Where to eat: Drinks and decor distinguish Disneyland's Trader Sam's
Published: November 23, 2013 at 12:46 PM
The bar can still get packed on weekends and during the busy times, but there's something to be said for stopping by the unofficial cast member bar after a long day at the park. A sequel to the similarly popular Adventurers Club, Trader Sam's was the go-to bar for off duty cast members when I was working; and that has not come near changing since then.
On any given weeknight there will be a dozen or so guests that were cast members just an hour ago. To the untrained eye and ear they might go unnoticed, but if you've been around the parks as often as I have, you know a cast member when you see them. Okay, okay, and eavesdropping on the latest workplace gossip is generally a good tip-off, too.
But you're not at the bar to hang out with cast members (probably), you're there for the food and drinks — an area that Disney tends to excel in. While they have your typical mixed drinks and beers, it's the specialty drink menu that draws most of the attention. Of particular interest is the Uh Oa drink which is practically served on a platter and is recommended for "two or more guests."
Disney park drinks get the rap for being on the weak side, but I've never heard that said about Trader Sam's. Trust me when I say that you are getting your money's worth — at least, no less so than you do at any other bar. I usually stick with the Piranha Pool while my wife is a big fan of the HippopotoMai-Tai [yes, all the names for the drinks are this goofy].
As you might have picked up, the name for the bar comes from the titular Trader Sam who can be seen on the World Famous
Jungle Jingle Cruise where he offers you "two of his heads for one of yours." In this iteration of Trader Sam he has traveled all over the world [shades of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers] to collect artifacts which now populate his bar. Ignoring that these [Indiana Jones voice] belong in a museum, they make for a very nice atmosphere.
While the inspiration for the bar's name come from the Jungle Cruise, the bar's atmosphere is more reminiscent of the Enchanted Tiki Room. The architecture of the building is meant to create the illusion that you're in some sort of a thatched hut complete with round wooden beams and jungle-esque shrubbery on the exterior. It's like what an Island's burger joint would look like if Disney did the theming.
Inside there are photos and artifacts on the wall along with some fake newspaper clippings and the like. But the sights are just some of the ways Disney creates the bar's signature feel. The sounds of the jungle fill the bar, and thunder and lightning effects are added in when certain drinks are ordered. Once you enter the bar (there is also an outdoor area which offers a much quieter and more tranquil setting) you might forget you're just outside the Disneyland Hotel. The room is dimly lit, small and filled with sounds. It's easily the most captivating bar I have ever been in and, in my mind, sets the standard for what Disney tries to do with its themed eateries.
Great theming takes you only so far, of course — the food has to match. Trader Sam's offers good-to-very-good bar food, my favorite of which is the pulled pork pizza. It's served with just enough cheese and barbecue sauce on a thin crust and embodies the best of California pizza.
For the thin-crust avert, the pineapple Angus burger is a safe bet — though it doesn't exactly pair well with most of the fruity drinks offered. The Ahi Poke is incredible and the panko-crusted Chinese long beans are a great non-meat option. If you're looking for something with a little bit of substance, but aren't a fan of red meat, the chicken lettuce wraps are delicious and light which makes them a perfect snack on the heavier side.
Trade Sam's isn't exactly a secret, but it is quietly one of the best bars at the Disneyland Resort and is another example of Disney's thematic excellence. Now quick, add Trader Sam to the Society of Explorers and Adventurers already!