PICTURED: B.I.R.D. Ration Kit and a mason jar of Blue Hawaiian.
by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
VenTiki Lounge and Lanai
701 E. Main St., Ventura
There are a lot of things I miss while staying safe at home, and chief among them is happy hour at VenTiki Lounge and Lanai in Downtown Ventura. Easily one of the most popular and recognizable spots in Ventura County — and possibly Southern California; I’ve run into more out-of-towners here than I can count — it’s known for its tropical hipster ambience that calls back to the glory days of Polynesian pop and a carefully curated menu of expertly crafted, dangerously strong drinks.
Fear not, tiki enthusiasts! VenTiki has not left you stranded. The popular bar is currently mixing up enough libations for takeout to fill a (small) outrigger canoe.
Call ahead or order online — we found both processes very easy. The hard part is deciding what to choose. Available right now (they change things up weekly to keep it fresh): mai tais, jet pilots, zombies, hurricanes and the vodka-laden Altar of Sacrifice. A few are offered as a single serving, but most come in 16-ounce mason jars, with enough for two to three drinks ($38-50). Are you sheltering in place with a group? Consider the QuaranTiki Trifecta ($140), with one “ration” each of the classic mai tai, jet pilot and zombie — in total, 48 ounces of boozy goodness. For $100, you can also get a 32-ounce Zombie Apocalypse — more money, but with three types of premium rum, a little goes a long way.
The other special edition for these times is the B.I.R.D. Ration Kit. Short for Beverage Individually (packaged) Ready to Drink, the kit features two containers of premixed cocktails — one classic tiki drink, one a signature drink from a VenTiki bartender; both promised to be “STRONG!!” Only 50 are available for pickup every week, and the contents change.
A recent order included a 16-ounce Blue Hawaiian and a B.I.R.D. Ration Kit. Arriving for pickup, I noticed tape neatly laid out on the patio, meant to direct traffic while adhering to social distancing requirements. The entrance to the bar is now guarded by a cart where goods change hands (there’s a big bucket of sanitary wipes right there). Setting out my order, the server insisted I take a fat bag of crushed ice — “good ice” as he called it; I complied. I was also instructed to shake everything up well before consuming.
The Blue Hawaiian in its mason jar was a bright sight to behold: a pretty tropical green (yellow pineapple juice plus blue Curaçao; whatcha gonna do?) with swizzle sticks and umbrellas attached with twine, and a message of thanks taped to the jar. Very festive! The B.I.R.D. box was painted orange and sealed with a tiki sticker. I couldn’t wait to open these “gifts” at home.
Inside the box we found an orange Tofunga Punch and a red Cobra’s Fang accompanied by a small recipe booklet, swizzle sticks and umbrellas. We gave each container several shakes, poured them over the “good ice” and garnished. My living room on a drizzly day was no substitute for VenTiki’s whimsical lanai, but the delicious drinks — the punch was quite citrusy with hints of rum and spice, while the Fang offered up a fruity sweetness — definitely gave me a sunnier disposition.
After a bit of time and a bite to eat, we had our second round — the Blue Hawaiian. My hurricane glasses were the ideal size and shape for this colorful concoction. VenTiki had set us up with a bag of mint for garnish, which was a nice touch . . . even if we had actually forgotten about it. No matter: With or without mint, this tropical classic was flawless.
I was surprised to enjoy cocktail takeout as much as I did. The balance, the flavors, the ease — just shake and pour — it was a real treat and a nice departure from my basic homemade drinks. These uncertain times haven’t dampened VenTiki’s spirits, and those tasty to-go tipples are giving a much-need lift to my own.