Revisiting Solvang’s High Roller Tiki Lounge

This was our first true visit to High Roller Tiki Lounge at its present location in Danish-themed Solvang. We visited the original location years ago and tried to come in 2021 but Friday evening traffic meant we missed closing time by five minutes. We arrived at around 4:00 pm on Thursday, so we had plenty of time before they closed at 6:00.

The venue doesn’t have a full liquor license, and on my last visit all the “cocktails” were made with wine. This time some were offered with a rice-based liqueur that’s blended with rum and other spirits and issued at a lower ABV. But the High Roller team uses double the amount so these drinks are plenty boozy. I ordered the Mai Tai with “rum” and really enjoyed it. It leans sweet, which was all right by me, and I think is a good option for tiki newbies in wine-focused Solvang.

Even better was the Mermaid Bowl that Mrs. Mai Tai and I shared. This drink is a hoot, complete with a mermaid you can take home, tropical fruity flavors, and tons of bursting boba inside. And, like I said earlier, plenty boozy.

Michael Cobb from High Roller Tiki

The lounge space was quite relaxing, with a nice mix of traditional tiki elements and vintage touches throughout. We talked to Michael Cobb a bit and he showed us the expanded seating space across the little courtyard that they use on the weekends when they’re busy and when they have live music. This nicely appointed space has a traditional table and booth layout but the blacked-out windows means that traditional tiki bar fans will feel right at home. Even better, High Roller stays open later on the weekend.

Relaxing Ventura Lunch at VenTiki

After we left L.A. and ventured up the coast we decided to stop in Ventura for lunch. It’s been a while since we visited VenTiki Lounge and Lanai and found it to be in good shape with lots of shade on the patio and inviting us for a relaxing time on a nice spring day.

I went upscale for the refreshing $35 Mai Tai, a good price considering it uses a couple of premium Martinique Rhums and you get to keep the nice VenTiki mug as a souvenir. I also tried and liked the sweet and tangy Vicious Hibiscus that includes Spiced Rum, Elderflower, and Hibiscus Syrup. This was better than The Fuzz that Mrs. Mai Tai ordered and includes Tequila and Hibiscus Syrup.

Our service was great and it was truly relaxing listing to mellow music with lunch. The server saw our interest and even gave us some matchbooks and a couple extra swizzles. The VenTiki team is doing a lot of things right given the small-ish size of the venue and we did enjoy the warning to mug thieves in the restroom.

The Blind Rabbit: Speakeasy Cocktails in Anaheim

Mrs. Mai Tai suggested trying this speakeasy cocktail bar again, so we were pleased to score a last-minute reservation right for opening. The Blind Rabbit is located in the Anaheim Packing District venue, and seems to have relaxed a lot of the “rules” that previously were enforced. We had a lot of delays getting our Lyft and were stressed we might miss the 15 minute grace period.

In the end, we arrived right on time to find … ourselves as the only customers inside the bar! As such our server was quite attentive, even after other guests started to arrive. The hostess kept a tight ship, shooing out some guests who walked right into the bar without first checking in.

The Blind Rabbit’s menu is fairly small and features some cocktails with ingredients such as Mezcal that aren’t in my wheelhouse. While I know that the staff can go off-menu, we do like to try from the cocktail menu.

Icy Colors Change – Gin, Elderflower, Lemon, Pomegranate. I enjoyed this light cocktail, though my light did not change.

Ardbeg Your Pardon – I’m not a fan of peated Scotch, so I asked the server about this cocktail with Ardbeg Scotch, Rye, and spiced syrups. Ardbeg is indeed peated, but I took and chance and found that it didn’t overpower thanks to the Rye.

For my last drink I did go off menu to ask for a Rum Old Fashioned with Jamaica Rum. The bartender prepared this wonderfully and it’s always wonderful to savor my favorite style of rum.

Mrs. Mai Tai enjoyed a Zombie variant called Happier than Ever and served in a cool Viking skull mug. She also got an off-menu cocktail the server recommended for its similarity to a Pacific Cooler Capri Sun.

After drinks, we ate dinner at The Iron Press upstairs where we had absolutely fabulous Pretzel Bites and a Simple Burger. So great.

Mai Tai Crafted with Myers’s Rum / Original Cocktails by Heublein

Issued at 20% ABV and sold in this great looking flask-style bottle, I so wanted to like the Mai Tai made with Myers’s Original Dark Rum from Jamaica. But there are no other ingredients listed, which should have been the key warning sign.

Does it taste anything like a Mai Tai? Not even close.

It tastes like an artificially flavored Fuzzy Navel, with a conspicuous peach-forward taste.

I barely took two sips before pouring it out and reaching into the fridge for one of the Trader Vic’s canned Mai Tais that I have stashed there. So much better.

Amazing Cocktails at Strong Water Anaheim

This was our second visit to Strong Water, and our first in the main room. I actually preferred this portion of the venue where the music is more varied and there’s more of a tropical/tiki feel than a nautical feel like there is in the back room. The menu is expansive but not too difficult to navigate.

Our cocktails were fantastic. I asked for a Mai Tai using Strong Water’s Lost Voyage rum (produced with Hamilton Rum) and it was a creamy and rich cocktail that was a great vehicle for a flavorful rum. I also really enjoyed the Three Dots & a Dash that filed off the rough edges of the aged Martinique rum and was nicely honey-forward. My last cocktail was the fantastic Lilikoi Sunset, a Passionfruit-forward Daiquiri variant with Barbados and Jamaica rums. All our drinks were universally hailed as excellent.

Such a great evening with cocktails and catching up with friends. We were tickled to be seated in the Jeff “Beachbum” Berry booth, where’s the a plaque to commemorate the Bum’s and Mrs Bum’s visits. Our service was great, with the server offering several suggestions.

Appleton 17 Legend Jamaican Rum Coming Soon

The social media accounts for Appleton Rum in the U.S. and U.K. went live today with a teaser about the “legend” returning, with a subtle “17” as part of the design. We did see May 17 being mentioned earlier today.

This is surely a reference to the Appleton 17 Legend Jamaican Rum that had a label approved by the TTB nearly a year ago.

The label says this limited edition rum expression is intended as a “re-creation of the legendary rum crafted by J. Wray & Nephew in the 1940s” that “inspired the bartending world.” There isn’t a specific mention of Trader Vic Bergeron or his most famous creation, the 1944 Mai Tai, but this certainly is intended to make you think of the legendary Wray & Nephew 17 that was the first rum using in Vic’s Mai Tai.

You can sign up for email updates on

Stay tuned, Mai Tai fans!

Damon’s is Still Going Strong in Glendale

We met up with some friends and they suggested Damon’s in Glendale. Who were we to argue as we’ve been coming here for years and enjoy the old school ambiance and bamboo laden decor that date back to 1937. The Hawaiian theme is present in every corner and while the bar can get a little rowdy with locals, the dining room is more relaxing. Look for monkeys on the menu and with appearances in the restaurant, even in the large outrigger suspended from the ceiling.

Their cocktails aren’t really craft – but I did enjoy the Trader Vic’s Mai Tai. Mrs. Mai Tai loved the All Skrewed Up Daiquiri, with Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey, banana, banana liqueur, lime, and pineapple. Served blended and frozen.

The dining experience is a throwback. Everyone gets a Damon’s salad with their meal, even if (like me) you ordered an entree salad for dinner. They still serve thick steaks that are beloved and we also liked their classic garlic toast. Service was friendly and prompt as always. Glassware and shirts are available for purchase.

We visited for dinner on a Wednesday and by the time we left the entire restaurant floor was packed. It warms the heart to see that the diners of Glendale are supporting the institution rather than just the new hotness. Long live Damon’s.

Formosa Cafe – Iconic Hollywood Chinese Restaurant

This iconic Chinese restaurant has been on our radar ever since it was remodeled and relaunched as a brand a few years back. We made a reservation for opening last Saturday.

There are nods to classic and even newer Hollywood stars with the photos lining the ceiling, with a large bar right as your enter and a second one in the back room. We were seated in the section that’s an actual Red Trolley Car dating to 1904. So unique!

The Formosa is leaning into their merchandise program, offering stickers, glassware, shirts, and more. We took advantage of the bundle of a cocktail and a Dragon Mug, quite the deal for just $30. I had the Mai Tai, which is made with light and black Bacardi rum, and a bit of pineapple juice. The pineapple ratio was modest, so this was actually a pretty good Mai Tai. There’s a Tia Mia on the menu, which is a Mai Tai with Mezcal and spiced rum, so I ordered one using only Appleton Signature rum and found it to be closer to a true Mai Tai though I think I preferred the one with pineapple juice.

We loved the Passion and Paradox cocktail that includes Rye and Blood Orange Liqueur and Mrs. Mai Tai liked the Nay Nay Rosé Martini.

The food at Formosa leans expensive and is decadent. We loved the Walnut Shrimp, XLB Soup Dumplings, and Pot Stickers. We took a chance on the Chinese BBQ Pork which is basically an entire pork loin and served with foldable bao buns. This actually gave less meat than you might think, unless you love crispy pork skin.

The interior of the Formosa Cafe is total eye candy and everyone needs to visit this iconic location at least once. We had great service and loved the ambiance of the entire restaurant.

Secret Island Tiki Lounge, Long Beach Speakeasy Tiki Bar

We met up with some of Mrs Mai Tai’s friends at this downtown Long Beach speakeasy-style tiki bar. Located in the basement under Shannon’s Corner, Secret Island Tiki Lounge has a fantastic entrance experience that has to be witnessed to be fully understood.

Inside there’s a long bar with tables and booths just behind. Intimate but not too small. The decor of the bar is modern, with black light, and the music is modern tropical. Not too clubby but not vintage either. Decor in the back is pretty traditional with some nice bamboo and tikis throughout.

Pele’s Throne

Food was was mostly good Pu-Pu style apps, with the pineapple fried rice being a highlight and the spam misubi being the only lowlight. We had prompt and friendly service.

Cocktails overall were pretty good. The Mai Tai (and perhaps others) was batched but at least was competent and plenty boozy. Their signature drink Pele’s Fire was on the spicy side but really good and is plenty large. This fire bowl could easily be shared. Be sure to sit in Pele’s throne for a photo.

Straddling modern and traditional, party time and relaxing lounge, Secret Island is a sort of jack of all trades, master of none. If you don’t have a good time you’re not trying hard enough.

The Warehouse Barrel Mug

We had a nice lunch at the world famous Warehouse in Marina Del Rey. We enjoy the grand spectacle of this elaborately themed restaurant. We keep hearing this place will close sometime soon, so we made sure to have at least one more visit.

The waterfront views weren’t stellar thanks to overcast skies, though a few brave souls did eat out on the patio.

There was a mixup from the cocktail menu, where if you order the Barrel of Rum you keep the mug, and the Loaded Cargo where you keep a mug too. I ordered the latter but it came without a mug, since they’re out. The waiter apologized for not mentioning it after I asked about the mug, but noted the price is lower. It was just okay on a sliding scale.

As I left the venue I noticed they had a bunch of the barrel mugs, which of course I would have ordered had I known the situation. But I did walk away with a mug, thanks to the waiter and understanding bar staff.

We went outside to feed the fish and turtles, and review the tropical ambiance outside. Sure wish this place would continue to stay in business.