Right now, there is a box truck sitting in a parking lot in Playa Vista that contains an entire universe. While unmarked and unremarkable from the outside, inside, the truck glows. Its interior life is thanks to an alchemical mix of red and blue stage lighting, a web of knotted ropes and containers, and the passion of a group of friends who enjoy tiki drinks and, with it, a good story. This is Tiki Mirage, the in-the-know tiki bar that lives entirely within a retrofitted moving truck.
“Why do you need to settle in your everyday life for less than truly magical experiences?” asks Max Masuda-Farkas, one-third of the quiet group behind Los Angeles’s most intriguing cocktail experience. Together Masuda-Farkas, Aaron Girard, and Nick Newberg have been running this secretive setup since 2019, first as a one-off pop-up in West LA and now, as of the last month or so, as a bookable cocktail experience for parties, close friends, and the occasional bar collaboration night. All three are obsessive about the storytelling and showmanship aspects of Tiki Mirage, and a tiki bar’s general promise to allow drinkers to leave the real world behind for a bit.
Nick Newberg was working as a Disney Imagineer when he conceptualized the first iteration of Tiki Mirage. “I was just awestruck by the impact and wonder that Disney is able to provide to its guests and the transportive quality of what they do,” Newberg says. Much like Burbank’s Broken Compass — and many other tiki bars across the nation — Newberg envisioned a kind of communal place that felt comfortable and approachable, but with a bit of flair thrown in. Like Masuda-Farkas, he was also intent on making the extraordinary feel commonplace rather than inaccessible.
“Can we bring Disney’s level of magic to people on a more weekly basis?” Newberg asked the team at the time. “Story is a vehicle to bring them there.”
A night inside Tiki Mirage is one that weaves original storytelling with the experiences of the customers in the space. There is collaboration among the group, and the bartenders themselves play an integral role, leading customers from one drink (and one story) to the next. “It’s an all-sensory experience,” says Masuda-Farkas. He hopes to create new and lasting memories for those who have the opportunity to try Tiki Mirage at least once. “When you think to yourself about your closest connections in life,” he says. “By and large, those people are folks who share a sustained, memorable experience with you. That’s what we want.” To help smooth out the cocktail side of the equation, the team brought on star LA bartender Gaby Mlynarczyk to oversee the menu.
Like many before them, the trio believed that tiki culture could be a worthwhile way to explore those connections, despite the genre’s complex and difficult history of appropriation and inequality. The backbone of Tiki Mirage’s storytelling universe centers not on some far-off tropical island, but on the “discovery of the vast collection of sea explorer Daniel T. Coleridge,” says Masuda-Farkas. Per legend, Coleridge items that were found in a sold-off storage locker make up the artifacts and shape the journey of a night inside the box truck. It’s a convenient way to move beyond the sandy beaches and sometimes uncomfortable exoticism of tiki culture’s past.
“Tiki at its best embodies the idea that one shouldn’t have to travel far to be transported,” Masuda-Farkas says. “That of course carries with it what could be the worst version, a highly distorted and fetishized version. We’re highly aware of that, and it has led our design.”
Newberg, the former Imagineer, agrees. “Disney, as one of our north stars, should be examined in that same lens,” he says. “It was developed at a particular point in time. That midcentury nostalgia can sit uneasily with some people, and for the right reasons.”
“What tiki sometimes gets wrong is telling us specifically what [being transported] looks like or where it is,” Masuda-Farkas adds.
For those eager to be transported into the Tiki Mirage universe, they need only seek out the truck. An upcoming collaboration with big-deal Los Angeles bar Thunderbolt has already sold out for September, though more are on the way. The Playa Vista rig can also be “chartered” for private events via the company’s website — just be prepared, once inside the tiny world that is Tiki Mirage, for everyone to play along.