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

Kona Club

The 25th tiki bar I’ve visited this year is the Kona Club in Oakland.

Good news: The Kona Club hasn’t changed.
Bad news: The Kona Club hasn’t changed.

Which is to say that The Kona Club remains a curious example of Bay Area Tiki since it eschews the craft cocktail sensibilities of the most well-known tiki bars in the region. Kona Club’s interior decor is a gorgeous bamboo explosion and so nicely laid out (except for a few tiki tacky elements), including a large second room and a pool table room. The Hula Girl remains a central focus, though not animated while decked out for Halloween.

But Kona Club’s longstanding shortcomings remain present: rock music, pretty bad cocktails, and service that… isn’t awesome. My Mai Tai was only $10 (cheap!), but very forgettable.

They were training a new bartender and while she seemed earnest and attentive, the lead bartender was less so. I entered shortly after opening along with two other groups. As the first round was almost all delivered I asked the bartender a bar-related question and he gave me an answer that said “I don’t want to talk to you.” It was not busy (again, only three parties, most of which already had their drinks) so I don’t know why he was so short with me. Maybe because I wasn’t a regular. Maybe the Aloha shirt I was wearing branded me a snob. I mean, sorry for wearing an Aloha shirt in a tiki bar and taking an interest in your business.

There’s no reason a neighborhood / dive bar can’t adjust to be “more tiki” in this writer’s opinion (Bamboo Hut and Tiki Tom’s have transitioned to this approach in recent years). It takes less time to make a measured 1944 Mai Tai than the Mac Nut Chi-Chi the Kona Club is famous for. If the place was always busy I could maybe get behind “count pours” rather than measured pours, but as it stands I’m perplexed why there isn’t even an attempt to do better.

Happy Hulaween

Had to stop by @thekontikioakland for their Hulaween festivities last night. Some great rum samples and cocktails from O’ahu rum favorites @kohanarum. I enjoy their rum expressions, though their heavy cube-shaped bottles are… divisive. But the juice is fab, no doubt. I also hear great things about their distillery tour, so check them out the next time you’re on the island.

The Oakland Ohana costume party was in full swing and I came up with a simple but effective costume to pay tribute to Kon-Tiki’s co-owner @christaivaliotis, who’s well known for his amazing hospitality but also his amazing chest hair. Thanks @laurasmurphy for the photo.

The music was a spooky playlist covering a variety of genres and I really dug the mix. I was going sans-glasses for the costume so I think there was some Halloween decor but I can’t be sure.

Saint Lucia’s Fox

I really enjoyed this new cocktail at The Kon-Tiki. It is part of the new cocktail menu and is a delightful combination of Bounty Dark Rum, Cream of Coconut, Passion Fruit, Campari, and Orange Juice. Not at all reminiscent of a Painkiller. The bitter Campari and tart Passion Fruit really balanced the OJ and Coconut Creme.

So nice to see menus on the tables again, and with so many new cocktails to try when I’m looking for something different than the old favorites.

While at Kon-Tiki I also tried the Crab and Shrimp Rangoon Dip, with wonton chips. Very flavorful and just about the right amount of dip per chip. You’ll find that a fork is helpful at getting the dip onto the crispy wontons though.

I also want to highlight the excellent musical selection from Kon-Tiki bartender Tony Martinez. Tony’s Spotify playlist “Kon-cumbia” was a peppy mix of instrumentals and songs with vocals. While not traditional “tiki bar music,” I found that it fit in perfectly as the music was great in the background and totally set the happy mood. More of this, please.

 

Kon-Tiki 4th Edition Printed Menu

The Kon-Tiki is launching a new printed cocktail menu for the first time since October 2019.

I don’t know if anyone else cares about this at all, but I’m always interested when one of my favorite places updates a menu. And since I have the older menus, it is interesting to see what’s coming, going, and staying.

Most notable for us is the inclusion of a Mai Tai listed on the menu and not just as an option on the Happy Hour menu or as a “call” item. We’ve discussed recently that the Kon-Tiki Mai Tai has a new rum blend featuring Jamaican, Martinique, and St. Luician rums. This is different from their previously blend, as well as the Mai Tai rums used at their sister bar The Kon-Tiki Room. Quite delightful, and of course the Kon-Tiki has a vast rum collection so the staff can make a Mai Tai out of any of those rums.

Also notable is the remaining inclusion of the premium Samaroli Mai Tai that uses a rare rum and is priced at $44 (hello “44 Mai Tai”). I’ve been told by staff that this Mai Tai is more popular than you might expect, so I guess there are still upscale customers in Oakland. What’s next, bottle service?

(that’s a joke, Kon-Tiki. Please don’t ever offer bottle service)

Be sure to try some of the amazing new cocktails the next time you visit.

Original Menu Holdovers
The Kon-Tiki Grog
The Kon-Tiki Zombie
Uma Uma
Virgin’s Sacrifice
 
Second Menu Holdovers
Coca-Coconut
Ma Kua (for 2 or 4)
Stormy Keone
 
Third Menu Holdovers
Golden Gong
Ring of Fire
Samaroli Mai Tai
 
New Exotic Drinks
Blush Crush
Donnie’s Element
Golden Snitch
Haitian Hi Ball
Island Old Fashioned
Mai Tai
Martinique on Fleek
Mezcal in the Banana Stand
Plantation Stiggins Fancy Pineapple Rum on Nitro Draft
Phoenix Bowl
Rum and Spice
Rum Club Cooler
Saint Lucia’s Fox
Sea Shandy
Sea Shandy Jr.
The Kon-Tiki Spritz
Virgin Painkiller
 
Thanks for the Memories
Anne Bonny
Calypso
Crystal Lagoon
Dick Smithereens
Eastern Sour
Guavameek
Key Largo
Logo Moco Vat
Ogopogo (bowl)
Rum & Honey
Summer Breeze
Sunken Tugboat
Tea Calaca Tiki
Thunder Island
Tropical Lemonade
Vahevela
Virgin’s Downfall
Volcano Bowl (for 4)
Voyager’s Mainbrace
Vult Boom
Wahine Fizz
 
RIP “Yacht Rock Hits”

Frozen Disco Banana

Quick stop the other night at The Kon-Tiki Room at Palmetto to get a shot of the Disco Banana for a project I’m working on. I love this cocktail that was developed by Jeanie Grant back in her Pagan Idol days. It’s on the menu at Zombie Village where it is blended fresh and served in a coupe.

At the Kon-Tiki Room, the Disco Banana is a frozen drink from their slushy machine. Suuuuper cold! Still quite nice and just the right amount of banana flavor. The Pearl Diver glass is interesting and means that this is actually a pretty large serving.

We continue to be impressed with the service at the Kon-Tiki Room; the bartender was enthusiastic about doing something off menu for one of the people in our party. Vaccination checks and entry couldn’t be easier and a nice crowd for a Thursday even without a show across the street at the Fox Theater.

New Cocktails at The Kon-Tiki

Mrs. Mai Tai and I had dinner with some friends at The Kon-Tiki. While there, we got to try some new cocktails that are coming soon to the 4th edition of the printed Kon-Tiki cocktail menu.

First up is “Mezcal in the Banana Stand,” with Dry Sherry, Banana-Honey, and Lemon. Mezcal is still a bit out there for me, but this was quite nice and not too much of a punch to the gut, and definitely mellowed over time. A very nice tropical cocktail.

Second is the “Martinique on Fleek,” a Wray and Ting riff using Clement Blanc rum (so, 100 proof!). Very refreshing and an interesting change of pace.

Third is the “Kon-Tiki Spritz” with White Aperitivo, Pineapple Liqueur, White Wine, and Seltzer. Mrs. Mai Tai really liked this, and I think it’s an interesting cocktail with some fine tropical nods but also totally outside the typical rum, gin, or agave spirit-based cocktails.

I’m super excited to see a new printed cocktail menu at The Kon-Tiki coming soon. I’ll be there this coming Wednesday for Ohana Night and who know what else!

Food wise, we tried the Queso (good, but not exotic) and Coconut Shrimp (also good), along with the Kon-Tiki Burger and Buffalo Cauliflower that we’ve had before.  Music last night featured Latin rhythms and was really great. Peppy but still mostly instrumental and definitely not “modern” sounding. Kudos to the DJ.

Joe Kent Completes Kon-Tiki Expedition

Congrats to the Oakland tiki ohana’s resident wildman Joe Kent for finishing 100 rums to complete the Kon-Tiki Expedition. It is always a pleasure to see someone else be celebrated for the accomplishment.

As is the custom, there was a special menu in Joe’s honor. I had to try the delicious Ports of Despair, which is basically what Trader Vic’s calls a “San Francisco Mai Tai” that has a 151 float added. Per the note, it is “sort of” a thing, though mostly at Vic’s. Just don’t call it an “old way” Mai Tai since that can mean something else.

The Scavenger special with Montucky beer and a shot was fun. The shot had bitters and pimento dram and who knows what else but was very tasty. Montucky is cheap and light lager that is about my style when it comes to beer.

Lots of familiar faces in attendance and Joe’s wife Shannon made a truly excellent rum cake. Fun times at Kon-Tiki.