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A subterranean Tiki haven in Echo Park

THERE'S AN underlying sense of levity and playfulness in the Echo Park house that Alan Smart and Michael Uhlenkott designed. Then there's the basement.

Head downstairs, turn right at the bottom of the steps and you enter Smart and Uhlenkott's re-creation of a 1950s tiki bar -- the HaleKahiki (or "Tahitian Room"), as they have dubbed it, which rivals the best Polynesian room you've seen.

"Michael and I have been going to swap meets, collecting Hawaiiana and surfing things for years," Smart says. "I figured, if you don't have a room for it, there's only so much you can collect."

Completed in 2006 after four months of construction, practically every surface of the HaleKahiki is covered with memorabilia. "We wanted old stuff, so we did our research to see how tiki bars were built in the old days," Smart says of the 1950s and '60s, when Polynesiana was popular in Southern California.

Beach signs and other artifacts are layered over block-printed and tapa-papered walls. Lauhala-style woven matting is overhead, between the ceiling joists. A faux roof made of bamboo and palm leaves is suspended above the bar; a raised platform at one end of the room accommodates vintage rattan seating in front of an exotic black-lighted volcano lagoon mural that Uhlenkott painted.

Artist John Bok created the bar's rattan panels and hammered rusty-tin-can edging (sealed in a clear resin). The bar top features tiles designed by Uhlenkott, inspired by traditional Marquesan patterns. Tiki Tony, a Camarillo artist, carved several palm-wood posts and skull poles.

Hawaiian music drifts through the space; the dim lighting and candles set the mood. Smart plays bartender, serving up vintage martini glasses full of fruity cocktails ("known to cause bigger hangovers than less sugary drinks," he warns).

This tiki shrine is a favorite party destination.

"It is used fairly often," Smart says. "I have friends who threaten to come over every week."

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Debra Prinzing

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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