Planter’s Punch at Dr. Funk

Working my way through the cocktail menu at Dr. Funk. The Planter’s Punch was recommended by bartender Paul McCoun  who knows I love the Appleton 12 rum that’s used in Funk’s Planter’s Punch.

And the Planter’s Punch keeps up the winning streak of amazing cocktails at Dr. Funk. So flavorful!

I also see they’ve added a logo sign above the entrance to Dr. Funk. This place has really come a long way and for anyone close to San Jose the dream is here to stay.

Top Mai Tais of 2021: Number 3, Dr. Funk

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

Number 3: Dr. Funk (San Jose, CA)

San Jose finally got the world-class tiki bar that it deserves as being America’s 10th most populous city. Located downtown at San Pedro Square, the cocktail program at Dr. Funk has been high-quality right from launch. This includes the Mai Tai which is made with Appleton 12 and Smith & Cross rums from Jamaica. The team told me they tried Martinique rhum but liked this all-Jamaican blend the best. And I’m totally on-board with “Team Jamaican Rum” myself.

The Dr. Funk Mai Tai is great and we even added it to our list of Top 5 Mai Tais at any location.

Dr. Funk Re-Visited

Sunday’s second visit to San Jose’s newest and best tiki bar was another great time. Some Forbidden Island regulars made plans to visit at opening and so we got to experience the bar again with veterans of the tiki bar experience. There were plenty of non-tiki people there, too, so it seems like everyone in San Jose has gotten the memo that Dr. Funk is a big hit.

In addition to the Mai Tai, I tried the original cocktail Sunken Galleon. Ginger isn’t always my favorite flavor, so I asked Ken Wongdejanan about it and he said it was not overpowering. This cocktail featuring Cognac, Jamaican rum, sugar, ginger, and chocolate bitters was quite delightful, and with just a hint of ginger just like I like it. Ken said it took a while to get this cocktail balanced right, so I applaud the effort to develop and lock in such as great tasting drink.

While the bar has been very busy, I have found several bartenders willing to engage in short conversations while mixing or in between orders, often suggesting new cocktails to try. This is a good sign from a hospitality standpoint.

Many of the great bars and restaurants feature a “figurehead” who serves as the master of ceremonies for the venue. Typically this is the owner or the general manager, but at Dr. Funk this role seems to be filled currently by Notch Gonzalez who led the buildout and design. Notch was everywhere on Sunday, talking to basically everyone in the bar and making everyone feel welcome. I don’t know how sustainable this is for the bar (or for Notch himself), but the man deserves a victory lap after helping to launch the bar with such a cool and immersive experience. We also saw some photos of the Dr. Funk logo sign that will hang above the front entrance.

The cocktails and service and vibe at Dr. Funk continue to remain strong, and we can’t wait to return.

New Top 5 Mai Tai: Dr. Funk in San Jose

We’ve made an update to our list of Top 5 Mai Tais. This is our list of the best standard house Mai Tais, without any tweaks or substitutions.

LONO Hollywood was previously in our number 5 spot, but they haven’t yet reopened after COVID. Plus, we’re so impressed by the Mai Tai at the newly opened Dr. Funk in San Jose that it seems like a perfect time to make a change on the official list. Congrats to Ken Wongdejanan and the entire team from Dr. Funk.

Dr. Funk uses Appleton 12 and Smith & Cross Jamaican rums as the base for their Mai Tai, combining it with house-made Orgeat. The team said they tried several different rum blends, including one featuring a Rhum Agricole, but found that this blend was the best. We agree! The heavier rums from Jamaica add flavor that truly punches through. 

Top 5 Mai Tais

  1. Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29, New Orleans
  2. Rumba, Seattle
  3. Smuggler’s Cove. San Francisco
  4. House without a Key, Halekulani Hotel, Honolulu
  5. Dr. Funk, San Jose

World-Class Tiki Bar Comes to San Jose: Dr. Funk

Our long national nightmare is over.

The 10th most populous city in America finally has a real tiki destination now that Dr. Funk has soft-opened in Downtown San Jose. We visited Tuesday during a soft-open for Tiki Ohana, and we’ve been told that Thursday is the first day open to the general public with next Monday being the official grand opening.

Situated at San Pedro Square, Dr. Funk is an immersive tiki bar with decor buildout by @topnotchkustoms + @m_p_o_r_i_u_m_ and bar program by @kenwongdejanan + @bondtylerbond44. The interior is first class, with seven huts, a long bar, and plenty of tables inside. Outside there are more seats on the tiki patio. There are lots of little nods to the actual doctor named Dr. Funk, including some bubbling potions above the bar. Service was great during our soft-open experience. Food was not yet being served, so stay tuned for further developments.

And the cocktails? FAN-TASTIC.

The namesake cocktail is quite good, leaning into Absinthe which is the signature ingredient. More unexpected was the creamy Dead Man’s Isle featuring Ube, Coconut Creme, and several rums. It had a very unique taste and was a big hit among all who tried it.

And the Mai Tai? Maybe one the best anywhere.

We need more samples before we’re able to add this amazing Mai Tai to our Top 5 worldwide, but it is a very strong candidate. Using Appleton 12 and Smith & Cross Jamaican rums, the Mai Tai was perfectly balanced including a creamy and sweet house-made Orgeat. And, if you’re so inclined, you can order it in a souvenir glass designed by local favorite B-Rex.

No longer a wasteland, San Jose finally has the tiki destination it fully deserves.

Dr. Funk Mai Tai Glass by B-Rex, held by B-Rex

Miracle on 1st Holiday Pop-Up in San Jose

After our visit to 55 South, we headed over across the street to Paper Plane, which is doing the Christmas Popup in conjunction with Miracle. Paper Plane has been doing this for a couple years, so their decor is OVER THE TOP. Amazing stuff, and so many lights! Even on a Sunday night this place was packed, though service at the bar did move quickly.

We found the cocktails at “Miracle on 1st” to be excellent, and we want to return to try more. There’s a little bit more of a varied selection than Sippin’ Santa, especially if you’re into Whiskeys and Amaros.

Mrs. Mai Tai had the Jolly Koala, a bright cocktail with Bourbon, Vermouth, Mulled Wine Reduction, and Cacao Nib Aperitif. Plus a cute little Koala to make friends with. This was really great.

I stuck to my wheelhouse and ordered the tropical cocktail named after the catch phrase from everyone’s favorite Christmas movie: Die Hard. The “Yippie Ki Yay, Mother F****r” is a delightful and sweet cocktail with several rums, Ube & Coconut Orgeat, and Pineapple Juice. This one is so easy to sip that I was soon taking off my shoes and feeling the carpet.

The meetup was for members of the “South SF Bay Area Tiki Ohana” group on Facebook. If you’re a local, please join the group for more meetups and local info.

Sippin’ Santa at 55 South in San Jose

The Christmas/Tiki themed pop-up has been gaining momentum over the past few years and is expanding to new locations. This year, downtown San Jose is in the mix thanks to 55 South who are hosting the pop-up for the first time (view menu). A cocktail bar and restaurant, 55 South had previously hosted monthly “tiki nights” that served as sort of gathering place for some South Bay locals who have been underserved for tiki for so long.

The 55 South team did a pretty good job with the decor. Quite festive and for sure plenty good for the first year to get everyone in the mood. Music was 70s-80s leaning Christmas music, so quite peppy.

Cocktails for Sippin’ Santa are developed in conjunction with Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (of Sippin’ Safari book fame). I had the Kris Kringle Colada, an excellent riff using Dark Jamaican Rum, Amaro, and Allspice, while Mrs. Mai Tai ventured away from her coconut sweet spot to try the Sippin’ Santa with Demerara rum and citrus. Unfortunately that one seemed to be lacking the “Gingerbread mix” that makes it a holiday favorite.

Nonetheless we had a great time and the bar was quite busy even at opening on a Sunday. I had the “Tiki Tacos” that were quite good, and Julie liked her Edamame Salad. The meetup was for members of the “South SF Bay Area Tiki Ohana” group on Facebook. If you’re a local, please join the group for more meetups and local info.

Trader Vic’s SJC

The world’s greatest airport bar is at San Jose International, at least as far as this writer has experienced: Trader Vic’s San Jose Airport.

Mrs Mai Tai and I breezed through security in less than 10 minutes and landed at Gate 22 to have brunch at Trader Vic’s. Staff was super friendly, even suggesting an off-menu San Francisco Mai Tai. The standard issue was just fine for me, and you know what it tastes like? It tastes like a Trader Vic’s Mai Tai.

I also tried the signature cocktail for the location, the Pilo Pilo. Fruity and delicious.

My Salmon Bowl was an unexpected pleasure. Plenty hearty with a gigantic portion of salmon. This was really great, I’d love to see this at other Vic’s locations.

The restaurant and bar are on the gangway side of the Airport, so this is sort of like the Vic’s in Emeryville except it is a different kind of vessel that you’re looking at. The Outpost across the way has merch and some grab and go items.

It’s always great to see a new Trader Vic’s, especially stateside. The place is well positioned in the terminal and was busy the entire time we were there. Check it out and try to fly SJC on your next trip.

Dr. Funk: New Tiki Bar Coming to Downtown San Jose

San Jose has been one of the largest U.S. cities without a legit tiki bar, shocking since there are so many tiki bars in San Francisco and Oakland that you’d think a single good destination would seem to draw everyone from Santa Clara and Southern Alameda Counties. San Jose was listed in an article on Critiki about cities lacking tiki bars back in 2017, where author Humuhumu noted the numerous home tiki bars in the area and that “It’s a discerning crowd, though, so when a place finally does open, it’ll have to be good.”

Today, if you’re looking for commercial tiki in San Jose there aren’t a lot of good choices. There is Hukilau in Japan Town, a nice family-run Hawaiian restaurant with a few tiki elements. We liked the food and vibe there, but the cocktails aren’t craft and lean heavily on vodka, which means that the beverage of choice is Kona Beer and not a Mai Tai. Totally worth checking out, but not really tiki.

Tiki Pete’s Well-Deserved Bad Reputation

And then there is Tiki Pete. Located in the heart of Downtown, the restaurant was rebranded from Da Kine Island Grill a couple years ago and named after the owner. There’s a thatched A-frame entrance and a cocktail menu that has a number of tiki classics and a couple different kinds of Mai Tai variants. So you’d think maybe this would be “good enough” for San Jose’s discerning crowd. You might think that, but you would be wrong.

A visit in 2019 went wrong from beginning to end. We visited on a Saturday evening before a concert at the Arena. The restaurant was quite full but we were seated basically immediately. There was a PPV boxing match on TV, so the event volume was quite loud and many of the patrons were there to watch. We ordered drinks and then our meal. After a while, my appetizer arrived, followed by a water for my wife (but not the water I ordered). Then my wife’s main course arrived, then a bit later by my main course. Food was at best okay and at worst less than adequate.

I asked the waitress what was taking so long with the cocktails and she went to check. As noted, it was busy, but I was watching the bartenders and they were not exactly rushing to complete orders. They had plenty of non-prep time and were talking with those sitting at the bar. I could even see that people who ordered after us had gotten their drinks. After more time passed my wife’s appetizer of Edamame arrived. Finally, I went up to ask Tiki Pete himself about our drinks. I mentioned that I had asked for a 1944 Mai Tai made with the Tiki Pete Barbados rum, at which point Pete smiled and high-fived me. I said I’d be more excited to get my drink. Pete then came over to our table with some shots from the Tiki Pete Rum, and said the cocktails were “coming right up.” Then we waited another full ten minutes and they took our drinks to the wrong table. After more confusion, we finally got our cocktails.

Unfortunately, they’re not following the prescribed ingredients in these cocktails; my 1944 Mai Tai had the distinct taste of ginger, as if they used Falernum rather than Orgeat. My wife’s guava martini was bland.

Got Mai Tai? Not at Tiki Pete.

Recap:

  • Literally took over 45 minutes for my wrong-tasting Mai Tai to arrive
  • None of the food came out when it should have, and wasn’t very good
  • Barely any effort to “right” the wrong
  • Free rum shots, but no other comped items as you might expect
  • So, while Tiki Pete seems to be embracing a craft cocktail approach with their historical cocktails and limited-edition rum, they failed time after time to do the basic things a restaurant/bar should be reasonably expected to do.
  • I’ll never go back to Tiki Pete, and you shouldn’t either.

The the above story was posted to the Tiki with Ray Blog, and sounds pretty bad, right?

It gets worse.

In my Instagram post promoting the Tiki with Ray article, Tiki Pete himself jumped in to sort of apologize (saying that it wasn’t indicative of the normal operation) but then saying the server was insecure. After which Tiki Pete outed the server as trans. No, I’m not joking. Then Pete said I was being rude to the server. Well, I also talked to Pete that evening and he gave me a high-five and some rum samples. So, I guess I probably wasn’t being too rude. I was most certainly terse, as we’d expect anyone to be if they waited 45 minutes for a cocktail order that arrived after we were finished with our meal. Not rude, though.

After all of this was published we heard from many tikiphiles who’d had their own disappointing experiences at Tiki Pete. It’s not a tiki bar. It’s party bar with Hawaiian leanings and a tiki veneer. All which is to say that San Jose still is a tiki desert. But there is hope is on the way!

We Can’t Wait for Good Tiki to Come to San Jose

The following image was posted on Instagram by BayAreaImbibers

Photo by BayAreaImbibers

The location is the old Peggy Sue’s Diner at 29 N San Pedro St, around the block from Tiki Pete. And what’s this? Something like that looks very interesting.

The BayAreaImbibers did a little homework and found out that the location is now owned by the MDM Restaurant Bar Group, proprietors of Five Point and Farmer’s Union in downtown San Jose (worth noting: we once had an issue with an entree at Farmer’s Union and not only did they fix it right way without complaint, we were comped the item worth $25).

Though MDM’s website no longer contains info about Dr. Funk, the cached version gives us a hint of what this new venue is all about:

Dr. Funk
Coming Soon — Tiki is a catch-all term for mid-century-inspired motif of all things tropical, exotic and generally Polynesian. Tiki was a romanticized notion of island life inspired by the sentimental appeal of an idealized portrayal of the South Pacific, Hawaii, Polynesia and Oceania. Now, tiki walks the line between reality and myth. It acknowledges the Hollywood smoke and mirrors but also creates an atmosphere of authenticity.

So it definitely is “tiki” and not “nautical” or “tropical” or some of the other things people say when they want to avoid the term “tiki.”

The Dr. Funk Instagram account is now live, and they posted some details about the team behind this new venture.

buildout by @topnotchkustoms + @m_p_o_r_i_u_m_
• “Kahaka” lamps by @rocknrollwoody
• mugs by @tikidiablo
• jade tiles + bamboo work by @bamboocraftsman
• glass floats, puffer fish + traps by @oceanicarts56
• bar program by @kenwongdejanan + @bondtylerbond44

Ignacio “Notch” Gonzalez is the designer behind tiki bars such as Smuggler’s Cove, False Idol, and Hale Pele. Mikel Parton contributed to decor and art at Zombie Village. Woody’s lamps are in many tiki bars and mugs by Tiki Diablo are always coveted. So this seems like an all-star team.

All of which means that San Jose’s discerning audience is going to come in with high expectations, but I expect it won’t take long for Dr. Funk to be considered the top tiki destination in the area. I have high hopes. If the cocktails are good, and the decor is half as good as we’d expect from Notch this will be a great place to go. And assuming they understand that the tiki bar experience is about hospitality and escapism, then I’m sure their operations will be quality as well. We can all hope that Dr. Funk is the tiki destination that we’ve all longed for in San Jose.

Updates

The Dr. Funk website is now live.

We’ve been told that Thursday, December 16 is the official opening date.

Remembering Alex Fritch

We’re all still dealing with the loss of our friend Alex. If you’d like to help the family, a Go Fund Me has been set up: Celebrate the life of Alex Fritch.

Those who met Alex were impressed by his easygoing and friendly manner. But Alex could be quick with a funny comment too. Both of these aspects are on display with the three videos below.

Down the Hatch Game

Recorded in July 2020, the two rounds here are an homage to the classic 1970s game show Match Game but with a focus on tiki, rum, and the bars in the Oakland, CA area. If you’re not a local, you won’t get a few of the “Oakhana” references, but if you know anything about tiki bars or tropical cocktails there will be a lot of familiar subjects.

Alex was one of the “celebrity panelists”, along with his wife Terra. Alex was put into the “Richard Dawson” chair on the second row, and filled the role of the droll but funny man so well.

5 Bottle Rum Challenge

Recorded in January 2021, Alex was the first person I contacted to participate in a fun round-robin discussion of our favorite rums in five and only five categories. Alex joined us online from his home tiki bar, Fred and Ginger’s Exotic Cocktail Bar and Lounge, and you can truly experience his knowledge and passion for rum.