For such a hot spot for Disney super-fans, Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar sure has an unassuming location.
Sharing a building and patio with the Disneyland Hotel’s counter-service dining location, Tangaroa Terrace, Trader Sam’s could easily be overlooked amidst all the drooping palms and towel-clad children running to the monorail water-slides. But word is out: Trader Sam’s, a tiny little bar named for the head salesman of the Jungle Cruise, is a can’t-miss highlight of any Disneyland vacation.
Inside, louvered “windows” look out on tropical islands, a la the Enchanted Tiki Room, and tiki gods gaze down from the rafters and walls. Notes and aged photos pay tribute to Disney films, Imagineers, and Cast from over the decades. Just in terms of exploring the archives and deciphering the inside jokes, Trader Sam’s is Disney-nerd heaven.
And so Trader Sam’s has become part of the Disneyland trip for in-the-know fans. One morning that I was there, in fact, every single person in the room was a Walt Disney World Cast Member or Cast Member-alumni–including myself, and the bartender.
The drinks at Trader Sam’s are just as famous as the memorabilia on the walls, especially the ones that come with a show. If you don’t want a fruity drink, hang around and you’ll see them courtesy of other patrons. The Krakatoa in particular seems to happen every five minutes. Order up one of these and the lights turn blood-red, the tranquil island scene in the window becomes a lava flow, and the bartender winds up a siren and sprays a water bottle in the air, getting everyone wet. Get the right bartender, who treats it with the same kitschy non-reverence as a great Jungle Cruise skipper, and it’s a great time. “The lava! It’s so… cold!”
The signature drinks don’t just come with a show–they come with a souvenir (if you’re willing to pay extra for it). Get the souvenir tiki mug with drinks like the Shipwreck on the Rocks or the Shrunken Zombie Head (bar drinks are $10.50), and the server will bring you the drink in its heavy glass, and then bring you a new wrapped one for the trip home. But don’t forget to ask about the price, which the server might not mention. My Shipwreck on the Rocks mug was an extra $10.
Kids (or really anyone not drinking alcohol) can get in on the souvenir mug action too, with the plastic tiki “sipper” that is featured at Walt Disney World’s Sunshine Tree Terrace. “Sam’s No-Booze Brews” menu features tropically-themed drinks with more Jungle Cruise-inspired names like the Schweitzer Falls. They seem to make up for the lack of rum with extra sugar, though. Calvin ordered the Polynesian Punch ($9.49 with souvenir mug, $4.79 without). The ingredients were billed as “Sam’s Gorilla Grog and Hibiscus Grenadine” and he found it was so sweet he couldn’t drink it, even after he had the server cut it with soda-water. And that’s coming from a ten-year-old with a serious appreciation for candy. (But the cup has entered heavy rotation with his other Disney mugs at home!)
Every drink we sampled at Trader Sam’s was expertly crafted and served. Most are a twist on more standard bar drinks, with a botanical or spice added to change things up. The Shrunken Zombie Head really showed off the taste of the aged rum in its blend of juices and falernum, a sweet lime-and-spice blended syrup, with spicy cinnamon to finish. The Hippopoto-mai-tai (which I am fairly certain I mispronounced when ordering) made great use of orgeat syrup and spiced rum to cut the sweetness of the juice and more of that Sam’s Gorilla Grog for one of the most smooth and refreshing (and quickly disappearing) pool drinks I’ve ever enjoyed.
The exception on the rum-based menu was the Shipwreck on the Rocks, essentially a mint julep with organic agave nectar instead of simple syrup, served with crushed ice and a gorgeously decorative sprig of fresh mint which I promptly muddled right back into the bourbon. Although not a standout, it was really wonderful and a nice respite from the spicy-sweet rum (as if you would need one).
The real winner of the Trader Sam’s bar line-up, though, isn’t whimsically named, doesn’t have a show, and isn’t even on the menu. It’s the Navy Grog. Spicy, smooth, and sweet, with citrus juices accenting a blend of excellent rums, Trader Sam’s Navy Grog reminded me of the British Virgin Islands’ famous rum drink, the Painkiller.
As for food, the Polynesian-themed menu, heavy on the teriyaki, shares a few items with next-door’s Tangaroa Terrace. The panko-crusted Chinese long beans ($7.99) are the unquestionable winner in the bar-food category. Crispy and compulsively dippable in that Sriracha aioli, I could have eaten a whole plate myself and called it a night. But I was nice and shared.
We split a Pu-Pu platter ($15.99), which included very sticky (and surprisingly spicy!) Sweet and Spicy Asian Wings, Tamarind-glazed Island Pork (very smokey flavored sausage chunks), the amazing long beans, and tropical slaw. The tropical slaw, by the way, was nice the first three times we had it, but if you are relying on Tangaroa Terrace for your meals at all, you’ll grow very tired of it. Good for two, the Pu-Pu platter really just whet our appetites for the stand-outs: long beans and the Asian wings. A few decent flatbreads, Kahlua Pork with sweet barbecue sauce, and Hawaiian with pineapple and ham ($9.29, also on the Tangaroa Terrace menu), made a meal out of the appetizers.
Is Trader Sam’s worth putting on your Disneyland trip must-dos? Absolutely, just mind when you do it. With crowds overwhelming the tiny bar anytime after mid-afternoon, you’ll have to do a little day-drinking if you don’t want to fight a crowd at the bar.
And if it’s a respite from the noise and crowds of the theme parks you’ve been looking for, stick to the lovely patio and order from one of the servers outside. The strumming of live Hawaiian music and the cascading sounds of the waterfall from the nearby monorail water slides will be more soothing to your nerves than the wailing sirens and shouting bartenders (and patrons) inside.
Or even better–if you’re staying at the Disneyland Hotel, grab a drink to-go and sink into a padded lounge chair by the pool. You can order Trader Sam’s bar drinks from the pool-side bar service, although they’re not on the menu, but that can take a while. Slip inside the cool dark tiki bar, watch your show, and head back out to the pool-side for a drink by the water.