Join the Florida Rum Society and special guest Christelle Harris of Hampden Estate to talk Jamaican Rum and more! See everyone Thursday, May 7th!
This past weekend I was on a business trip to Los Angeles. Knowing there are multiple tiki options in the LA area, my team was kind enough to indulge me with a trip to LONO Hollywood for dinner and drinks.
If you read no further, at least know that LONO Hollywood has amazing tiki hospitality! They were able to get us a day-of reservation for 6 as well as were extremely attentive throughout the entire evening! I would VERY highly recommend LONO and look forward to returning in the future.
LONO is located right on Hollywood Blvd., about 4 blocks from the Chinese Theater. When you walk up to the address you first see a tacky “beach bar” and, if you don’t know any better, have a moment of “is this what I came here for?!” It was a great bait and switch for my 5 teammates who did not have a lot of experience with tiki.
Next door to the beach bar was a small hallway with some vines, tikis and a skull head. At the end was a neon sign and a bamboo door. This is what the entrance to a tiki bar should look like, there was not one sign that said “LONO” (though if you looked past the hallway, you could find the big palm tree logo on the wall). It was perfect… it spoke to the mystery and adventure that would soon transpire upon opening the door.
We went in and had a very warm welcome. The space is larger than a lot of tiki bars with lots of tables for dining as well as lounge areas for enjoying drinks and friends. We were sat at a reserved booth towards the front corner and started our tiki adventure.
Meriah came over to welcome us and gave us a tour of the drink menu as well as provided a few recommendations. I also tried to guide my tiki-virgins by asking about their likes and dislikes to help point them towards a drink that would match their flavor pallets.
I, of course, started with the house specialty, the Curse of Lono. According to the menu, only the beverage director, Chad, knows the recipe. I went ahead and ordered it in the LONO signature tiki mug and, to the delight of the table, it arrived with flames and fireballs. The drink itself was one of the best of the evening! It was spirit forward, which I prefer, with a hint of sweetness at the end (my guess is passion fruit). Also, while a little pricey, the tiki mug is a fantastic add to the collection! It has lots of hidden Hollywood gems throughout.
With 6 of us, we each tried a little something different and everyone really enjoyed their drinks. On the table for the first round we had a Navy Grog, a Painkiller, a Queen Ka’ahumanu, another Curse and a Mai Tai. Everyone was really pleased with their orders… I had the chance to try the Mai Tai and, I will admit, it was a little sweet for my taste but an enjoyable riff (vanilla syrup and macadamia are additional ingredients).
Dom, the GM, came to see how things were progressing and I cannot say enough about Dom and his hospitality! He and his staff really went out of their way to make sure that everyone was having a wonderful time and was enjoying their tiki experience.
We moved on to food and, once again, LONO did not disappoint. Everything we had was fantastic (we way over ordered) but the group collectively would recommend the Kauai Fried Chicken, Shrimp Shack and the Pork Belly 2 Ways.
Moving on to round two we had a few repeat orders but I went for the King Kamehameha which featured rum, of course, Aperol lime, pineapple, Cara Cara orange, passion fruit and honey. It was a tad sweeter than the Curse but the Aperol provided a great balance. I would definitely recommend both my drinks.
As we finished our food, Dom and Chad were kind enough to offer us a sneak peak of drinks coming to the menu in about 3 weeks. Chad was very generous with his time, taking a few minutes to come over and give us a tour of each delicious new beverage. We had the chance to sample the Black Mamba, the Oh Captain My Captain, the Permanent Vacation and the Piña Colossus. It was wonderful to experience the contrast in each drink and everyone was able to gravitate towards a drink that we enjoyed. I’m thrilled that we were able to do some early tasting and would definitely recommend trying out the new drinks when they are added soon.
The location itself is split into two bars. The front, main bar, is for relaxed drinking and dining but then the bar in the back opens late night for more of a “night club” feel. LONO definitely has something for everyone. The décor is more what I would call “light tiki” with the palm frond wall paper but I definitely enjoyed the elements of nautical décor like the ship’s helm, wooden oars and much more throughout.
I said it at the top and I’ll say it again, LONO definitely needs to be on your list if you are in LA/Hollywood! Dom and his team are amazing and everyone we interreacted with wanted to make sure we were taken care of and were having a great time. Mahalo Dom, Chad, Meriah and the rest of the team for a great experience. Because of your hospitality we may have a few new tikiphile converts on our hands!
I don’t travel a lot for my “day job” however when I do I, obviously, like to try to find a nearby Tiki Bar to experience while I’m in town. This week’s work trip took me to Atlanta. I had the opportunity to briefly visit S.O.S. Tiki in Decatur a month earlier, but this latest visit was a full Tiki Extravaganza.
I’m not sure how long it has been going on, however, lately, there have been a number of “tiki takeovers”. This is when bartenders from one tiki bar travel to and mix at another tiki bar (and then, usually, they do the reverse swap – kind of like a home and home in sports). For this takeover, two bartenders from Pagan Idol in San Francisco came down to S.O.S. Tiki in the Atlanta area.
S.O.S. is located in small downtown Decatur and the entrance is down a side ally. Upon entering there is a small flight of stairs that leads you down into the main bar. The bar is small, slightly bigger than Suffering Bastard in Orlando. As it should be, it is dark and offers some “mystery”. The wall behind the bar features a nice assortment of rums as well as a fun collection of tiki mugs (including some of the Star Wars Geeki Tiki mugs… which I know are controversial but I love them so that earns points in my book).
On my previous visit Ieuan, the manager, was my fantastic bartender. He was behind the bar to welcome me again however Nick, from Pagan Idol, would be my amazing host for the evening. Nick was fantastic from the start, walking me through the three special drinks they were featuring for the takeover. He explained that Plantation Rum was sponsoring the event and each drink featured a Maison Ferrand product (owner of Plantation Rums).
I decided to start with the Escape from Cognac (showcasing Ferrand Cognac). It was crisp and nice, a great element of orange and it was creamy but not (hard to explain). It was different from the direction that I usually go with Tiki but very enjoyable. That’s a great thing about tiki and, specifically, these types of gatherings… you have the opportunity to try different things you might not normally choose.
While enjoying my beverage, and before things got to busy, I was able to chat with Ieuan and Nick some. Ieuan opened S.O.S. Tiki 4 years but then stepped away for a bit. The call of tiki wouldn’t let up and he’s been back behind the bar and managing it for around 2 years.
Nick, as my bartender for the evening, received my favorite question… what’s the one rum you’d be stuck on an island with for the rest of your life. He went with a Agricole overproof because he figured he could sip it, make a Ti Punch, mix it, a little of everything.
I moved on to try the Toucan Dance, which featured Plantation 3 Star rum. This one is straight from the Pagan Idol menu. It was a little heavier, think Pearl Diver, but had an amazing balance of coconut (not overly powerful), orange and house-made Fassionola. The Pagan Idol team did a wonderful job with their exclusive, while supplies lasted, menu.
Michael from Plantation Rums brought some of the newest Plantation Single Cask offering. I had the opportunity to sample a few as well as chat with Michael about my love for different rums and how much I enjoy the Plantation rum products. He was very generous with his time and sharing his insight about rum and the endless options it offers. His passion for rum and Plantation was clear… I think that’s one of my favorite things about tiki/rum is talking with people who are passionate about what they do and Michael was no exception.
From a tasting perspective, I was able to enjoy the Barbados XO and the Trinidad 1997. I have to say that the Trinidad is unlike any rum I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. It is smoky and nutty, you can taste the Peat Whiskey from the cask then there is a bit of tobacco and vanilla on the end that lingers. Hopefully I will be able to find a bottle of my own, though, I know that sometimes can pose a challenge… especially in Central Florida where pickings can be slim. (Michael, if you end of reading this, tell me where to look!)
(Can I take a quick minute to say that I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with a number of members of the Plantation Rum team over the past few months and all of them have been wonder individuals. They are always willing to discuss their craft as well as their products, and they are genuinely interested in hearing about other people’s love for rum.)
After some tastings I then asked Nick if he could put together a Pagan Idol Mai Tai for me… he was extremely generous with his craft and I hope he realized how appreciative I was. While he was upfront that S.O.S. didn’t have all the rums that Pagan uses for their Mai Tai Rum Blend, it was a very enjoyable combination. He used some Smith & Cross and Rum-Bar Dark as well as some of the Plantation Single Cask Peru 2010 that was available. He, of course, added Pagan’s homemade Orgeat as well. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward, hopefully, to having a true Pagan Idol Mai Tai in San Fran in the future.
Finally, throughout the evening I had a chance to chat with some S.O.S. regulars who were on hand. Bruce was a great guy and we chatted about our own Mai Tai blends. I also had the chance to talk with Jeff about rums as he is a rum rep for several brands including Clement, Rhum J.M, Chairman’s Reserve and Admiral Rodney. He enjoyed hearing the story of “Trader Jay’s” and he, along with his lovely new wife, agreed to be my next two subscribers.
It was another enjoying Tiki Evening! The takeover was an amazing surprise and everyone I encountered from the S.O.S crew to the visiting Pagan bartenders to the Plantation gang to the friendly regulars were wonderful to talk with. It was a great, inclusive atmosphere where everyone was welcome. I very much look forward to another visit to S.O.S. in the future as well as, hopefully, crossing paths with all the individuals I had the pleasure of interreacting with. Cheers & Mahalo!
A few weeks ago Mrs. Trader (Nautical Nina) and I had the opportunity to experience the Sapphire Falls Rum Dinner. The Universal Orlando Loews Resort puts on this event 2-3 times a year. Each time they feature a different rum brand and pair their multiple offerings with a five course dinner. This past evenT starred Plantation Rums. From start to finish it was a Rum-Riffic evening! SPOILER ALERT: We LOVED this event and will be back for the next one and would HIGHLY recommend it to anyone who is a Rum Lover or a Foodie (or BOTH, like us)!
Upon arrival at Sapphire Fall, we were directed downstairs to Amatista Cookhouse. There we checked in and were welcomed to the patio for beer, wine or, of course, rum. They had a punch pre-made with Plantation Three Stars rum. I will say that while good, the punch could have benefited from being served over crushed ice like a Painkiller. There were some passed appetizers while everyone waited to be welcomed in the dining room.
We had the pleasure of talking with Phil, Assistant Director of Food and Beverage, before the doors opened to welcome us to our tables. Phil is an amazing host and definitely is one that will go above and beyond to make you feel welcome.
Prior to entering the dining room we were assigned a table. Nautical Nina and I joined Rum Master Eddie, his wife, son and brother all at Table #1. As we entered and found our table, we settled in for dinner. The rum punch from outside was also available at each table but the best was yet to come.
We started with Sticky Santiago Spareribs which were agave braised with a pineapple mango chutney. The ribs were paired with a Carnaval featuring Plantation Stiggins’ Fancy Pineapple Rum. I already knew I was a big fan of Stiggins’ Fancy rum and this drink was wonderful.
It had a little charred pineapple in it, which was a nice touch. It was during this first course we were introduced both to Aaron, our mixologist for the evening from Sapphire Fall, and Rocky, Rum Ambassador for Plantation Rums. During the course of the evening Aaron would share how he built each rum drink and Rocky would give great information on each Plantation rum. (Rocky had amazing stories about the lengths that the Planation team goes to in order to ensure a premium, quality product. It was really wonderful to have the opportunity to hear those stories first hand.)
Next we moved to a Simple Seared Scallop paired with a Voodoo Lemonade made with Plantation Three Stars. The lemonade was nice, light, made for pool side enjoyment.
Then the soup course was a Bahamian Bouillabaisse (with snapper, shrimp, calamari and mussels) which was paired with a Plantation Original Dark Overproof “Red Tide”. Since first coming out I have enjoyed the O.F.T.D. Overproof from Plantation and Red Tide was very nice… had an Old Fashioned feel to it, slightly sweeter. It was a good contrast to the seafood soup.
The main course was an amazing Caribbean Rubbed Ribeye which was matched with, in my opinion, the highlight of the evening… The Smoke Show with Plantation Original Dark. Aaron served it “trapped” in smoke and then released the drinks and smoke to fill each table. The aroma of the smoke paired perfectly with the drink and steak. This was so enjoyable that Phil, and our wonderful waiter Henry, were kind enough to grab us another round.
We “ended” with a Autumn Spiced Cheesecake and Plantation Barbados 2002 Gran Terroir rum for sipping. The cheesecake was fantastic with hints of cinnamon, clove, allspice and more. The Barbados 2002 is a great sipping rum… it is how a Barbados Rum should be… a little “lighter” than a full Jamaican rum but able to stand on its own and represent Barbados with a slightly sweet finish.
The good news was that the evening was not even over yet… we ended back on the patio with hand-rolled cigars, coffee and one of Plantation’s newest offerings, their Xaymaca Extra Dry. I have had the opportunity to become very familiar with this wonderful offering from Plantation… so much so that it actually is part of my “Mai Tai Rum Blend”.
I would be remise if I didn’t call out the fact that I had the opportunity to meet “Typhoon Tommy” (designer/builder of the beautiful Suffering Bastard tiki bar) and his fiancé, Kari (creator of Magical Tiki Meet Up). It was wonderful to chat with them about all things rum and tiki, and I hope that our paths will continue to cross in the future.
It is hard to put into words just how fantastic the Rum Dinner was. Phil’s team hosted an amazing evening and Aaron did a wonderful job building and pairing the drinks. (Shout out to Henry too… he was attentive and personable and has a true eye for guest service!) It was wonderful to hear the stories from Rocky and have the opportunity to chat with him thought out the evening (how do I get his job?!?!). Fernando, the incredible manager of Strong Water, also made an appearance and, like always, it was a pleasure catching up with him.
(Special THANK YOU to Rum Master Eddie who is always a wonderful host and makes sure we don’t miss the invites these events!)
While the next hasn’t been scheduled, Nautical Nina and I will definitely be joining! Keep your eyes on my Instagram (@trader_jays) and I’ll be sure to post as soon as the next one is announced… I’d love the chance to taste some rum and eat some amazing food with everyone.
Every year for 39 years my family has taken a pilgrimage down to the Florida Keys for the opening of Lobster Season. While I have missed years here and there, my parents have continued the tradition without a break. This year myself, the Junior Traders and my lifelong friend Sailor Rick joined the trip.
While fishing/lobstering was the overall focus, I’m always on the hunt for a Tiki Bar or new Rum. As I was about 12 miles from the end of my drive south, Islamorada Beer Company caught my eye. I noticed something that I maybe didn’t notice on my last trip two year previous… the side of the building also says “Distillery”. I immediately reached out to the Islamorada Distilling Team and scheduled a visit with Master Distiller/Brewer Stephanie Harper.
Upon arrival, Sailor Rick and I were given a warm welcome by the Manager Larissa. She invited us to the tasting bar and went through our rum lineup.
The set up is very unique… on one side of the building is the Beer Co, with full bar and high tops and merchandise then “next door” is the Distillery where you can do tastings and purchase their liquors. Some information that Larissa provided us is that under Florida law you can’t combine a Brewery and Distillery, so they have to remain separate.
Larissa explained that the Distillery has been in business since 2017 and they currently have four rum profiles for sale to the public (as well as two gins and a vodka). We strapped in to try the Silver, Spiced, Select Barrel Aged and Dark Barrel Aged. While the Dark Barrel Aged uses black strap molasses, the others all use Pearl Select Molasses, which includes a blend of sugars from throughout the Caribbean.
We started with the Silver rum, which is aged over oak chips. It was very smooth and light. It is a great mixing rum that still holds a lot of its oaky flavor. Stephanie later explained that originally they were aiming for a 100% clear rum however the filtering was removing too much of the unique flavors. They settled on a more silver color as to not lose the heart of the rum.
We next moved on to the Barrel Aged Rum. This rum is under a continued journey and will soon be re-branded as their Select Rum. It is first distilled in a copper pot still and then run through the column for the spirit run. It is then barrel aged in new white oak barrels at a medium toast and, at the moment, aged for 8 months (soon will be a minimum of a year). The flavor profile had nice hints of vanilla and, of course, a tinge of oak. It reminded me of a lighter bourbon.
Their Spiced was next… I will say that for quite some time I haven’t really been a fan of spiced rum. I know that some on the market have a lot of additives and some are of a high quality but I tend just to avoid them all together. If I want cinnamon or cloves or vanilla in a drink then I like to just added it separately using a homemade syrup. But I went into this with an open mind and I was pleasantly surprised. Islamorada’s Spiced Rum was very “spice forward” and well balanced. It starts with vanilla and ends into a great cinnamon but without the burning of something like Fireball. I would actually almost compare it to St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram. It is a spiced rum that I wouldn’t mind having around.
Finally, we stepped things up a notch with the Dark Rum. This rum is, in my opinion, their best offering. (It won a gold medal from the International Rum Expert Panel in 2018.) Like the Select Barrel Aged, it is currently being aged at 8 months but soon will be at a year. They are using New Oak barrels with a Char 3. The Dark has gone through a revolution. Currently you can purchase batch 9 and Master Distiller Stephanie loves its “richness”. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to also try batch 6, which used Hungarian Spiced Oak Chips, as well as batch 10, which was BOTTLED THAT DAY.
I have to say that I loved the batch 10! The butterscotch and caramel shine and it makes it a good sipping rum. It is fun that they are bottling all their rums as Single Cask so you get a slightly different experience each time you dive in. While blending is essential for the big distilleries, single cask allows smaller, independent shops to offer some wonderful flexibility and different experiences.
After our tastings, Stephanie invited the Sailor and I back into the distillery! She was an amazing hostess and really has learned her craft (and loves to share it, which is wonderful). Stephanie was a dive instructor who really took the job of Brewer on almost a dare (“you think you can do better, then come in here and show me”). She then migrated to Distilling when, without much warning, Islamorada Beer Company was granted their Distilling license.
Currently they are doing all their distilling and barrel aging and bottling and labeling right on the premises but soon will have an additional location further north in Ft. Pierce, FL. While I like the thought of having everything happen in Islamorada, I get the need to grow and I know that having more storage space will allow for longer aging and more profiles. The plan is still to distill everything in the Keys but then use the extra space in Ft. Pierce for storage and aging. Stephanie told us that they have a Queen’s Share (saw the barrel) and Reserve in the works as well as a Rye and a Bourbon.
We were fortunate enough to be there while a spirit run was working through the column still and even were able to sample some still strength rum which, while STRONG, was extremely delicious. Not sure if an overproof rum in in their future however, I’d purchase it if it comes to pass.
We spent over 2 hours with Stephanie and Larissa and we could have stayed even longer! Their hospitality and information was invigorating and infectious but we knew they also had jobs to do. Before leaving I knew I needed some of the Dark to bring back to Trader Jay’s (and some Hibiscus Gin for Mrs. Trader) however, batch 10, my favorite, was not quite ready. Stephanie invited us next door for beverage from the Beer Company and offered to wax a few bottles of Dark Batch 10 for us. (As a side note, I tried the No Wake Zone Key Lime Coconut Ale and it was delicious and refreshing.)
For one final treat, Stephanie invited us back to watch our Batch 10 bottles be waxed and presented us with bottles 1-4. It was an extremely kind gesture and now I’m kind of hesitant to open bottle 1.
I cannot speak highly enough of Islamorada Distilling! While still very young, they are well on their way. They have an amazing staff down there at Mile Marker 82 who all offer a wonderful, casual Florida Keys hospitality. If you are in the area then I would definitely recommend stopping in to say hi and for a taste, I do not think you’d be disappointed.
Mahalo Stephanie and Larissa! We will be back!
In late April a new Tiki Bar opened in Central Florida. Those that know me would have thought I would have been there opening week however it is located in Sanford (about a 50 minute drive, on a good day, from my house). It took a few months of planning but last weekend we made it out to Suffering Bastard.
Suffering Bastard has done a great job of minimal promotion, really only using Instagram. They don’t have a website and, actually, don’t even have their own location. It is interesting because the bar is located INSIDE another bar (Tuffy’s Bottle Shop). And they are two separate entities, which felt a bit strange (I’ll get to that in a moment).
To get there using Phone/GPS you’ll want to put “Tuffy’s Bottle Shop” in as your destination. There is plenty of parking in the lot across the street. When you walk in you see a simple bar… you have to take a left into a more “empty” room and down a hallway on the right you’ll find the entrance and host stand to Suffering Bastard. They are definitely going for the “speakeasy”/hole-in-the-wall type of vibe… which I kind of enjoy.
We arrived around 7pm on a Saturday evening and were told there was a “short wait”. We requested to wait for the bar and were told that wasn’t an issue. So we went to check out Tuffy’s. Of course, as soon as our drink was served we get the text that seats were available. The issue with this is that since they are separate bars you can’t take a drink from Tuffy’s into Suffering. I have to say that this was a bit of a dissatisfier. Even though we were told our seats would be held while we finished our drink, we were eager to maximize our tiki experience. We quickly downed our Old Fashioned (which, by the way, was extremely delightful… Mrs. Trader thinks it could be one of the best she’s ever had) and headed in to Suffer.
Suffering Bastard is, by far, the smallest tiki bar I have been to. It has a bar on the right with about 10/12 seats and about 6/7 tables on the left and THAT’S IT! We were told it seats a total of 32 people. But what they lack in space they make up for in pretty much everything else!
The décor and music were both SPOT ON! Typhoon Tommy, the designer/builder, did an amazing job on the space. You can tell he focused on quality and did as much handmade as possible. The large Suffering Bastard behind the bar is the anchor and everything else works around him. I was a huge fan of the skull pendant lights that hung above the bar.
Our bartender for the evening was Chris and, while more on the quiet side, he knows his drinks and his rum. For a bar of only 32 people, he was non-stop making drinks, with the other bartender Arthur, all night. We had a few good chats about rare rums and our takes/variations on different classic tiki cocktails. If you give him your pallet then he will definitely steer you in the right direction.
Mrs. Trader started with one of her absolute favorites, a Navy Grog… full with Cone Ice. I, with a recommendation from Chris on what were some of his favorites, went with a Planter’s Punch. Both drinks were balanced, rum forward, fresh and wonderful.
Suffering Bastard does have a partnership with Da Kine Poke, a permanent Food Truck located in the courtyard of Tuffy’s. You can order from a small menu and the food will come right to you. While the portions are small and choices are limited, I have to tell you that everything we tried was fantastic.
We explored a few more drinks including the Tiger Shark (served in a shark, as you can see), the Honi Honi (Bastard’s take on a Mai Tai with Bourbon) and the namesake Suffering Bastard (Vic style). I know that Mrs. Trader definitely enjoyed the Navy Grog the best, even went for a second, but I’m not sure I could pick my favorite… Suffering definitely shines with their drinks, there is no doubt about it! They do something that if I’ve seen before I don’t remember… in appropriate drinks they put a cinnamon stick in and light the end on fire with one of those culinary torches. It doesn’t stay on fire like a candle but continues to smoke and releases the aroma while you enjoy your beverage. Very nice addition!
The intimate atmosphere also lends itself nicely to meeting fellow tikifiles… we had a great conversation with a couple sitting next to us who are local to the area and enjoys both Suffering as well as Bitters and Brass (owned by the same people). The couple, one of which actually works at the same company as myself, are headed to Chicago so we took the opportunity to talk up Three Dots and Lost Lake. We also took the opportunity to have some rum and a mini daquiri.
Suffering Bastard was a great experience, however there are two things we’d change. One would be something that can’t be helped… we want it to be CLOSER… the drive is a bit painful. The other would be a little more overall hospitality… no one was rude but also no one went out of their way to be welcoming or thankful for our patronage. I guess when you have a 32 seat bar that was still on a wait after 10pm maybe you don’t have to focus on that aspect? But places that do, like Lost Lake, Three Dots, Laki Kane, Strong Water are the ones that stand out and make you want to return time and time again… no matter how long the drive/flight.
That all said, the drinks are amazing, definitely the stars, followed closely by the atmosphere. The bar looks beautiful, the escapism truly is real and the drink recipes were researched, thought out and as balanced as possible. If you are in the Central Florida area and looking for the best overall Tiki Experience then Suffering Bastard is where you want to be (while I love Trader Sam’s as much as the next guy, Suffering drinks BLOW Sam AWAY). And if you head out there let me know… I’ll take any excuse to saddle up and head out there again. (Maybe we car pool?)
If it is going to be the Summer of Rum then there must be a new tiki bar visit. So, a trip to Trader Vic’s Atlanta was in order!
Our summer travels this year included a visit to Gatlinburg, TN (a region that does NOT have anything close to a Tiki Bar). We decided to make a stop over in Atlanta on our way north to visit one of the last remaining Original Trader Vic’s locations (we visited the oldest remaining Vic’s in London last September – read about it here).
If you’re reading this blog then there is a good chance you already know that Victor Bergeron invented the Mai Tai in 1944 at the first Trader Vic’s in Oakland… so I will skip that history lesson. What I will say quickly is that Vic was definitely an innovator, creating possibly the first chain of themed restaurants in the U.S. During the rise of Tiki popularity in the 50s and 60s he grew to as many as 25 Trader Vic’s locations worldwide.
As the popularity of Tiki started to decrease into the 70s and 80s, the restaurants started to close their doors. Vic passed away in 1984 but there are 5 remaining Trader Vic’s locations from his lifetime… the aforementioned London location (the oldest), one in Munich, the flagship in Emeryville (took over for the 1934 original in Oakland in 1972), a location in Tokyo and our current location of interest, the Atlanta location, which opened in the Atlanta Hilton in 1976.
Like London, the location is in the basement… meant to keep with Vic’s vision of “escapism”. There are only certain elevators that head down to that level and it is a great experience to board from a busy lobby of a downtown Atlanta hotel and, when the doors open 1 floor below, feel as if you’ve been transported. Plenty of bamboo and tikis welcome you as you enter the location.
Different than most of my Tiki Adventures, this visit included my two sons (7 and 9) so sitting at the bar was not as much of an option. We were welcomed by the staff and brought to a nice table right in the center of the first room. Something to note about Vic’s in Atlanta is that it is HUGE! There are multiple rooms throughout the area, however the way it is set up makes it feel like a small, intimate space. In the middle of all the rooms you can view the two HUGE Chinese ovens.
We had a warm welcome by the waitstaff and GM Maurice. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to talk with Maurice. He has a long history with the Atlanta Hilton and a passion for Vic’s. He appreciates the original décor and his goal, as hard as it is to upkeep, is to try to keep things as original as possible. Him and his team were wonderful hosts for our entire visit, and they had a focus on my boys, which, any parent knows, is very appreciated.
Everyone ordered drinks, mocktails for the boys. I ordered the Trader Vic’s Mai Tai and Mrs. Trader ordered the Navy Grog. Here is where I’ll say that the Mai Tai was “fine”… but it was far from the best I’ve ever had. They use the Trader Vic’s branded mix… which I don’t know if I can blame them for… but fresh ingredients are always better and it is disappointing to see the “home of the mai tai” not stay true to Vic’s original recipe.
However, the Navy Grog was extremely delightful and the boys LOVE their Kona Cooler mocktails. They were excited that they were served in the Mai Tai style glasses (just like Mom and Dad). The Kona Coolers earned the rare Double Junior Coco Thumbs Up!
Mrs. Trader recommends the Navy Grog (Grog usually being her preferred tiki drink). She said it was very well balanced and the rum is not hidden.
I will now take a moment to say this… the food was AMAZING and WONDERFUL and all the good words! Everything we had was fantastic and if you’re looking for a great meal among Tiki history then head over there. Maurice started us with an amazing Cosmo Tidbits pupu platter and I couldn’t pick my favorite if you forced me to. Junior Trader 1 tried everything on it and loved it all… really digging the crab rangoon (a first time food for him). Junior Trader 2, less adventurous, recommends the bread with homemade peanut butter (claiming it also deserved a #cocothumbsup).
For main courses I ordered the Massaman Chicken Curry and Mrs. Trader went with the Signature Wood-Fire Chinese oven Filet. The curry was very good and came with this fun side-dish of “extra” so you were able to add whatever you like to your dish, however NOTHING could compete with the filet. It was tender and full of flavor! Once again, all the “good words” for food. I’m not sure that I know enough about the culinary arts to tell you what these Chinese ovens do differently to beef, however, whatever it is, it is WONERFUL.
The boys also enjoyed their meals and, I want to give another kudos to Trader Vic’s in that their children’s menu is not the standard chicken fingers and cheeseburgers. We like our boys to branch out when they can and they were able to a little with Vic’s menu. Junior Trader 1 went with the strip loin and Junior Trader 2 did the General Tao’s Chicken (without the sauce).
To cap off our meal, Mauice had mentioned a new Hot Buttered Rum recipe was coming to the menu soon so I had to give it a go… full on with fired overproof rum running down the skull mug. And, while we were playing with fire, the Junior Traders got their first Bananas Foster experience. It is hard to not be impressed by dessert prepared fireside with fire! The boys were invited to “help” in the foster experience and, as you can see, were blown away by their first time!
Overall, I would give our Trader Vic’s Atlanta experience two thumbs up… while the mai tai came up a bit short for me, everything else was outstanding! Maurice and his team were top notch and the food was definitely something to write home about. Somewhere I read that at its height Trader Vic’s was considered the best restaurant in the nation. Vic, while bring Tiki pop and Tiki drinks into our lives, he also invented Asian Fusion. That notion is evident in the food at Trader Vic’s Atlanta and there is plenty of hospitality to go with it. I hope that it continues to live on, bringing Vic’s legacy to future generations.
If you haven’t read Part 1 yet then give it a quick read.
With the Memorial Day weekend upon us, the Summer of Rum was getting ramped up as the call came in for Trader Jay to take his show on the road! Our friends, Stacy and Eric, were hosting us for Memorial Day Boat Fun and BBQ and asked if Trader Jay could mix up Mai Tais and, just like that, the Trader Jay Pop Up was born! With fresh juiced lime, rum and all the fixin’s we had a day of Mai Tais and fun.
The next big event came in the form of End of School Pool Party Extravaganza! Without getting too much into the weeds, we had a never-ending pool/porch rehab project that just kept being delayed for one reason or another. It FINALLY came to completion on the last day of school for the Little Traders. There was lots of swimming and plenty of tiki drink fun (some with fire) for parents as well as a “carefully crafted” kid-friendly tiki punch for the kiddos that was consumed to the very last drop (mix some guava/pineapple juice with some sprite and sparkling apple juice and you will have some happy Keiki).
Over the next few weeks some new rums made their way into Trader Jay’s (including Foursquare Premise and my sought after Abuelo Tawny Port, both Father’s Day gifts). Also, Salty Joel and I did some tasting of the Appleton Estate 21 year (maybe my new favorite “exclusive style” rum – the oak SHINES and you feel the age on your tongue). And while not yet making a permanent home at the Trader’s, El Dorado 21 made a guest appearance via Dr. Cocktail Carter. I think, if forced to pick, I’d give the Appleton 21 the slight edge but it might just be in my head since I seem to prefer Jamaican rum. The El Dorado was also a great sipper that is a little easier to come across in Central Florida.
I was very fortunate, through a new “rum friend”, to have the opportunity to obtain Giffard Orgeat (as well as many other syrups for experimenting). So I must give a shout out to Rum Master Eddie for providing the bar with more options. (Which means the menu might go beyond 2 pages soon!) Eddie has also made me realize that I have some rum collecting catching up to do as he is the proud owner of over 100 different bottles (I’m at around 45ish).
Finally, we capped off “Part 2” with yet another visit to our wonderful friends at Strong Water. (Have you still not read about it? Do so here! Have you still not visited? GO NOW!) Dr. Cocktail and his wonderful wife joined us on the adventure.
Rum Captain Brad was manning the helm once again with Admiral Fernado close at hand! They had us set up at the bar (which, if you’re a long time reader, you know that the bar is our preference). We had some wonderful tastings including Facundo Eximo (a 10 year-ish blend which I actually prefer over the Paraiso and the Exquisito… which we also tried). I was also fortunate to try some Ron Barcelo Imperial 30th Anniversary (careful, the wood bottom is not permanently attached, Captain Brad). While the Barcelo 30th has the number 30 on it, it seems that it is aged for 10 years but, as it indicates, celebrates the 30th anniversary of the distillery. It is a Domican Republic rum and is a great sipper… not as deep as the Appleton 21 or El Dorado but smooth. It went down really easy with hints of toffee, nutmeg and caramel.
While tasting is all well and good, the food that came was amazing and Brad mixed up some amazing drinks! It was decided by Stacy that the grog must go on Trader Jay’s winter menu. Brad also made me a variation on a Negroni… with some kind of magical Guavaberry liqueur. I am not a negroni fan and this was extremely delightful!
Finally, as we were treated to an amazing Tres Leches cake the size of your head, we did a little sampling of Ron del Barrilito from Puerto Rico. We were able to try the two star, three star and overproof (with Admiral Fernando promising the five star in the near future).
Another amazing evening at Strong Water. I know I have said it many times but it really is a gem! We are so thrilled that our friends Kim and Rum Runner Steve introduced us and the amazing, customer-centric service will keep us returning. I cannot say enough good things about Brad and Fernando (when you go, ask for them, you won’t be disappointed). Those crazy fools even let me hold a bottle of Black Tot (not taste, just hold… and smell… so, ya know, getting closer).
The Summer of Rum will probably move on… we will see if a Part three is warranted. Until then… Drink Up Me Hearties!
While Club 33 over at Disneyland is having their second “Summer of Tiki” I have decided that I’ve started Trader Jay’s “Summer of Rum”.
It all kicked off on April 13th when Rum Runner Steve and his wife Kim the Rum-Dawg brought back Trouvadore 15 Year Rum from their visit to Turks & Caicos. That same faithful day we gave Bajan 1966 Rum a try (documented here) as well as had our first experience with Rum Captain Brad, Sarah and “Admiral” Fernando at Strong Water (documented here).
There were a lot of great rums tasted that evening… including Ron Abuelo XV Tawny Port, Dictador 20 and the aforementioned Bajan 1966. And, there were a few misses (sorry Skullduggery from Antigua, you have a cool bottle but not a great product).
Next was the completion of a long standing quest (only 2 short days later) of obtaining Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still Black rum. Long story, short… Kevin Berry from Three Dots and a Dash Chicago told me it was his one “stuck on an island” rum and I’ve been after it for two years. Of course, turns out it was at a liquor store I rarely pass but is only 4 miles from my house. I quickly went to work with the Hamilton (trying to match Rum Captain Brad’s brilliant Mai Tai).
The next rum “event” on the list is extremely unique… my boss decided to think outside the box a little on my company anniversary gift. She, being from Columbus, OH, went searching for something different and found a rum made in Columbus… Pipe Dream pot distilled rum from 451 Spirits. I will say this… I was 100% skeptical at first because I prefer my Rum to be from the Caribbean (for the most part) however Pipe Dream has a place. There is a drink that it would be perfect for I just haven’t found it yet… but I am confident I will.
A last minute Disney Cruise was next with a stop in Nassau. Nassau used to be filled with rum/liquor/duty free stores however, it seems, they have slowly disappeared. I went on a solo hunt for any interesting rum/deal and was mostly disappointed. That was until I stumbled upon a GREAT deal on Appleton Estate 21 Year. I was very excited with the find and it has quickly become one of my favorite sipping rums! If you have the opportunity to pick yourself up a bottle then DO IT!
Also on the ship I had the opportunity to try Bacardi Facundo Paraiso XA Rum at the ship’s premier Meridian bar. The rum is aged up to 23 years however it is still a blend. The claim is that it has more older rums than the others in the Facundo line and it is finished in Cognac barrels. I found it had a slight oak but not as much as the Appleton 21. It was a very nice rum however I don’t think I’d run right out and drop $300 a bottle on it anytime soon though the bottle is quite impressive.
Returning from the cruise Summer of Rum kicked it up a notch with another visit to Strong Water (SERIOUSLY, if you haven’t been then you MUST go). Our Rum Captain for this visit was Brittany, who had just returned from a Cuba Cruise (side note that we were planning to do that in September but now the State Department has put a block back on visiting). Anyway, Brittany was wonderful, she offered a different flavor profile than Brad and had some great insights about Papa’s Pilar line of rums. I also had the opportunity to try Rhum Clement Cuvee Homere. It was enjoyable… started with the fresh cane juice, I could pick up a hint of hazelnut and had a dry finish. We also had the opportunity to catch up with Sarah, our hostess on our first visit, and Rum Captain Brad via phone.
I’d like to take the opportunity to call out the hospitality that the Manager (Admiral?), Fernando, provided. He was on the deck of “his” ship 99.9% of the time, greeting guests, talking with tables and we had lots of opportunities to talk about rums… new rums they were exploring, rare rums that he had recently experienced and everyday rum drinks. He was even able to ensure that Mrs. Trader had the opportunity to have her favorite drink, the Milk Punch before we left (which wasn’t ready yet when we arrived). Fernando is an amazing asset to Strong Water and if you have the chance to chat with him about rum you definitely should. It is wonderful talking with the entire staff of Strong Water. They each know their stuff as well as offer a slightly different perspective. We plan to return in the next week or so.
All this rum and it was only Memorial Day weekend!!! The Summer of Rum was just getting started but I like to keep my posts “manageable” so I’ll stop Part 1 here and look to add Part 2 soon. If you have a Rum Suggestion I should try then leave in the comments. And, as always, if you have a Rum you’d like to send my way for a full review then always happy to help!
The Rum’s Not Gone… Yet!
I think most people will admit that there is never enough “time” in life… That becomes VERY apparent when Mrs. Trader and I try to schedule adult date night with friends. Inevitibly calendars don’t align or a babysitter isn’t available or a child gets sick last minute however this past weekend the stars lined up for us to do Double Date Night (DDN) with our friends Kim & Steve.
The next task is always figuring out where we want to go… this time Kim said “oh, there is a rum bar at the Sapphire Falls hotel at Universal Studios Orlando, maybe we go there?” I have a number of reactions… 1) Kim has known about this for years and never told me and 2) I’m a little ashamed of myself for not knowing.
I do a little research and, will admit, they under sell it on the Universal Orlando site (which isn’t unlike Trader Sam’s at Disney). They list Strong Water Tavern as a “Lounge” at the Sapphire Falls resort and it doesn’t even get its own page. But once I read the description and checked out the menu I became VERY intrigued…
A wall of vintage rums, your own rum specialist, a ceviche bar and a patio overlooking the lagoon combine to make Strong Water Tavern an exceptionally cool and stylish watering hole. Featuring tapas style dining options with rum tastings, this is a true destination lounge in the heart of an island jewel.
A “wall of vintage rums”… now you’re speaking my language!
The four of us head over there Saturday night; parking in the hotel’s garage was a piece of cake (and they validate). Strong Water is located right off the lobby and is VERY open, even if it was extremely busy it wouldn’t ever feel “packed”. The décor is very nice, a huge map of the Caribbean and lots of rum barrels (you need to keep your expectations in check… this is not a Tiki Bar). We ran into Sarah as we entered and she took us to a high top. (When Mrs. Trader and I go out we like to sit at the bar but it is harder to socialize with four people while sitting in a line.)
Sarah was our server and she was fantastic! She gave us a tour of the menu, told us about some specials (one of them being a “Game of Thrones” themed drink – we are fans) and then introduced us to one of Strong Water’s Rum Captains, Brad. (At this point I’m pretty sure I missed my calling!!!) Brad KNOWS HIS STUFF! It was one of the best rum conversations I’ve had in a really long time. We talked about favorite rums, rare rums, old rums and even where to buy favorite/rare/old rums in the Orlando area.
The wives ordered some drinks but Steve and I went straight to rum tasting flights. I should point out now that things started to get hazy as the rums started to flow but here are some things that I remember…
- There were three rums that stood out above the rest that I hadn’t tried previously…
- Dictador 20 (Columbia)
- Diplomatico 2002 (Venezuela)
- Ron Abuelo XV Tawny Port (Panama) – this one was a table favorite! A hunt is already on to try and find a bottle
- Brad is a fan of Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still Black Rum and uses it for his Mai Tai. He even offered to split a case with me since it is a hard rum to find in Florida
- Side note: a week later I found a liquor store (Regency Wine & Liquor) that regularly has it in stock (YIPPY!)
- If you find yourself a Strong Water ask Brad to set you up with a flight of “Captain’s Choice” – you will NOT be disappointed!
- There are some rums off menu so ask if you’re looking for something specific. Steve had a flight of cachaça that they just had added to the Tavern. We decided that it works better in a caipirinha than alone but it was fun to taste straight since that isn’t something we’d normally do.
- And, finally, this is a BOLD statement but Brad mixes up one of the BEST Mai Tais (slightly off menu) that I’ve ever had! He was kind enough to share his recipe and I’ve already started working on it. I don’t think it is my place to share it here but I will say he uses Clement Creole Shrubb Orange Liqueur in place of traditional curaçao and, in my head, it is a game changer!
So, there it is… If you are looking for a great “Rum” experience then find your way to Strong Water! It is an OUTSTANDING time and we will be returning VERY soon!
A BIG SHOUT OUT to Sarah and Brad… they were both amazing hosts and really made us feel like the only table in a busy tavern.