Top Nine for 2022 on Instagram

For those of us who still value photos on Instagram, here are my top nine most liked photos. Thanks to all the followers and lurkers, plus my relentless almost daily posting, I received 38,400 likes in 2022.

  1. Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai
  2. Authentic Mai Tai costume
  3. Inside Passage 📷:@juliebeane
  4. Tiki Ti
  5. Save Trader Vic’s London (repost from @savetradervicsldn)
  6. Trader Vic’s Tiki Stem Coupe with Blue Caribbean Cocktail
  7. My Hawaiian Mai Tai presentation at Tiki Kon 📷:@juliebeane
  8. Mai Tai in Trader Vic’s San Jose Airport 1st Anniversary glass
  9. Cocktail at California Gold bar in San Rafael

A Mixed Bag at San Diego’s Grass Skirt

Finally made visiting The Grass Skirt a priority. We thought that since it is all-ages at dinner time that it would work for our family trip, plus we were interested in experiencing Sippin’ Santa pop-up one more time this season.

Definitely a mixed bag.

Sippin’ Santa Holiday Pop-Up Decor

The decor here is pretty nice, but the music was nothing but reggae covers of pop songs. Which got old very fast and kind of ruined the Christmas vibe too. They also had sound system issues with their special effects. We do really dig their speakeasy entrance and there were some nice Christmas decorations up, though this is not as elaborately themed as some holiday pop-ups we’ve patronized.

Entrance to “Other World Travel”

We enjoyed the Shrimp and Pork Wontons, but overall didn’t think the food was that great here, with small portions and some odd choices (why does the tofu come with ground beef?). Our service was pretty good, and our server had a nice Christmas sweater on.

We ordered cocktails off the Grass Skirt menu rather than Sipping’ Santa, which in retrospect was overall a mistake. We didn’t care at all for the Clarified Painkiller (doesn’t taste like a Painkiller at all) or the Banana Berry Old Fashioned (barely any banana or berry flavors). The Tropical Soda needed more tropical flavoring. Boozing’ Susan’s World Famous Chi Chi did not live up to the hype in the name (like nearly all cocktails claiming to be “world famous” truth be told) and felt a little flat to me. Mrs. Mai Tai didn’t really like it at all and this type of cocktail is right up her alley.

Clarified Painkiller and Chi-Chi

Thankfully, I’m pleased to report that Tropical Tony’s Mai Tai was really good. A very nice rum blend and a nutty orgeat put this on my honorable mention list for best Mai Tai of the year. I would definitely return for this, one of the better Mai Tais in the city.

Nutty Mai Tai at the Grass Skirt

Bali Hai Lunch

We had a nice family lunch at Bali Hai Restaurant. A very relaxed vibe with some great views of San Diego Bay, so this is always a favorite destination. It is a good option when you have underage people in your party, too.

I enjoyed the Goof Punch, with a blend of rums, orgeat, and juices. The thing I like about this is that it has a good rum to juice ratio, so this tastes like a balanced cocktail and not just a punch of random juices with alcohol.

I did not have the Mai Tai but they do have a stock ticker showing how many of the infamous cocktails they’ve sold. 2,910,446 as of Wednesday, with 75,010 this year (around 80,000 in 2021). Which means that they should hit 3 million in early 2024, something I’m sure that will be a big deal for the restaurant and for the greater San Diego community.

They’ve replaced the tables and chairs in the restaurant since our last visit in July. A little tighter for four but with wings to expand.

Still so many tikis and artifacts to look at here, including the Goof on the Roof and Mr. Bali Hai out front.

The Luau San Diego

Had little bit of time on Monday night so I hopped over to check out The Luau, a newish tiki/surf bar in San Diego’s College East neighborhood. I figured it might be kind of slow but it was anything but. A nice mixed crowd of young people and some older ones hanging out on the Monday after Christmas.

Inside, Luau has a lot of painted walls with paintings and carvings, with some cozy seating up near the entrance. The bar is fronted with thatch, and there’s a very well appointed tropical patio out back. Music was a mix of styles, mostly 60s including Beach Boys, Monkees, solo George Harrison, reggae, and The Police. There are several framed prints making reference to the original 1950s Luau in Beverly Hills.

Every customer gets a welcome shooter made with Rum, Curaçao, Orgeat, Pineapple, Lime, and Soda as well as a little bowl of pretzels and goldfish crackers. The menu leans on touristy favorites such as the Blue Hawaii and frozen cocktails and the cocktails are free-poured and built in the glass. There’s a basic Mai Tai, a “skinny” Mai Tai, and the Mana Mai Tai made with “premium rums” and small batch orgeat. But the scant amount of rum bottles on the shelf and Hana Bay rum in the well indicated to me that “premium rum” might have a different meaning here compared to one of San Diego’s myriad craft cocktail bars.

Nonetheless, I did try the Mana Mai Tai and found it to be just fine. Certainly far better than San Diego’s most famous Mai Tai!

The bartender (John, I think) was working alone and given how crowded it was did a good job holding down the fort as bartender, server, barback, and cashier. Definitely a friendly demeanor and told me about the live music they have on the weekends and how they also do karaoke here.

I think if you look at the Luau with a “glass half full” approach you’ll be on the right side. This isn’t a craft bar, but if you come in with the right attitude you should have a lot of fun. There was a party of seven that came into the bar and when their Luau shooters arrived they toasted to Whale’s Vagina (a reference from San Diego’s most famous celebrity news anchor, Ron Burgundy).

It would be great if Luau ownership could continue to invest in the interior decor and maybe after a few years it would really have that true tiki bar feel. As is, it ain’t bad and seems like a great neighborhood bar.

Hot Buttered Rum

Regular readers will know it is totally off-brand for me to do the DIY thing in the kitchen, but given I saw a couple of videos on YouTube this week it seemed easy enough. Though, in typically GNF fashion, this was not meticulously measured for the first go.

Hot Buttered Rum Batter
¾ cup Butter
1½ cup Brown Sugar
Add in tiny bits of Vanilla Extract, ground Cinnamon, ground Nutmeg, ground Cloves, ground Pepper, pinch of Salt.
Melt the Butter in a saucepan and then add in the Brown Sugar, stirring and folding. After fully mixed, add the dry ingredients and simmer/stir for 15 minutes. Pour into a container and let cool, then seal and put in refrigerator overnight.

Hot Buttered Rum
2 heaping teaspoons of Hot Buttered Rum Batter
1½ oz Jamaican Rum (Denizen)
6 oz Hot Water
Put batter and rum into cup, then add water and stir until the batter is dissolved. Garnish with a Cinnamon Stick and ground nutmeg.

This turned out pretty good, nearly as good as the Hot Buttered Rum I’ve had served at bars. If I were to do it over I would lean more on the Cinnamon side and consider adding Allspice and Molasses.

Happy Holidays!

Kō Hana Kea

Mele Kalikimaka to me. Finally picked up a bottle of this delicious Kō Hana Kea rum from O’ahu. Savory notes common from spirits derived from fresh cane juice, but missing the heavy grassy notes you sometimes see. Kea is medium bodied and tastes great in the glass.

Kō Ho Ho.

Rare Rum Blend

The bottle contains a blend of rare and premium rums from the collection of Josh Miller, rum blogger at and all-around rum mensch.

Josh put together the blend from a bunch of open bottles he had and wasn’t likely to drink in a timely fashion. So he blended it all and made the bottles available to locals in exchange for a donation to a charity of his choosing. Since I’m local, I was totally jumped on this.

The rum blend is rich and flavorful, with a longer after-finish reminiscent of some of the heavy pot still / cask strength rums that I have tasted. Very rich and slightly leaning sweet due to the long aging for most of the included rums. And yes it for sure makes a fabulous Mai Tai as well.

Josh’s Inu A Kena blog was hugely influential in my initial deep dive into rum a few years back, and significant portions thereof still remain useful even if the blog itself has been on hiatus since 2019. Cheers!

Viking Mai Tai at Forbidden Island

Alameda’s Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge is one our favorite destinations, but their standard-issue Classic Mai Tai has not been a standout cocktail on their menu. There have been tweaks over the years and if you got the right bartender it could be improved by using different rums or adjustments to the orgeat ratio. But it has never been a strength during my visits compared to other cocktails on the menu.

Tiki Lindy was recently named the GM of Forbidden Island, and Lindy said she had improved the Mai Tai by adjusting the rums. I tried one last week and for sure it is improved, with a more rum-forward flavor profile. It still has some way to go to be declared “awesome,” however. There’s another surprising option for Mai Tai fans, though.

A new Mai Tai appeared on the new FI menu earlier this year called the Viking Mai Tai. This is made with Aquavit, a spirit similar to Gin originally coming out of Scandinavian countries. FI’s Viking Mai Tai is made with Svol Aquavit from New York but made in this Scandinavian style using Pot Stills. This spirit imparts a very different taste from either Gin or from Rum.

Speaking as a rum-snob, I would not have expected to like the Viking Mai Tai but I found it to be a wonderful surprise. The cocktail’s savory botanicals worked very well with the rest of the classic Mai Tai ingredients that Forbidden Island is using. Really good and totally worth trying.

There are some winter cocktails on special at Forbidden Island right now, if Mai Tai exploration isn’t your thing. And the staff seemed to be in a festive mood the other day for the annual Tiki Mug Swap.

Sara Rivas, Tiki Lindy, and Michael Thanos

Dr. Funk Holiday Brunch

We had a great brunch in downtown San Jose today at Dr. Funk, featuring some traditional breakfast favorites and some tropical cocktails. There was an okay sized crowd today, due to some local Ohana deciding to meet up, plus a big table of locals who were taking advantage of the bottomless mimosas. And the Tequila shots. And some more cocktails.

There are some Christmas lights and some decorations inside and outside, but the holiday decor is not over the top. Lots of vintage Christmas music helped set the mood though.

Unusual for brunch here, the bar staff said in additional to regular brunch cocktail menus that they could do anything from the regular cocktail menu too. So I had to have their amazing Mai Tai, still so delicious.

It does seem like maybe this is the last brunch for a while, though. Gotta give the team credit for trying something with the extended hours, but I can see that patio seating especially would be tough in the winter. Hopefully it’ll come back in the spring or summer.

Winter Cocktails at Wilfred’s Lounge in Napa

There are some interesting winter cocktails at Wilfred’s Lounge in Napa. I tried and liked the Hot Buttered Rum, a lighter spin on the cocktail and without a ton of thick batter like you sometimes see (I acknowledge that could be a plus, or a minus, depending on your preference). I liked the warm rum cocktail on a rainy day (a coaster-related accident prevented me from taking a nice looking photo). We also heard great things about the Flora’s Holiday with mulled wine.

We were also pleased to see a hard-bound menu this visit, replacing the old floppy leather binder we had to use perviously. So much nicer in this format, but still plenty of space for pages of cocktails, rums, food, and even a section of available merchandise. The merch shelves inside the restaurant are looking nice these days.

We enjoyed our lunch last Sunday. I tried the burger for the first time and found it to be quite the delight. It comes with sweet potato fries, which isn’t really my thing but might be for you.