Try Your Hand at Audio-Animatronics at the Walt Disney Family Museum – San Francisco, CA

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“It’s like a trip to Disneyland itself…It’s the third happiest place on the planet, behind Disneyland and Disney World.” That’s what Tom Hanks said about visiting the Walt Disney Family Museum when researching the man behind the mouse for “Saving Mr. Banks” — and I think many Disney fans would agree.

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First off, it’s located in a gorgeous historic building, a restored 1890s army barracks in the Presidio overlooking the San Francisco Bay, Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. I highly recommend getting a snack and coffee from the cafe and enjoying the views out on the veranda when you need a break between walking through the exhibitions.

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After buying your tickets, the first room you’ll enter is filled with various awards, including the honorary Academy Award (and seven little Oscars) that Shirley Temple presented to Walt Disney in 1939 for “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” It’s such an iconic moment in Disney history so it’s neat to see these statuettes in person.

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The non-profit museum, which opened in 2009, was co-founded by Walt’s daughter Diane Disney Miller and chronologically narrates his personal and professional history. “My kids have literally encountered people who didn’t know that my father was a person,” she told The New York Times. “They think he’s just some kind of corporate logo.” (Here’s the Disney family leaving Honolulu on the Matson Lines‘ SS Lurline after a Hawaiian vacation.)

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Walt Disney led a pretty interesting life even before he became a household name. While he was still a teenager, he lied about his age so he could enlist for World War I. These were the little souvenirs he brought back from France where he drove trucks and ambulances after the armistice.

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Another random piece of ephemera that caught my attention was this handwritten list of Walt Disney’s favorite foods that he’d made for the housekeeper. (The paper was rediscovered decades later tucked in a magazine at the house.) Spam and eggs with biscuits and honey, FTW.

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A centerpiece of the ninth gallery, “The 1950s & 1960s: The Big Screen & Beyond,” is the 12-foot model of “The Disneyland of Walt’s Imagination.” He considered the park to be an ever-changing entity and the map features original attractions as well as ones that were in the planning stages during his lifetime. If you look closely you can see Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room and Tahitian Terrace.

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New to this section as of this year is “Pepe del Presidio,” a replica of the “Barker Bird” that used to beckon guests outside the entrance to the Enchanted Tiki Room. (It made its debut at a tiki-themed Animate Your Night! party presented by Tiki Oasis and Smuggler’s Cove — I bet there will be more of these in the future as the first two seem to have been pretty successful.)

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After a few minutes of video on the history of Audio-Animatronics, guests can use the joystick to control the bird’s movements and make it open its beak, nod and turn its head, move its body forward and back, and puff out its chest. Such a fun, interactive element!

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Naturally, a stop at the gift shop is a must. In addition to numerous books, pins, jewelry and shirts, there were Kuku and MarqMarq mugs designed by Tom “Big Toe” Laura for Tiki Farm.

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It was all I could do not to collect all of these Enchanted Tiki Room charms: all the parrots (Jose, Fritz, Pierre and Michael, plus the Barker Bird for $6.95 each), two designs for the tiki drummers and totems, and an E ticket ($8.95). They’re exclusive to the Walt Disney Family Museum, just in case you needed another incentive to make a visit.

Walt Disney Family Museum
104 Montgomery St.
San Francisco, CA 94129
415-345-6800

A Tricky Trio – Players Sports Grill, Tiki Bar & Arcade, San Francisco

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On our last visit to San Francisco, Mr. Hockey found an ad in our little tourist map for Players Sports Grill & Arcade that billed it as “San Francisco’s only waterfront tiki bar.” He asked me if I knew about it and I snobbishly insisted that it couldn’t be a real tiki bar.

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Our wanderings along the Embarcadero did eventually take us to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, and Mr. Hockey wanted to see if Players was legit. I remained skeptical about a sports bar, arcade and tiki bar coexisting under one roof.

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The front area looked like your typical sports bar, but then we spotted this little kiosk with a Lono (Hawaiian tiki) and a sign pointing towards the Luau Lounge tiki bar that was 50 steps away.

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But first you have to navigate through a little labyrinth of video games and skee ball to the back of the establishment. (I suppose if you have kids you could let them loose here while you go enjoy a drink?)

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Coincidentally they even have an arcade game that features Moai among the graphics. Cruis’n Exotica — no relation to the musical genre, as far as I can tell — is the 1999 sequel to the racing games Cruis’n USA and Cruis’n World. Alas, it doesn’t look like Easter Island is one of the available tracks.

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Maybe it’s the obscure location but the Luau Lounge was a surprisingly serene oasis in the middle of this tourist trap area. Not too many folks had ventured back there that afternoon and there was vintage and modern jazz on the soundspeakers.

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Once you pass the tikis standing sentinel at the bar’s entrance, you’ll find a thatched hut bar in the center of the room manned by a bartender in a Hawaiian shirt.

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My expectations had been quite low so I was a bit surprised to see that the decor was actually pretty decent, with tapa print and bamboo on the walls, fish float and pufferfish lanterns, and prints of Eugene Savage’s Hawaii-inspired art. These were featured on the menus for the Matson Lines steamships traveling from the West Coast to Hawaii in the late 1940s. (You might also recognize them from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel — or that “Mad Men” episode filmed there.

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To top it all off, there are fantastic views of Alcatraz and the bay from pretty much every seat in the house.

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But then things took a turn for the worse when I opened the cocktail menu. Granted, most places that serve Mai Tais don’t make them the way Trader Vic intended, but to call these “Tiki Classics” is too much.

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At least they delivered the Mai Tai ($11) in a tiki glass, though. We also had to order the appropriately named Cruzan Confusion ($11) because it sounded like such an abomination of a beverage. Made with pineapple juice and four flavored Cruzan rums, it reminded me of those “suicide” fountain drinks we’d make as kids by mixing all the different sodas together.

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Normally I wouldn’t advocate drinking beer at a tiki bar, but here that may be your best bet. There are about a dozen options on draft, including local brews like Anchor Steam ($6) and a few rotating seasonal taps.

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With so many great tiki bars in the San Francisco/Bay Area (Smuggler’s Cove, Tonga Room, Trader Vic’s, Forbidden Island), I can’t honestly recommend going out of your way for the Luau Lounge at Players Sports Grill. However, if you’re already at Fisherman’s Wharf anyway, you could do worse!

Players Sports Grill, Tiki Bar & Arcade
Pier 39
San Francisco, CA 94133
451-981-6300

Related Posts:
Reviews of Tiki Bars in San Francisco

Players Sports Grill & Arcade on Urbanspoon

Smuggler’s Cove – San Francisco, CA

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Behind this unassuming black glass façade is one of the best tiki bars in America: Smuggler’s Cove. There’s no identifying sign and I would have completely missed it if it weren’t for the driftwood sign on a nearby tree warning bar patrons to keep quiet. At night, you’d be better off looking for the red and green port and starboard lights flanking the exterior — or the line of people waiting to get in.

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Rum expert and master mixologist Martin Cate, who was one of the original founders of Forbidden Island across the bay in Alameda, opened Smuggler’s Cove in late 2009 and the accolades just keep coming in. Esquire recently named it one of the Best Bars in America, a title that has also been bestowed by Food & Wine consecutive times — just to name a few.

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We arrived at 5:30 p.m. on a Saturday — just a half hour after they’d opened — and the place was already packed with nary a seat to be found. (The bar’s capacity is just 49 people, so get there early unless you enjoy standing in lines.) We ended up standing along the wall where you first walk in — there’s a ledge where you can set your drinks. A few friendly locals told us that Sundays and Tuesdays are the best nights.

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The captivating look of the interior comes courtesy of Ignacio “Notch” Gonzalez of Top Notch Kustoms. Once your eyes adjust to the glow of fish floats and pufferfish lanterns, you can glimpse the numerous nautical artifacts suspended overhead, including a giant anchor, cannon, buoys, rattan fish traps, divers helmet, ship’s masthead and rigging.

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It’s such an immersive atmosphere that some people say it reminds them of The Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, and I recently heard it compared to the movie “The Goonies.” (That could well be One-Eyed Willie there on the rock waterfall. Who knows?)

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Set into the wooden plank walls are a few displays honoring the Bay Area’s tiki bars of yore, like Skipper Kent’s and Tiki Bob’s (pictured). The latter’s iconic tiki mug is still so coveted that apparently somebody stole it, so its successor is now under lock and key.

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The upper level is a small, hut-like hideaway that’s decorated more traditionally tiki, with a thatched A-frame over the stairs, tapa ceiling, bamboo and bac-bac matting on the walls. About a dozen people can relax on the banquette and rattan peacock chairs around tables made to look like shipping crates. It looks like a very desirable perch, though you’d need a person in your party that wouldn’t mind making trips back down to the main bar for reinforcements.

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By the waterfall is a metal staircase leading down to the basement where there’s another bar dubbed the Boathouse. All the young folk seemed to be congregating there along the banquettes, but Mr. Hockey thought it was too claustrophobic.

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The Smuggler’s Cove menu is quite a tome, with chapters dedicated to Rum through the Ages (17th-20th century cocktails), Classic Libations of Prohibition-era Havana, Exotic Rum Cocktails from Legendary Tiki Bars, Exotic Cocktails Without (Gasp!) Rum (featuring gin, bourbon, tequila and more), Traditional Drinks of the Caribbean, Contemporary Rum Cocktails, and Premium Rum Flights and Cocktail Specials. To help you make a selection from the 75-plus drinks, there are thorough descriptions plus notations next to Smuggler’s Favorites and Very Strong cocktails. (The menu is not online so I’ve posted photos of each page over on Flickr.)

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I ordered The Expedition ($24) not necessarily because of what was in it —- Jamaican rum, Bourbon, lime, cinnamon, honey, vanilla and coffee liqueur — but because I wanted the souvenir “Kuhiko” mug, a sunken treasure-style tiki sculpted by Crazy Al. However, it ended up being my favorite of the three we sampled. (Ceramics-wise there’s also a rum barrel and sold-out limited edition mugs like the port and starboard lanterns by Notch and skulls from Tiki Kaimuki.) Another must-try for any enthusiast of exotic cocktails is the Kona Cocktail ($9). This mixture of muddled pineapple, passion fruit, dark Jamaican rum, lime and honey is actually a secret Don the Beachcomber recipe that Jeff “Beachbum” Berry uncovered (and can be found nowhere else). The Dead Reckoning ($10) is no slouch either — it had been on my radar since Tasting Table SF wrote about it.

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Smuggler’s Cove also boasts an extensive list of hundreds of rums. Serious sippers can join The Rumbustion Society — those who reach the top level of tasting 200 rums are taken on a distillery trip with Martin Cate somewhere on the globe.

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Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco — as the song goes — but I’m pretty sure I left mine at Smuggler’s Cove…

Smuggler’s Cove
650 Gough St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
415-869-1900

Smuggler's Cove on Urbanspoon