There’s nothing quite like being in the Disneyland park or Disney California Adventure under the intense crushing heat of a summer afternoon. Sometimes you just want a break from the crowds or heat and need a respite. Or sometimes, you just want to enjoy an afternoon cocktail. When I’m in Disney California Adventure there’s no better place to do this then the hidden gem that is the Carthay Circle Lounge. I say hidden gem because I think it’s one of the best kept non-secrets of that side of the park. I see a lot of folks stroll right by the building without knowing exactly what lies behind the wide double doors, and rarely is there an occasion that I’m in the vicinity or going into the lounge where I don’t hear at least one guest inquire what this building is. “Is there’s an attraction inside?” They ask, or, “Is this a show?” No loss for me, in fact I’m kind of glad it’s not overtly advertised on the outside for selfish reasons. I enjoy my getaway and prefer not to see it more busy than it is! With that aside, why not share my 4 reasons why the Carthay Circle Lounge is my favorite spot to cool down, enjoy a cocktail and spend some time away from the crowds!
Even when every table and bar seat in the lounge is full, you feel like you’re well out of the crowds in an inviting, quiet atmosphere. For good reason: there’s a controlled number of guests that can come into the lounge at any time. Generally during non-busy times it’s an open-door policy, first come first serve. Find a table anywhere on the first floor. Or there’s my preference; take a seat right at the bar (service tends to be a little faster and it’s nice to chat up the bartenders). Once the lounge starts getting full, which often happens during weekends, a cast member stands at the main front door to control the flow of guests into the lounge. A queue forms to the right of the entry doors. As one party leaves, another group is taken in. I think I had to wait 15 minutes this last visit when there were 4 groups ahead of me in line. While it is a little annoying to be outside in the heat waiting for a table, the rewards are well worth it. In addition to the crowd control there is quite a bit of open space on the first floor. It’s great to feel like everything is nicely spaced out and not packed in like sardines!
2. Beautiful Atmosphere
From the warm lighting to the wood flooring, the period decor and perhaps most importantly… the music. All of these elements mix together perfectly to take you back to the golden age of Hollywood. I think each space (inside or outdoors), much like the films, just wouldn’t be the same without the right music. It’s no different for the Carthay Circle Lounge. The quiet and slowed down instrumental horn renditions of classic Disney songs like “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” or “A Whole New World” pull you deeper into the era and really complete the theming. Any wall you look at has some classic beautiful black and white art displayed, much of it includes Walt himself. You could spend a good chunk of time just appreciating all the displayed artwork.
3. Did Someone Say Drinks?
Okay, I get that the term “handcrafted cocktails” seems to get thrown around a lot these days, but in the Carthay Circle Lounge, they really do make handcrafted cocktails. They don’t use bulk mix for Margaritas or Bloody Marys; they make their own. From fresh squeezed lemons and limes to edible sugar crusted flowers used as garnishes. All that means one thing: amazing handcrafted cocktails! They have a great cocktail menu with classic selections like Pimm’s Punch or the Carthay Manhattan, and let’s not forget my personal favorite, the Sidecar, just to name a few. They have a full list of beer and wine in addition to a host of non-alcoholic options. My kids love coming here to enjoy a comfortable seat in the cool lounge while they sip on a ice-cold root beer or a Shirley Temple.
While there’s not a full dining menu available in the lounge, they do have a small selection of appetizers and will even produce a kids menu with a couple of options if you ask. For a snack, I think this is a great place. I haven’t tried everything on the menu but the twice cooked beef Vietnamese tacos are a ‘must try’ if you haven’t sampled them before. They have a little heat and a little sweet in the beef and it’s served up into 4 small hard taco shells. I like the cheese plate as well (but I haven’t met a cheese I didn’t like). The kids love the grilled cheese and tomato soup on the kids menu. The grilled cheese and soup are both fantastic. They’d almost be an okay snack for an adult if the soup was a little bigger. The flatbread is worth trying, but I’m not a big fan of the queso dip to be honest.
A few final thoughts and tips: Your best bet to get seating without waiting is to walk in right at 11:30 a.m., when the lounge opens. This is particularly important during any time Southern California passholders are not blocked. The service is generally really good, but during really busy times it can take a little while if you’re seated out on the floor. If you aren’t with young ones you can sit at the bar. It’s always my preference, as the service is fast and you can chat with the bartenders and fellow guests. Once in a while you may even get to watch them produce the famous spherical ice ball they serve with the Manhattan and certain specialty cocktails. You can request one to be made for any drink but you’ll have to tack on a few dollars. The lounge is not the cheapest place for a cocktail or bite of food. The appetizers range from $16 to $24 (kids items are less) and the cocktails generally run between around $10 to $15. But you’re paying for the ambiance and the quality, and I couldn’t recommend this place if they didn’t deliver on both of those! Cheers!