Rum + Dinner = Perfection

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.

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?)

Summer of Rum: Trader Vic’s Atlanta

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.

Summer of Rum: Part 2

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!

The Summer of Rum: Part 1

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!

Part 2 is LIVE

Strong Water Tavern: A Rum Lovers Dream

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.

Fully Escape to Laki Kane London

Where do I even start to share our Laki Kane experience? It is almost beyond words but I will try to do it justice…

I will be 100% honest that there was a split moment in time that we didn’t want to leave London City Center however, in hind site, the 20 minute tube ride and 8 minute walk was WELL WORTH the effort… even in the rain.  We were greeted with an extremely warm welcome by Georgi Radev, Creative Director for Laki Kane and other amazing members of the team. (As a side note, I want to apologize to the Laki Kane team because I am horrible with names and wasn’t able to remember everyone… but know you all offered first class hospitality.)

The entrance, like many great tiki bars, is unassuming.  It looks like a storefront, however, different than others, you can see inside… possibly a ploy to lure guests into the tropical paradise?  Then, as you entered, there is a covering on the windows that almost mask the outside as a island/ocean view. As we walked to our seats at the bar, Georgi provided a tour of his escape.  He spoke with such love and passion… much like I start to speak when talking about my small DIY Tiki Bar.  The tables and decor aren’t just “there”, there is a purpose to them with each section of tables representing a different tropical escape (The Caribbean, Thailand, Polynesia and Indonesia).

As we sat were we welcoming (again) by the attentive bar team and offered a wonderful mint and lime welcome drink.  It was light and aromatic and the perfect precursor as we indulged in our menus.

In true Trader Jay fashion, I have to start with the eponymous drink, so I asked for a Laki Kane (Lucky Sugarcane).  Mrs. Trader started with a recommendation from Georgi, the Guinness Punch in Manhattan. The Laki Kane was very light, and fruity but not too sweet. It blended coconut water with passion fruit and rum. It was a great compliment to the Guinness Punch in Manhattan… this drink was deep, complex… a work of art.  It took the classic Jamaican Guinness Punch and added the sophistication of a Manhattan for a regal drink.

With our first drinks in hand, Georgi whisked us upstairs to show us something new they were almost ready to roll out upstairs… the Spiced Dry Rum Club.  It is truly an experience I’ve never seen and am a little sad that I wasn’t able to partake. During the 2 and a half hour experience you sit at your own pot still, learn all about the history of rum whilst distilling and creating your own a bottle of flavored rum to bring home!  Then, your recipe is saved into their database so, at any point, you can re-order your rum.  (Georgi, how do you feel about starting one of these in the U.S.?)

After our extended tour we returned to the bar and continued to explore and enjoy the menu.  We had some food and it was all delicious, but we came for the drinks… Here are the others that we enjoyed:

  • The Mahi Mahi (Trader Jay): The bar team seemed to agree that this was one of their favorite drinks.  The layering and coloring was SPOT ON… just like a mahi mahi fish.  The drink was good as well, a nice overproof rum with fresh fruits and even some tangerine sherbet shaken in.
  • Southern Lights (Mrs. Trader): This drink featured one of Mrs. Trader’s Favorites… Bombay Gin.  This fresh drink featured star fruit (carambola) juice… something that you rarely see. It was the right level of sweet and tart. The bonus was that it comes with a souvenir Laki Kane tiki necklace! SCORE!!!

  • The Rita Hayworth (Mrs. Trader): This is Laki Kane’s take on a Margarita. It has the key flavors of a marg but with some additional feel.  The pineapple is a nice touch as well as the Blood Orange (Solerno) liquor replacing triple sec. The Morano glass vessel is beautiful and the fired lemon on top gives it an aromatic edge.

  • The Pin-Up Zombie (Trader Jay): This one was my favorite for Multiple Reasons…
    • I love “Rum Forward” drinks where the rum is 100% the star
    • Who doesn’t love a drink on FIRE?!
    • I enjoy the fact that, as Georgi put it, that they like to take some of the classics and put their own spin on it. With the Pin-Up Zombie there is a hint of “pine”… yes, I said PINE.  It is so subtle but gives it that different ending that makes you think “what was that? I liked it!”
    • I am a sucker for an amazing Tiki Mug and this is one of my new favorites! There are plenty of Zombie mugs out in the world… I enjoy my Shrunken Head from Trader Sam’s… however I have yet to see a female zombie. The design is beautiful and unique and I’m thrilled that I was able to bring her home in 1 piece. (Georgi explained that they have a local artist design all their mugs and I thought that was remarkable… there were many great designs and I’m thrilled that I was able to bring home two!)

  • Tropical Fever (Trader Jay): This is probably the most “out there” drink I have had in a long time and it, like the rest, was amazing and wonderful.  It is a take on “High Tea” but mixed with the caramel tea is rum, maple syrup, grapefruit juice and… wait for it… peanut butter!  Yes, PEANUT BUTTER!  And, if you are a fan of it like myself then it is the tiki drink you have dreamt of.  It even has a dry ice component so that “steam” is released from the teapot it is served in.

Before I wrap I want to point out some other things that took the Laki Kane experience to the next level…

They use either Bamboo or Pasta straws!!!  While I don’t agree with the whole “if we stop using plastic straws then they world will be saved” movement, I can appreciate people trying to limit the waste. What I cannot appreciate is a paper straw!  So hats off to Laki Kane using pasta! It is for sure more expensive but a much better alternative than paper.

The garnish game was top notch! They opt for all natural garnishes instead of plastic stirrers and toys… while I love me a good stirrer, these drink toppers kept with the fresh ingredient theme and were just as fun, beautiful and creative.

Finally, the table “doorbell”… this is not an original idea but I like the thought process. Each table has a device that both says who the table is reserved for as well as can be used to call your server when you need a new drink. This is especially helpful on a crowded Friday or Saturday evening. Since we sat at the bar we didn’t need one but nice to see that one was ready for us!

In parting can I just say that Laki Kane is a MUST visit! Everything about it is FIVE STARS, 10 out of 10, two CocoThumbsUp! The decor is wonderful and thoughtful, every drink we had was better than the last and, most important, the staff was amazingly hospitable and top of their class!!! Keep it up, Laki Kane Team, I cannot wait to find a reason to return!!!

The Oldest Trader Vic’s – London

This year’s Anniversary trip was a big one… to celebrate 10 years we traveled over the “pond” to London for a week.

We did a TON of things and had an AMAZING time… but this blog’s focus is on Tiki and we had two great evenings that warrant tiki blog documentation.  The first was a visit to the oldest Trader Vic’s currently operating.  The London version of the Home of the Original Mai Tai opened its doors in 1963 and have been a part of Tiki History ever since.

Being in a large hotel (London Hilton-Park Lane) makes it easier to find than many newer tiki bars, that usually favor city outskirts or back alleyway entrances.  However, in true “tiki fashion”, you enter and immediately head down a winding staircase to escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city hotel. The decor is fantastic!  Wood, bamboo, lamps, canoes, all the things that you would expect to see in a historic tiki bar.

As a side note, this was my first visit to a Trader Vic’s establishment… yes, I had to go all the way to England to pay tribute to Vic.

As normal, we wanted to sit at the bar however that became a little bit of a challenge.  On one side of the bar there are 4 barstools in a space that really should only fit 3. While the other side of the bar has a lot more space, we were told it was reserved for a special event.  We chose to squeeze on to 2 of the 4 stools and while we were a bit crammed at first, it all worked out.

I, of course, had to start with a Vic’s Original 1944 Mai Tai. I’ve waited a long time to have one… however I might have to wait a bit longer.  While the drink was fine, it was not crafted how Vic would have wanted.  The biggest issue is that they used Mount Gay Rum… I have nothing against Mount Gay, but Vic used a Jamaican Rum.  I’m a realist, I know that 17 year J. Wray & Nephew is long gone, however I believe that an “Original 1944 Mai Tai” should still feature an aged Jamaican rum.

I didn’t let this disappointment sour our evening but I was a bit taken back.  Speaking of sour, Mrs. Trader really enjoyed her London Sour… created for the opening of Trader Vic’s London.

We indulged in some bar bites, including the Beef Cho-Cho which are soy-sake glazed beef skewers that you finish yourself over a flame.  They were both fun and delicious.

We also had the opportunity to experience a number of different drinks including the Suffering Bastard, Navy Grog, Trader Vic’s Sling and some anniversary extras (including some drink tastings and a delicious cake).

In the tiki world I feel like it is important to be kind but also be honest among friends… I wasn’t blown away by the drinks from the menu, however our bartender, Aleks, was given free reign to mix us each up something based on our pallets and both drinks he was SPOT ON!  Aleks was a great bartender… he was funny, engaging, wanted to know about us.  It was wonderful to be able to sit at the bar and discuss rum, tiki drinks and Trader Vic with him.  He was excited to learn about my home tiki bar and our tiki travels.

Also, we had the opportunity to talk with the Assistant GM, Guy, who too was wonderful to talk with.  Both gentlemen were very welcoming… both welcoming us to Trader Vic’s as well as to London (as it was our first night).  Guy even allowed us a parting gift of a menu to bring back to Trader Jay’s.

Overall, I would never steer anyone away from Trader Vic’s London.  We had an AMAZING evening!  The decorations are wonderful!  They are quintkicensial tiki from one of the ORIGINALS, there is a bit of everything and I want to take it all back to Trader Jay’s.  The team is warm and welcoming and offers an amazing escape from the very Non-Tiki London.  The drinks from the menu were fine but chat with your bartender and let them get creative and you should be pleased!

(Special Note to Guy if he is reading… I’m still disappointed that the camera wasn’t charged for the wall of tiki!)

Historic Tiki in Hawaii

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)!

The Three Dots ‘Ohana

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!)

Three Dots Tiki Mugs packed for the trip home!

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!