Blast from the past -- Zombie Hut!

I am transfixed with all things tiki, so of course am very sad I never got to visit the Zombie Hut, which used to be so close to our neighborhood at 5635 Freeport Boulevard (before it was bulldozed and replaced with a strip mall.) I imagine this must have been quite the happenin' exotic spot.

Some great sleuthing has been done by Amadscientist, who has written a Wikipedia entry regarding the Zombie Hut's history and includes images from their business card.

The Zombie Hut lives on as a reincarnation in Brooklyn, NY per several Sacramento Bee articles written by R.E. Graswich:

August 14, 2002: "The Next Big Thing in New York might be straight from Sacramento. We are talking about the Zombie Hut, a long-gone bar on Freeport Boulevard that featured bartenders in Hawaiian shirts, plastic tiki idols, pink umbrella drinks and Ed Leeteg's sexy velvet portraits of Polynesian maidens. This week, amid much fanfare, the Zombie Hut reopens - 3,000 miles away on Smith Street in Brooklyn, N.Y. "I was born and raised in Sacramento and worked as a busboy at the original Zombie Hut," said Tod Bullen. "I decided the time was right to bring it back." Since moving to New York, Tod has become a mini-tycoon in the Brooklyn restaurant scene, having partial ownership in several establishments. The new Zombie Hut, which opens Friday, is in Carroll Gardens, a gentrified Italian neighborhood known for its mob connections (Al Capone was married there). If the Zombie Hut is a hit, it's only a matter of time before some smart operator brings the concept back to Sacramento."

A post on Tiki Central from Psycho Tiki D lists this enchanting painting, "Native Dancer" original oil on silk, by Burke Tyree, 1964, as having been hung on the wall at the Zombie Hut.

A really great and in-depth history, as well as other excellent examples of Burke Tyree's velvet paintings can be seen on Minnie's Restaurant & Bar's website.

Another painter, Ed Leeteg, reportedly had several paintings at the Zombie Hut. Per another Sacramento Bee article from August 25, 1999:

"The former Sacramento sign painter, whose velvet tropical maidens are craved by collectors in Los Angeles and Honolulu, has re-exploded onto the Sacramento scene. Leeteg died in 1953, but a mention of his name right here stirred readers who recalled him hanging around the old Zombie Hut on Freeport. "He had four or five pictures there. He would sell them for a bottle of rum..."

A great article regarding Ed Leeteg is posted on Barracuda Magazine's website.

Mary Z. Johnson was a waitress at many local restaurants including the Zombie Hut. Per her May 7, 2008 obituary in the Sacramento Bee, she had quite a following according to her sister, Josephine Bodda:

"Funny and charming, she loved meeting people from all walks of life. She teased politicians at Dick and Eddie's downtown, joked with fishermen and tourists at the Crow's Nest in Isleton and dished with gay men who gave her pet names and insisted on sitting at her station in the Zombie Hut.

"She had a big gay following," said Bodda, who managed the Polynesian-themed restaurant on Freeport Boulevard. "All her tables would be full, but they would say, 'We'll wait for Mitzie.' Sometimes they would leave her a hundred-dollar tip."
Does anyone have any fun stories, pictures, artifacts or mementos from the original Zombie Hut to share?

Napkin via
Matchbook cover via Psycho Tiki D, Tiki Central Forum post.


Junior said...

Here's a menu from Coral Reef on Fulton. This same site may have some So. Sac stuff too!

Gretchen said...

Love the graphics on that menu! Thanks Junior :)

Gretchen said...

The following Zombie Hut memory from reader J.P. came to me via private message:

"I believe that I must have been somewhere between 6-8 years old (in the late 1970's). I don't know what the occasion was for going to the Zombie Hut, as my parents didn't dine out too much, but we met up there with some of my Aunts and Uncles.

I remember being very excited as we entered the parking lot. In the eyes of a youngster; this place just looked so very cool to me.
I can't remember the food, but I do remember the adults imbibing on some really "fancy" drinks.

And this memory has stuck with me forever - probably because it either scarred me for life somehow, or helped me with future stage-fright issues (I did end up joining the Drama Club in HS). There was some kind of Don Ho impersonator who was asking for volunteers to come up and sing with him. I was probably one of the very few children in the place, so I was a target. After much goading from both Don Ho and my family, somehow I ended up on "stage" with Don Ho and he asked me to repeat after him, as he sang "Tiny Bubbles".

Thank goodness it didn't last long; it was just the chorus. I was so embarrassed. And, for the longest time, I believed that I sang with the real Don Ho.

Anonymous said...

Great article on the Zombie Hut,
Really cool to hear about it's reincarnation in NYC. I spent many a Christmas Eve at that place, and later at Neptunes Table. Keep up the good work Gretchen!


Anonymous said...

It really makes me sad when amazing places like that have been demolished....

Gretchen said...

Fa'afetai, Curtis :) Oh man, what I'd give to spend Christmas Eve in a Polynesian paradise with large bowls of grog in front of me!

I too wish our neighborhood was graced with the Zombie Hut or something similar.

Ken K. said...

Swanberg's Mens Store on J Street sells Zombie Hut tee shirts, as well as others from long-dead area legends like The Coral Reef and Robert's Fish Grotto.

Gretchen said...

Thanks Ken -- that's fun!

Anonymous said...

How cool to see this.

I am Amadscientist and the author of that Wikipedia page.

I know much of the surviving family and knew Beatrice Hill. She was a truly generous person and lived a great life.

I noticed years ago that while so many people talk about the "The Hut" with such great memory and it holds such a historic place in both Americana and California History that I am uploading all photos left from the Hill Estate.

Not many people know that it was a family owned and operated establishment until being sold in the 70s shortly before it's demise.

The images are being uploaded a little at a time only because it takes forever scanning them.

They have been uploaded to Flickr and can be located searching the term Zombie Hut. (All of these images are copyrighted. The ones on this page have a Share-alike free with Attribution licence. Very cool that the blogger here respected that!

Gretchen said...

Welcome, amadscientist -- thanks for mentioning the additional photos for viewing on Flickr. Looking forward to seeing more as time allows you to scan and post them!

Deborah said...

I am the grandaughter of Ed Hill the owner of the Zombie Hut that was on Freeport Blvd in Sac. Ca.. I have tons of memories of the original Zombie hut having practically grown up there.

Gretchen said...

Aloha Deborah! I'd love to schedule an interview with you. My email is up in the blog description. Thanks for stopping by and hope to talk with you soon!

Mark said... name is Mark and I am a friend of Bee's Great Grandson Jeffrey and his twin sister Cheryl. Greetings from Sacramento and the Simonsen's.

Do you have any pictures of Ed? Most of the images we have are of just Bea and the family.

Mark said...

Hello Deb,

My name is Mark and I am a friend of Bea's Great Grandson Jeffrey and his twin sister Cheryl. Terry (Bea's Grandson by Nona) passed away some years ago as has Nona and the rest of the Bea's children. I hope all is well. Hello from the Simonsen family in Sacramento.

Gretchen said...

Welcome, Mark! Thanks for your kind words for Deb -- if you'd like you may leave your email with me and I'll pass it along.