front of the restaurant Saturday.
Ben Wilson, restaurant owner, said he found the tiki god in the driveway of the restaurant when he opened this morning. He said someone had done a “terrific job” repainting its face with brighter colors.

So was this the beginning of the devolution of Tiki? Brightly colored Tiki faces in California in 1963? Maybe we can't blame it on Florida or Jimmy Buffett? :lol:

1969 ad

Says it all! :)

Finally got Ben over to the house to see the Tiki he carved back in the day. He recognized it immediately like an old friend. Ben is 86 years young, recovering from a recent triple cardiac bypass and getting stronger every day.

H

Nice, love that tiki.

Wonderful! Were any photos taken of El Tiki back in the day?

Sven I have been trying to find pics but no luck. Ben can't seem to find any. I put out a call on the local "I remember" our town on FaceBook - got lots of fond memories but no pics :( Ben lives 100 miles away, one of these days I'll get to his house and help him look.

Not having any luck finding inside pictures of the El Tiki so I decided to make one :lol:
I'm taking a painting class at the community college so I did an El Tiki still life for my first painting.

[ Edited by: MadDogMike 2015-11-04 22:20 ]

Nice, MDM, good choice of subject! You can create your own wall art for your tiki bar. That's cool.

El Tiki had ephemera! Thank you HBTiki :wink:

Finally found 2 lonely pictures of the inside of El Tiki. They were taken in the early 80s, after the restaurant closed but was still used for private get-togethers. Thatch, bamboo, Tikis, fishing net, etc. The dapper gentleman in the grey suit is the owner, Ben

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