Sippin Santa at 55 South in San Jose

The annual holiday pop-up with a tiki theme is back at 55 South in San Jose. This craft cocktail bar and restaurant did the decor even more elaborately this year, and staff was ready to serve us at opening on Sunday. Music was peppy and got everyone in the mood.

Sippin Santa comes from the our favorite cocktail historian, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, in partnership with Cocktail Kingdom that also runs the Miracle pop-ups (including two downtown San Jose locations within a 5 minute walk of 55 South, Paper Plane and Miniboss).

This year the Mersanta mug is available for sale after the cocktail debuted on the menu last year. Such a cute mug, and the cocktail with tequila, applejack, and maple-cranberry syrup is quite a delight. I went with the classic Sippin’ Santa cocktail that has Demerara rum, amaro, and gingerbread mix. Really great, and prices for both the cocktails and merch are pretty reasonable.

Sippin’ Santa Cocktail

A new drink this year is Island of Misfit Toys, featuring Jamaican Rum, Chai Tea, cream, cinnamon, and pumpkin puree. If you like Pina Coladas and Pumpkin Spice, this will be your new all-time favorite. I like both, as does Mrs. Mai Tai, so this cocktail is right up there with Sippin Santa’s Kris Kringle Colada as something to go out of your way to try.

55 South has a pretty decent food menu. I enjoyed the Shrimp Roll and we all looooved the Cream Cheese Bread, a small loaf of Olive bread covered with cream cheese. Probably the best thing in the entire building.

Trying it Once at Dr. Funk

Landed again at Dr. Funk to try more cocktails from the refreshed menu.

Phoenix Rising – mezcal, rum, Aperol, pineapple, lime, coconut cream, cinnamon, serrano tincture. Plus, fire. This is a pretty good cocktail, but too spicy for me. Probably from the serrano – but honestly mezcal isn’t really my bag either. One and done, I guess. Your mileage may vary.

Missionary’s Downfall – white rum, peach liqueur, lime, pineapple, and mint. The original Don the Beachcomber version was blended, a format I’ve struggled with at home. This way may not be as frothy and rich on the tongue, but all the flavors are there. It’s a big plus that they use Probitas Rum, a blend of Foursquare rum from Barbados along with some Jamaican rum from Hampden. Really helpful to stand up to the other ingredients in this tropical cocktail that has plenty of mint.

Note that there’s going to be World Cup Viewing Parties out in San Pedro Square from November 20 – December 18. So, I’d expect a lot of folks to be out cheering for their favorite team. But, thankfully, Dr. Funk doesn’t have any TVs inside so if you’re looking for a tropical escape you still have this option.

Sampling New Cocktails at Dr. Funk San Jose

The Dr. Funk cocktail menu was refreshed a couple months ago, rotating out both classics and originals (where even the namesake Dr. Funk cocktail was dropped). This visit I made sure to sample some more of the new cocktails.

A.H. Cooler features Probitas white rum, Uncle Val’s Botanical gin, Yellow Chartreuse, raspberry, watermelon, and lemon. This leans a little tart but the blend of flavors do work really well here, and the ingredients are all top quality. Definitely fruity but not in a Hawaiian Punch sort of way. Crisp and refreshing.

Bali Bali (not pictured) is served frozen and unlike most slushy cocktails isn’t a sugar bomb. It features Appleton Signature and Probitas rums, Cognac, Gin, Velvet Falernum, pineapple, orange, lime, passionfruit, and turbinado. This also leans tart and certainly tastes as more layered than the average frozen cocktail, but at the same time it doesn’t taste nearly as complex as the myriad ingredients would indicate. Great change of pace in any case.

Tehuacan Gold really impressed me with some unusual flavors. It features El Dorado 3 yr rum, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, orange, pineapple, lime, and Cardamom bitters. It also notably includes “buttered corn” as a creamy and sweet base. I’m really not sure what this is exactly, except that for sure this lends a unique and elegant taste. This should appeal to the folks who liked the Dead Man’s Isle from the original menu.

The strong cocktail program at Dr. Funk continues, and most of the bartenders are able and willing to go off menu when asked nicely. We were particularly impressed by the fire display by Paul McCoun when a Jet Pilot was ordered. Music continues to be retro exotica and Hawaiian, which sets the mood perfectly inside.

Dr. Funk Mai Tai Still Delivers

It seems impossible to believe that Jamaican’s leading rum brand is having supply chain issues, even with being owned by liquor superpower Campari Group. Yet that’s exactly the situation for Appleton Estate 12 year Rare Casks and also Appleton Estate 8 year Reserve. Bars cannot get these popular rums in volume. Perhaps Appleton is running short of their iconic bottles and getting bottles to Jamaica is tricky (can we start a bottle return program, stat?). In any case, let’s hope this gets resolved soon.

In the meantime, bars that use Appleton 12/8 in their cocktails need to find alternatives. Appleton’s lightly aged Signature blend seems to still be in ready supply, but may not be a perfect sub for the longer-aged expressions.

Such is the case for the Mai Tai at San Jose’s Dr. Funk where they replaced Appleton 12 with another longer aged Jamaican-led rum, Denizen Merchant’s Reserve. It is then blended 50/50 with Smith & Cross Jamaica Rum. And nothing against Denizen, a fabulous rum blend of mostly Jamaican and some Martinique rum, but Appleton was a better companion to the Smith & Cross.

Nonetheless, the new formula Mai Tai at Dr. Funk is still outstanding. The house orgeat really shines in this bright cocktail that highlights delicious Jamaican rum. And a reminder that it’s only $10 during happy hour – a total bargain.

It sometimes seems passé to include a Mai Tai on the menu at a tiki bar that serves craft cocktails. Of course they can make it, why take up space on the menu? But to me it is important to include the specs on the menu, not just to show newbies this isn’t a pineapple/orange juice Mai Tai, but also to make a statement with the rums being used. Denizen and Smith & Cross? You know this is a serious Mai Tai. And it’s one of the best anywhere.

Tipsy Terrier Halloween Party

Thanks to Amy and Kirk for throwing another amazing backyard Halloween Party last night in San Jose. Their large home tiki bar, the Tipsy Terrier, is the centerpiece and fantastic but we most spent time in the yard and patio enjoying the myriad Halloween decorations.

They served a wide assortment of boozy beverages including fantastic versions of the 1944 Mai Tai, Three Dots and a Dash, and great blood red Zombie. Super flavorful and definitely not watered down for a general audience. There were also Aperol Spritz’s and Champagne Cocktails. So nice when the host give you the fixing and you can prepare it to suit. Beer on tap and Sangria from a fountain were available for those with less ambitious prep desires, or just because they prefer it.

Mrs. Mai Tai came up with the idea for our costume – Jack and Wendy from The Shining. All works and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Some truly outstanding costumes at the party, and nice to see some familiar faces but also to meet some new people too.

Sunday Brunch at San Jose’s Dr Funk Tiki Bar

Dr. Funk has been doing brunch on Sundays for a couple months now, so we went over to sample it. The menu has some nice boozy cocktail options, along with some traditional and Hawaiian food offerings.

Mrs Mai Tai and I enjoyed the Thai-Chi and Puka Punch cocktails that were available, and can see that bottomless POG Mimosas could be popular. The Puka Punch really blew me away with some tangy tropical flavors and just the right blend of silver, aged, black and 151 rums. Note that these are the only cocktail options available during brunch.

We kept it simple for the food this time. Mrs. Mai Tai really liked the Veggie Benedict that featured two well-prepared poached eggs and plenty of veggies. I did the BYO Scrambled eggs but didn’t add the optional protein or veggies. Really liked the preparation of the hash browns, which are often harder to get right than you might think.

Brunch at Dr. Funk is a delight. Quite mellow and relaxing inside, or go out to the patio to watch the game on the newly installed televisions.

Keeping it Cool at Dr. Funk

With temps over 100° we took a risk visiting Dr. Funk, but we’re pleased to report that their air conditioning is working great. It was sooo coooool inside.

Speaking of cool, we tried some of the new cocktails on Dr. Funk’s refreshed cocktail menu. We really enjoyed the Drink of the Gods, with overproof rums, coconut and heavy cream, pineapple, lemon, turbinado, walnut bitters, and cherry liqueur. Such an amazing blend of flavors.

We were less impressed with Thai Chi, with rums, spices, milk syrup, and turbinado. This is Mrs. Mai Tai’s flavor profile but overall it didn’t have the complexity or rich flavors which Dr. Funk is known for.

I had the Sidewinder’s Fang, which uses Lemon Hart Blackpool Spiced Rum to good effect, along with a fine blend of citrus and passionfruit. It was really fantastic.

The outside patio now has a thatch roof of sorts, increasing the appeal of this venue on the weekends when it is used when things get busy. It does add more escapism to the deck as well, to go along with the fine tropical and retro music that is still thankfully being played.

It was really fantastic hanging out at Dr. Funk last night. Cool drinks. Cool music. And cool air, too!

The Surfrajettes Live in San Jose

Had a great time at The Surfrajettes show at The Ritz in San Jose last night. The show opened with Frankie and Pool Boys who put on a credible and energetic set.

The Surfrajettes had a long headliner set including many of their past singles as well as tracks from their new album Roller Fink. The band is well-practiced and sounded great, mixing classic surf covers such as “Penetration” along with their spin on classic songs such as “She Loves You” and “Heart of Glass.” I like the covers but prefer their original tracks such as “Party Line” and “Couch Surfing.” 

I was impressed by Sam Maloney’s wild drumming and lead guitarist Nicole Damoff’s bluesy solos. Damoff also served as the M.C., engaging the audience in between songs with song introductions and such.

The Surfrajettes are playing a bunch of shows this week leading to Tiki Oasis, and have additional dates in Texas and in the midwest later in the month. Be sure to check them out if they’re coming to your town.

Trader Vic Grog in Trader Vic’s San Jose Anniversary Glass

We had the pleasure of flying out of San Jose a couple weeks ago on the 1st anniversary of Trader Vic’s SJC – the world’s best airport bar. The problem was that our flight was at 7:30 in the morning, so our visit to Vic’s was at opening at 6 am (Mai Tais at 6:15 am!). And the 1st anniversary celebration was at Noon that same day, so all the event merch was held under lock and key. The staff graciously tried to get into it, but no luck.

So we have to thank our benefactor for getting us this amazing Trader Vic’s San Jose Airport glass, and the incredible airline wing-style pin. Mahalo, friend.

To celebrate I made a Trader Vic’s Grog. This is one of the cocktails I’ll sometimes go to at the restaurant when I look for something besides the Mai Tai. It’s a pretty good cocktail in this format, and is basically a crushed-ice and double sized version of the Siboney cocktail that’s served up.

For this version, I used two flavorful Jamaican rums. Some Worthy Park 109, a dark Jamaican rum at 54.5% ABV, alongside Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still Gold. I also made a tiny tweak by adding ¼ oz of simple syrup so that the cocktail was slightly less tart.

Trader Vic Grog
1 oz Lemon Juice
1 oz Pineapple Juice
1 oz Passionfruit Syrup (Liber)
2 oz Dark Jamaican Rum
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Add simple syrup to taste
Shake with crushed ice and garnish with mint.

It is not without a great deal of irony that after being a tiki bar wasteland for decades, that we salute San Jose that now has two very good tiki bars with this Trader Vic’s location and Dr. Funk downtown.