As I started telling people about our family trip to Hawaii pretty much everyone said something to the effect of “you’re probably going to go to so many tiki bars, huh?” But the reality is that there are very, VERY few true tiki bars in Hawaii. The tiki culture was started in L.A. and grew in San Fran and only moved to Hawaii once tourists started to expect it to be there. The sad thing is that many of those original tiki bars of Hawaii have come and gone… but La Mariana Sailing Club is still holding on!
Opening in 1957 it is a tiki beacon tucked away in industrial seaside Honolulu. Rumors have circulated for years that the Sailing Club will be forced to sell… while I hope that doesn’t come to fruition I was fortunate to be able to visit a few weeks ago while visiting Oahu
The location is so wonderful! As everyone said, it takes some work to find, and that is true. The GPS on my phone was only able to take me so far and then it told me to “park and walk” the rest of the way. The good news is that is not the case and if you find the right road then there is parking right in front.
Unlike a majority of other tiki bars, this one sits right on the water… part of a beautiful little sailboat marina. I suggest going during daylight hours to enjoy the location fully.
The walk up to the entrance is so fun! Probably not on purpose fully, but from your parked car you see an industrial port… but as you get closer to the entrance you only see the sailboats and start to see the familiar bamboo of a tiki bar.
The decor is wonderful! I guess the story goes that La Mariana was able to procure a lot of old items from previous Hawaiian Tiki bars, including Don’s and Vic’s. Whatever happened, it happened right because there is a little of everything… a canoe, plenty of Japanese fishing floats, even a waterfall (reminding me of Mai Kai).
We had a reservation since we were a party of 8 and we were sat right away. I will admit that at first our server wasn’t the most friendly or helpful but that seemed to change. I ordered a Mai Tai and Mrs. Trader had the Blue Hawaii. I will say that the Mai Tai was decent but not the best ever. (I think Hawaii has a problem, in general, making a correct Mai Tai.) And I will also admit that the drink menu is not the most inventive… but the location and history will bring me back as many times as possible… and the food! The food that everyone ordered was extremely tasty so points right there!
As our meal started to wrap up a band stated… they were enjoyable as well! They even acknowledged my sons, so that’s more points!
Overall, I loved my visit to La Mariana! I would recommend trying to get there if you can (hopefully before the rumors come true of them being bought out)!
Monday my boss asked me if I could travel to Chicago for a two day work session Wednesday and Thursday… but only spending one night (you know, to minimize spend). I’m a team player so I said “no problem”. Once I booked my flights and hotel I moved to my next order of business… booking a reservation for my work session team and myself at Three Dots and a Dash. There were five of us total but it would be a new experience for at least two of the group.
After a long day (I was up to catch my 6am flight at 3:45am) we left the office, quick check in to hotel and a change into one of my favorite Hawaiian Shirts and we were in the Uber to Three Dots. I was excited to once again decent the “Skull Stairs” and be magically transported from the busy rush hour streets of Chicago to the tropical oasis of Three Dots. We were greeted with a friendly smile and wisked away to our reserved booth.
Our waitress, Jordan, greeted us and gave us maybe the most comprehensive tour of a menu ever in the history of restaurants. She highlighted many drinks, was sure to point out the classics, the new additions and even some guidance for anyone that doesn’t go to rum usually. As she walked away to let us decide everyone in my group had a huge smile on their face and, almost all at once, we said “wow, that was thorough and amazing!”
This being my fourth visit to Three Dots I have had the privilege to enjoy many of their drinks however I had never tried their version of the Rum Barrel. And, just like every drink I’ve had there, it did not disappoint!!! Like many tiki bars, Three Dots keeps their Rum Barrel mix a secret but the blend of rums (Aged Jamaica? And maybe a slight Overproof?) and citrus (lime? grapefruit?) and spices (hmmm?) was right on point! Very delicious and it went down fast and smooth.
The rest of the group also enjoyed their drinks. They were blown away by the complex flavors and intense decorations. On the table we had a few Strip and Go Nakes, a Gold Jacket Green Jacket and the name sake Three Dots and a Dash.
To quote my friend Janelle, “The drinks were delicious! I don’t know much about rum or tiki drinks but I know I enjoyed drinking these!”
We also ordered a Pu Pu Platter and it was gone SO QUICKLY! (I love the Macadamia Nut Beef Meatballs… which you can only get on the Platter.) And there is fire… and fire is fun.
As we were finishing up our first round, Janelle’s eyes get big as she sees one of the famous Three Dots sharing drinks being brought to the table next to us. It was the Chief Lapu Lapu and is served in a big clam shell with all kinds of fun decorations and smoke. I tell Janelle that I’m happy to share one with her but as she flips through the menu she zeros in on the Bali Bali… and since it is for 5-6 people we convince the rest of our group to give us a hand.
After ordering we waited… and waited… and waited with anticipation… FINALLY it arrived! It is served in an upside-down urchin with octopus arms coming out… smoke spilling out of the urchin… quite an amazing spectacle.
It looks amazing but it also taste fantastic! It is light and refreshing… the passion fruit hits the palette first and the lighter Puerto Rican rum and gin combination are extremely delightful. And, let’s be honest, the presentation is in its own class!
We finished our Bali Bali, probably faster than we should have, and decided it was time to say farewell to Three Dots… but not before the Manager, Kurt, stopped by to see how everything was and make sure that we had an amazing time. (And not before I was able to procure myself two more AMAZING Three Dots Tiki Mugs!)
I cannot say enough wonderful things about Three Dots… the Food, the Drinks, the Decor, all WONDERFUL but, above even those key elements of a top rate tiki bar, the Hospitality and Service is what makes it a place you want to keep going back to. All four times I have visited the staff has made me feel like I was part of the Three Dots ‘Ohana and I will keep returning as often as I can (or keep pushing for them to build Three Dots South in Orlando).
Thank you, Three Dots, once again you didn’t fail to impress!
Every year my wife and I try to get away to celebrate our Anniversary. We try our best to experience something new or different. Last year we had a wonderful visit to NOLA (including Latitude 29 – Read my blog post here)… this year we decided to head up to Chicago.
While this trip is for both of us, I try not to let my desire to “visit every Tiki Bar Ever” take over the trip. This trip we decided that on our first evening we would stop by Three Dots and a Dash for a Happy Hour drink to start our evening.
The entrance to Three Dots is a simple door in a back alleyway. There is minimal signage, just a tiki torch and a doorman checking IDs. There were queue stanchions available for when things get really busy. I will definitely admit that while the crowd wasn’t to “stanchion level” it was packed inside!
After entering you decent down a staircase below the watchful eyes of the skull wall (pictured below) and then enter yet another door… this door is what takes you from the busy world of the big city into a tropical hideaway.
Upon reaching the hostess stand we found out that to get a table for 2 was almost an hour wait and the bar was packed, elbow to elbow. Our goal was to sit at the bar and with some watchful eyes, a sexy wife and a bit of luck we were able to grab two seats at the very end of the bar right after ordering our first two drinks.
Cory was our bartender and his knowledge of “tiki” extended well beyond the amazing drinks he made up. I started with an Aloha Felicia and my wife went with the Saturn.
Along with the delicious rums (Venezuela and Jamaican), the star of the Aloha Felicia was the coconut (of which I’m always a fan of). The Thai Basil also added the right hint of exotic flavor.
My wife has recently become a big gin fan and the Saturn didn’t let her down. The flavors all complimented themselves and, for her, was a great option among the multiple rum drinks.
As Cory started to have a minute to come up for air we were able to talk “tiki” with him. He was great about sharing his thoughts about the world of tiki and his travels. We asked him about Lost Lake and he said that it was worth the 20-30 minute Uber ride to experience. It was not originally on our list (well… it was kinda on mine) but we decided, based on Cory’s recommendation, to add it to our trip.
And just like that it was time for round 2… a Cheap Lei for myself and the eponymous Three Dots and a Dash for Mrs. Trader.
Can I pause here and point out that in order to be a top notch tiki bar, your drink presentation skills need to be above and beyond! Each drink at Three Dots is carefully crafted and mixed but then it is (almost) painstakingly decorated. Mrs. Trader told me that my presentation game needs to step up a notch or seven.
The Cheap Lei was extremely different… it had this smokey banana taste… almost like if you made bananas foster over wood chips. I will admit that I’m not usually a huge fan of smokey but this was carefully “mixologized”. It was the right amount of smoke to make you say “hey, this is different and interesting and I LIKE it!”
The Three Dots, of course, did not let us down. It was flavorful, fruity, complex… all the things that Don (the creator back in the 1940s) would have wanted it to be. And they must go through them like crazy since they are pre-batched and “on tap” (which definitely helps when they are rockin’).
The time was coming where we had to decide which tiki mug treasure was coming back to Trader Jay’s with us. Cory was straight up that most mugs were not for sale due to inventory (including the Three Dots Urchin), but Mrs. Trader really wanted the Urchin to find a home in Florida with us. After asking nicely, Cory was able to pull a string or two and packed one up for us (with, again, wonderful presentation).
It was time to pay the tab but we enjoyed ourselves so much that we were already thinking we would be back to explore even more of the menu. Cory recommended coming back Sunday evening so we planned on that.
Jump Here to Read about Our Adventure to Lost Lake (Coming Soon)
Or continue reading below for our second visit to Three Dots…
After catching a matinee of the amazing musical Hamilton we swung back into Three Dots just two days later. Cory told us he’d be on bar however he was MIA… instead we were greeted at the bar by Ivana. Sunday afternoons are a little slower, offering some great tiki mixology talk. Ivana was a delight to talk with and we had an extra treat… Kevin Beary was also behind the bar. (If you don’t know who Kevin Beary is then do a little Google search because he is the Award Winning Beverage Director of Three Dots!) I will be honest, it took me a few minutes to realize exactly what a treat we were in for but I’m glad I did. Kevin was very generous in talking about his favorite rums, his tiki and bartending travels and even a sharing a few recipes.
Besides the great conversation we also experienced four more amazing drinks. I started with the Chief Lapu Lapu… which I really wanted because the passion fruit foam really intrigued me. The drink and the foam did not disappoint!
Mrs. Trader went head first in with a Jet Pilot… strong, expertly mixed, maybe the perfect Jet Pilot!
Can I also pause here and point out that Three Dots’ tiki mug game is TOP OF THE CLASS! Look at these amazing mugs, they a all wonderful, unique, detailed… I really wish I could have brought home at least 3 more! (Side note to the Three Dots Team: If you ever have leftover inventory you need to send away, I’ll happily find a good home for any orphan tiki mugs!)
We decided that we would finish off one more round before we said goodbye to Three Dots. I went with the Pandan Pain Killer and Mrs. Trader went with the Violet Revolver… I don’t think I need to go into detail about how these were also amazing!
I cannot say enough good things about Three Dots and a Dash! I want to open one here in Orlando! I’d either apply for a job or be their best patron.
I don’t think I could sit down and pick a favorite tiki bar… each have something special and unique but I will say Three Dots is the first tiki bar I’ve visited two times in three days and that is worth something. If you are in Chicago make it your goal to go visit! The experience is wonderful and the drinks are beyond amazing. Thank you to Kevin and his team for hosting us and talking tiki! (And, Kevin, thank you for the suggestion on the Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still Rum… if only I could find a bottle!!!)
Not sure what I can say about the Mai Kai that hasn’t already been said so I’ll just share my most recent experience…
We made the pilgrimage down there this past Saturday to celebrate my birthday. Where better for the Trader to celebrate? My wife, sons, parents and sister all join me on the voyage… it would be all of their first times enjoying dinner and the show.
Before I get into my experience, here is a very brief history of The Mai Kai…
The Mai-Kai opened to the public on December 28, 1956, in Ft. Lauderdale and is one of the few “Grand Polynesian Palaces of Tiki” still in operation today. In 2015 it was named the “best tiki bar in the world” by Critiki, an organization of fans of Polynesian pop culture. It is the last restaurant/bar in existence carrying on the traditions of service and serving the original drink recipes of Don the Beachcomber’s, and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (For more history, check out Wikipedia.)
There are a lot of amazing details about The Mai Kai and one of my favorites is how they transport you to Polynesia from the second you turn in. They have a loose board bridge that rattles under your car… helping you to forget US 1 behind you and teleport to Tiki heaven.
After handing our car over to the valet we headed in to the Molokai Bar. It was happy hour so we wanted to grab a half price drink before dinner (Trader Jay recommendation). I opted for my favorite Mai Kai elixir… The Barrel O’ Rum, a Mai Kai staple. The menu describes it as a drink loved by smugglers, pirates and rum runners, it is bold, big and rightfully smooth. The recipe (like most Mai Kai drinks) is secret… in the tradition of Don, they mix all their drinks “backstage” to keep their recipes secret. My wife ordered a Hukilau, which is the official drink of the annual tiki festival hosted by the Mai Kai. They even make some fantastic non-alcoholic drinks… my boys love the Maui Sunrise. As you would expect, the drinks are all amazing. Now that I’m a pretend mixologist I like to try to breakdown the ingredients. Their drink menu, like many tiki bars, is very extensive… it would take multiple visits to try them all (but it is worth a try).
The decor is amazing from top to bottom! The Molokai Bar has more of a old ship feel to it with rigging and some fantastical added effects, like the water streaming down the windows like rain. The tiki waterfall is one of my favorite touches!
After our Happy Hour round we went into the dining room for dinner. The decor in the dining room is equally “Tiki-rific” but the feel changes from the nautical to more classic tiki with thatch and bamboo and plenty of eclectic lanterns. It truly is a sight to see and words (or even pictures) don’t do it justice.
The food is really good as well. Everything we ordered was enjoyable! I always recommend the PuPu Platter as a starter. One fun addition to the kids menu is that a meal comes with a drink in a pineapple.
I also didn’t want to miss out on more “fun drink vessels” so I ordered a Mara-Amu (with take home Tiki mug). According to the menu, Mara-Amu means “when the west wind blows” in Tahitian and is another delicious rum punch.
The stage show is very good. It is the right amount of hula/dancing/chanting/etc. And it all leads up to the hands down kid favorite FIRE dancing! I’ve seen a decent number of fire dancing/twirling shows but I have to admit that this probably had to be the best! It is worth the price of admission for sure!
Right prior to the fire on stage came my choice dessert, which also involves fire… the Bananas Bengali (Mai Kai version of bananas foster). While I will admit it doesn’t quite measure up the Brennan’s in New Orleans, it was a great end to the meal. The Mai Kai definitely doesn’t shy on the rum and the two feet fire pour is very impressive. They even serve it still flaming.
The last thing that I would make sure not to miss is the Tiki Garden in the back! The Mai Kai has built this own tropical oasis complete with waterfalls and plenty of tikis (large and small). It is only a short loop but the boys really loved the adventure and there are plenty of photo ops.
So, as you can see, it really is Tiki Heaven! This historical gem really has it all! There is so much to experience that most probably can’t do it all in one visit. But, if you only have one chance to enter these historic doors then this is what I wouldn’t miss…
Barrel o’ Rum at Molokai Bar (happy hour)
Polynesian show (don’t miss the fire)
Bananas Bengali (Server Wes does a master fire pour)
And a 10 minute stroll through the Tiki Gardens
While I haven’t been in a while, I was thrilled to return! Being there with my family and celebrating my birthday in Tiki Perfection is everything I could have asked for.
I will admit that prior to planning a trip to New Orleans, I didn’t know much about Beachbum Berry but after reading a little it seems I should give him a HUGE “THANK YOU” for having a big hand bringing Tiki back.
Head over to his site to learn more about him, and I urge you to read about his mission to find Don the Beachcomber’s original Zombie recipe.
But I’m here today to talk about a visit to his bar/restaurant, Latitude 29 in New Orleans, LA…
I’ll start with the decor which was fantastic and amazing! It was a very clean, crisp bamboo build with a good number of interesting tikis. My favorites, of course, were the duel tiki drummer replicas from Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room (I only have 1). The way they utilized different bamboo and paneling really gave me some good ideas for my bar. The other item that really stood out was the map of tikis behind the bar, full with limited edition tiki mugs. And, finally, my wife and I were trying to figure out how to hijack one of the Tahitian fish trap lanterns to repurpose as a Trader Jay’s centerpiece.
The decor is all well and good, but most people go to a tiki bar for drinks and Latitude 29 does NOT disappoint. I started with the drink that Berry spent 20 years searching for the original recipe… Don the Beachcomber’s Zombie (seriously, read about his hunt here).
It tasted just like I feel like it should… strong without hurting, mixed very well and the final secret ingredient (cinnamon syrup) really shined.
My wife ordered a Paniolo which was also very delightful. It has Macadamia Nut liquor in it which is a Trader Jay’s house favorite.
For our second round I went with the Banshee… it was delish with the coconut, banana, lime and, of course, rum (plus I really needed a Latitude 29 coconut mug for my bar). My wife went old school with a Navy Grog. She is finding that she is a Grog fan and this didn’t let her down (she especially enjoyed the cone ice and Union Jack).
Which brings me to maybe my favorite thing about Latitude 29… the garnish station! They take garnishing their drinks to a whole new level! All their signature drinks have at least 1 special garnish, and many have more. Everything from their signature stirrer to plastic snakes, mermaids and monkeys. A drink arriving is an event and I loved watching all the different ones go by. (Side note: thank you to our waitress who let me raid the garnish station!)
A quick word about the food… Obviously the drinks are the star, but the food should never be a side thought here, it was exceptional! We started with Taro Chips (order them just for the siracha mayo alone) and Rumaki. I’m not a big chicken liver guy but let’s say that the Rumaki were so good that my wife had a second order as her dinner. I went with the Hawaiian Cuban Sandwich and it was also fantastic. I enjoyed the Hawaiian pulled pork mixed into a traditional Cuban… very flavorful and a good portion.
Finally, as if all this wasn’t enough, our appitizers were brought to the table by none other than Mrs. Beachbum! She was very nice to take a few minutes out of her evening to talk about my Tweeting the restaurant earlier, discuss the decor (and my tiki bar-work-in-progress) and Berry’s Zombie recipe mission. It was very much a pleasure meeting her!
So, there ya go, the overarching theme is that if you are in New Orleans, you MUST make Latitude 29 a stop! The location is great… it’s not in the middle of Boubon Street madness but also close to everything. Stop in for a Zombie… Without the Beachbum we would still all be drinking imitations!
A little over a year ago I embarked on my Tiki Journey. It was really two events that got me started and one additional event that really lit a Pele’s fire under me…
The first two happened very close to each other… one being the opening of and my first visit to Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and the other was the purchase of a new house.
I’ll write an entire post on Trader Sam’s soon, but our new home had a bonus room that needed a theme and Sam provided the inspiration.
With a blank slate sometimes it is hard to know where to start, but a bamboo bar as a housewarming present from my parents is never a bad place!
With the bar in place, the tiki theme was solidified! And the Tiki Journey started.
As anyone knows, building tiki is never a fast process and in future posts I will definitely highlight the decor that has been added as Trader Jay’s grows and evolves, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco.
A visit to Smuggler’s Cove earlier this year opened my eyes even wider to the world of tiki, especially as it comes to creating exotic drinks and mixology. Entering into the bar is an amazing experience and reading through the menu can be overwhelming but it is a MUST for any tiki enthusiast. The atmosphere is spot on and the drinks are AMAZING.
The experience immediately prompted me to purchase the new Smuggler’s Cove book. Martin Cate’s philosophy on tiki is spot on, in my opinion, and the book has become my “Tiki Bible”.
So, that’s where I’ll stop for my first post. In the coming weeks I hope to showcase the bar build and evolution, share my thoughts about the amazing tiki bars I’ve had the opportunity to experience and highlight my exotic drink mixology. Until then, a hui hou (until we meet again).