Old Tony’s: A Step Back In Time With A Signature Drink In Southern California
You know you’re going someplace different even before you walk into Old Tony’s, a classic restaurant and bar in Redondo Beach, California. It sits precariously perched on crooked pylons directly above the Pacific Ocean on an old concrete pier. There are wooden stairs that take you up to the “Crow’s Nest” bar on the second floor.
When you walk inside, you’re taking a step back in time into a place that’s been here since 1952 and features a signature drink that’s a magnet for locals and is a wild rush of rum for unsuspecting first-timers.
You will notice that almost everybody is drinking the same thing. It’s a red concoction in a short, squat glass sporting the Old Tony’s logo. The people are laughing, talking somewhat loudly, reaching over to their neighbors and holding up those glasses in a happy “cheers.” That drink is the Fire Chief. And with that, you have arrived at one of the great haunts of Los Angeles.
Old Tony’s is to Redondo Beach and LA’s South Bay what Frank & Musso’s is to Hollywood, Dan Tana’s is to Beverly Hills, and Casa Vega is to the Valley. And that is to say a local legend, the kind of place where locals take visiting friends to show it off with a sense of pride.
At Old Tony’s you are right over the ocean and the only celebrities you’ll see are the ones with their faded pictures on the walls by the inside staircase. There are nearly a hundred of them, just about every movie and TV star from the 60s and 70s, including Ann Margaret, Tony Curtis, Dean Martin, Carol Burnett and Mary Tyler Moore.
The Beach Boys were busboys here in the 60s – they are from neighboring Hawthorne – but the “Fun, Fun, Fun” of today is in the atmosphere of the place. And that atmosphere is mainly the result of the Fire Chief.
Best described as a Mai Tai on steroids, it’s a stiff, red, rum drink enhanced by a floater of 151, served in a souvenir glass with crushed ice and a garnish of an
is a real signature cocktail, the primary reason people come here, and the very essence of this unique place.
Walking into Old Tony’s is like stepping into an episode of the old “Hawaii Five-O” TV show, or maybe “Magnum P.I.” The bartender is wearing a dated Hawaiin shirt as he slings drinks.
The drink itself is smooth but potent. That first sip will raise your eyebrows and elicit a “whoa” from first-timers. Eventually, you settle down to it and before you know it you’re ordering another. And perhaps another. By this time, you’re feeling loose and friendly and are seeking out others in the bar for conversion.
As a further garnish to the drink is the view. Tall windows look out toward the rest of the pier. Look down and over your shoulder, and you’ll see the waves breaking directly below you. Arrive at sunset, and you’re provided with an additional visual treat, a big, fiery yellow ball sinking into the Pacific. And with 325 days of sunshine, that sunset happens just about every night of the year in Redondo Beach.
The bar is small and round and features large balls hanging from the ceiling as a kitschy chandelier above the bar and tiny tables with the old “Pizza Hut” style red candle holders. The chairs at the tables are like mini booths and the ones at the bar spin around, just as they do in classic old dives.
Photos by KC Witherspoon