Amazing Mai Tai at Trader Sam’s

The app-based reservation system I mentioned for Oga’s Cantina worked even better getting inside at Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar last Wednesday afternoon. Once I got onto the Disneyland Hotel property I tapped on Sam’s and added myself to the waiting list. The app said the estimated wait was 30 minutes. But just seconds after receiving the first “you’re on the list” text message, I got another one that said my table was ready.

Inside, the bar was not busy so it was a perfect time to cool down inside with a cocktail. Skipper Nate was working behind the bar and I ordered a Mai Tai with Appleton Reserve rum. Nate checked the order, “classic style?” which I took to mean no Agave Syrup that they use in their standard house Mai Tai. “Yes, sir,” I said. That Appleton Reserve Mai Tai was faaantastic, and I was more than happy to compliment the Skipper when he asked how it was. Very rummy, but also a wonderful flavor profile – not too sweet, not too sour. Great mouthfeel.

Classic Mai Tai with Appleton 8 Reserve Rum

Second Round, Better than the First

For the second round, I asked Skipper Nate if they had something a little more funky, and he suggested Hamilton Pot Still Blonde rum. I said that would be great – a half Appleton Reserve and half Hamilton Blonde Mai Tai.

It was one of the best Mai Tais I’ve ever had.

The funkier rum really added a nice punch to the cocktail, and elevated what was already an amazing Mai Tai. On this day it was damn near perfect.

Nearly Perfect Mai Tai with Appleton Reserve and Hamilton Pot Still Blonde rums

Thank you Skipper Nate! I will follow you into battle anytime.

That day it really came together at Trader Sam’s: relaxing in the immersive space, exotica music playing, and the light hum of conversations and laughter.

1722 McCadden Place

This is the location of the original Don’s Beachcomber Cafe, the forebear tiki bar that opened in Hollywood in 1934. A couple years later Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt opened a larger place across the street called Don the Beachcomber, then subsequently changed his name to Donn Beach.

There’s nothing to see really, and as far as I can tell there’s nothing technically at 1722 anymore. There is a condo sitting over location of the second location.

Damon’s in Glendale

We ventured to Damon’s Steak House for a family meal. We’ve been going to Damon’s since the 1990s because we love the vintage Polynesian decor and old school service style. And we sort of have a dysfunctional relationship with their signature cocktail: Damon’s Famous Mai Tai. It isn’t really great, but we can’t stop coming to try it. Mrs. Mai Tai doesn’t mind because their other standard cocktail is the Chi Chi.

A recent menu change is that they are leaning in big time to provide variations of the Mai Tai and Chi Chi. This is probably a good trend, and some of them seemed like inspired options. Though, notably, all of these have ‘Orgeat “secret sauce”‘ which is an unusual label. Once makes you wonder if it is really orgeat or something different.

The Trader Vics’ 1944 Mai Tai wasn’t bad at all, aside from the limp mint. This at least resembled a Mai Tai and wasn’t overly sweet. The same can’t be said of the Royal Mai Tai, which we thought might be good given the more exotic rums from Martinique and Hawaii. We saw the grenadine on the ingredient list, thinking it would be a dash. Instead it seemed to be a heavy splash of grenadine. Definitely not good and way too sticky sweet. Splitting the difference was Damon’s original island-style Mai Tai.

Trader Vic’s 1944 Mai Tai

Service was truly excellent, with drink refills and cocktail refreshers coming super quickly. There was a mix-up with our soup, which our waiter fixed right away. There didn’t seem to be much music playing and the bar was filled with revelers, though it was relaxed out on the upper seating area where we were. They give you a lot of food at Damon’s, including soup or salad (the Split Pea Soup was great), and the staff offered some Mac and Cheese for our son who didn’t want either soup or salad. Food was just okay overall.

Damon’s hasn’t changed much in the 25 years we’ve been going. Still very old school for the most part, with some recent attempts to elevate the cocktails. Definitely have to have the right attitude going in, but we enjoyed our experience once again.

Tonga Hut North Hollywood

Mrs. Mai Tai and I ventured to Tonga Hut on Thursday night, expecting to hang out in their large COVID-era patio. We were greeted and offered inside seating, told that capacity was under 50% and a bit less than that on this particular evening. So we did the indoor thing at LA’s oldest tiki bar.

This was our first time at the North Hollywood Tonga Hut location. The Christmas decor was up and we were seated in one of the nice covered booths. So many nice things to look at, including the Drooling Bastard and all the plaques from the hearty souls who drank all the cocktails from the Grog Log within a year.

Tonga Hut Mai Tai

Our service was great, totally on the spot to check for additional drinks and super friendly. Music was mostly 90s-2000s modern rock, which wasn’t my preference for a tiki bar but it is a style of music I like and at least wasn’t top 40. Exotica was playing out on the patio.

I liked the Tonga Hut Mai Tai. While not overly challenging, I thought it was balanced well enough and sure was easy to drink (I chose the standard option, foregoing the Martinique rum option). I followed it up with a Tabu Tabu Grog, featuring OFTD, Honey, Grapefruit, Lime, Spices, and Passion Fruit. This was a really great ‘Grog’ variant.

Mrs. Mai Tai did her standard, the Nutty Chi Chi, and then followed up with the Mojave Punch featuring Hibiscus Syrup. I loved that punch at the Tonga Hut location in Palm Springs and thought it was great here, too. But Mrs. Mai Tai thought it leaned too tart.

Glad we finally made it to Tonga Hut. Thanks to Marie King and to the staff for a great time.

Planter’s Punch at Dr. Funk

Working my way through the cocktail menu at Dr. Funk. The Planter’s Punch was recommended by bartender Paul McCoun  who knows I love the Appleton 12 rum that’s used in Funk’s Planter’s Punch.

And the Planter’s Punch keeps up the winning streak of amazing cocktails at Dr. Funk. So flavorful!

I also see they’ve added a logo sign above the entrance to Dr. Funk. This place has really come a long way and for anyone close to San Jose the dream is here to stay.

2021 Tiki Bar Visits

I visited 31 commercial tiki bars in 2021, a nice return to form thanks to some bars reopening for business, several new tiki bars in the Bay Area, and some looser travel restrictions within our family and society at large. Many of these visits were to support the establishment via to-go orders, hence the bars in my home county topping the list.

The highlight was visiting Max’s South Seas in Grand Rapids. Such an amazing place, it’s a must visit. And then some great excursions in Milwaukee, Chicago, Phoenix, Vegas, San Diego, Morro Bay, Palm Springs, and the greater Bay Area.

It is always a pleasure to be invited to someone’s home tiki bar, and this year we got to visit a few including ones that were new to us. Thank you all.

Cheers to all the great people I’ve met and shared librations with – especially Mrs Mai Tai @juliebeane. We’re wishing for a safer and more pleasant 2022.

2017: 25
2018: 34
2019: 52
2020: 15
2021: 31

2021 Most Visited:
17 Kon-Tiki
13 Forbidden Island
10 Trader Vic’s Emeryville
6 Smuggler’s Cove (plus two pop-up events)
6 The Kon-Tiki Room

95: times this year I’ve walked into a tiki bar, home tiki bar, or bar with tiki event.

Top Mai Tais of 2021: Number 1, Special Mai Tai at Smuggler’s Cove

Each year we celebrate the 10 best Mai Tais that we had the pleasure of tasting in the last 12 months.

I’ll further note that the Mai Tais at Smuggler’s Cove have all been excellent this year. Not “fine” or “good”, but really excellent. They truly deserve to be on our list of Top 5 Mai Tais served anywhere.

Number 1: “Fritch’s Four” Mai Tai at Smuggler’s Cove (San Francisco, CA)

When Smuggler’s Cove reopened they had a special rum flight available to pay tribute to our friend Alex Fritch who was tragically killed in May. The rums included in the flight were the five rums Alex chose as part of our 5 Bottle Rum Challenge video recorded in January: Doorly’s 12, English Harbour Single Barrel, Plantation 3 Star, Smith & Cross, and Black Tot 50th Anniversary. The flight demonstrated Alex’s appreciation for different styles of rum, with proceeds going to Alex’s family.

After I tried the flight I asked the Cove team for Mai Tai made with four of the five rums (since four is easier to measure and omitting the really expensive Black Tot rum made this more affordable). There was still a bit of an upcharge from the standard-issue SC Mai Tai but it was totally worth it. The great Smuggler’s Cove Mai Tai base combined with rums selected by Alex himself made this one the most special Mai Tai of the year. Rest in Peace, brother.

Top Mai Tais of 2021: Number 3, Dr. Funk

Each year we celebrate the 10 best Mai Tais that we had the pleasure of tasting in the last 12 months.

Number 3: Dr. Funk (San Jose, CA)

San Jose finally got the world-class tiki bar that it deserves as being America’s 10th most populous city. Located downtown at San Pedro Square, the cocktail program at Dr. Funk has been high-quality right from launch. This includes the Mai Tai which is made with Appleton 12 and Smith & Cross rums from Jamaica. The team told me they tried Martinique rhum but liked this all-Jamaican blend the best. And I’m totally on-board with “Team Jamaican Rum” myself.

The Dr. Funk Mai Tai is great and we even added it to our list of Top 5 Mai Tais at any location.

Top Mai Tais of 2021: Number 4, SF Mai Tai at Trader Vic’s

Each year we celebrate the 10 best Mai Tais that we had the pleasure of tasting in the last 12 months.

Number 4: San Francisco Mai Tai at Trader Vic’s (Emeryville, CA)

The SF Mai Tai is a standard Vic’s Mai Tai with a float of 151 rum. I love the flavors of the Trader Vic’s Mai Tai, including the freshly squeezed lime on top, but the the 151 rum adds additional complexity and flavor to the cocktail, besides being extra boozy. So while I do enjoy the standard 1944 Mai Tai, the SF Mai Tai is now my go-to. 

We had a lot of great Mai Tais at Vic’s this year, including some specially prepared with some exotic rums from the well-stocked back bar. Bartenders are friendly and never balk at the rum substitution. 

Vic’s hosted several special events this year including merchandise partnerships with Shag and Sven Kirsten.