Quality Cocktails are Still a Thing at San Francisco’s Tonga Room

After the San Francisco Giants home opener, we headed to The Tonga Room for a Friday night dinner and drinks. I’m pleased to report that the refreshed cocktail menu from October is still being used and that the quality hasn’t degraded at all. We will note that prices have increased $2-4 per cocktail, putting these firmly as the most expensive in town though. The Mai Tai and Hand Shaken Colada cocktails were big hits with our friends and Mrs. Mai Tai liked the tropical Mimosa-style Tiny Bubbles cocktail.

Tiki Hunter at The Tonga Room

The Tonga Room’s Zombie features five different rums with falernum, grenadine, Don’s Mix, along with a bit of pineapple juice. It most certainly packs a punch, and I found it to be pretty good. I also liked the Wiki Wiki cocktail, a juicy blend of rums, spices, and just the right amount of Allspice Dram. Meanwhile, the Tiki Hunter remains the most interesting and flavor-forward tropical cocktail – don’t let the listed Jäegermeister component scare you off, it’s delicious.

The band plays on the floating stage starting at 7:00 pm, with the players this time featuring two female vocalists. This worked great on a stellar version of Fleetwood Mac’s mellow hit “Dreams.” But we continue to feel that 80s pop songs like “Crazy for You” don’t play as well as those from earlier decades. If pop must be played, the Sixties and Seventies feel more organic and connected to this retro leaning Polynesian palace.

Our dinner and service were as stellar as always. The Asian-inspired dishes are really good here, though I wish there was a little bit more variety on the menu as this is very seafood forward. The prices are fairly high, though not outside what you’d expect from a fine dining restaurant in The City. And you can’t beat the gorgeous interior with the pool and the thunderstorm that comes every 20 minutes. But remember that it’s a $1000 fine for jumping in the pool. Staff told me they’ve already had one person do this so far this year, which seems like way more than one too many.

The Best Mai Tais and Tiki Bars in Las Vegas

We’ve added a new feature page to UltimateMaiTai.com covering the top Mai Tais and Tiki Bars in Las Vegas.

What’s the best Mai Tai in Las Vegas? Is it Jammyland, the craft cocktail bar with a reggae twist? Or is it Stray Pirate, the new bar with a theme of pirate dogs? Or is it Starboard Tack, the off-strip restaurant with a retro vibe? Perhaps there’s a wild-card entry from a bar with a potentially short lifespan.

On the Tiki Bar side, the best option might not technically be a tiki bar to begin with, and the true tiki bars all have pros and cons. So the “best” might depend on what you value most, such as decor, cocktails, or service. We have our Ultimate Mai Tai Tiki Bar rating system in place plus narratives for each location to help you decide.

Top Mai Tais and Tiki Bars in Las Vegas

Las Vegas’ Lost Spirits Distillery Continues to Impress

When you order tickets to the Lost Spirits Distillery experience they encourage you to arrive sober saying “for most people, pre-gaming is a bad idea and thus discouraged.” After visiting three bars we decided to embrace all that Vegas offers regardless of the consequences and bought tickets anyway.

The combination of rum tasting and intimate modern cirque performances is so unique, with a maze-like layout of rooms, lounges, and performance spaces. The performances on each stage combine a few different performers for about 20 minutes, then a break to encourage the crowd to continue wandering. We were really impressed again by the performers, though we did run out of steam towards the end of our show period. I guess that advice on pre-gaming was sound.

In terms of rums, we got to try four expressions including a navy rum, a pineapple and cherry infused rums, and a heavy pot still rum called 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea that’s inspired by the venue’s signature lounge and optional dining experience. These rums are well-positioned for a general audience and so are pretty easy to drink (and in the case of the cherry rum by adding sugar). There’s a gift shop where you can take home bottles.

There’s no way to see everything during your visit, given that there are performances happening on at least two or three stages simultaneously, but this is half the fun. Lost Spirits is a lot of fun and a great option with a group.

Expanded Seating at Trader Vic’s San Jose Airport

The seating areas at Trader Vic’s San Jose Airport have been expanded in the last couple weeks, providing airport passengers with an easier to see option to enjoy Mai Tais and all of Trader Vic’s offerings.

We hear Trader Vic’s is doing very well at the airport, and you don’t expand seating if business is struggling. There’s also a Trader Vic’s coming in 2024 to the Oakland Airport, according to recent news reports.

My 7:24 am Mai Tai was pretty great and paired well with coffee that also tasted just fine.

Remember that you can also get drinks to-go at the airport, and remember to finish any drinks with alcohol before leaving the airport or boarding a plane.

Palm Breeze Bar at Disneyland Hotel

The new DVC Villas at Disneyland Hotel opened recently and so we went to check it out during an afternoon break from park touring. The midcentury-inspired touches look nice, though this wing does not really integrate with the rest of the hotel towers. There’s only a minimal lobby space here, but the Palm Breeze Bar is adjacent to that entry and also to the small pool for this wing.

There are a lot of fun touches here, and plenty of midcentury design elements. We sat at the bar and ordered a Blue Bee’s Knees, which is a traditional gin-based Bee’s Knees with muddled blueberries. The level of skill and technique from the bartender was not as strong as we’ve grown accustomed to at Trader Sam’s / Tangaroa Terrace across the way, and so the drink was just so-so. Hopefully, this will improve over time.

We did see some other guests order an off-menu Mai Tai, which was prepared with BG Reynolds Orgeat (same is as used at Trader Sam’s). But, the limited rum selection at the Palm Breeze Bar meant this was mostly made with the sugar-heavy Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum, so not really a great choice for this cocktail.

The rest of the cocktails at Palm Breeze Bar lean to inspired but tourist friendly recipes, including a few highballs, some frozen drinks, and quite a few mocktails. There’s a food menu which we didn’t try, but otherwise this place looks like a nice place to hang out if you can’t get into Trader Sam’s or Tangaroa Terrace.

Day Time is the Right Time at Trader Sam’s at the Disneyland Hotel

Our usual plan for park touring at Disneyland is to avoid the heavy crowds during the afternoon and explore other parts of the resort. Such was our journey last Friday to check out Trader Sam’s in mid-afternoon. We checked in to see if something was available inside and they said they could seat us immediately if we took two seats on a corner of the bar. This wasn’t perfect but seating at the bar is pretty great and with no wait was even better.

We love Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar. Such a great vibe inside where everyone was in a great mood, friendly but not out of control. Our bartender Maddie did a great job with our drinks and then eventually let us move over a couple sets to let the next walk-up couple take the corner seats.

Mrs. Mai Tai ordered a Krakatoa Punch but was informed the special effects weren’t working, definitely a bummer but this longtime menu favorite delivers. She then went for her favorite, the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Rum which is Sam’s version of a Painkiller. She also ordered some Panko-crusted Long Beans that were savory and tasty.

I ordered a Mai Tai with Smith & Cross rum which was truly outstanding. Maddie knew I wanted it in an original 1944 Mai Tai format and it came out exceptionally balanced and so flavorful. In this case, as the customer I’m calling for a better rum than the standard light/dark used in Trader Sam’s standard-issue Mai Tai, and its nice that a hotel bar has so many great rums to choose from and that bartenders are willing to make a cocktail with a called spirit.

The exceptional part of Trader Sam’s is the talent of the bartenders to go off menu. Most skippers have their own secret menu of original cocktails and most seem familiar with the classics as well. I asked Maddie for a Navy Grog and was served an excellent version that was rich with flavors and spices and included three different rums. Really a couple a fantastic cocktails from Maddie.

There were a few empty spots during our stay, even by later in the afternoon on a Friday, so it can be possible to get seated inside even if you don’t have a reservation. Trader Sam’s remains one of my favorite tiki bars anywhere.

Blue Bayou Hurricane

This is the restaurant in New Orleans Square at Disneyland, in the same building as Pirates of the Caribbean. The advanced reservations always book up fast but we approached the entrance about 15 mins before they opened and were able to score a table off the waitlist. We were seated about ten minutes after opening in the middle/back of the restaurant, so no dockside view of the Pirates boats but plenty nice anyway.

I had a great and pretty large winter salad and the Brioche bread was delicious. I also had the Hurricane, an option for the last couple years where the sit down restaurants do serve beer, wine, and a specialty cocktail. This seems appropriate considering the New Orleans theme, where the Hurricane was (likely) invented.

The Hurricane is very fruity and very easy to drink. Not too sugary though. It uses light and dark rums and these aren’t challenging or overly potent but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Really great time at Blue Bayou, with excellent service. We also got some branded coupe glasses as a nice takeaway and a birthday present for Mrs Mai Tai.