Disneyland’s Best New Bar & Lounge
Disneyland Resort has some great bars & lounges in Disney California Adventure, Downtown Disney, and the three on-site hotels. Some of these are unheralded gems, like Hearthstone & Steakhouse 55 Lounges and Alfresco Tasting Terrace.
There are also a couple of overrated ones that are arguably not as good as their popularity might suggest. Nevertheless, there’s a reason the title here is “Disneyland’s Best New Bar” rather than “Disneyland’s New Best Bar.” Although they sound similar, there’s a significant difference in the wording.
Specifically, the former only encompasses a trio of newly-opened locations, whereas the latter would include all bars at Disneyland Resort, declaring a new king. That would mean dethroning Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel. As high as I am on this new location, I’m not sure I’m ready to do that…
With that said, the post title is not faint praise. New bars at Disneyland include Ballast Point Brewing Company, Oga’s Cantina, and GCH Craftsman Bar. Since they’re now over a year old, I wouldn’t include Lamplight Lounge or Splitsville, despite both being relatively new. (Neither would earn the #1 spot if they were included, though.)
As a highly-anticipated component of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Oga’s Cantina should be a shoe-in for this distinction. Yet, the premixed drink menu is weak and Oga’s Cantina fails to deliver a guest experience akin to a real-life Mos Eisley Cantina. Ballast Point is fine, but it does feel like like an upstart brewery you’d find elsewhere in Orange County (or San Diego, as the case may be).
That leaves GCH Craftsman Bar, the dark horse contender and ultimate champion here. There has been excitement for the slow and steady improvements throughout Downtown Disney and obviously all things about Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge have garnered considerable hype, but this sort of came out of nowhere.
One week the Disney Parks Blog announced a brand-new dining experience coming soon to Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, and the next week the Disney Parks Blog announced that GCH Craftsman Bar was open. Granted, visible construction was occurring around the hotel pool for several months and there have been gradual refurbishments for the last couple of years, but nothing official was announced about this bar & lounge until literally a week before it opened.
Just like that, GCH Craftsman Bar debuted and, with it, the name of White Water Snacks quietly changed to GCH Craftsman Grill. That’s confusing not just because it’s similar to the poolside bar, but because there’s literally no new signage up at the old counter service location. (At least as of the last time we saw, it still says White Water Snacks.)
When that happened, the unrivaled and unexpectedly exceptional new menu of White Water Snacks/GCH Craftsman Grill suddenly made complete sense–it was the testing grounds for the new bar’s food! Speaking of which, let’s dig into some other menu items that are now available at GCH Craftsman Bar…
Being Childless Millennials, we were all over the Avocado Toast (Soft Burrata, Pomegranate Seeds, Pomegranate Drizzle, Fried Parsley, Spiced Rice Paper, and Grilled Ciabatta Bread) like Boomers on Jello salad.
This Avocado Toast is delicious and high quality, with a the pomegranate flavor and seeds providing a nice tang and texture. However, the price is a bit much for the portion size here. Skip it.
Next, the Double-baked Beef Nachos (Tortilla Chips, Melted Cheese, Bacon Lardons, Black Beans, Scallions, Slivered JalapeÃ±o Pepper, Cilantro, Queso Fresco, Guacamole, and Crema).
We’ve had these a number of times over at White Water Snacks/GCH Craftsman Grill, but we noticed they’re slightly different here, so we went for them again. For the most part, they’re similar. The main difference is that they’re more expensive and they’re basically served in a trough–perfect for feeding a sounder of swine! (Suffice to say, this is something you’ll want to share–and something we recommend.)
Here’s the Black Truffle-charred Cauliflower Grilled Cheese Sandwich (Sourdough Bread, Charred Cauliflower, cheesy Béchamel, Black Truffles, and Pickled Vegetables) which is served with french fries or fresh fruit.
With so many good things on the menu, I had zero desire to order this–which was my bad since it was an unexpected winner. It’s effectively a rich grilled cheese sandwich with a deep umami flavor. The cauliflower provides some heft and substance to the sandwich but, thankfully, the flavor of vegetables doesn’t come into play to spoil the greatness of this sandwich. Highly recommended.
GCH Craftsman Grill has several of the same Artisanal Pizzas that debuted at the counter service restaurant next door. We opted to order the Charcuterie Pizza (Premium Pepperoni, Prosciutto, Salami, Italian Sausage, Arugula, Fire-roasted Tomatoes, Grana Padano, and Aged Provolone).
This was a mild disappointment. Individually, the ingredients were all good, but there were too few of them, and it just fell flat. No bold or savory flavors or really anything memorable. (The photo pretty much sums it up.)
If you’re wanting one of these Artisanal Pizzas, our strong recommendation is the Forest Mushroom Pizza (Roasted Mushrooms, Vegetarian Sausage, Mushroom Spread, Caramelized Onions, and Green Onions with fresh Mozzarella, Grana Padano and Aged Provolone).
This is rich and decadent, perfect in every regard. It’s easily one of my favorite dishes in all of Disneyland Resort.
Finally, the Maine Lobster Quesadilla (Flour Tortilla, Jack, Queso Fresco, Caramelized Onions, Roasted Corn Relish, Sour Cream, and spicy Mayo).
This gives that Forest Mushroom Pizza a run for its money as the best thing on the menu (that we’ve tried). There’s a generous portion of lobster inside the quesadilla, with the roasted corn relish providing a refreshing twist and the spicy mayo offering a bit of kick. Another highly recommended item.
Ambiance-wise, GCH Craftsman Bar is shockingly good. We’ve dined here both during the day and at night, and enjoyed both experiences. Neither time was being adjacent to the pool a detriment (there’s enough separation to prevent that from being an issue); it was more just like there was water in the distance. At night, there’s live music, which is a nice touch. The low-key lighting provided by the Arts & Crafts lanterns and popcorn lighting is also quite nice.
My ideal lounge experience is coming here shortly before sunset with 3-4 friends, ordering the nachos to start, followed by the Forest Mushroom Pizza, finishing with the Maine Lobster Quesadilla (before heading over to Salt & Straw for dessert). Over the course of a slow meal, we’d enjoy the waning sunlight glistening off of the water before enjoying sunset and blue hour as the band started.
Overall, I cannot say what I’ve described above (which is more or less an experience we’ve had, except with all of our food coming out all at once) is objectively better than Trader Sam’s. GCH Craftsman Bar is fundamentally different, with a less is more approach instead of themed design to the hilt. As someone who generally feels that Disney’s advantage in dining is details and design, I’d skew towards Trader Sam’s. However, the food is unquestionably better at GCH Craftsman Bar, and it offers a laidback and relaxed vibe that is perfect after a long day in the parks. No matter how you rank the two of them, Trader Sam’s and GCH Craftsman Bar are Disneyland Resort’s two best bars outside the parks; lounges that complement one another nicely.
If you’re preparing for a Disneyland trip, check out our other planning posts, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, tips for booking a hotel (off-site or on-site), where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide!
Have you visited GCH Craftsman Bar? How do you think it stacks up to other bars & lounges at Disneyland Resort? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
Just back from a 5 night trip to the Grand Californian. Ate 2 nights at the Craftsman Bar. Loved the Ambiance and low crowds. Highly recommended if the weather is nice. The 4 of us split 2 entrees and also grabbed a couple of small Caesar salads from inside the Grill since no sides salad were on the menu. We ordered the Mushroom pizza due to Tom’s advice. Liked it a lot. I thought the Nachos were OK and huge, which is great if you’re hungry. Lobster Quesadillas were the best quesadillas I’ve ever eaten. Thanks Tom!
We love the Carthay Circle lounge as mid-day spot to reenergize and enjoy a nice craft cocktail. Great atmosphere. I especially love the “reserved” high top table by the bar, with the picture of Walt (is this Walt’s table?)
“Being Childless Millennials, we were all over the Avocado Toast… like Boomers on Jello salad.”
That made me laugh out loud! Perfect! My parents are boomers & I was definitely raised on Jellied Salad (we never used the brand name in the title, though it was definitely Jello in the salad) at all big family dinners/events. We were just discussing this a couple of weeks ago over Thanksgiving Dinner (Canada) as my parents have noticed that I have NOT continued the trend. But I certainly was all over it growing up. It was a staple, though today I’d prefer the avocado toast. Thanks very much for the chuckle. It was a very apt comparison. 🙂
We popped in twice on our recent stay at DLR. And while we weren’t staying at the Grand Cal this time around, we often do, and I’ve been waiting for a pool bar since the hotel opened.
This new addition definitely does not disappoint. It’s beautiful and fits in perfectly to that great pool area.
Since you loved that mushroom pizza as much as we did I must now really listen to your advice on food! We are arguing over Yachtsman Steakhouse or Le Cellier for Christmas Day and I think Tom’s choice wins! It’s just hard to give up the Canada and Epcot ambience! And Joseph the drinks are great but quite pricey especially the wine!
Hey Tom, what was the beer/alcohol selection like at Craftsman?