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Sugie’s Tropics menu

Harry “Sugie” Sugarman was a Hollywood theater operator (The Egyptian Theater) and businessman with an acute interest in celebrity (his own, and reflected). In 1936, Sugarman opened a tropical-themed restaurant on North Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, a site that was then in the border zone of urbanization in an increasingly popular area for the new mansions of the Hollywood elite. Note: Beverly Hills was explicitly a restricted, white-only community until the late 1940s.

Front of a souvenier photo folder, c. 1940s, with interior and exterior photos of Sugie’s Tropics, and, of course, Sugie himself.

Sugie’s Tropics was copiously decorated with bamboo, served steaks, curry, and Americanized Cantonese food, and featured a large list of mixed drinks named for movie stars and performers Sugarman ostensibly knew, such as Lana Turner, Barbara Stanwyck, Rita Hayworth, Lucille Ball, Mickey Rooney, Bob Hope, etc. On some of his menus, these “celebrity” drinks were listed beside photos of the stars’ faces inscribed within star-shaped graphics. (Later, in the 1950s, Sugarman would be one of the principal figures in establishing the Hollywood Walk of Fame.)

It’s not clear that Sugie’s Tropics started out imitating Donn Beach’s drinks, but within a couple years, Sugarman had hired Ray Buhen, one of Don the Beachcomber’s first bartenders, and now there were Zombies, Shark’s Tooths, and such on the menu, too. (See Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari for more about Ray Buhen, Sugie’s Tropics, and the diaspora of Don the Beachcomber bartenders.)

Sugie’s Tropics was quite successful and well-located for the greater Los Angeles boom-town springing up around it. In 1939, Sugarman opened a second location across from NBC in the heart of Hollywood, at Sunset and Vine, which he called the Hollywood Tropics. The Hollywood Tropics run until 1945, when he sold it off. Sugarman kept the original joint until 1953, when he sold to Steve Crane, who reworked the restaurant into the even more successful Luau.

Three (very white) couples enjoying the Tropics, c. 1940s

For a glimpse of the Tropics interior in full color, please see Daveland’s blog post on Shirley Temple.

At some point c. 1940s, Sugarman adopted this remarkable, fold-out die-cut menu design featuring “three wise monkeys”, a selection of Sugarman’s sloganeering, and of course, his picture.

For reasons not yet researched, this exact same menu design, with new text, would crop up, later, at the Pago Pago in Tucson, AZ.

The particular menu in the Cocktail Kingdom Library’s possession comes with an interesting bonus on its back-side: someone’s anti-aircraft math homework:

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