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After 65 years, Laguna's Royal Hawaiian shuts its doors

April 27, 2012 | 12:02 pm

The Royal Hawaiian, the kitschy Laguna Beach watering hole known for its tropical drinks -– the lapu lapu being its signature beverage -- and tiki vibe, has closed its doors after 65 years.

Owners said the restaurant was ultimately done in by the still-sluggish economy, lease negotiations and a conditional use permit that prohibited late-hour live entertainment.

Owner Lyndon Douglas Cole said the restaurant had offered live entertainment until 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays,  but a new city permit forced the restaurant to turn off the volume at 11 p.m. Cole said that without those extra two hours, the restaurant lost nearly $25,000 a month.

City officials said they had no choice but to balance the interests of the longtime restaurant and nearby residents, some of whom had complained about the noise and the sometimes-unruly behavior of patrons.

Except for its cult-favorite drink, the lapu lapu, the Royal Hawaiian had in recent years ditched its original and somewhat campy décor -- aquariums full of colorful fish, Polynesian scenes on the walls and a red-eyed tiki statue that greeted patrons at the front door.

In their place came plasma TVs, sleek booths, granite surfaces and contemporary tables.

"It wasn't nearly the same," said Michael Rodriguez, a Laguna Beach native.

Rodriguez, 48, was a Royal Hawaiian regular from the 1980s until about 2004. He went back last summer.

"I think it lost its soul," he said.

Billy Sherman, 47, said he was disappointed to hear about the closure, but said he wasn't surprised.

"It had changed from the way it used to be," he said. "It lost the whole classic vibe it was and turned into something more generic."

Regardless, Sherman said, the city is losing a piece of history.

"It's losing a landmark," he said.


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--Joanna Clay, TCN

Photo: The Royal Hawaiian in 1998. Credit: Los Angeles Times