(Welcome to the readers of conservative lightning rod and my personal blog-traffic development sensei, “The Other” McCain!)
This my the second post concerning my observations of the drinking experience at Disney World. For a full introduction and a discussion of wine at Disney World, the adult beverage Disney does best, you can read my previous post.
This post centers on my observations of cocktails at Disney World. I’ll be combining experiences from my latest trip in October with other experiences from the last several years. Take the freshness of my information, along with the fact that I’ve entered about five percent of the bars in the whole of Disney World, into account when you judge my opinions.
With the exception of the infamously dry Magic Kingdom, Disney has bars everywhere you go, from the hotels, to the other theme parks, to the shopping areas, to the now sadly departed Pleasure Island. (Really Disney? You are moving The Adventurer’s Club to Tokyo Disney? I have to fly 18 hours to get a Kungaloosh?!?!) The size and format of these bars varies dramatically, as you’d expect.
The main bar at Saratoga Springs is literally a hole in the wall of the billiards room. All Disney facilities provide a theme experience. This one spectacularly recreates the look and feel of the kitchen-to-server pass-through of Denny’s. The service was fast and courteous, mind you, but the bars like this are merely pharmacies providing anesthetic to tired parents exhausted from being pulled three different ways all day. The bartenders in the bars like this are, as I said, fast and courteous, but really are just good assembly technicians. I don’t begrudge Disney having bars like these, especially in the more moderately priced family resorts where drinkers are unlikely to have the time or energy for relaxing conversation over cocktails, but they might do a bit more to make them actually look like bars….
The bar in the California Grill, atop the Contemporary Hotel, is an absolute beaut. It is magnificently designed, with seating that is slightly uncomfortable in that
cool modern furniture way, and is seldom overly crowded. Incidentally, the California Grill is the least overpriced restaurant in Disney World. The food is so high-end, and so good, I’d pay their prices if it was located on the ground floor of an office building in Chicago. Add in the fantastic view of Disney and especially the Magic Kingdom fireworks, and you get an actual value. The bar is gorgeous, and fairly well stocked, with bartenders who are a cut above, both in skill and charisma.
The real gem that we discovered on this last trip was the bar in Narcoosee’s, the waterfront restaurant at the Grand Floridian. The Grand Floridian is Disney’s highest-end resort hotel and caters to significant business and convention clientele. You would expect it to offer a bit more than the average drinking experience, and you would be right. And wrong.
I’ll start with the wrong. The second-level lobby bar, I think it is called Mizner’s Lounge, is intended to be a cut above Disney’s other such bars, but ends up being emblematic. It is understaffed, at least in October, if it is even half-full of customers. The bartender one night was, how shall I say this, not exceptionally service oriented. I was there at a point where the place was largely deserted, so he wasn’t overworked. I decided to indulge myself and ask for a Pegu.
The following is not made up.
The guy put the gin, cointreau, and bitters in the shaker, strained them into the glass, and handed it to me. Then he handed me a bowl of thinly-sliced lime wedges so that I could squeeze them into my drink myself!
The decor is lovely and comfortable. And I was pleasantly surprised to see that here, as was the case everywhere in Disney World, the quality of liquors is top notch. Even the well brands were ones that I would, and in some cases do, use for myself happily at home in my own bar. Apparently, Disney experimented with an obscene selection of very high-end scotches at Mizner’s for a while, an experiment that seems to be ending ignominiously. I applaud the desire to glamorize the liquor operation, but I’m afraid that $30+ glasses of scotch might be wonderfully appropriate for the Grand Floridian’s theme, but not its clientele.
Out on the shores of the monorail lagoon you will find Narcoosee’s, a fine dining establishment with delicious food and the single best bar and bar staff I’ve encountered in the Happiest Place on Earth.
The physical design in unique. From the customer side, the bar is only table height, with standard chairs, rather than bar stools. But the bartenders stand down in a deep hole that leaves the tallest of them just around eye-level with the seated customers. On a crowded night, where there are plenty of standing guests, I’d expect the staff goes home with a severe crink in the neck. It’s weird, but from a customer standpoint, it works kinda well.
The chief thing to recommend Narcoosee’s bar was the pair of men working down in that hole in the floor. I’ve lost my notes with their names, which makes me a jerk. Most every bartender in Disney World knows their job. These guys know their craft. And further, they had more of the tools to perform that craft than at most Disney bars. While I mentioned before that Disney doesn’t screw around with the quality of liquor they pour in their drinks, where most of their facilities come up short is in the rest of the ingredients for high-end cocktails. The Unusual is not in evidence. Nor is there much in the way of syrups or juices beyond those required for a signature or themeish cocktail, few of which have much utility beyond the drink they are stocked for.
While Narcoosee’s was similarly thin on strange liqueurs, etc., they do at least have fresh mint and a muddler that gets used. They also have whole citrus and a hand juicer. I don’t expect a whole lot from mainstream bars today, especially not tourist bars. But it shouldn’t kill you to have lemons, limes, and a juicer in any high-end bar.
The upshot is that I was able to get a delicious Pegu (while keeping my fingers lime-free) and a similarly good Hemingway Daiquiri, and Maggi had a Sidecar, during the making of which, no one went near the sour mix bottle.
In short, if you are looking to do the Monorail Cocktail Tour and you have any real appreciation of a well-crafted drink, you can save a lot of time and effort by simply visiting the California Grill, and/or Narcoosee’s, and settling in for good drinks with great views. Check the schedule for when the Magic Kingdom fireworks will be going off.