Top Mai Tais of 2021: Number 5, The Kon-Tiki Room

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

Number 5: The Kon-Tiki Room at Palmetto (Oakland, CA)

The “outpost” Kon-Tiki location attached to Palmetto restaurant opened this year, adding another tiki bar to the Bay Area’s stellar lineup. The Kon-Tiki Room Mai Tai is made with Jamaican and Martinique rums, and definitely leans towards the funkier side. Quite savory in initial flavor, with a sweeter finish that’s tastes rich.

It seems that they use a different recipe than the original Kon-Tiki location, so I’m solid in declaring The Kon-Tiki Room Mai Tai the best in the city. Check it out the next time you’re in Uptown for a show at the Fox Theater or just to enjoy some cocktails.


Mai Tai Monday: Wright & Brown Distilling

Made a fab Mai Tai for Trader Vic’s birthday using a rum made in Oakland, the city where the Mai Tai was first made in 1944. 

Oakland’s Wright & Brown is distilling rum as well as a variety of whiskeys. The rum I used is pot still distillate made from Black Strap Molasses and is aged for a couple years. Quite wild and full of flavor, so it works great in a Mai Tai.

For my Mai Tai I used 1½ oz Wright & Brown and ½ oz Coruba just to add a little additional richness.

The Kon-Tiki Holiday Bazaar

One of the aspects of The Kon-Tiki that I made sure to include in my recent Exotica Moderne article about the bar was their participation in community events and partnerships with businesses and organizations in Oakland.

Such was today’s Holiday Bazaar. Several local vendors were set up inside and there was a small holiday cocktail menu and burgers available from the bar. Not really tiki, except for Woody Miller.  I bought the lovely green glass tree from Arcadian Stained Glass and some goodies from The Disco Greenhouse. And I bought some rum from the Kon-Tiki Bottle Shop.

The cocktail menu was quite festive, including a drink riffing on the bar’s Krampus themed decor. I sampled the tasty Disco Banana riff “Bad Banana” that dialed back the cocktail’s harder funky notes in favor of a fruitier blend that likely played better with the non-tiki crowd.

Cheers to the Kon-Tiki crew for putting together a great community event.

Happy Birthday Trader Vic Bergeron

Everyone’s favorite Mai Tai inventor was born on this day in 1902. Victor Jules Bergeron had a difficult childhood, losing a leg to tuberculosis when just six year old. Early adulthood was no better until he scrapped some money together to open a small restaurant and bar at 65th and San Pablo in Oakland in 1934. That bar was named Hinky Dinks but just a couple years later was rethemed and renamed to Trader Vic’s. Thereafter, nobody thought much of “Hinky Dinks” or “Victor Jules.” Trader Vic’s stuck.

The small original Trader Vic’s location closed in the early 1970s, replaced by the still operating Trader Vic’s in Emeryville. The building at 65th and San Pablo is long gone but you can still visit the location where one of the original two palm trees is still standing. The lot is for sale, if you have money in your pocket you want to burn.

So, let’s raise a glass of rum or brandy, or maybe a famous Trader Vic’s cocktail such as the Fogcutter, Eastern Sour, or a Mai Tai. Cheers and happy birthday to Trader Vic.

Kon-Tiki Room Mai Tai

Good times on Friday night continued at The Kon-Tiki Room at Palmetto, where I landed to resample their Mai Tai. I really liked it when I tried it a couple months ago, but wanted to give it another taste. There wasn’t a show at the Fox Theater across the street, but the bar was still pretty full, so much that the tables by the door were in use. Nice to see that business is doing well. There was a sidewalk sign outside but Kon-Tiki Room needs some more obvious lighted signage.

It was super cool to receive a printed menu, done in the same graphic style as the “original Kon-Tiki” location at 14th and Webster. Same drinks and food offerings that have been there at Kon-Tiki Room from day one, but I love a great cocktail menu with illustrations and a design that tells you more about the place you’re in. And so much better than dealing with QR codes and tiny type on your phone’s screen.

The Kon-Tiki Room Mai Tai is made with Jamaican and Martinique rums, and definitely leans towards the funkier side. Quite savory in initial flavor, with a sweeter finish that’s tastes rich. Bartender Jeni Raye made it great and I’m solid in declaring it the best in the city. Leave a suggestion or other Oakland Mai Tais in the comments.

Kon-Tiki Room’s bar bites are fried staples with some twists on the toppings. This visit I tried the Fish Sticks with miso creme fraiche and tobiko. Really liked them.

Music was retro leaning punk and underground rock. If you’re going to go 80s this ain’t bad for a Friday night and way better than Phil Collins in a tiki bar.

Cocktails and Rum in Oakland

Got try to another one of the new cocktails on the Kon-Tiki cocktail menu. The Golden Snitch is from their Exotic Apperitifs section and has sherry, pineapple gum syrup, and rum. Quite delightful.

The Kon-Tiki’s rum selection continues to bring in some interesting new expressions to try. I sampled Admiral Rodney Saint Lucia Rum finished in Port Cask, and I was definitely impressed by the flavor profile. Easy to drink but also some great lingering flavors.

A very different rum was the LROK release from Hampden Estate in Jamaica. This is supposed to be their “lighter” expression but make no mistake this is still a flavor bomb with a pretty high ester count. Bottled at 47% ABV this is something everyone needs to try. I love Jamaican Rum.

Mahalo Chris Day

Many thanks to Chris Day who is departing from The Kon-Tiki . Friday was his last shift as bar manager, capping 20 months that have been quite a grind, I’m sure.

Chris’ influence on the Kon-Tiki cocktail menu is noteworthy, including his incredible coffee/coconut creation Donnie’s Element that I think is really fab. I’m also a big fan of the Blush Crush (pictured), a dainty cocktail with rum, apertivo, and pamplemousse. And Chris’s friendly demeanor has been a shining light during these dark times. Be well and we wish you success on the next path.


Happy 4th Anniversary Kon-Tiki

It was no sure bet four years ago when Matt Reagan and Christ Aivaliotis opened The Kon-Tiki. Since then, they’ve carved out an important role in the download Oakland restaurant community, and the venue also serves as a hub for many in the East Bay and Oakland tiki community. The “Oakhana” have weekly meetups usually on Wednesdays. Come over and join the fun.

Over the years, the Kon-Tiki has hosted many events with rum producers and developed their rum club, the Kon-Tiki Expedition. When members complete the expedition they bang the gong and it is always a party. Kon-Tiki has hosted a few music events and who can forget the frequent appearances of Cosmic Lady Six for Tarot Tuesdays. And Kon-Tiki has hosted and participated in a number of events in the Oakland community.

These days, Kon-Tiki is the flagship location for everything tiki including a vast selection of rums, a large cocktail menu, and a modest but varied set of food offerings. Including their world famous Cheeseburger, of course. And there is now an “outpost” location a half mile away, the Kon-Tiki Room at Palmetto. And, who knows, maybe more outposts to come.

So many memorable visits over the past four years, ten photos doesn’t really do justice. Thank you to so many great staff members who’ve provided excellent hospitality: @christaivaliotis@tolkien_black_dude @tomatigre @doctorbyday @not_carlos@terrysixofficial @manuelenriquebonilla @jeanie.with.a.bottle@le_toine_official @stirmaxalot @splifford_robinson and more.

Exotica Moderne 13

The latest issue of Exotica Moderne is here, including my article about local favorites The Kon-Tiki and The Kon-Tiki Room at Palmetto. Such a pleasure to interview Matt Reagan, Christ Aivaliotis, and Jeanie Grant about the two bars, the history, and plans for the future. With quotes from “friends of Kon-Tiki” including Woody Miller, Doc Parks, and Michael Thanos. Check it out!

And a big shout out to The Kon-Tiki who will be celebrating their 4th Anniversary on Thursday.

Additionally, I have two recipes in the issue. Look for the Turkey Grog and the Blue Caribbean.

Contributing to Exotica Moderne continues to be a personal highlight for me.

Perfect Disco Banana at Home

Finally cracked it. After numerous attempts at making the beloved Disco Banana at home, I finally made one that compares at least a tiny bit to the cocktail made fresh at Zombie Village or The Kon-Tiki Room.

The secret?

I got a tip from the drink’s creator Jeanie Grant to freeze the crushed ice, and use more than you’d typically use due to the higher proof rum. And sure enough, the crushed ice that was left in the freezer was certainly dryer than ice directly from the ice crusher.

Disco Banana by Jeanie Grant
⅓ Banana
¾ oz Lime Juice
¾ oz Cinnamon Syrup
¼ oz Demerara Syrup
¼ oz Creme de Banana
¾ oz Unaged Agricole Rhum
¾ oz Unaged Jamaican Overproof Rum
Blend with ice
Garnish with grated cinnamon and a banana chip