Historic John’s Grill in San Francisco

John’s Grill is one of our go-to places in the City, located downtown where we usually park and also because we like the atmosphere and food and cocktails. We totally enjoyed our dinner on Saturday. The place was pretty full but we were able to easily get a reservation earlier that same day.

There aren’t 63 cocktails on their menu but we did enjoy the Gimlet and the Cosmo.

Mid-Week Dinner at The Tonga Room

My friend Amy was in town for business but we found time for dinner at The Tonga Room a couple blocks from her hotel. Yes, it helps to get there early before opening even on Wednesday. But it is worth it when they give you a table right by the lagoon.

About the same experience as last time. The prices here are pretty steep, but you can’t beat the amazing decor inside. Music was an eclectic mix of surf and Hawaiian and a little Reggae, and service was spot on as usual. I really liked my salmon entree.

Drinks were okay. Mrs. Mai Tai’s Shirley Temple didn’t even come with a cherry, but the Tonga Kong was a hit for her and with Amy. The Mai Tai was a little too limey, though mellowed over time.

We also had a short visit with Jayme from @lagoonofmystery who was in town for whirlwind tour of the Bay Area’s famed set of tiki bars.

SF Rum Fest Recap: Social Scene

I enjoy the seminars at San Francisco Rum Fest, if only that it helps to take a break from all the drinking. I didn’t find the seminars this time to be as interesting as year’s past (I also had to leave the event a little early, so missed the last two sessions I was interested in). Hope next year is better.

I did enjoy the session led by Cocktail Wonk Matt Pietrek regarding the work that WIRSPA is doing to build strength among Caribbean rum producers. Matt also gave me some details about his next super-secret product that I’m sure will be amazing. Shhhhh.

So many familiar faces from the industry and the fan side. Thanks to Cory Schoolland for being my line buddy when I got to the event early. We met up with master mixologist Nathan Robinson who is a frequent contributor to the FB groups where Cory and I participate.

There were a few tiki vendors once again this year. It’s always great to see Match Accessories who Mrs. Mai Tai buys from frequently. I just don’t know how much a couple vendors adds to the event, especially at the Hibernia Bank location that lacks an outdoor patio like the previous event space for past Rum Fests. The crowd always seems more interested in drinking, anyway.

The Hibernia Bank is a good location for this event, though. Nice and cool inside, even on a super hot weekend in SF. A good layout with high ceilings and an adequately sized seminar room.

SF Rum Fest Recap: The Rums

Had a great time in the city for this annual Rum Fest, this time being billed as the San Francisco Rum Fest now that there’s a companion new event in Los Angeles.

This is an event that’s mix of educational seminars, rum education, rum exploration, and social meetup. Having tasted more of these rums over the years, I lean more into the social side but there’s always some new brands or expressions to try. View the video of the layout.

I was impressed by the single-still releases from El Dorado: Enmore, Versailles, and Port Mourant. These are all aged 12 years and provided at cask strength. I was told these would retail at ~$90, in which case that would be a steal. I do see them offered online for ~$150 which seems to be more what I’d expect. In any case, these are flavor bombs that are so great. I was most impressed by the Versailles, with the Port Mourant being a close second.

Diamond Distilleries was also showing off a fruity and light white 151, aged six months. And a heavier dark 151 aged two years, somewhat more reminiscent of the famed LH151 but still quite lighter.

Rhum Barbancourt had a white expression I’d never tried before and liked. It’s a lighter style than the Haitian rum clairin from Saint Benevolence, which has an aged expression in the market and more things to come.

Copalli rum from Belize seems to be everywhere. I liked both the white and the barrel rested expressions. They were serving a great daiquiri riff by local bartender Maritza Rocha-Alvarez that was superb.

Rhum Saint James from Martinique seemed to be making a push to get better distribution and had a number of new and interesting expressions.

I spoke to the Hawaiian producers about their product, which will be covered in a deeper dive in a couple weeks.

Presidio Brunch at Sessions

We did a family outing to see the new Presido Tunnel Tops park, and then to the nearby Walt Disney Family Museum. The Park is pretty impressive, running over the top of the highway 101. The plants and everything are brand new and I’m sure will fill out over the coming years, but this is still picturesque. Pro tip: arrive early to avoid the crowds. Even at 11:00 am on Sunday the place and the parking were quite full. Our family photo for the Christmas card with the Golden Gate Bridge didn’t really work, thanks to the heavy fog.

We went over to Sessions for brunch afterwards, part of the Lucasfilm campus. We’ve been here a few times, including the May the Fourth event with Smuggler’s Cove last year. The food is gourmet and the cocktails are outstanding, plus we get to visit the Yoda statue nearby. So it’s a treat and not an everyday visit, unless you have “Star Wars Money.” I really enjoyed my waffle, topped with strawberries and toasted granola.

The cocktail was Carnaval Caribe, made with El Dorado 12, Bacardi, Curacao, Cynar, Falernum, Pineapple Shrubb, and Lime. Really rich and flavorful.

Neverland: an Immersive Peter Pan Inspired Bar

Neverland is a pop-up experience at venues in cities worldwide. We attended the San Francisco location which is running through early August. The bar is set up with a Peter Pan theme, and features scripted and improvised encounters with Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and the crew. The audience plays lost boys who work with Peter Pan to rescue Tinkerbell from Captain Hook. Those who aren’t into live-action role playing need not worry – this aspect is somewhat minimal and you aren’t expected to be “in character” for your entire 90 minute experience.

The adults-only experience includes a few saucy jokes and plenty of alcoholic beverages. Upon entry, everyone is provided with a little glass of beer or wine. After some interactions with Peter Pan and Captain Hook, you’re given the ability to explore the space and take part with some physical activities to win doubloons that get you a barrel of Painkiller-style rum punch. The final cocktail is built using a base that’s poured into a coupe and then completed by combining it with some citrus in a bottle you find hidden in the space. Cocktails are okay given the venue/price.

Additional cocktails and beverages are available for additional purchase, including a smoking fishbowl and some shots. But you’ll get plenty already we think most guests will stick to the included offerings. In SF, this was $45 per person which included the three drinks. There’s a tip jar and Venmo codes for tips.

There’s plenty of time for photos and encounters your crew members, and the space looks great including a jail cell, lighting, and props. This is a lot of fun with a group of people.

Tiki Night in the Bay Area

Can’t get into the specific reasons why but I made visits to three of the Bay Area tiki bars last night. And of course even if went there for other reasons you can’t leave without getting a cocktail.

Smuggler’s Cove: Hibiscus Rum Punch. Fruity and light, quite flavorful.

The Kon-Tiki: their very good Mai Tai and (not pictured) their best-in-the-world Cheeseburger.

Forbidden Island: Ohana night special cocktail called Black Hole Sun, by Sara Rivas. Citrus, Pineapple, Honey, Bourbon, Demerara 151, Dash of absinthe, Dash of bitters. Leaning spicy, this was pretty good!

Apple Maps in the car really came in handy yesterday. Just 30 mins from the Cove to Kon-Tiki at rush hour!

Nice to see familiar faces along the way. Such a blessing to have so many great destination experiences in the Bay Area.

Tonga Room

Mrs Mai Tai and I made a special trek to the City to have dinner at the Tonga Room. We were last here in 2019, and we’ve missed the incredible atmosphere and dining at the historical tiki bar at the Fairmont Hotel. There’s always a line when the place opens (was told they don’t offer reservations anymore, even to hotel guests), and even more so this week after a nice writeup in the local SFGate news site.

Unlike our last attempt before a Go-Go’s show a couple months ago, traffic was light and so we arrived super early and were first in line. Definitely a big difference between the “Tonga line” 30 mins before opening and 15 mins before. We were seated poolside, which is always our favorite place.

The food menu is a little more limited than in our previous visits, and noteworthy doesn’t offer much for kids or picky eaters. I ordered the spam appetizer which I expected would be like sliders – but it most certainly wasn’t. This was very tasty, but difficult to eat and would be hard to share. Even better was my Grilled Miso Salmon over fried rice that was really delicious. Julie loved her Coconut Curry Seafood, though I had to convince her to try the Calamari.

There’s something off in the tart Mai Tai (I’m guessing cheap orgeat), though we loved our other cocktails including the coffee-coconut Tonga Kong and the lemon-coconut Adult Swim (normally served with vodka, I asked for rum to be subbed). The cocktails here are very pricey and the quality is okay – but balanced with the friendly service and amazingly immersive decor inside.

The Tonga Room is very expensive and hard to get in, but for special occasions or just as an occasional treat we think it is worth it. There’s no doubt that the business is booming, though an upcoming three-week closure for refurbishments will be a bummer for some. The rain and thunderstorms that happen every 15-30 minutes are a big hit with customers, and the decor and artwork is a sight to be behold.

Smuggler’s Cove Mai Tai with Rum Subs

I was in the city yesterday near the Cove so popped in to see if they could top the amazing Mai Tai I had at Trader Sam’s made with Appleton Reserve and Hamilton Pot Still Blonde.

As you can see from the photo, what was pulled was the Pot Still Gold, not the Blonde. In this respect, I can’t blame the barback who retrieved the bottle because I’ve done the same thing before at home and in stores since all the Hamilton rums have the same label and in this case the Gold doesn’t look “gold” at all. It’s exactly the same color as the Blonde (if anything, the Blonde is shade darker).

Of course the Smuggler’s Cove Mai Tai was excellent, but I would say there’s something about that Hamilton Pot Still Blonde that really amplifies the Mai Tai. I hadn’t really considered that rum for a Mai Tai blend but it has a little extra oomph in the cocktail. The Gold is no slouch but seems to be missing something. The Blonde has some additional aging and no coloring.

Sunday night at the Smuggler’s Cove was quite relaxing and was easy to strike up a conversation with bartender Steven Liles who entertained us with some stories.