Tiki Bar number 13 for me in 2020 is Oakland’s Kona Club. This dive/tiki bar on Piedmont Avenue is known for their incredible interior by Bamboo Ben and also for having a dive bar sensibility when it comes to cocktails and liquor. They just reopened this weekend from 4-8 pm for takeout cocktails so I took a drive to check it out.
You don’t get to go inside, as Kona Club has cleverly converted their exterior window to a walk-up window for to-go orders. A small set of cocktails are available, long with some beer selections. The requisite food component is a slice of pizza and a small side salad to complete the “meal.” Nothing to write home about but it’s also only $2. The team is looking to update the food option as they go, so check their Instagram for updates. Cocktails are available as a single for $10 or a double for $20.
The Madadamia Nut Chi-Chi is blended fresh and survived the trip home in good shape. The Mai Tai is the same as what Kona Club normally serves, which is to say it’s an Island Style with light rum (they used Myers’s Light Jamaican rum last time I was there). On a hot Sunday afternoon it wasn’t the greatest Mai Tai I’ve ever had but it was plenty cool and definitely refreshing.
Especially if you’re a local, support the business and give Kona Club a try.
Gotta give kudos to Trader Vic’s for coming on with a very strong merchandise game this year. Mason jars are a thing now for to-go cocktails, or just because you like them. And so now Trader Vic’s has these new beauties with the TV logo.
Let’s talk about the Q. B. Cooler. It’s the drink that inspired the Mai Tai. Or so the story goes.
Donn Beach claimed that Trader Vic used the Q. B. Cooler as a template or precursor to the Mai Tai, something noted in Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s book Sippin’ Safari.
We have a new feature at ultimatemaitai.com about the Q.B. Cooler, including the origin story, recipe, and whether or not the cocktail is the Mai Tai’s daddy. Includes some historical details and new quotes from The Bum himself. Check it out.
Q. B. Cooler by Don the Beachcomber ½ oz Lime juice 1 oz Orange juice 1 oz Club soda ½ oz Honey mix ¼ oz Falernum ½ tsp Ginger syrup ½ oz Demerara rum 1 oz Jamaican rum 1 oz Puerto Rican rum 2 dashes Angostura Bitters Blend with 4 oz crushed ice for 5 seconds; top up with more crushed ice and garnish with mint.
Last week we compared Giffard to the much cheaper Drillaud, and so this week it’s a more even playing field since the Senior is priced similarly (or in many places even higher). Once again, we did this in our Blue Hawai-Tai cocktail – though this time I did switch up the rums. We have Rum-Bar White Overproof and Denizen Aged White Rum for standing in this week.
In the glass: I found the Giffard to be a deeper shade of blue, and heavier and more complex on the tongue. The Senior is pleasant but just lacks a bit of depth – though it is 31% ABV compared to 25% for the Giffard.
In the cocktail: The Senior Blue Curacao mixes well in the cocktail, and for sure helps this cocktail go down easy. The sweetness of Senior is similar to the Giffard, but once again the Giffard just has a little extra complexity in the cocktail that is a notable difference.
The verdict: unlike last time, price differences aren’t a factor, so Giffard is still our winner. If you’re at a liquor store and you had to choose between some $7 low-end Blue Curacao and Senior, should you feel bad going upscale? Absolutely not. The Senior Blue Curacao is a good liqueur. But pound for pound, the Giffard is better in our opinion.
Blue Hawai-Tai by Kevin Crossman 1 oz Lemon Juice 1 oz White Overproof Jamaican Rum ½ oz Aged White Rum ½ oz Orgeat ½ oz Simple Syrup ½ oz Blue Curacao
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with crushed ice.
Thanks to Terra and Alex Fritch for suggesting The Vesper for Friday dinner and drinks. Had some fabulous conversation in Campbell’s very nice downtown. We liked the food but the cocktails were better.
I started with the Ramos Gin Fizz, which was something I’ve been meaning to try for a while. I enjoyed it but it wasn’t life changing. Very creamy.
They have a Trader Vic’s Mai Tai on the menu. I was told that Trader Vic’s rum is used and so decided to go upscale a bit for my two Mai Tais. The first was with Mount Gay XO and the second with Saint Benevolence Clairin. Both were quite good.
The Bay Area is having a heatwave but that didn’t stop dozens of tikiphiles from braving 100° heat to pack the Forbidden Island outdoor patio on Sunday. Straight from opening at 2 pm every table was filled with cool drinks being the desired antidote. I tasted a few rums in the form of a Mai Tai (these were all rums that I’ve had before). You can definitely taste the difference between Pyrat XO and Clement Premiére Canne in a Mai Tai.
The Forbidden Island crew has really got this patio process working smoothly now, with attentive servers and fast service for cocktails, rum samples, and the requisite food component of your order. The Yelp-based reservation system is important and crucial these days.
We had the pleasure of seeing two local luminaries complete the Kill Devil Club 2.0 rum list. Congrats to Cathie Wartelle and Lon Cook for drinking all the rums from this list of “hard to find, allocated, rare and rums aged 10 years and older.” The tiki mug you get is pretty cool too.
Both spirts are 25% ABV and the color is deep and blue in both. Tasting both neat, it does seem that that the Giffard has a more complex flavor that is a pleasure to flow over the tongue. The Drillaud is thankfully not as sickly sweet as some liqueurs I’ve tasted, and without any unpleasant after-taste. But, it does taste a bit “thin” compared to the Giffard. Nonetheless, this is a good sign for Drillaud.
Next, I tasted both in a Blue Hawai-Tai. As you can see, the colors are similar and both make an excellent version of our Blue Mai Tai with heavy rums. Here too, the Drillaud makes a good cocktail but indeed the Giffard is still better. Just a little bit more satisfying and rounded.
Giffard is the winner on taste alone but what about the price? I see the Giffard for sale at around $28, where the Drillaud is around $13. So, the Drillaud is a pretty good substitute and is just about half the price.