Game Developers Conference & Smoke Tiki, San Jose

The bar at Smoke Tiki in San Jose
The bar at Smoke Tiki in San Jose

Last week, I spent a bit of time in San Jose, thanks to the 2006 Game Developers Conference. I’m not a game developer myself — I just like to play them — but my boyfriend is a game designer (when he’s not busy doing UI design). His primary claim to fame is as the creator of Rocknor’s Donut Factory, but he also worked on one of the Monkey Island games, which of course makes him incredibly and irresistibly sexy. Hanford went to the daytime stuff, and I met up with him in the evenings for the social events. It was a lot of fun seeing the reactions at GDC as people learned who Hanford was… there were a lot of “oh, wow!”s.

As it turns out, there was a bit of tiki crossover happening at GDC. It started for us when Ion Hardie, Director of Product Development at Reflexive, purchased a banner ad on Tiki Central. It turns out that he’s a tikiphile, and Reflexive has created a tiki-themed casual games portal at Ion & Hanford chatted a bit online about their shared love of gaming and tiki, and we met up with Ion at the Minna Mingle event on Wednesday night. We had a great time chatting about gaming (I was even able to keep up with the discussion, mostly, which was nice). The whole Reflexive crew was great. We also spent some time chatting with some folks from Macromedia’s Director team — Hanford knows Director pretty much inside out.

While at the Minna Mingle, we were invited to another evening event the next day, taking place at Smoke Tiki. Smoke Tiki is a new tiki bar in San Jose. Frankly, we hadn’t been very interested in checking it out, as it sounded more grab-bag tropical than Polynesian Pop, which isn’t our thing. We knew we had to go see it eventually, though, so this was a perfect excuse. When we got there, we were pleasantly surprised to see that it was a bit more Polynesian than we’d anticipated, but it was definitely on the cartoony side. It’s called Smoke Tiki because it’s a smokehouse, and the smoked chicken skewers they were serving were quite delicious. The drink I had, however, was abysmal.

A moment about drinks — if any of you reading this have any sort of responsibility whatsoever over a tropical drink list, please lay off the damned pineapple juice. Please. Double please. What is it with tropical drink menus where every single drink has either pineapple juice, grenadine, or both in it? Pineapple juice is a perfectly suitable ingredient, but it does not belong in every single tropical drink you offer. It’s a strong indicator of an amateurish drink list. There is an incredibly reliable correlation between the amount of pineapple juice-containing drinks in a tropical drink menu and overall crappy drink quality. So I’ll say it again — please, please, please take a moment to create a good, balanced tropical drink list, rather than just sticking pineapple juice & grenadine in every damned thing.

Okay, back to my Smoke Tiki experience. After scanning the drink menu and seeing that there was a sickening abundance of the ol’ pineapple/grenadine combo, I opted instead for their Kiwi Lemon Drop, hoping that this at least might be a bit tart. Wrong-o. It tasted like a melted popsicle. Only sweeter. The thickly-caked sugar around the rim didn’t help, though I tried to avoid it. Yech.

The service I have to say was very kind, though. If it had been less busy, I would have asked the bartender for something more tart, and I’m sure he would have happily helped me out. The music was not at all tropical, which was pretty much in line with my expectations, but it was far, far too loud. It was beyond ambience-shattering loud, it was outright WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU! loud, which made the place pretty useless for the event, which was supposed to be an opportunity to schmooze and make with the business. We bailed pretty early.

We hit another bar briefly, had some more great conversations about games that I won’t bore you with the details of, and then decided to cap off the night with a visit to the San Jose Fairmont’s bar, which is pretty much GDC HQ. While there, I was approached by a guy who said, “hey, don’t you have that website, Humu Kon Tiki?” [Critiki News used to be known as Humu Kon Tiki.] I’m used to being recognized at tiki events and at tiki bars, but this was a first for me. The gentleman turned out to be Frank Dellario from Ill Clan in New York. (Hi Frank! Next time, we’ve gotta get you out to one of our great tiki bars.) We had a really great time talking to Frank, and also the guys from Garage Games. And then Bob Saget walked by. No joke.

So, that was our GDC tiki extravaganza. Next year’s GDC event takes place in San Francisco, and I’m looking forward to it already.

10 thoughts on “Game Developers Conference & Smoke Tiki, San Jose

  1. I’m sorry to hear the drinks at Smoke Tiki were so bad. I’ve had several friends from the Bay Area send me the link to their website and invite me to join them there the next time I visit.

    The Da Hukilau restaurants in San Jose and Palo Alto were also a big let-down in terms of drink quality, which I found especially disappointing because their food is quite good (especially the Ahi Poke). Hukilau cocktails overdo the Blue Caracao, so everything comes out looking like a Blue Hawaiian.


  2. The best bet for tiki drinks in San Jose, I’ve been told, is Martini Monkey at the airport. I’ve only had drinks there once — whenever I’ve been at the airport, I’m either in a hurry to get on a plane, or in a hurry to get into town. The drinks I had were suitable but not worth going out of the way for; as with many places, I think you have to hit the right bartender.

    The Palo Alto Trader Vic’s has always been a bit off drink-wise, but a new bartender/bar manager (I forget which — big difference in terms of impact, though) has been in training at the far superior San Francisco Trader Vic’s, so there may be some improvement there.

    Yeah, Hukilau is a bust, unfortunately.

    When we go out for drinks around here, we actually go to a little tapas place called Cascal — they have a decent rum selection, make a nice capairinha, and have a decent live latin jazz combo. A little cheezy, but we take what we can get. Silicon Valley is basically just one great big office park.


  3. Yeah, that was pretty much my experience at the Smoke Tiki as well. We were talking with Microsoft about upcoming games opportunities, and it was one of those times when you practically had to lean your ear over into the person’s mouth to hear what they were saying. If the music had been better themed for the place, maybe I wouldn’t have minded so much…but even then, it wouldn’t have been appropriate.

    I didn’t notice the pineapple juice thing, but that’s probably because I was trying to focus on what the heck people were saying…and that was the day BEFORE the event you were talking about, when it wasn’t as crowded. I can’t imagine the place jammed with people AND deafening music. I did like the palm tree coming out of the bar though…

    Anyway, it was great to meet you at GDC. I’ll be there next year as well…maybe it will be in San Francisco proper and you and Hanford can direct me to a few of your favorite spots up in the Bay Area…


  4. I have been to Smoke Tiki a number times. Very nice patio, great food and drinks. I enjoy the live outdoor music on thursday and friday’s. They should play music more in line with thier theme.

    But I definitely recommend this place!


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