False Idol – San Diego’s Best Tiki Bar

We skipped False Idol last year since we weren’t doing much indoor bar crawling, but we were sure to make it this trip by making a reservation. Having visited Smuggler’s Cove and Hale Pele in the last ten days this completed the trio of Martin Cate’s bars on the west coast.

A rare moment when standing room cleared

You enter False Idol via the host stand inside Craft & Commerce. With reservations you’re seated at a table and get to avoid the crush of patrons in standing room or trying to get to the bar seating that is first come, first seated. The reservation for four at 8 pm on a Friday was for two and half hours and we used nearly every minute. Our server Jordan did a great job checking in with drink orders and such, and since we were seated by the exit door we also saw him play bouncer when people tried to sneak in.

The decor here is so cool, with a ceiling filled with floats and carvings on the fall walls from local legend Bosko. Thunder roars when flaming bowl drinks are served. This was our first time seeing the new entrance, replacing the old speakeasy style freezer entrance with one framed by scary shrunken heads and skulls.

The cocktail menu is vast, offering both a classic tropical cocktail as well as a modern riff.  I thought the Mai Tai was just fine, and the Mai Sho Roa Na riff was a great excursion for a version using Banana rather than Orange liqueur and then adding Madiera. Our group tried some of the other cocktails including the Polynesian Forty-Niner (using Gardenia mix), Coronado Luau Special, Mac Nut Chi Chi, and Ube Bae. Really great cocktails overall at False Idol.

Mai Tai

I attempted to not over-indulge by only having two drinks. But the group was really interested in ending the night with a flaming bowl drink, so we settled on the Alkala the Fierce, featuring Dons Spices #2, Orgeat, rum, and Chai-infused Bourbon. I really liked this cocktail, and Jordon flamed it up real good for us. Though, afterwards there was a clear cloud of cinnamon that settled on the table.

A really fantastic evening at False Idol.

Tiki Tuesday at the Diller Room

They say that alcohol reduces your inhibitions, which can lead to bad decisions. Or great ones. Sometimes, it’s a little of both and that was our experience at The Diller Room on Tuesday.

Justin Wojslaw

Having already done drinks at Rumba and Inside Passage, we were encouraged by our friend Tiki with Ray to visit the Diller Room just a short drive away to see Justin Wojslaw who slings tiki drinks on Tuesdays. Ray promised Pearl Divers, which was just up Mrs. Mai Tai’s alley, so against our better judgement we headed over.

Pearl Diver at The Diller Room

When we arrived we saw Justin hard at work, but welcomed us with his special tiki menu that featured some tropical classics, as well as some originals. Ray and Julie ordered Pearl Divers and I ordered the Golden Era Mai Tai, Justin’s house variation. Special Diller Room tall glasses are also available for sale.

All the cocktails were really great, especially the Pearl Diver, and the mood in the room was happy but mellow. Justin is a true artist behind the bar, confirming his well-deserved reputation for quality cocktails and hospitality. The neon sign provides a great backdrop.

But, all the booze was catching up with us and it was time for head back to the hotel, so we didn’t stay long.

Rumba: ¼ oz of Orgeat Makes a Difference

We’re in Seattle for a few days and the priority for me was to get up to Rumba and re-try their Mai Tai that I found to be truly amazing on a previous visit a couple years ago. So, Mrs. Mai Tai and I met up with Tiki with Ray for dinner.

Ray and I both ordered the Rumba Mai Tai, featuring Rumba’s House barrel aged Wray & Nephew, Rhum JM Gold, fresh lime, curaçao, and orgeat. But when we took a sip we could barely taste the funky rums. In fact, we couldn’t really taste anything except orgeat. Ray is local and said they must have changed their recipe, so he asked the waiter about it. He said that the Mai Tai only uses ¼ oz of orgeat, but we assured him there had to be far more than that.

As it turns out, our suspicions were confirmed. Rumba recently switched to a different orgeat that’s sweeter, and they dropped it from ½ oz to ¼ oz. But the bartender forgot and used the old measurement. These things can happen during a recipe transition.

We were offered new, correctly made Mai Tais and that small drop in orgeat made a huge difference as the cocktail became correctly balanced. And that Rumba Mai Tai is fantastic, with the funky rums offering savory notes alongside the tart lime and sweet orgeat.

The rest of the visit was great, with all of our drinks being truly high quality and our food coming out quite well. Service was outstanding, and they even helped us transition to our reservation at the connected bar Inside Passage.

Rumba has a huge collection of rums, and we got to see the wall for the members of their rum club. The postcards that line the walls and fun painted signs work well with the library-style furniture and shelving. It’s a seminal destination in Seattle.

The Alibi

One of the oldest tiki bars in the world, Portland’s Alibi Restaurant and Lounge has a lovely feel early in the day when we visited on the Tiki Kon Sunday Bar Tour. It is even nicer when vintage exotica and lounge music is played rather than the classic rock that usually plays. Karaoke is a big thing here most evenings.

The Mai Tai was okay. Definitely using some cane-juice based rum, which surprised me. Needed to be a little sweeter though. And Mrs Mai Tai’s Pina Colada was on point.

So many little details with the vintage seating and decor.

Tiki Kon Presentation

Had a great time with my presentation “The (De)Evolution of the Hawaiian Mai Tai” at Tiki Kon.

This was the first seminar of the day and everything ran pretty smoothly thanks to the fab AV and event staff (@elvis.hart, @kristin_v_s_, @kylevanderschick and team) and the excellent Tiki Kon management team of @jookygreg and @marquisdupre. Mahalo to all.

Truly appreciate the opportunity and also the audience which seemed to be very engaged taking photos of the slides and asking great questions at the end. Thank you for attending. And thanks to the Ultimate Mai Tai rooting section up front with @juliebeane @tikiwithray @dork_bot.

There is a recording and somehow we’ll make the session available, and we’re exploring additional speaking opportunities for this session that breaks several longstanding myths about the Mai Tai.

Rum Club Portland

We had dinner at this very nice neighborhood restaurant and bar in Portland. Food featured Empanadas, Dumplings, and other small bites and were really good. Many vegan options.

The cocktails came recommended including their fabulous Punch offering including four Jamaican rums. Right up my alley, and very easy drinking! Mrs Mai Tai tried the Strawberry blended cocktail featuring locally grown strawberries and I have to say it was quite fruity and light. Really good. As was as her second, the Water Wings featuring Cuban rum, Apricot, Honey, and Coconut Water – topped with bitters.

Though the rum selection seemed modest, I figured this was the place to go off menu for a Mai Tai and thankfully it was fantastic. Definitely incorporating some cane juice rum, the rich Mai Tai was really savory and had a rich mouthfeel.

National Mai Tai Day at Hale Pele

Tiki Kon weekend is here, and the first event was a ticketed, private seating at Portland’s world class tiki bar Hale Pele.

Of course we started with Hale Pele’s Mai Tai, and damn that is a fantastic cocktail! This is still made according to their longtime specs with 1½ oz Cobura Dark Jamaican rum along with ½ oz of Wray & Nephew Jamaican Overproof rum. So flavorful, and one of the best Mai Tais you can buy anywhere on planet earth.

Such a great time at Hale Pele when filled with tiki people, and the Hale Pele team really put on a great show with the fire drinks. Mrs. Mai Tai started with her default cocktail the Lava Flow (yummy!) and then we shared a flaming Jet Pilot. Such a great cocktail and even more special when set on fire by Hale Pele’s team of fire experts.

We really like the food at Hale Pele. My Mahi Tacos were fantastic, as was the Kalua Pork sandwich.

We also have to thank Appleton rum for the wonderful pour of their incredible Appleton 15 rum, along with a small rocks glass. Thank you to Martin and Rebecca Cate for hosting the event, and the entire Hale Pele crew.

Hale Pele’s World Class Mai Tai


Top 10 Mai Tais of 2020 (so far)

It’s June 30, which is halfway through the year and also the first of two unofficially recognized Mai Tai Day cocktail holidays. So, this is a great time to review our list of the best Mai Tais we’ve had so far this year.

Note that many of these feature custom rum blends compared to the standard-issue at these locations. Sometimes you want a Mai Tai with a special rum, and if you ask nicely the bartender will surely be able to accommodate the request. This can often lead to an excellent cocktail.

Honorable mentions: Deck, Halekulani Hotel, Drunk Munk, Tonga Hut, Trader Vic’s Emeryville and San Jose Airport

10. Trader Vic’s Mai Tai at Mamahune’s
When you use quality Jamaican rums the Mai Tai tastes great even if you free-pour.

9. Kuleana Hui Hui by Gabrielle Maser at Tiki Oasis
Great seminar cocktail using delicious Kuleana rum from Hawaii.

8. Casa de Christa Mai Tai
A homemade Mai Tai tastes wonderful when the host knows their stuff.

7. Golden Pineapple Craft Lounge
This off-menu request was amazing, using rare Holmes Cay Jamaica Wedderburn 2011 Single Cask Rum

6. Kon-Tiki with Hampden Great House 2021
The standard Mai Tai at Kon-Tiki is great, but this one with rich overproof Hampden was amazing.

5. Dr Funk
Their standard house Mai Tai is one of the best we’ve ever had.

4. Smuggler’s Cove with Appleton Reserve and Pot Still Gold
Asked for a different rum blend and it was delightful.

3. Maunakea Mai Tai at Skull & Crown Trading Co.
This ’44 Mai Tai features three rums and is fantastic.

2. Trader Sam’s Classic Mai Tai with Appleton 8 and Hamilton Pot Still Blonde by Skipper Nate
A credit to the Trader Sam’s bartenders at Disneyland that are so talented and willing to tweak their tourist-friendly Mai Tai. This one was amazing.

1. Birds of Paradise Lounge
With industry and event bartending experience it’s no wonder that the house Mai Tai with four rums from Mariella and Correy Bravo is fantastic. Great application of Appleton 12, Smith & Cross, Plantation Xaymaca, and Kō Hana Kea.

Tiki Night in the Bay Area

Can’t get into the specific reasons why but I made visits to three of the Bay Area tiki bars last night. And of course even if went there for other reasons you can’t leave without getting a cocktail.

Smuggler’s Cove: Hibiscus Rum Punch. Fruity and light, quite flavorful.

The Kon-Tiki: their very good Mai Tai and (not pictured) their best-in-the-world Cheeseburger.

Forbidden Island: Ohana night special cocktail called Black Hole Sun, by Sara Rivas. Citrus, Pineapple, Honey, Bourbon, Demerara 151, Dash of absinthe, Dash of bitters. Leaning spicy, this was pretty good!

Apple Maps in the car really came in handy yesterday. Just 30 mins from the Cove to Kon-Tiki at rush hour!

Nice to see familiar faces along the way. Such a blessing to have so many great destination experiences in the Bay Area.