Tiki to the Stars

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!

The Pagan Went Down to Georgia

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!

Summer of Rum: Suffering in Sanford

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?)