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Lee's Hawaiian, Clifton, NJ - Burned Down

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Lee's Hawaiian in Clifton, NJ burned Friday night. Details are still sketchy, but a guy names John Miller from the NY Times is doing some investigation, and there will be something in the Times, probably Monday...

Lee's was no Mai Kai, but their rock-wall-waterfall sorta worked, and they still had a hula show every Saturday night, so it is a loss worth noting. That's one more gone, and more we can't afford to lose.

Tikibars,Thanks for the heads up.
Man, you sure don't see those tuck and roll bars anymore. I wonder sometimes if it is “better to burn out than to fade away" (Neil Young)
View the website (a great way to pay homage) before they take it down.



Not Lee's!


Oh, great sadness :(

I feel very fortunate that Mike and I got to see it in all it's glory before it was gone forever. The ceiling in the dining room alone was an utterly unique Tiki feature.

I believe Lee's has a second location- but this was the location with the hula show (that I never got the chance to see). Folks in the area might want to make a point of visiting the other one.

So how do we mark the passing of a once mighty temple?

(entering Tiki mourning)


It truly is a sad day here on the East Coast. I am shocked and sadend!

Here's the story

I wiil raise my :drink: to toast Lee's Hawaiian Islander

that is so sad. my wife & i were just considering dates when we could go out to some of these north jersey spots.

lee's was great (there's still lee's in lyndhurst)! i have very found memories of the one time i went there.

thanks for the post - please keep us updated.

tiki chris


Wow... All I can say is that totally f*cking sucks. I'm glad I got to go there at least once back in April. Jeez whatta loss. Very sad. Gotta visit the one in Lyndhurst soon. Lee's was a cool place that seemed like it had a real sense of community as well. I remember when we were there, a bunch of Jersey cops showed up for drinks after a funeral for another female cop from Fairlawn that was fatally shot by a criminal in pursuit. They just came into the bar for some Zombies n' stuff.

:drink: Here' s to Lee's, Clifton. So long......

[ Edited by: donhonyc on 2003-07-27 20:17 ]

noooooooooooooooooooo... that one was still on my list of places to visit. this totally sucks.


Here's the Times article:

(I didn't actually use the word 'warhorses', BTW)...

July 28, 2003
Fire Leaves Tiki Bar Damaged, and Its Regulars Displaced

CLIFTON, N.J., July 27 — In the suddenly trendy world of the Tiki bar, Lee's Hawaiian Islander was a bit of a throwback: dark and full of bamboo and blowfish lights. Nevertheless, it attracted fans from all over northern New Jersey and was even considered something of a classic among Tiki aficionados.

But on Saturday afternoon, Lee's was engulfed by fire faster than a rum-infused Flaming Virgin, leaving customers wondering whether the nearly 30-year-old restaurant and bar had held its last Hula Night.

Officials here are still unsure what started the blaze at Lee's, at 635 Lexington Avenue, just off Route 46 in this blue-collar town, only that it began in the wall of an apartment above the restaurant.

According to Chief John Dubravsky of the Clifton Fire Department, restaurant workers ignored a fire alarm that went off around 2 p.m., thinking it was a false alarm. By 3 p.m., employees could smell smoke and called fire officials. But by that point it was too late.

Water collapsed part of the roof and damaged much of the restaurant, Chief Dubravsky said. A firefighter battling the blaze was treated for heat exhaustion at the scene.

The potential loss sent reverberations throughout the Tiki community.

"Anytime one of them vanishes it's a loss," said James Teitelbaum, author of "Tiki Road Trip: A Guide to Tiki Culture in North America" (Santa Monica Press). Mr. Teitelbaum, a Chicago resident, visited the bar and restaurant in 1996 and wrote about it in his book. Now that Tiki bars are making a comeback, he said, it is important to remember the old warhorses. He considers Lee's one of two dozen or so legendary Tiki bars still in existence in America.

"It was a classic place," he said. "The fact that it survived that long gives it extra credibility."

It had survived since 1974, when Steven Lee, a Chinese immigrant with no special connection to Polynesia, started two places named Lee's Hawaiian Islander, one in Clifton and one in Lyndhurst. Mr. Lee still owns and works at the Lyndhurst location, but Daniel Yee, a business partner, now controls much of the operation of the Clifton location, Mr. Lee said. Attempts to reach Mr. Yee were unsuccessful.

On Sunday, many longtime fans wandered through the debris in the parking lot, glimpsed up at the painted red-brick exterior and green-tiled roof and offered wistful reminiscences about a place that had served up a powerful Singapore Sling.

Al and Terry Biro, both 54, and their daughter, Jen, 17, of Clifton, peered through the front doors. "Our favorite booth is messed up," said Mrs. Biro, pointing to a thatched bamboo nook near the waterfall.

Mr. Biro responded, "They have a lot of work to do here."

The Biros have been going to the restaurant since the 1970's. When Jen was a baby, they would bring her into the lounge and plop her down in one of the booths. Just a year or two ago, Jen was called from the audience to participate in a Hula dance.

Nancy Smyser and Marilyn Manzione, both 48, of Totowa, had been in the restaurant on Friday and were at the Lee's in Lyndhurst on Saturday when they heard the news.

"We were shocked out of our minds," said Ms. Smyser, who said they were waiting in the parking lot to see if they could commiserate with other regulars today. "It's a landmark. There's not a lot of them left." It was unclear whether the owners would rebuild, but on the front door, the management had taped a sign that read, in part, "We are very sorry our establishment was burned down by fire."

Just below that notice was tacked a hand-written note:

"We love this restaurant. Please rebuild! Much luck, your customers and friends."

Great article. Was that in the 'Times', meaning New York Times?


Such bitter irony. My wife and were visiting my parents on the weekend of July 25th. We intended to head straight to Lee's from the airport but were lured away by and offer to eat at Peter Luger.

I just checked the website, and they are stating that they are only TEMPORARILY closed. Has anyone heard about a rebuilding?
Blessing in disguise?

any updates?

Much Thanks to DAWNTIKI! I guess that I will never get the hang of the "search" feature, I have to say that it was shocking enough to hear tell of its passing but to actually read that its gone.... I will be raising a drink to the many fond memories of Lee's and their troupe of Hula girls and Gold coated zombie waiters.
I can only hope that the gods will raise Lees up from the ashes and start anew or at the very least move the Hula girls to the other location (instead of the awful kareoke night)
well thanks to all that I have shared the memories there with.
I will miss Lee's, I'm just sorry my wife and I never got to go there together.


Great stuff JT, my hope is that the insurance will allow them to rebuild it.


Just happy to help out anyway I can Rustbeltcat :D

[ Edited by: DawnTiki on 2004-08-04 19:19 ]

Does anyone have pics of this place they can post in Locating Tiki?

On 2003-09-10 14:38, Tiki Chris wrote:
any updates?

I drove by the location yesterday and it is now an empty lot with no building......100% gone!

Just read through this thread and clicked on the link the Lee's website, fully expecting the url to be broken. Got a lump in my throat when it came up live with a notice saying the were "closed temporarily". Even their reservation page is still live....

....sigh. :(

Hey is the Lyndhurst location stil open and active? I recall there being 2 Lee's.. Also there was a place called China Paradise up 23 if I remember right...

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