San Diego's Ocean Beach

Bali Hai Celebrates 51 Years

BoatingNews 2005

Bali Hai Restaurant on Shelter Island in San DiegoIn an industry of change, Shelter Islandís Bali Hai stands as an icon of resistance.

"Itís almost supernatural at how we donít change," owner, Larry Baumann told BoatingNews in a recent interview. "Weíre unique in that respect and Iíve had people beg me not to change anything," he added.

Originally built as Christianís Hut in 1954, the Bali Hai was purchased before it was completed by Baumannís father-in-law, Tom Hamm. Other than completing construction on the interior, Hamm, and subsequently Susie and Larry Baumann have changed nothing.

"We even kept the Goof on the roof," Baumann said with a laugh.

This odd attempt at Tiki art was part of the original construction even though many people arenít even aware itís there. "In April of this year I received a letter from a lady asking me why I put up the Goof," he added. "She said the restaurant is beautiful but why would anybody put that there? I told her it had always been there but she argued with me.

"Iíve been coming there for 30 years and it was never there before, she told Baumann."

With a wave of Tiki madness sweeping the nation, the Bali Hai is becoming more popular than ever. Tiki, a Polynesian word meaning "first man," or "creator of first man," is defined by Merriam-Webster as "A wood or stone image of a Polynesian supernatural power."

An additional Tiki image is found at the entrance of the restaurant. Nicknamed Mr. Bali Hai, the giant carving is also original equipment from when the restaurant was built.

Two things may add to the success of the Bali Hai.

Prices are reasonable for the fine dining it affords and the view from the dining room of San Diego Harbor is spectacular, especially at night.

An excellent lunch buffet is available from 11:30 am to 3 p.m. from Monday through Friday and a Champaign brunch is served from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Sunday offering such masterpieces as macadamia nut crusted Mahi Mahi, Tortellini Alfredo, Hawaiian French Toast and Salmon Wellington with shoyu butter.

At $19.95 a person, the guests must feel like theyíre committing theft. Reservations are suggested.

Additionally, the Bali Hai is currently offering a second meal at 1954 prices when a first meal is purchased at the current price. Selections are limited to Chicken of the Gods or Oyster Beef at $3.95, and Sweet and Sour Chicken at $2.95.

And if great food at a fair price plus a panoramic view of the San Diego skyline are not sufficient enticement, two natural events really bring in the customers.

A faithful following gathers there when it storms and the full moon brings in yet another group.

As good as the food and the setting are, the Bali Hai is, perhaps, best known for its lethal Mai Tai.

If you can get by the fumes, one of these large tumblers will be enough. Almost as popular is the Mr. Bali Hai drink, a rum-based concoction served in a Tiki mug for $14.95. The best part is you get to keep the Tiki mug.

The Bali Hai is located at 2230 Shelter Island Drive and reservations can be made by calling (619) 222-1181.