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‘Chuntikis’ Is Long Beach’s Underground Tiki Pop-Up That Teaches Latino History Over Stiff Drinks

e use almond liqueur in our ‘Tenayuca’ cocktail because Emma’s first organized strike was for pecan immigrant workers in San Antonio.”

Homebrewer-turned-bartender Julio Gutierrez and his partner Danielle Chevalier may have just found the secret to making learning fun as an adult again: Latino history through colorful and extra stiff tiki cocktails. Welcome to Chuntikis, Long Beach’s cleverly named underground cocktail concept that creates a space for L.A.'s Latino immigrant communities to appreciate the forgotten POC-origin stories of tiki culture.

“Emma Tenayuca was described as being a ‘firecracker’ for her activism to defend farmworkers, Gutierrez tells L.A. TACO as he prepares for his first-ever pop-up at Roxanne’s Bar for Cinco de Mayo. The tiki-style cocktail that he concocted in her honor is blood-red from a jamaica syrup that he makes for it; it is blended with three rums, allspice, and that symbolic almond liquor. 

“Tenayuca predates Cesar Chavez and the labor movement, but everyone only talks about Cesar Chavez,” Gutierrez says. Each cocktail serves two people and comes in an ice cream pint container made out of cardboard, a tiny umbrella to prop up in your glass at home, and instructions on making it. In true tiki-fashion, the cocktail’s flavor is liquor-forward and sweet, but not too sweet. It’s one of those dangerous cocktails that just takes a few sips for it to disappear.” After savoring the last drop, a Google search on Tenayuca and her contributions to the American Latino experience is imminent.

 

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Like many during the pandemic last year, Gutierrez was forced to reassess his previous career and pivot. Until March of 2020, the homebrewer-turned-bartender was set to open his first brewery concept in Long Beach named “Otro Lado Brewing.” His hope with that project was to utilize his 16 years of brewing experience to produce full-flavored beers that told the stories of Latino immigrants that moved to [Alta] California. He has worked at lauded L.A. breweries like Monkish, and currently, his day job is overseeing Long Beach Beer Lab’s barrel and wild fermentation-based beers. He learned how to brew under the mentorship of The Maltose Falcons, the oldest and most respected homebrew club in the U.S. In 2005, he was one of the only Latino brewers in the country. “This was even before the So Cal Cerveceros!” he jokes. When his dream brewery project dried up, he converted his passion for the Latino experience and fine beverages to cocktails.      

This “chunti y que” philosophy is the driving force behind Chuntikis.

I haven't invented anything new with these cocktails, I'm just to presenting it to a new or forgotten audience: the first generations Hispanics and to our current and diverse drinking community and allies,” Gutierrez tells L.A. TACO in a phone interview. “While doing my cocktail research, I immediately noticed that the majority of bartenders and writers who are telling the stories of how certain tropical and tiki cocktails came to be are white,” Gutierrez says. “So there is this whole genre—tiki culture—of cocktails that uses products created by people of color, yet these cocktails are never marketed towards them.”

In the last couple of years, writers in the booze space have brought up the troubling aspects of American tiki culture—believed to be born in Los Angeles in the 1930s via Don the Beachcomber. In 2018, the James Beard Award-winning author John Birdsall penned an article for LA Times titled “Tiki bars are built on cultural appropriation and colonial nostalgia. Where’s the reckoning?” In 2016, NPR’s The Salt published another article bringing up the same reflection point.  

 

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To remedy this systemic problem in the booze industry in his tiny pop-up, Gutierrez writes each description and name of cocktail in Español first. If you want to read in English, you have to keep scrolling.  

Gutierrez’s parents are from Sonora. His father is from a small desert town named Nuri, inhabited by mostly Yaqui Indigenous peoples. His mother is from Imuris, Sonora, another small community known for its fantastic flour tortillas. The latter is the community where L.A.’s own Walter Soto of El Ruso learned how to make tacos.  

I just want to make fine drinks for paisas and let them know that a lot of these products come from our communities, too.”

“My mom doesn’t know what the hell ‘tiki’ is, but she does love piña coladas, which was created by a Puerto Rican. I just want to make fine drinks for paisas and let them know that a lot of these products come from our communities, too.” Aside from just talking the talk, Gutierrez puts his money where his mouth is and also donates a portion of each pop-ups proceeds to charities that reflect his current menu’s muse. For April and his 4/20-inspired cocktails, he donated to The Last Prisoner Project, a cannabis reform nonprofit. “It’s important to not just talk about the immigrant struggle, but donate as well if you can,” he says.  

The brilliant name behind this underground project is Gutierrez’s attempt to reclaim the slang word “chunti,” which is derived from the slang word rooted in CDMX, “chuntaro.” The latter term can be used interchangeably with “foo” to describe someone from the barrio. In Mexican-American Spanglish slang, chunti can describe a specific type of Latino also from the ‘hood. “We grow up using ‘chunti’ growing up in Long Beach, but it wasn’t until I grew up that I realized it is a negative word used to bring down other people in our Latino community, but I said, Why can’t we be proud te be chunti?” 

This “chunti y que” philosophy is the driving force behind Chuntikis. So far, in a year of offering his cocktails via DM on Instagram, he’s created 70 cocktails. His next project is to do a handful of cocktails to honor Juan Gabriel and the Latin LGBTQ community. He hopes to eventually one day be able to tour around the country and pop up in other states. 

But for right now, he is just excited to finally host his first official pop-up outside of his home in his neighborhood bar. 

Chuntikis will be popping at 1115 East Wardlow Road today from 5 PM to 10 PM or sold out. Follow them on Instagram to see when their rotating menu of chunti-inspired cocktails will be available next.  

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