I write this column from the Double Down in Las Vegas, where Lakanuki owner Stu Need and myself are attending the famed Las Vegas Ooonce Festival while we sip on ass juice.
I don’t know what’s in ass juice, but it’s apparently a house specialty.
We find ourselves at the Double Down after an initial stop at Frankie’s Tiki Room. You see, Need is a connoisseur of dive bars and these two are among his favorites. He’s also a fan of the Lava Room and the Purple Orchid in L.A., and the Genoa Bar in Genoa, Nevada.
“I love the fact that Teddy Roosevelt stood at that bar (in Genoa). I love the history, the character …”
Of all the businesses that first opened in the Village at Mammoth in May, 2003, Lakanuki is the one that’s left, the same business owned by the same guy in the same location. During that time, he says, Lakanuki has introduced spouses to each other, and also likely spawned more than a few children.
Need was recruited to come to Mammoth by Intrawest, as he owned Mojo’s nightclub in Whistler prior to moving here. Prior to Whistler, Need, 46, lived in Vail. That’s where he met Lynn, his wife of 14 years.
Lakanuki is very much an extension of Stu – a laid back, live-and-let-live Kiwi. Why a tiki bar after owning a more traditional nightclub? “I’d never seen a tiki bar in a mountain town but thought it would be a good fit.”
It’s not a gimmicky place, he added. You’re not going to see pole dancers, though Laka has been known to throw a damn good lingerie party.
And when it first opened, there was rumor that Lakanuki had hired strippers to “animate” the bar during its first week of operation, but as Stu said, “We didn’t hire anybody. The locals were just fired up and wanted to take their clothes off. Who was I to argue?”
As Hunter S. Thompson famously wrote, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” But while Need has his crazy side, he’s also a family man with kids.
And sometimes, it surprises folks to walk into Lakanuki in the early evenings and see families there, enjoying a quiet dinner. “That’s one thing people sometimes don’t realize. We have pretty good food, but often, we’re associated with late night.”
This weekend, Need introduces a new menu and he’s got a 50% off food special for Friday and Saturday night to promote it.
While Lakanuki will always feature the bar staples, the chicken wings and such, Need is adding healthier fare, including his favorite new item, kebabs with rice and fresh vegetables. He’s certainly been more cognizant of food and diet because of his son, Koa, who inexplicably began suffering seizures a few years ago.
It was a very trying and emotional time for the Needs, as they frantically sought, and ultimately found, a combination of diet and medication which solved their son’s health issue. But it also brought them closer as a couple. “Lynn was just a rock,” said Stu. “She was incredible [during that time].”
But back to Laka … as Stu said, when he got to town, he very much admired, and continues to admire, the Clocktower Cellar as “a good locals bar. That’s what we were aiming for.”
And have succeeded in. It’s a rare occasion when there’s an opening for a bartending job at Lakanuki. The staff knows a good gig when they see it.
Some wisdom from Stu, who has generally avoided the conflicts with his Village at Mammoth landlord which have plagued his fellow tenants: “If you’re gonna negotiate a lease, you may as well do it over drinks.”
… on a side note, regarding the “ooonce” reference, “ooonce” is apparently the new buzzword the MMSA marketing department has dreamed up (what the bass sounds like in the club – ooonce ooonce ooonce ooonce) and they’re even suppposed to be outfitting a special ooonce bus to take revelers to and from various Ooonce events, which were formally known as apres-ski or happy hour.
It leaves me at a rare loss for words. I guess the only two I can muster for now are good luck.