Makai Santa Cruz Waterfront Dining and Cocktails

Celebrating Mai Tai Monday with a real good one that we sampled on lunch on Saturday. Makai Island Kitchen & Groggery is a Hawaiian and tiki themed restaurant on the Santa Cruz pier. We’ve been there a few times and had a good experience, so seemed like a great time to visit again and reconnect with friends. Our meal and service were great.

The cocktail menu is refreshed and there are even more originals here now, plus a very well appointed rum tasting list. I went for the Mai Tai and found it quite good, using Appleton Signature Jamaican rum. Meanwhile Mrs. Mai Tai had the Kahanamoku featuring vanilla rum, lemon, lime, coconut cream, and spiced rum float. Leaning sweet, but still pretty good if you like it that way.

The rum list is extensive and priced competitively. We went a little upscale for some Appleton Hearts 1995, only $62 for a 1½ oz pour. Plenty enough to split between the two parties.

I know that purists hate tiki bars with windows, but I can never penalize a place that has ocean-front views (see also: Trader Vic’s Emeryville). And Makai’s view is really worth it. We saw flocks of pelicans and also hoards of sea lions nearby. It was a beautiful day on Saturday, perfect for a friendly meal and tasty food and drinks.

Tipsy Terrier Halloween Party

Thanks to Amy and Kirk for throwing another amazing backyard Halloween Party last night in San Jose. Their large home tiki bar, the Tipsy Terrier, is the centerpiece and fantastic but we most spent time in the yard and patio enjoying the myriad Halloween decorations.

They served a wide assortment of boozy beverages including fantastic versions of the 1944 Mai Tai, Three Dots and a Dash, and great blood red Zombie. Super flavorful and definitely not watered down for a general audience. There were also Aperol Spritz’s and Champagne Cocktails. So nice when the host give you the fixing and you can prepare it to suit. Beer on tap and Sangria from a fountain were available for those with less ambitious prep desires, or just because they prefer it.

Mrs. Mai Tai came up with the idea for our costume – Jack and Wendy from The Shining. All works and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Some truly outstanding costumes at the party, and nice to see some familiar faces but also to meet some new people too.

Galliano Mai Tai

Saw a reference to this vintage pamphlet cookbook produced by McKesson Liquor Co. in the early 1970s, so I had to get one for myself. Discover Gold includes a host of recipes featuring Galliano liqueur, with its unique but “undefinable taste.” The Harvey Wallbanger is here, of course, but so much more.

I gave the Mai Tai a spin, because I’m fancy like that. With a full ounce of Galliano, you’re not hiding the taste – especially when paired with a lightly flavorful White Rum. Otherwise, it’s a pretty standard Mai Tai recipe.

Galliano Mai Tai
1 oz Galliano
1 oz White Rum
½ oz Lime Juice
½ oz Orgeat
½ oz Orange Curaçao
Put all ingredients into an ice-filled rocks glass, stir, and garnish with mint.

If you love Galliano in a Harvey Wallbanger, like I do, even you probably won’t like this. Far too much of that unique Galliano flavor here, and it totally overwhelms the cocktail. I could barely taste the other flavors especially the scant ½ oz of lime juice. Maybe this would be better if paired with a bolder rum and inverting the lime and Galliano ratios. Maybe.

I don’t need to tell the Galliano haters that this is cocktail is a hard pass for you.

Killer Mai Tais, Literally

There’s a key plot point in the new season of American Horror Story: NYC on FX/Hulu. There is a serial killer at loose but he only seems to be killing men who order Mai Tais at bars.

No, I’m not joking. Thank you to Amanda Hastings for the heads up on this detail.

Look, haven’t we already suffered enough with bad Mai Tais over the years? Now we have to deal with looking over our shoulders and worrying about copycat killers!

This kind of show isn’t really my bag though, Mai Tai or no Mai Tai. If someone wants to send me spoilers via DM I wouldn’t mind knowing how this turns out. Maybe the killer has a grudge against Trader Vic or is simply a Martini fanatic.

This brings new meaning to the phrase “Mai Tai Till I Die.”

Mai Tais at Sparks Water Bar

Not entirely a coincidence that we chose this restaurant on the waterfront of Sparks Marina Park Lake, since this was located very close to our hotel. But I was all too happy to take Mrs. Mai Tais suggestion for Sparks Water Bar for dinner on Saturday.

The lake is obviously man-made, and there are some nice beach styled houses near the marina, including some with some impressive backyard tikis. The two-story restaurant was busy on Saturday, so it seems like the place to be. Food is a mix of this and that American fare, along with the extensive Gar Woods cocktail menu.

1944 Old Way Mai Tai

So, a “Trader Vic’s Mai Tai” (the one made with Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Concentrate) and a “1944 Old Way Mai Tai” were there for a little comparison testing. Unlike our visit to sister property America’s Bar in Truckee, the mint was in great shape for the garnish. The 1944 comes with the Menehune spear, and did taste a bit better – just a little more rich. Both were well-done and authentic.

Mrs. Mai Tai tried one of Gar Woods’ “Woody” cocktails, a blended Daiquiri style drink which she plussed with some Prickly Pear puree and a float of Myers’s and Captain Morgan rums. I thought it was pretty good for this style of drink and certainly the pear flavor did come through. She didn’t love the Pomegranate Martini though, but I thought it was a pretty good Cosmo riff.

Can’t say enough good things about the food here. My Teriyaki Salmon Salad was delightful, with the teriyaki glaze perfectly grilled to a crisp. There were lots of things in the salad besides lettuce, and I really enjoyed this. The Scallops that Mrs. Mai Tai had were pricey but she said were excellent.

Local Tikis

Thatch Roof Cocktail at Legends Bay Casino

The new Legends Bay Casino is right across from our hotel in Sparks, so we went over to try some cocktails. There’s a bar with food trucks and a great selection of beer, but we went into the elegant bar at Duke’s Steak House. Our service from the bartender here was outstanding.

There’s a good selection of cocktails here, and the team can make classics not on the menu (I ordered a Sidecar). Mrs. Mai Tai immediately spotted the coconut rum drink called Thatch Roof, and this was an excellent choice. The Thatch Roof cocktail has Kasama Small Batch Rum (from the Philippines), ginger, coconut cream, lime, and soda. The blend of coconut and ginger worked great, and the soda and lime gave it a lightness. It was fantastic.

Kasama is a rum brand that I wasn’t familiar with, so I got a little pour of the rum for the second round. I don’t think the “small batch rum” label is quite accurate since research indicates there are big bucks and industry vets behind this brand (see also: Tito’s “Handmade” Vodka). The column-still rum is heavily dosed with sugar and added flavors, so this isn’t really a rum to sip neat. But I can’t complain at all about the flavorful Thatch Roof cocktail.