Kona Club Ups Cocktail Game with ’44 Mai Tai

Always described as a gorgeous bamboo tiki bar, Oakland’s Kona Club hasn’t embraced the cocktail trends most tiki bars have. Famous for their sugary Macadamia Nut Chi-Chi, neighborhood bar clientele, and music that doesn’t lean exotic, Kona Club sometimes draws ire from hardcore tikiphiles. But, friends, I’m here to tell you that some updates to the cocktail menu mean that it may be time to revisit those assumptions and opinions.

There’s a new section of Select Classics on the menu which include a Saturn, Jungle Bird, and Three Dots & a Dash. Plus a ’44 Mai Tai made with Jamaican rum, fresh lime, Dry Curacao, and orgeat. Having had plenty of cheap but ultimately not very good Kona Mai Tais here in the past, it was nice to see an option without pineapple, guava, and amaretto.

The standard ’44 Mai Tai is still made with small cubes, but nonetheless is still way better than the old Kona Mai Tai (which remains on the menu, if that’s your jam). Kona Club actually has a pretty decent rum selection as well, and I ordered a second ’44 with Hamilton 86 Demerara Rum and that too was pretty good (though needed more shaking/dilution). While they do measure the ingredients, they’re doing the fresh squeeze of “juice of one lime” bit, so your mileage might vary on the balance.

’44 Mai Tai and Undertow

Mrs. Mai Tai ordered two highballs. These are prepared in the glass with minimal stirring, so this can be detriment to the cocktail. That said, we both thought the Undertow with platinum and coconut rum, guava, passionfruit, lime, and orgeat was pretty good. Fruity in a good way, but not stickily sweet like the infamous Chi-Chi. She also tried the Left Bank with gin, elderflower liqueur, lemon, and soda. She thought it needed more elderflower, and I guess I would agree. It definitely tasted better after additional stirring and a squeeze of the lemon wheel garnish.

Thursday evening around 8:30 was quite fun, with lots of people cycling through and having a great time. Music was better, more of a mix of instrumental/retro tunes and no hip-hop or classic rock. I’ve had service issues here many times, but this time the staff was super attentive and friendly.

Kona Club still isn’t “craft cocktails” but at least is now a lot better. Definitely a lot of fun in a good neighborhood where parking isn’t a problem. I’ll be back.

Sunday Brunch at Hula Hoops is a Crowd Pleaser

We organized a brunch meetup at South San Francisco’s Hula Hoops within the South SF Bay Area Tiki Ohana Group in Facebook, and so a bunch of people came out to see folks and try Hula Hoops’ amazing brunch and cocktails. Great to see everyone and to take advantage of easy reservation options. Staffing was super friendly and all our items came out in a timely manner even though it was quite busy.

Our food was amazing, similar to past visits this year. I once again had the Salmon Avocado toast that was heavenly. We also had the delicious Butter Mochi with tropical Guri-Guri sherbet.

Drinks were quite on point once again, including the Coco Loco which is served in a coconut with dry ice smoke. This rum drink has great tropical flavors and isn’t overly sweet. Mrs. Mai Tai also had one of her favorites, the Ube Martini. Customers can order this with vodka, gin, or tequila, but we naturally chose rum as the featured spirit that pairs so well with ube and coconut cream.

Best Scorpion Bowl Ever

The highlight for me was the Scorpion Bowl. I haven’t loved this Trader Vic’s cocktail in the past, but it’s on the Hula Hoops’ cocktail checklist and I thought I would be able to get a little help finishing it from others in the group.

Whereas in the past I’ve found the Scorpion to have too much lemon and orange, the fruit juice was very well balanced with orgeat and flavorful rum. Hula Hoops really nailed this, a testament to their cocktail program that’s still going strong since 2018.

Top 10 Mai Tais of 2024 (so far)

It’s June 30, which is halfway through the year so this is a great time to review our list of the best Mai Tais we’ve had at commercial or home tiki bars so far this year.

Note that many of these feature custom rum orders 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 typically be able to accommodate the request. This can often lead to an excellent cocktail.

10. Mister, Might I… by Doc Parks at The Kon-Tiki
Besides being a great Mai Tai, this was served with a side of pineapple juice that allows the customer to decide what to do with it. Some might incorporate it into the cocktail, but I took it as a chaser.

9. My Tie, Youse Tai
Served at the home tiki bar of Stephan Curran, this elegant cocktail used premium aged rums from Jamaica: Appleton 15 and Appleton 21. I felt like a celebrity drinking this amazing upscale Mai Tai.

8. Stray Pirate
The standard-issue Mai Tai at Vegas’ newest immersive bar is really great and uses Jamaican and Martinique rums.

7. Matiki
I was totally blown away by this outstanding Mai Tai at Vienna’s modern tiki bar. It uses Rhum Saint James Agricole along with Appleton 12 and Smith & Cross Jamaica rums.

6. The Beachcomber
Fans of Rhum Agricole know The Beachcomber is the place to be in London. Their off-menu Mai Tai is savory and sweet and just as good this year as it was last year.

5. Strong Water Anaheim
The strong cocktail program at Strong Water means that their standard Mai Tai is really great, using Demerara Rum and Jamaica Rum.

4. Dr Funk ($8 MTM)
The quality control problems in this San Jose tiki bar seem to be addressed with their formidable Mai Tai back on track. This one was only $8 for Mai Tai Monday and still uses Appleton 12 and Smith & Cross. So good.

3. Trader Sam’s 1944 w/Smith & Cross by Maddie
Skipper Maddie killed it with some off menu cocktails and her presentation for a classic Mai Tai nailed the look and the taste. Amazing.

2. Kon-Tiki with Hamilton Pot Still Blonde
When tasting rums at The Kon-Tiki I’ll often have them in a Mai Tai. I’m such a fan of Pot Still Blonde and the bartenders made it perfectly.

1. The Sinking Ship at Tiki-Ko with Rhum J.M Terroir Volcanique
I couldn’t believe how much I loved this Mai Tai made just with Rhum Agricole aged in heavily charred casks. The sweet orgeat rounded off the smoky edges from the rhum and it was heavenly.

Runners up:
11. Mai Tai with Appleton 15 at Rumpus Tiki Budapest
12. Trader Vics’s Emeryville
13. Zombie Village with Saint Benevolence Rum Clairin
14. Lost Inferno
15. The Fink
16. Trader Vic’s San Jose Airport
17. Trailer Happiness
18. Equiano Rum Mai Tai at The Shipwreck

Honorable Mentions:
Wilfred’s Lounge, Our Big Luauski, Trader Vic’s Munich, The Formosa Cafe, Red Dwarf, Hula Hoops (Lilikoi Tai), Golden Tiki

Matiki Vienna Has Amazing Craft Cocktails

The charming Spittelberg neighborhood is the home of Matiki, a modern tiki bar that has truly outstanding cocktails. We visited early on a Friday and passed the outdoor seating to decide to sit inside. There are some sparse tiki displays inside plus windows, so this isn’t a dark tiki bar. Nonetheless we enjoyed our visit thanks to the service and craft cocktails.

Tutti Flirty

Every tiki bar decides to emphasize specific things, and Matiki’s is the cocktails. Some really interesting menu items here, including a section of highballs, and each tiki drink comes in a specific mug or glass. There were a few classics and several more inspired originals including the Tutti Flirty with gin, amaro, port wine, falernum, and juices. That cocktail was garnished with a candy and a little love note where you could add your telephone to give to new friend. Mrs. Mai Tai also liked the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a with gin, orgeat, lemon, and Peychaud’s. She liked the mug so much we even bought one.

Meanwhile, I was totally blown away by Matiki’s amazing Mai Tai. Billed as having rhum agricole and Jamaica rum, I pretty much got the same Appleton 12/Smith & Cross notes I’ve had at other tiki bars – and sure enough that’s what they were using in addition to Saint James aged agricole. One of the best Mai Tais of 2024 so far. I also loved the If You Like, a petite colada variant with cream topping, and also Pu Er Sour with gin, brandy, amaretto, and Pu Er Tea syrup.

Mai Tai

Matiki had some of the highest quality and varied cocktails that we’ve had in a while. Some savory popcorn is also provided when you sit down and overall we really enjoyed the vibe inside and talking to the friendly staff who understood by my Aloha shirt that we were not there by accident. We exited and soon found a wonderful Austrian restaurant to have dinner outside in the square. This one a wonderful evening in Vienna.

Rumpus Tiki Bar Budapest

We had a great time at Rumpus Tiki Bar in Budapest’s inner city area, and this place is doing a lot of things right by any standard. We were seated in the entry bar area at a table and had a great time interacting with the friendly staff and seeing the flow overall. The venue is very large, including more interior seating plus a second floor with two additional rooms and one additional bar.

The overall design leans into caricature tiki designs that aren’t my favorite, but would probably be more recognizable to the average Hungarian. Some of the decorative elements including skulls and Hawaiian designs seemed more organic and authentic, and there are nods to Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic behind each bar. The mugs tended to follow this caricature tiki design mostly. So, if you’re a purist this won’t check all the boxes.

That said, we had a pretty nice time with our cocktails starting with reasonable Mai Tai made with Appleton and served in a cute banana mug by Niki’s Tikis. Niki is the daughter of the owner, Tiki Mamma, and there are number of her designs on sale in the bar and online if you dig the design. The Three Dots & The Dash was also pretty good compared to others I’ve had. Mrs. Mai Tai enjoyed her drinks as well. There’s a pretty reasonable rum collection here, so I scanned the shelves and asked for a Mai Tai made with Appleton 15. This Mai Tai was served along with a giant skull bowl of dry ice, which clouded our entire table! Even better was the fantastic Mai Tai with that Appleton 15 yr rum. That was truly a great Mai Tai.

Mai Tai and Skull Smoke

The bar was pretty active during our early Thursday evening visit, and the staff was so impressed with my gift of an Ultimate Mai Tai sticker that they put it out on the front door. There’s another Rumpus Tiki location by a lake about 20 miles out of town and plans to try and franchise the concept. I wish they’d use more authentic tiki designs, but overall we were impressed by Rumpus Tiki and definitely recommend it to any tiki traveler.

Trader Vic’s Munich is a Time Machine to the 1970s

We had the pleasure of two trips to Trader Vic’s during our stay in Munich, once for dinner and then the following night at the bar.

Mai Tais at Trader Vic’s Munich

Unlike many Trader Vic’s locations, Munich does not purchase the Trader Vic’s syrups or rum for use in the cocktails. Thus, the finished result differs even when following a common recipe. We tried the Mai Tai twice and the Mai Tai variant Menehune Juice and found all to be good representations of these classic cocktails.

Mai Tai

The sour and sweet components were balanced in all of these, though the ingredients had an overall lighter mouthfeel than the cocktails in Trader Vic’s American locations. The Mai Tai uses Saint James aged rhum from Martinique along with Pampero Especial gold rum, which meant that this Mai Tai comes out lighter than many we’ve had elsewhere where Jamaica rum is the primary spirit. Still, this did serve as a representative example of the cocktail and the two rums did work well together so that you could taste the rich flavors of the Saint James but with a lot of the agricole’s rough edges tempered.

The Menehune Juice was an interesting contrast. This cocktail is essentially a Mai Tai but with light Puerto Rican rum as the sole spirit component. The resulting cocktail had fruity flavors that I didn’t get using the aged rums and this was still very flavorful and extremely satisfying. Munich also has little Menehune figures available, and as the menu states they come home with you.

Menehune Juice

Cocktails at Trader Vic’s Munich

As noted earlier, this Trader Vic’s location doesn’t procure the Trader Vic’s brand rums or syrups, so they definitely have a different taste than I’m used to. Overall, we felt that these were just okay, not nearly as good as other Trader Vic’s locations or most other tiki bars. That said, the vast cocktail menu does include some favorites that aren’t on the menu at some U.S. locations, including the Rum Keg and the overseas favorite Tiki Puka Puka.

The good news is that the spirits being used are pretty reasonable, including two different Saint James Rhum Agricoles in the Navy Grog that include five separate rums. That Navy Grog didn’t have the allspice-forward flavor but definitely was rich and boozy. The aforementioned Tiki Puka Puka is fruity and super boozy, so it’s easy to see why it’s so popular and pricey (€24). Mrs. Mai Tai didn’t love the Bahia, which needed to be shaken longer, but the Koana Puffer was better though still not stellar.

Navy Grog

Dinner at Trader Vic’s Munich

At the Munich location they offer some rice chips as a table starter both for table service and at the. Lightly savory, but not overly satisfying. I thought the Crab Rangoon and the Cheese and Ham Bings were really well done, though. Quite satisfying and adding ham to the Cheese Bings was a plus.

We both enjoyed our Cashew Chicken and Walnut Chicken entrees from the Trader Vic’s wok were very good, and the portions were quite large. Our dinner service was exemplary, featuring a waiter and junior waiter who both were reserved but friendly and accommodating.

Ham and Cheese Bings, Crab Rangoon

Overall Impressions of Trader Vic’s Munich

This location in the basement of the hotel Bayerischer Hof is amazing and seems like a portal back to the 1970s when it was built. There are so many tikis and little nooks and rooms off the main artery of the restaurant. There are dozens of peacock chairs, such that nearly every table has one both in the dining room and in the bar. There are an amazing number of masks on the walls, plus so many jade tiles. It is comparable in size to the Trader Vic’s in Emeryville, though with seemingly even more space and more sections/rooms.

We visited for dinner on Saturday night and the place was a frenzy of activity. There was a birthday party in one of the rooms and at one point they served an entire barbecued pig that included the head that they presented to the birthday boy! The bar was totally full on Saturday but also busy in the mid-evening on Sunday, too, but we didn’t have to wait very long for our food or to order another round of drinks.

There is no merch available here, aside from the take-away Menehune, and our polite ask about procuring an old menu was met with a very German and terse no.

The Trader Vic’s location in Munich is gorgeous and if you’re anywhere near here you must seek it out. We had a grand time in Munich generally, so we encourage anytime to come give this Vic’s restaurant a try.

The Beachcomber is a Fab Tiki Bar in London

Mrs. Mai Tai and I landed in London after a red eye from California and walked like zombies over to Queensway to The Beachcomber for dinner. We did the same thing on our visit last year, with similar results. Totally chill vibe early in the evening, with some great Thai food and better cocktails.

The food here comes from Horapha which is a Thai restaurant on the street level next door. We really liked our dinner and it’s even better in a basement tiki bar. The decor inside Beachcomber isn’t totally high tiki but for London is not bad at all and the escapist nature of the venue is really nice.

Cocktails are pretty good here. I was really impressed by the off-menu Mai Tai that has rich flavors of Rhum Agricole, the specialty of the Beachcomber, but is fantastically done and has balanced sweetness. My only gripe was that it seems a little small! Meanwhile, Mrs. Mai Tai’s Nocholada has coconut, chocolate, and hazelnut flavors that’s a really amazing desert cocktail.

The Refresher cocktail includes peach liqueur, Yellow Chartreuse, elderflower cordial, and other flavors. As the customer you can choose the spirit to use, including gin, vodka, or agave spirits. I chose Copalli white rum for Mrs. Mai Tai while I had the Clement Blanc Rhum Agricole for mine. You definitely can taste the different, though we both felt the peach was a little too forward in the balance. Nonetheless, the name is certainly that – very refreshing.

The Refresher(s)

Our service was prompt and friendly, and there’s a nice selection of spirts of the back bar that aren’t on the menu, so if you’re a Rhum fan definitely check out the selection before ordering. Music on our visit was 1970s including multiple Fleetwood Mac and Jim Croce songs. Maybe not the best music for a tiki bar, but I know that traditional exotica is tough in this market. At least it was vintage and mellow leaning, which added to the relaxing feelings inside.

The Beachcomber can be clubby later in the evening and on the weekends (like all of London’s tiki/tropical bars) but we really enjoyed the vibe in the early evening.