Just last month, False Idol made its debut in San Diego. Once we heard that Martin Cate (of Smuggler's Cove fame) was one of the co-owners, we were super excited to check it out. We managed to snag a reservation on a weeknight so we made the trek down to San Diego from LA to see if it lived up to all of the hype we'd been hearing. From the decor to the service to the drinks, we're happy to say that False Idol is an extremely solid addition to the Southern California tiki scene.
At a well-designed tiki bar, you can step through the doors and be whisked away to an exotic locale with little reminder of the outside world. Much like Disney's theme parks, which do a remarkable job of blocking all views of the "real" world, we tend to prefer locations that feel like isolated slices of tropical paradise. These havens (often with no windows or open doors) are designed in such a way to encourage visitors to leave all other worries behind for a few hours.
False Idol certainly checks this box. In fact, it takes walking through three doors to enter False Idol, and it's essentially twice removed from reality. You're greeted by the hostess inside a restaurant, Craft & Commerce, before walking through one door of a refrigeration room.
When you walk out the second door of the refrigerator, you've made it into the oasis that is False Idol.
The decor features a solid nod to tiki bars past. A rock wall with water features greets you as you walk in, glass globes and pufferfish lights coat the ceiling, there are lots of neat details at the bar (even skulls under glass bell jars), the walls are covered in wood carvings, and seating is ample and comfortable.
We enjoyed the layout of the drink menu which is very extensive (and made us strongly regret the fact that we had to drive back to LA later that night). It is broken down into pairings of two with the top option being a classic tiki drink and the one below it being a new twist on that drink. There are many solid traditional options on the menu as well as many drinks quite unique to anything you've ever tried.
All of the drinks we ordered were great. Here's what we tried listed in order from favorite to least favorite:
1. Mai Sha Roa Na: "Blended Jamaican rum, madeira, banana liqueur, vanilla macadamia nut cordial, brightened with fresh lemon." This one really stood out as our favorite. We don't typically order Mai Tais from tiki bars but this twist on the Mai Tai was nuanced with interesting and delicious flavors. It had hints of nuttiness, fruitiness, spice, banana, and coconut.
2. Pearl Diver: "A blend of two aged rums, orange, lemon, spiced bitters and our version of Don's Gardenia Mix - a spiced butter cordial." I think this may be the first Pearl Diver we've ordered since we had Beachbum Berry's version at Latitude 29. This one was a little less buttery in flavor but it tasted great nonetheless. The flavors were light and well balanced.
3. Alkala's Rum Barrel: "Rum lovingly intertwined with a mix we dare not share." They're not lying when they list this drink on the "Exceptionally Strong" section of the menu because, wow, this one packs a punch. There's still some fruitiness to take the edge off of the rum, which really starts to shine as the ice begins to melt and dilutes the drink some more. For some reason, this reminded me of one of the coffee drinks on the Grog Log (Krakatoa) but that might not be the case for all people. We also bought the mug that it came in (designed by Trader Dane and manufactured by Tiki Farm).
4. Chartreuse Swizzle: "A generous splash of herbaceous Green Chartreuse rounded with falernum, pineapple and a bit of fresh lime." We love a good 151 Swizzle so we decided to try this one out. It had the most unique flavor out of all of the drinks and tasted quite herbal (kind of like pesto).
5. Panther's Fang (pictured above): "Rhum agricole blanc is blended with rich and funky Jamaican rum, passion fruit, honey, orange, lime, and sparkling water." This one was a little tart for us but featured a flavor profile that we've never had before. To me, it tasted a little bit like mango even though that wasn't an ingredient (Greg doesn't agree). Maybe it was the mix of honey and passion fruit?
In any case, all were solid drinks and we felt like we chose a nice variety of options. We really can't wait to sample more of them in the future!
We've only been once, but on the Thursday night that we went, the bar was largely filled with tiki enthusiasts. The bar was full but never felt too crowded which helped maintain a relaxing vibe. Great music was playing and the service was great (see below).
One aspect of False Idol that we really appreciated was the fact that you didn't have to go to the bar to order drinks. There are servers that go around to all of the tables to take orders and deliver drinks. They're also available to clarify and/or suggest drinks on the menu as needed. We really enjoyed getting to kick back and relax without standing in a line at the bar!
Because this bar is new, fairly small (Tonga Hut-ish in size), and has controlled access through the secret door, it's highly recommended that you get a reservation in advance. We've also heard that crowds aren't so bad after midnight and that having a reservation isn't always necessary (it does, however, guarantee you a seat). As of now, it seems like reservations are booked about a month out but it's worth seeing what you can find. It's worth the wait!
For anyone living in Southern California, we highly recommend making it out to False Idol in the near future. It's a new experience with new drinks certainly worth exploring. From the moment you step through the refrigeration room, you'll feel a little bit like you were transported back to tiki past and the cocktails will be well worth your visit.
We'll most certainly be taking more trips down to San Diego in the near future; although, next time, we'll make sure to spend the night so we can make a more sizable dent in the menu.
PS. Why don't more tiki bars have a secret entrance??