Hula’s Island Grill, Monterey

Mrs Mai Tai and I had a great lunch at Hula’s Island Grill in their newly expanded back patio. We have enjoyed our visits to the Hula’s locations here in Monterey but also in Santa Cruz and at the Hula’s Modern in Phoenix and Scottsdale.

The back patio has a nice tropical vibe and I enjoyed my Trader Vic’s fish sandwich while Julie loved her Tofu Jungle Bowl. Service was very friendly and super efficient.

Cocktails at Hula’s can be hit or miss but I really enjoyed my Pele’s Punch (first picture). This normally comes with Firewater Bitters and since they are VERY spicy I asked for Angostura Bitters instead. It was a delicious punch with some great Blood Orange flavors. Mrs Mai Tai had her requisite Pink Bikini Martini and loved it as always.

Hulas has two cocktail sections and it is nice to see them trying to elevate the cocktails with their Premium Cocktails menu. For our second round Julie had the POG Punch, which she liked okay and which I thought was pretty good. More tart than sweet but overall quality was right up there. I also tried the Reverend Stiggins, a Mojito riff using the Plantation Fancy Stiggins Pineapple Rum. When I was here a couple years ago I thought there was too much mint. This time it was balanced quite well. The soda adds a lightness that made this cocktail super refreshing.

We had a great time at Hula’s.

This was tiki bar number 15 for me in 2020. Compare to 2018 when tiki bar 15 was April 21, and last year when tiki bar 15 was March 21. This year has really sucked for visiting tiki bars.

Cocktails at the Jungle Bird

Mrs Mai Tai was a good sport indulging me for Saturday’s four-Mai Tai day in Tahoe-Reno, but the weekend was capped with some fine cocktails on the way home at Sacramento’s Jungle Bird tiki bar.

Our cocktails were on point, starting with a great Saturn. Jungle Bird serves this with crushed ice, which is a good option for this cocktail. I also had their Mai Tai, which is good and only $10 even with the very good Denizen Merchant’s Reserve Rum. Mrs Mai Tai had her favorite, the Lava Flow, which always looks pretty at the Jungle Bird. The cocktails here are quite good and the staff does a great job working with the guests (me: “heavier orgeat”). So nice to have the cocktails freshly prepared too.

COVID Accommodations at Jungle Bird

Sunday’s travels from Reno down to Sacramento was pleasant, and we visited Sacramento’s best antique mall – Midway Antique Mall. This places has some great midcentury displays and we always find great stuff there. I picked up a great vintage Aloha Shirt from Hawaii.

We stopped at The Jungle Bird for a cocktail and some food before the final trek home. The outside seating out front is nice and we really liked the updated back patio. Plenty of outdoor space for cocktails and tables of various sizes.

Our food at Jungle Bird was good, but as always seems a bit hit or miss. The Crab Rangoon and Coconut Shrimp were pretty good, but the Pork Belly Sliders were pretty tough. Mrs Mai Tai liked her Chicken Katsu.

Service during our visit was excellent, and we felt welcomed and safely accommodated. We’re looking forward to returning after Thanksgiving to see how the decorations and cocktails for Sippin Santa turn out.

Tiki in Oakland / Not My Presidente

I had short but fun visit saying hello to some of the Oakhana regulars at The Kon-Tiki last night. It was so cool, Neil even brought a little record player to play some vintage LPs. So nice to see some of the regulars, plus an active Wednesday night crowd at The Kon-Tiki. I also finally got to try one of 2020’s seminal cocktails, Best Fronds (tropical Negroni) and to check out the newly expanded outdoor patio.

There are now ten big outdoor booths, plus a few 2-top tables for “in person” dining and cocktailing at Kon-Tiki. Check the number on your table, include that with your online order, and then they bring out your drinks and food. Hopefully some roofing to come soon for rainy season.

It’s a pretty good setup and the drinks came out fast. I enjoyed the Best Fronds, with Pineapple Rum, Sweet Vermouth, Campari, and Mole Bitters. I’m not still not a Campari lover but I did like this. Definitely a nice change of pace from the usual tropical cocktail merriment. Good job Chris Day and nice to see Kon-Tiki crew.

Not My Presidente

This cocktail was part of this past weekend’s @bartenders4change celebration. Lots of great content going into the @thekontikioakland Instagram feed, plus some topical interviews. @samson_miller did a great job with the content and interviews, and I learned a lot. And credit to The Kon-Tiki for providing the platform.

This cocktail was still on the menu last night, and getting ready for the debate I’d be lying if the name of this cocktail didn’t strike a chord.

Not My Presidente: American Gin, Overproof Rum, Manzanilla Sherry, Hibiscus Grenadine, and Pufferfish Bitters. Definitely in the classic cocktail style, and boy was this plenty boozy. Just enough to forget my troubles for a few hours. And tasted fine after a day in my fridge.

The Kon-Tiki has a nice setup for online order, to-go orders, delivery, and now an opportunity for in-place outdoor consumption. I shall return.

1947 Zombie

I’m sure some of you reading this might be thinking, “1947 Zombie? Your year is incorrect.” Well, friends, it is correct and it is delicious.

Behold the Zombie recipe from Victor Bergeron’s 1947 Bartender’s Guide. Trader Vic didn’t have Don the Beachcomber’s secret recipe but his Zombie is no slouch. It is boozy but very easy to drink.

Zombie (Trader Vic’s)
1 oz Lemon Juice
1 oz Orange Juice
½ oz Grenadine
1 oz Orange Curacao (Cointreau)
1 oz Jamaican Rum (Plantation Xaymaca)
2 oz Puerto Rican Rum (Bacardi 4)
½ oz 151 Proof Demerara Rum (Hamilton 151)
1 dash Pernod
Stir in mixing glass with large ice cube, then pour over shaved ice in a tall glass.

A few months ago I posed a question in a Facebook group to ask what were the seminal ingredients for a Zombie (in the same way that Orgeat is the seminal ingredient for a Mai Tai). I honestly did not get any sort of consensus answer, except for a mix of rums and maybe Cinnamon syrup. We also know that Grenadine is a key differentiator between the 1934 Zombie and a Jet Pilot.

All of which means that Trader Vic’s Zombie is probably not quite as spice-forward as those who love the 1934 Zombie are expecting. But it isn’t a terrible “guess” by Vic at what made the Don the Beachcomber Zombie world famous. The grenadine is there, along with Pernod/Herbsiant that often used in Don the Beachcomber cocktails. And, the rums are pretty much exactly as what Donn used in his various Zombie recipes.

Is it as good as a 1934 Zombie? Certainly not. But I’ll tell you that it is miles better than most Zombies I’ve had at good craft-oriented tiki bars.

Give it a try and let me know what you think. Happy Hulaween.

The glass is from last year’s kickstarter from Will Penny.


Trader Vic’s Warehouse Sale

Robust crowd for today’s once-in-a-decade warehouse sale at Trader Vic’s in Emeryville.

You can see how long the line stretched, a factor on the social distancing in the line and also the total crowd size. I was in the far right section just before it snaked back upon itself. Arriving at 10:00, I was able to enter the parking lot and peruse the wares at around 11:40 or so (I was the last of the third group let in). Credit to the hearty souls who waited in line even longer – they got the really impressive stuff (not idea for how much $$ though). The day was beautiful and people were in good spirits.

I didn’t go home with anything, but I was glad to see what was available. It’s always a pleasure to visit the home of the Mai Tai.

Tiki Mug Monday

This is a Woody Miller mug made for a local home bar. I was lucky to score one from the bar owners and it’s perfect for “Spooky Season” (a term that somehow I’ve missed until this year). This one is truly horrific.

The liquid inside is a secret elixir, known only to the creator.

Kona Club is Now Open for Take-Out

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.

Margaritas at La Fiesta in Mountain View

With Trad’r Sam open again in San Francisco, we traveled up to check out their offerings. I was assured they’d be open on Saturday between 2:00-3:00 but at 3:30 there was nobody there and no sign of activity. Mrs. Mai Tai was not happy. I get that this is a family-run business and that Saturday night is the priority, not Saturday afternoon. Well, tikiphiles, I tried.

So, we headed down the Peninsula to our favorite Mexican restaurant, La Fiesta in Mountain View. This place is a few blocks off downtown but is totally worth seeking out. They’ve converted half their parking lot into outdoor seating and the tables are spaced out really well. We love the Grandma’s Special sauce that is added to various menu items. It is unbelievably good.

For our Margaritas, Julie had the Margarita Rosalina (the Grandma in “Grandma’s Special”) with reposado tequila, cranberry juice, lime, triple sec, and sweet and sour. I had the Veracruz with silver tequila, blue curaçao, triple sec, lime, and sweet and sour. Both were excellent.

We we got home I made a couple more blue margaritas.

Ultimate Blue Margarita
¾ oz Lime Juice
¾ oz Blue Curacao
¼ oz Blood Orange Cordial
1½ oz el Jimador Blanco Tequila
Shake with ice and serve over cubed ice.