Hula Hoops Tiki Passport

South San Francisco’s Hula Hoops recently introduced a tiki passport / cocktail checklist. This tiki bar and restaurant has been doing Hawaiian food and fine cocktails for over five years, with the quality of the cocktails being far better than you’d expect for a suburban location that’s more restaurant than bar. They started strong with a couple Doc Parks cocktails and the Buz-Tai from local luminary Buz Deadwax, along with cocktails that pair well with the food offering such as the Ube Martini.

The Tiki Passport is a checklist of 15 cocktails, including the aforementioned Buz-Tai and two other Mai Tais. Plus some tiki favorites and a few that lean creamy such as the Coco Banana. Once you complete all 15 you get a Hula Hoops branded King Kong mug that includes a basketball carrying Wahine that’s a nod to the venue’s logo. The mug is made by Tiki Farm and looks pretty nice as long as gorilla mugs are your thing. You can see a version of this mug in Hula Hoops’ tiki room where it was made into a lamp.

The Lilikoi Tai is pretty great and nicely balanced, if you like passionfruit cream topping on your Mai Tai. Certainly better than the famed Monkeypod Mai Tai since the topping at Hula Hoops is sweeter.

Hula Hoops seems to be doing very well with business since it has been busy every time I’ve visited the last couple years, especially for brunch on the weekends. Reservations are recommended.

RIP Steven Liles

Today we learned the sad news that legendary San Francisco bartender Steven Liles had passed away. Liles was a fixture at Smuggler’s Cove for more than a decade, recently departing and working elsewhere in the City.

I was always in awe of Liles’ seemingly effortless bartending skills, and he was always had a friendly wink when we’d visit the Cove. He was very accommodating when I last saw him there, where he skillfully blended two rums for an awesome Mai Tai and even better conversation. Sincere condolences to friends and loved ones who knew Steven better than I did. Smuggler’s Cove announced the passing.

As a tribute, I made one of Liles’ recipes, the RongoRongo. Quite tropical and easy to drink.

RongoRongo by Steven Liles
¾ oz Lime Juice
1 oz Pineapple Juice
¾ oz Cinnamon Syrup
¾ oz Planteray OFTD Rum
1 oz Planteray Siggins’ Fancy Pineapple Rum
1 oz Aged Rum (Real McCoy 5)
1 dash Angostura Bitters

Flash blend with 1 cup of ice for 5 seconds. Serve in Pilsner glass and garnish with orchid, pineapple leaf, and swizzle stick.

Smuggler’s Cove Birthday Rum and Fun

After drinks at Last Rites we took a chance by going to Smuggler’s Cove, where lines to enter aren’t uncommon especially on the weekends. Thankfully, we got right in and found some comfy seats upstairs in the Hut. This is definitely the best place at the Cove for conversation, made all the better by running into our mutual friends David and Amy.

As a birthday treat, I ordered an old Samaroli rum from Jamaica. Distilled in ’92, making this almost nearly as old as I am. This was some amazing rum, so full of flavor as you’d expect from a 52% ABV rum aged for 25 years. I’m a member of the Rumbustion Society at the Cove and though I’m not anywhere near the 2000+ rums some folks have tried if I’m here I try to spoil myself with something great. I ended up killing this limited edition bottle, which means it shall never return.

As we exited Smuggler’s Cove we saw that there was quite a long line to get in. Our easy entry was quite a gift indeed.

Escapism at San Francisco’s Last Rites

It’s been a minute since we were last at Last Rites but with a little planning had a really nice time on Saturday. We had a pretty nice Italian dinner at nearby restaurant The Rustic and got in line about 10 minutes before opening. The last time we opened Last Rites there weren’t that many people inside but that was far from the case this time as even before opening there built up a large crowd.

Happy Birthday Sam

We sat by one of two stone idols and had a couple round of drinks. I asked for cocktail suggestions on my Instagram stories and had the recommended Zombie Killer, a mashup of a Zombie and Painkiller featuring overproof rum, coconut, pineapple, citrus, cinnamon, falernum, and absinthe. The nutmeg garnish was quite fragrant but this was more “bitter Painkiller” than a true combo and despite the reputations of both drinks didn’t taste or feel like a ton of rum.

Mrs. Mai Tai tried a couple creamy cocktails. Kali Maa’s Doom has gin, pisco, cream, melon, sauvignon blanc, citrus, and vanilla has has a marshmallow garnish. This seemed very floral to me and pretty interesting. She also tried the non-alcoholic Golden Idol made with Turmeric milk, coconut, orange, pineapple, lemon, and nutmeg. This was far less sweeter than you’d expect and better balanced than most Painkillers that use similar ingredients.

I also tried the off-menu Mai Tai, which had a bold balance of funky rum. I didn’t love the orgeat and this felt a little flat to me overall, unfortunately. Last Rites has a very nice rum selection if you’re so inclined.

The service was quite nice and the interior remains in great working order even after being open for several years. The theme of an airplane crashing into the jungle was reinforced by an audio piece that played outside right before opening. The seats were all taken, though a few standing room spots still remained available. The haunting musical track was reminiscent of tribal drums, though a little more variety would have made this even more immersive. There are no wooden tikis here, but the large stone idols serve a similar purpose and we got an up close view of the smoke effects. Last Rites is great fun.

Best Hangover Brunch in the Bay Area at Hula Hoops

After our night of tiki bar hopping in The City, we landed in South San Francisco for brunch at Hula Hoops. We were seated inside the small two-table tiki room built by Bamboo Ben, providing a quiet place to socialize and avoid the bustle in the rest of the restaurant that always been busy in our experiences. Reservations strongly recommended.

Banana Craze

No booze for us, though I loved the non-alcoholic Banana Craze that was rich and creamy and topped by a fantastic garnish and a mountain of whipped topping. This was just what I needed. Meanwhile Mrs. Mai Tai and our friend Kristi had Iced Ube Latte with Ube ice cream as a topping that you eat first before pouring in the coffee. This was a big hit.

The main reason we wanted to try brunch here was to try the specialty pancakes. Mrs. Mai Tai went with the Ube pancakes and I went with the Lilikoi. These were easily the tallest and fluffiest pancakes that I’ve ever had, and the Lilikoi topping was a perfect balance of sweetness and tartness. The presentation for both was totally high quality as well. This was so much that we couldn’t finish, so if you’re a couple and can agree on a style these would be wonderful to split.

Iced Ube Latte

Brunch at Hula Hoops was a perfect hangover remedy, and we thank the Hula Hoops staff for the hospitality and for seating us in the tiki lounge.

Tropical Escapism at Zombie Village

After dinner at the Tonga Room, we walked down the hill to Zombie Village for a nightcap, passing by the original Tiki Bob location at Post/Taylor. We made reservations for a booth, so we were able to socialize with friends and enjoy our cocktails.

Zombie Village is still doing a lot of things right, including well prepared cocktails and offering a large rum and spirits list for those who want to try something different. The menu is smaller than when the venue originally opened, but it is large enough to offer something for everyone and there was even a small menu of seasonal cocktails.

Disco Banana

My go to option at Zombie Village is the Disco Banana, a blended Daiquiri riff with rhum agricole and overproof Jamaican rums. It’s delicious and was prepared and blended perfectly, one of my favorite cocktails of all time. I then used the rum list to find a premium rum for a freshly made Mai Tai. No surprise to regular readers, I chose Saint Benevolence Rum Clairin and indeed this was a wonderfully flavorful cocktail that’s even better than Zombie Village’s high-quality standard version. For rum nerds it is always appreciated when bars are able to prepare cocktails with a called spirit Hint: because they’re not batching every cocktail.

The bar was fairly busy on Saturday, though not overly so. We had great service, prompt and friendly, and we appreciate the hospitality. Zombie Village remains a stellar escapist destination in The City.

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.