Tam O’Shanter: Celebrating 100 Years

We had reservations to go to Tam O’Shanter in January, but those were cancelled at the height of omicron. We were staying nearby in Glendale so this was a perfect opportunity to give the restaurant a second chance for a visit.

We were intrigued in learning more about the history of the Scotch-inspired steakhouse that is celebrating 100 years in business this year. While prime rib isn’t our thing, themed environments are and Tam O’Shanter really delivers. While we were seated outside under a charming tent and nearby an equally tranquil garden, we also got to peek inside at the myriad dining rooms inside. Frequented for many years by Disney animators and Walt Disney himself. Table 31 was Walt’s favorite and there are carvings in the table done by Disney animators.

We went in a turkey direction for our meal, but I decided to test the unfamiliar waters of Tam O’Shanter’s vast Whiskey collection. Walt Disney’s favorite cocktail was a Scotch Mist so I figured this was a good choice for the occasion. I asked for a Scotch that wasn’t so “peaty” and the bartender used Cutty Sark which was just fine with me. Scotch, ice, and a twist of lemon.

The service was great and we enjoyed the food. Being able to score a reservation inside would be a priority for future visits, since the interior is so elaborately themed.

You can learn more about the Tam O’Shanter in this video from our friends Tiki with Ray and Stephen Curran. The embed below is part of a longer video covering historical Disney-connected destinations in Los Angeles and starts in the section covering Tam O’Shanter. 

Tiki Ti: Still Packing in the Crowds

I has been a few years since we last visited Tiki Ti and we made a point to go this time. We arrived 30 mins before opening and after sweating outside in line we finally made it in. Super crowded at opening especially with the long line, but luckily we knew what we wanted to order and so I went to the far end of the bar where bartender Greg Bansuelo was waiting for orders.

Service is at the bar but Greg got our drinks going quickly. I wanted to try a Ray’s Mistake and Mrs Mai Tai had the Lemon Head that had been recommended and one to try. Honestly I didn’t feel either were life changing but a couple cool tropical drinks inside after being out in the hot LA sun for a half hour definitely helped. There was some good energy inside, but also kind of crowded and warm so we only stayed for the one drink.

We congratulated Mike Buhen Sr on still being able to pull in the crowds after all these years. There are so many things to look at inside, and you can feel the history here. Glad we made it this trip and I hope to visit again soon – maybe later in the evening when it’s dark and cooler.

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.

Isla Nu-Bar Mai Tai

People sometimes ask, “aren’t you tired of always getting the Mai Tai?” I answer by saying I love to get the Mai Tai. It is never a burden.

But, some days are harder than others.

Isla Nu-Bar debuted a couple years ago when the Jurassic Park section of Universal Studios Hollywood was rebranded as Jurassic World. As you can see from the menu, there are a variety of tropical drinks available, along with beer.

The Mai Tai is made with Rum, Dark Rum, Pineapple, Orange, and Lime Juice. Firstly, there is rum, but also “dark rum.” So what is this other kind of non-dark rum, exactly? Probably focusing on the wrong sort of details.

It is an easy to drink cocktail that is sweet and fruity with enough rum to pass muster for $15 including souvenir plastic glass and an orchid garnish. But, it isn’t really a Mai Tai. But you already knew that.

I probably should have tried the “Tiki Tai” which actually does contain orgeat. But with pineapple rum from Don Q and passionfruit puree I doubt it would be much different or better.

The cocktail was refreshing and we enjoyed lunch at Jurassic World and watched some cool raptor encounters.