By Katharine Lotze
Ask around for the best cocktails in the Santa Clarita Valley, and it won’t be long before you hear the name Candy Menor.
“Candy was a very unique bartender,” said David Ford, a bartender at Le Chêne who worked at the French restaurant with Candy in the 1990s.
Menor was a familiar face around the bar scene in the Santa Clarita Valley, starting at Tip’s Restaurant and ending his career at Le Chêne in Agua Dulce. His secret cocktail juice recipe helped him create a name for himself in the valley – a legacy that continues in his Hawaiian-inspired cocktail recipes. The red mystery blend
of tropical-tasting fruit juices adds a bit of “Candy” to the SCV’s cocktail scene even today.
Menor was born Candido Menor in Hawaii, the second youngest of nine children. His parents moved the family back to the Philippines when he was 2 in 1934.
He returned to Hawaii in 1947, and later worked various jobs on the island of Oahu, including as a plumber for the city and county of Honolulu.
“He didn’t have a clue what to do as a plumber,” said his widow Sandy.
After a stint in Guam helping build a U.S. military base, Menor decided to get into bartending.
“It fascinated him,” Sandy said.
He worked as a bar back for a few years under the legendary Donn Beach of Don the Beachcomber’s, and worked his way up to a bartender.
At the start of the 1960s, tropical and Polynesian drinks were in, and Menor was hired at a bar in Los Angeles that was looking for Hawaiian bartenders specializing in cocktails of the kind.
He worked at Malibu’s Tonga Lei for many years, and moved north from there to Tip’s.
Working under award-winning Tip’s bartender Bobby Batugo, Menor created a slew of tropical drinks, and a reputation along with them. Tip’s had a special juice it used in its drinks, and Menor tried to recreate it. He didn’t quite get the formula exact, but the recipe he came up with followed him to his next gig, as bartender and co-owner of the Tryst in Newhall.
When Menor moved on from the Tryst, it was sold and became Doc’s Inn, and the tropicals recipes went with the bar – but not Menor’s exact juice recipe.
“Candy never wanted anybody to have his recipe,” Sandy said.
Doc’s Inn doesn’t advertise their tropicals anymore, but they still have the box of recipes from the bar’s days as the Tryst, and they can still whip up one of Menor’s famous Lapu Lapus on request.
“We have a few old-time customers that remember the tropicals from Tip’s,” Doc’s Inn co-owner Juanita Hunt said. Doc’s Inn is still located in Newhall on Lyons Avenue.
After the Tryst, Menor went on to work for several now-closed Santa Clarita Valley bars, including the Blue Moon in Valencia and City Club in Saugus. He ended up at Agua Dulce’s Le Chêne, where he worked with bartender David Ford. The two first met at City Club, and that’s where Menor taught Ford the still-secret recipe for his famous juice.
Ford is the only person, besides the Menors’ son, Dean, who knows the recipe.
“I had to meet him early one morning, before the chefs or anyone came in,” Ford said.
Ford watched Menor work his magic, but never witnessed him use a measuring cup. He measured everything with a bar glass, Ford said.
“The juice is what makes the drink,” he said.
Ford and Le Chêne owner, Juan Alonso, call the concoction “J.J.” on their menu – short for “jungle juice,” as Menor used to call it.
“He used to guard that with his life,” Alonso said.
Menor retired in 1995, when his health began to decline. He suffered from diabetic retinopathy and began to go blind, and he was forced to quit working when he couldn’t see in the dim lights of the bars he worked in.
“He wanted to work; it was really bothering him,” Sandy said.
He died in 2004 after a triple bypass surgery, at age 72.
Menor’s beloved drink recipes from his Tip’s days survive at two Santa Clarita area bars: Le Chêne and Doc’s Inn. David Ford still works at Le Chêne, and continues to create Menor’s famous cocktails with the secret recipe.