Toasting Summer at Disney California Adventureby Todd Pickering, contributing writer
Summer is here, and there is nothing better to beat the heat than to enjoy an adult beverage. Since Disneyland doesn't serve even beer or wine (unless you are lucky enough to get into the exclusive Club 33), California Adventure is the place to enjoy cocktails. There are drinks available in Down Town Disney but the focus will be on the theme park and the adjacent hotel The Grand Californian since technically it sits inside the theme park.
Over in Hollywood Land there are cocktails available for Summer of Heroes promotion but let's focus on the permanent bars that are available all year-round.
The Drink Stands
There are two places to grab drinks on the go: Cone Queso at the Cozy Cone Motel over in Cars Land and Rita's Baja Blenders over in the Pacific Wharf area (in the middle of the food court between Lucky Fortune Cookery and Cocina de Cucamonga Mexican Grill).
The Cozy Cone Motel is a recreation of Sally's Motel from the Cars films, but instead of a place to park for the night each cone sells food. Only by having Rita's closed due to technical difficulties did I find out about the existence of liquor in Cars Land at all. On Disney's website, the description of the Cozy Cone Motel lists the drinks as "...high octane limeades for guests 21 and older." It doesn't list which cone serves them, but it is the Cone Queso cone where you can get Filmore's Fuelin' Groovy Ades, which are limeades—one plain and the other flavored with pomegranate topped with wild berry foam. These can be had with a shot of vodka also for $9.00. These go down way too easily, and if someone were to hand you one you would be hard pressed to know there is liquor in them. The sweetness of the beverages masks the liquor, which can be dangerous; this is not the place for a well balanced cocktail.
The margaritas over at Rita's Baja Blenders are a much better choice. These margaritas are more of a commercial slushy machine version, similar to what you would find at a chain restaurant like Chevy's or Chili's, but you can taste the tequila, and they are a much better balanced cocktail. Rita's Lemon-Lime Margarita costs $8.25, but for just 50 cents more you can get Rita's Grand Margarita, which is well worth it. It has a "splash of liqueur," which in an upgraded margarita is usually Grand Marnier. This is clearly not, but is a refreshing splash of orange flavor that lets you know this is a cocktail. For a slushy margarita they have done a good job of getting the balance of tequila enough to taste and it isn't too watery or cloying.
The Restaurant Bars
The Cove Bar, located behind Ariel's Grotto restaurant, has fantastic views of Paradise Pier (soon to be Pixar Pier) with all outdoor seating. They have expanded the seating and doubled the capacity but the lines seem to get longer and longer. On one visit the hosts stated that even though there were seats at the bar, a party of one wanting to grab a quick cocktail would have to wait in a half-hour line. This would be understandable except that there were many seats available at the bar. On another visit guests were told that bar seating was first come, first serve. It would be fantastic if that were still the policy but things seem to be ever changing, so proceed with an open mind.
If you are lucky enough to get a seat, the drink menu is a standard Disneyland Resort Drink menu available in many of the bars around the resort. Upon asking the bartender if there was a house specialty, he begrudgingly stated there is a drink named after Mickey's Fun Wheel appropriately called The Fun Wheel. This was a sweeter riff on a Long Island Iced Tea so one was was certainly enough. He stated the ingredients were vodka, rum, gin, blue curacao, X-Fusion organic mango and passion fruit liqueur, and a dash of sweet and sour. If you like sweet drinks then this is for you. It also packs a wallop; if you are into an elegant or refreshing cocktail this one is a bit much. Two liqueurs in a cocktail make it very sugary, and the sweet and sour seemed to be rather sweet too. There was also a lime foam to garnish this drink which looked at first like whip cream. It needed to mixed up but it certainly fulfills your sugar quota for the day.
If you are looking for more adult fare try out the much more classic Carthay Circle and hit the lounge for more old fashioned and classic style cocktails. They offer a Rye Manhattan for $13.50 that is good to the last drop. Rye whiskey is in favor again and must by U.S. law have at least 51% rye in the mash; it is drier than bourbon whiskey, which by U.S. law must have at least 51% corn in the mash. This drink uses Bulleit rye, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and Angostura bitters, and is served with an ice sphere made of purified water to keep it nice and cold. The rye makes for a less sweet, more subtle flavor, and it goes down very easily. Sitting in this oasis of calm and cool (especially in the summer) is the way to go. But there are only 6 bar stools and there is often a queue to get into this lounge also which keeps the place being much more calm and sedate.
The Hotel Bars
There are three places to grab a cocktail in The Grand Californian Hotel, which is very accessible by entering from inside Disney California Adventure right near Grizzly River Run. The Hearthstone Lounge and the restaurant Storytellers Cafe both serve cocktails. Neither of these locations offer any specialties, but once again have the Disney Resort standard drink list. A great alternative to dessert after a meal at the Storyteller's Cafe is a Banana-Spiced rum martini for $10.75. It has Captain Morgan rum, Bols creme de banana, and RumChata, which is a cream liqueur. No mistake that this drink is sweet but the three ingredients blend beautifully and complement each other by balancing and emphasizing each other's flavors. It is sweet indeed but makes a great cap to any meal.
The Hearthstone Lounge has no specialty drinks, but the room is gorgeous and there is almost always room in the bar. It has plenty of tables too for large groups, and the staff is very courteous and works quite well together. Disney does have its own brand of Knob Creek bourbon, but without a side by side taste test my palate is not distinguished enough to differentiate between a regular bottle of Knob Creek. It is a top selling bourbon though and I recommend drinking it with some rocks on the side and individually plopping cubes into the bourbon to flower the flavors and keep that initial burn down to a minimum. It makes sipping a pleasure.
If you are looking for the best bar in the Disneyland Resort hands down you cannot beat the Napa Rose. The bar is big and the lounge has plenty of seating. There is even an outdoor patio that looks into Disney California Adventure but with some of the friendliest and knowledgeable bartenders the best bet is to belly up to the bar. They will help you craft a cocktail if your needs are specific, but the menu has at least 20 cocktails listed and there is something for everyone. Knowledge is rife in the bar scene with self proclaimed "mixologists" everywhere, but the staff here are friendly and completely without pretension.
The namesake cocktail is the Napa Rose and it has Tanqueray 10, Campari, Drambuie with a bit of fresh lemon juice, and Peychaud bitters. The drink is definitely bursting with flavors; Campari is a bitter liqueur, Tanqueray 10 uses fresh herbs with lots of citrus, and the Drambuie is basically a scotch base with herbs and honey to finish it off. This drink makes you feel like a million bucks without breaking the bank at a price of $12.75.
The Napa Rose was so good and the cocktail list so deep, one more needed to be sampled. The Bitter Storm is described as, "This savory and alluring Tiki-style cocktail will surprise and please any palate with a sense of adventure." Fernet Branca, Cherry Heering, Poire William, lemon juice, orgeat syrup (almond), and a dash of Pyechauds bitters for $12.75 also. This is not your Trader Sam's juicy, fruity, and sweet concoction. This cocktail is smooth and layered with bitter beautifully balancing the sweet.
The Napa Rose opens at 5 p.m. and closes at 10. On Friday and Saturday the restaurant closes at 11 p.m. Also noted for you bourbon fiends, Napa Rose has their own barrel of Blanton's bourbon. The barrel sits right inside the lounge before you get to the bar. Prost, cheers, and salud!