Makai Island Groggery Thanksgiving

We had a great Thanksgiving lunch at Makai Island Kitchen & Groggery in Santa Cruz. We’d been meaning to check this place out now that indoor dining is available, so this was a perfect opportunity for a little road trip over the hill.

There is a lot that’s great about Makai. The interior is very nicely appointed with a combination of Hawaiian, marine, and tiki elements. The back bar and seating area sit on a rotating platform, which circulates every 30 minutes. So all diners sitting at tables get an ocean view. Staff was friendly and service was great.

We enjoyed the food, including burgers for the kids and a poke bowl for Mrs. Mai Tai. My Mahi was not traditional for Thanksgiving but I loved it, and the Spam Misubi was excellent.

The non-alcoholic drinks Mrs Mai Tai tried were quite good, and priced accordingly ($5). She especially liked the Hibiscus Lei.

Hibiscus Lei and Mai Tai

Unfortunately, the two cocktails I had weren’t as good. The 1944 Mai Tai was not balanced – far far too lime forward (you know I lean sweet but this was not a personal preference – it truly had too much). The limp mint would have been better off being omitted. Better was the Mr. Makai served flaming in the gorgeous skeleton surfer mug that I took home. Still too lime forward, but at least I got a little bit of the rum and the dragonfruit-ginger syrup. They do have a modest but high quality collection of rums on site for cocktails or for sipping.

Overall, we enjoyed our visit. The location at the end of the Santa Cruz pier is picturesque. We always like dining indoors even if windows are a feature, but Makai does have outdoor seating. There’s also a nice private dining room called the Captain’s Table that has more nautical elements and porthole screens. We’ll be back.

Golden Tiki

Our last Vegas trip was 2016, before Golden Tiki opened. So we made visiting a priority with a dinner reservation on Sunday. We entered the brightly colored yet still dimly lit space with so much to look at, while being serenaded by the retro stylings of Dino a’ la Carte. We were seated nearby Dino, who soon welcomed us and congratulated us on our anniversary (noted in our reservation). Thereafter the waitress surprised us with an anniversary cocktail flight and a Dole Whip.

Service was a strength here, as our waitress was quite attentive through various rounds. Dinner isn’t served until after happy hour ends at 7 pm, so this added additional layers of service calls. I tried the pork sliders and spam musubi and both were pretty good.

Golden Tiki is gorgeous, with different themed areas and lots of little details. Some Disney style elements, lots of shrunken heads, and some raunchy stuff especially in the restroom. The large layout leaves plenty of seating for groups and this feels like a perfect tiki bar for Vegas.

The Mai Tai was okay, definitely leaning sweet and easy to drink. Mrs. Mai Tai said the Painkiller tasted like it had coffee liqueur, a welcome addition. Her Trial by Fire didn’t provide the coconut and chocolate flavors advertised on the menu, but I thought it was pretty refreshing. She for sure liked the Strawberry Batida. Meanwhile, we both felt the Piranha Punch was too sweet, but I really loved the Hemingway’s Ruin which adds Don’s Mix to the standard Hemingway Daiquiri template.

We made sure to get a photo in their signature clam shell. There is so much to see here, we’ll want to return again, and everyone treated us so well. We also enjoyed the no smoking policy, which combined with better cocktails allows us to tap Golden Tiki as our favorite in town.

Tiki di Amore

We were tipped to this tiki bar attached to an Italian restaurant, Casa di Amore, in the Vegas suburbs. The restaurant is open on Monday but the Tiki di Amore patio is only open Fri-Sun, a detail not listed on their website (I missed the notice on their Instagram). But since we were in the mood for Italian food we stayed anyway and found two seats at the bar.

The place is old school Italian, complete with a singer who sang all the favorites including “That’s Amore” and “New York New York.” The food was pretty good too. Loved the meatballs and Mrs Mai Tai said the soup was great.

I tried the Mai Tai off the tiki menu, but it for sure didn’t contain the Martinique Rhum referenced, and I couldn’t get much Jamaican rum taste either. A very sweet Mai Tai.

Thankfully, the Manhattan was better. Seems like a classic cocktail kind of place. Staff was friendly and helpful.

The outdoor patio out back is nicely appointed and includes two Moai from the old Aku-Aku at the Stardust.

Island Time Floats Tiki Bar

Regular readers will know that I try to paint with a wide brush and give a lot of leeway regarding what is tiki. Even on the Las Vegas Strip. Call yourself tiki and do something nodding in the directions, then sure. I’ll call it a tiki bar.

Island Time Floats is not a tiki bar.

There weren’t any tikis whatsoever, nor any nods toward the genre. Heck, a Mai Tai wasn’t even on their cocktail menu.

Nonetheless the bartender was happy to make one upon my request, but it was made as expected.

  • Malibu Rum
  • Admiral Nelson Spiced rum
  • Pineapple Juice
  • Grenadine
  • Myers’s Dark Rum float

As these things go it wasn’t bad if you drink from top to bottom, but needless to say this isn’t on the Mai Tai recommendation list. Oh well.

Trader Vic’s SJC

The world’s greatest airport bar is at San Jose International, at least as far as this writer has experienced: Trader Vic’s San Jose Airport.

Mrs Mai Tai and I breezed through security in less than 10 minutes and landed at Gate 22 to have brunch at Trader Vic’s. Staff was super friendly, even suggesting an off-menu San Francisco Mai Tai. The standard issue was just fine for me, and you know what it tastes like? It tastes like a Trader Vic’s Mai Tai.

I also tried the signature cocktail for the location, the Pilo Pilo. Fruity and delicious.

My Salmon Bowl was an unexpected pleasure. Plenty hearty with a gigantic portion of salmon. This was really great, I’d love to see this at other Vic’s locations.

The restaurant and bar are on the gangway side of the Airport, so this is sort of like the Vic’s in Emeryville except it is a different kind of vessel that you’re looking at. The Outpost across the way has merch and some grab and go items.

It’s always great to see a new Trader Vic’s, especially stateside. The place is well positioned in the terminal and was busy the entire time we were there. Check it out and try to fly SJC on your next trip.

Kon-Tiki Room Mai Tai

Good times on Friday night continued at The Kon-Tiki Room at Palmetto, where I landed to resample their Mai Tai. I really liked it when I tried it a couple months ago, but wanted to give it another taste. There wasn’t a show at the Fox Theater across the street, but the bar was still pretty full, so much that the tables by the door were in use. Nice to see that business is doing well. There was a sidewalk sign outside but Kon-Tiki Room needs some more obvious lighted signage.

It was super cool to receive a printed menu, done in the same graphic style as the “original Kon-Tiki” location at 14th and Webster. Same drinks and food offerings that have been there at Kon-Tiki Room from day one, but I love a great cocktail menu with illustrations and a design that tells you more about the place you’re in. And so much better than dealing with QR codes and tiny type on your phone’s screen.

The Kon-Tiki Mai Tai is made with Jamaican and Martinique rums, and definitely leans towards the funkier side. Quite savory in initial flavor, with a sweeter finish that’s tastes rich. Bartender Jeni Raye made it great and I’m solid in declaring it the best in the city. Leave a suggestion or other Oakland Mai Tais in the comments.

Kon-Tiki Room’s bar bites are fried staples with some twists on the toppings. This visit I tried the Fish Sticks with miso creme fraiche and tobiko. Really liked them.

Music was retro leaning punk and underground rock. If you’re going to go 80s this ain’t bad for a Friday night and way better than Phil Collins in a tiki bar.

Cocktails and Rum in Oakland

Got try to another one of the new cocktails on the Kon-Tiki cocktail menu. The Golden Snitch is from their Exotic Apperitifs section and has sherry, pineapple gum syrup, and rum. Quite delightful.

The Kon-Tiki’s rum selection continues to bring in some interesting new expressions to try. I sampled Admiral Rodney Saint Lucia Rum finished in Port Cask, and I was definitely impressed by the flavor profile. Easy to drink but also some great lingering flavors.

A very different rum was the LROK release from Hampden Estate in Jamaica. This is supposed to be their “lighter” expression but make no mistake this is still a flavor bomb with a pretty high ester count. Bottled at 47% ABV this is something everyone needs to try. I love Jamaican Rum.

Mahalo Chris Day

Many thanks to Chris Day who is departing from The Kon-Tiki . Friday was his last shift as bar manager, capping 20 months that have been quite a grind, I’m sure.

Chris’ influence on the Kon-Tiki cocktail menu is noteworthy, including his incredible coffee/coconut creation Donnie’s Element that I think is really fab. I’m also a big fan of the Blush Crush (pictured), a dainty cocktail with rum, apertivo, and pamplemousse. And Chris’s friendly demeanor has been a shining light during these dark times. Be well and we wish you success on the next path.


Three Dots and a Dash (modified)

I decided to use some of this year’s most highly anticipated new rum releases and put them into a cocktail together. I love the Worthy Park 109, which is a Dark Jamaican rum that to me approaches the flavor profile of a Demerara rum. And the aged Clairin expression from Saint Benevolence is an amazing alternative for cocktails calling for an aged rum from Martinique. 

So, I chose a cocktail where the new rums would drop right in. The Three Dots and a Dash is a popular Don the Beachcomber cocktail, the recipe for which was unearthed a few years ago by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. Thanks, Bum!

Three Dots and a Dash (modified)
½ oz Lime Juice
½ oz Orange Juice
½ oz Honey Syrup
¼ oz Falernum
¼ oz Pimento Dram
1½ oz Saint Benevolence Aged Clairin
½ oz Worthy Park 109 Jamaica Rum
1 dash Angostura Bitters
6 oz Crushed Ice
Flash blend and garnish with three cherries (three dots) and a pineapple (and a dash)

Smuggler’s Cove Mai Tai

Mrs Mai Tai and I were in the city last week celebrating our anniversary including dinner at Absinthe. We arrived early enough and visited Smuggler’s Cove nearby for some before-dinner-drinks. Very nice to sit at the bar and watch the amazing bartending skills of Steven Liles who treated us so well.

With so many highest quality cocktails at the Cove, I really should try something new, but damn if I can’t not get the Mai Tai. Still one of the best I’ve ever tried, so I had to have one.

Notable for me in comparison to some Mai Tais I’ve had elsewhere recently was how much I appreciate the rich and funky flavor of the Denizen Merchant’s Reserve rum that’s used in the SC Mai Tai. While not overpowering, this rum does punch through a bit more than the rum blends I’ve had recently, and in my opinion provides a more flavorful cocktail that is so much better.

Though, given the type of bar that Smuggler’s Cove is they can and should do different things than a bar in the suburbs and being patronized by a broader crowd that are tiki newbies or more into wine than cocktails.

Every year we track the Top 10 Mai Tais we’ve had over the past 12 months. I don’t want to spoil the countdown, but it is now a foregone conclusion that the Cove is going to be represented well. Very, very well.