Have you ever wondered about this bright yellow, vaguely Asian-looking edifice on Ramsey Street that seems so incongruous with the drab gray transportation-related structures that encircle it? The building now sits boarded up and vacant, having most recently served as the home of the Caribbean Style Restaurant and Lounge, the proprietors of which are likely responsible for the building's current bright orange-yellow livery. You may recall that street outside was the scene of a 5:30 AM shooting last year, an event which I suspect may have been at least partially responsible for the restaurant's demise.
For many years, beginning in the mid-1960's, this building served as the home of the Luau Hut, which I assume had to have been Silver Spring's only tiki bar.
The Luau Hut was born when a group of employees from the Washington Trader Vic's held a party at Moon Kim's Ramsey Avenue Korean restaurant, the Moon Garden. Among the guests was Paul Malonson, a Trader Vic's maitre d', who suggested to Kim that she expand the cuisine and transform the the restaurant into Polynesian-themed restaurant and bar. In 1964, the restaurant began to serve pan-Asian and Polynesian cuisine while serving up a variety of strong, rum-based Polynesian cocktails. Malonson and Kim, who were married in married in 1965, eventually opened up a second Luau Hut location on F near Union Station in the building that is now The Irish Times.
Along with being a restaurateur, Kim, who recently passed away, was a talented singer who attended Juilliard and even put out three rock albums (!) on the RCA label. Eventually, the popularity of her singing led her to perform three sets a night at the Luau Hut.
Side note: According to a 1966 Washington Post article, Silver Spring had itself a bit of a live music scene back in the 60's. Most entertainers in Silver Spring appear to have been pianists, though a big attraction at the time was dance music performances by the Kenny Duca Duo at the Villa Rosa Restaurant. According to the article, "Duca [was] one of the county's foremost exponents of the cordovox, an accordion with attachments that give it half a dozen sounds." Those last two sentences right there just undid all the hard work two seasons of Mad Men has done to make the 60's seem cool.
The Luau Hut served up a variety of drinks bearing fabulous names such as "Virgin's Downfall", with the highlight of the bunch being the Zombie, the only drink on the menu restricted to two per customer. (Whatever bar ends up being Zombie Walk HQ this year needs to learn how to prepare these.) You could choose to get you drink in a "tiki tumbler", which was yours to take home as a souvenir. Many of these mugs from the Luau Hut are still floating around out there, and I've scoured the internet for photos of the different varieties the restaurant offered. (See the slideshow at bottom of post.)
Here's the Luau Hut's cocktail menu from 1968:
(click to enlarge)
The restaurant's trademark image was that of the hula girl, who appeared partially nude on the restaurant's mugs and menus, but more modestly clothed for appearances in newspaper ads. Can you imagine the scandal today if a respectable MoCo restaurant had the audacity to put a topless chick on the cover of their menu?
In the 70's, the Silver Spring Luau Hut was apparently a favorite haunt of Bullets star and NBA Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes. This would be kind of like Gilbert Arenas hanging out at McGinty's on weekends, but in an alternate reality where the Wizards were good and people gave a damn.
Eventually the popularity of Tiki Bars fizzled out, and like many similar establishments nationwide, the Silver Spring Luau Hut faded into oblivion.
Somewhat surprisingly, the structure appears to have survived unscathed through the long period where the county felt that areas surrounding Metro stations were only good for parking garages. I'd love to lease the space and bring back the Luau Hut with the slightly-modified moniker "Luau the Hutt". The hula girl on my custom-designed mugs would be clothed in a Polynesian interpretation of Princess Leia's metal bikini and I'd use them to serve secret new cocktail recipes such as the "Thermal Detonator". You'd always get your way when holding a Thermal Detonator.
Here's a slideshow of Luau Hut related images that I've culled from the Internet and collected in a Flickr Set. These primarily came from from online tiki resources Arkiva Tropika and Tiki Room. (A few of the images I've enhanced a bit through the magic of Photoshop.)
Thanks to MG, KR and JM for contributing to this post.
UPDATE: For those curious about the Kenny Duca Duo and the Cordovox, here's a little slideshow of Cordovoxes with music featuring Kenny Duca. The Cordovox jam begins at about 0:58. Yes, it's cheesy, but what else could I do with ten minutes and Windows Movie Maker?