ANAHEIM, Calif. – Once guests walk through the wooden doors of Strong Water Anaheim, they are immediately transported into a different world.
The dimly lit space with its dark, rich wood and burgundy décor makes guests feel like they are inside the cabin of a large wooden ship. Tropical music plays on a loop, and the drinks are served in a tiki mug with an umbrella straw.
"We are a fully immersive experience," said Ying Chang, co-founder of the restaurant, with her husband, Robert Adamson. "We want people to feel like they're walking into the halls of a sunken treasure ship."
"Think Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson," said Adamson. "We're trying to use everything on our wreckage to survive."
It seems fitting that the sunken treasure ship-themed bar and restaurant is in Anaheim, just a few miles from the ultimate theme experience of Disneyland. It also sits next to Requiem: Coffee, Tea, and Fantasy – a fantasy and gaming-themed café.
Chang and Adamson cater to a growing segment of restaurant patrons looking to fill their social media pages with a different dining and bar experience.
"When people go out, the game has changed," said Chang. "People don't want to go to a corporate restaurant. People are looking for an experience. Technology and social media are so powerful these days. So people are looking to escape, share, and see what they can find."
Chang and Adamson are restaurant entrepreneurs with a combined 40 years of experience. In 2014, the couple founded and operated The Blind Rabbit, a 1920s-themed speakeasy bar in the Anaheim Packing District. The couple gave up operational control because of the coronavirus pandemic. They are still silent partners.
At the Blind Rabbit, they started a small experimental pop-up called Mahalo Mondays, a tiki and rum-themed bar.
It was an instant success.
"For four years, it sold out," said Chang. "We just knew that our next concept had to be rum and tiki driven."
Adamson said they started the tiki-themed pop-up to get to know the community and feel their interest.
"It was a great opportunity to explore different concepts," he said.
In 2019, the couple opened Strong Water Anaheim on Clementine Street, just a few blocks from the Anaheim Packing District.
When the brick-and-mortar bar and restaurant opened in November, there were lines down the block of people wanting to come in, said Adamson.
"We had such a huge support system because of the pop-up," he said. "This was something that people were ready for. We had a huge reception. It was busy all the time. That's why we had to use a reservations-only system."
Many people on social media raved about the immersive experience and storyline.
Every detail of the place fits into the restaurant's narrative.
The space is 1,884 square feet, so Chang incorporated that into the restaurant's immersive backstory.
"1884 is when the ship sank," she said.
Strong water forced the ship to wash ashore on a beach of a volcanic island, said Adamson.
He said the entire restaurant is upcycled, with many materials bought from the Facebook marketplace.
Inside the cabin, the booths were the backboards of old beds. Nautical-themed paintings hang on the wall. There are a couple of tikis god sculptures for decor. An octopus' tentacles wrap around one of the tiki sculptures.
The menu is an Asian fusion with some Hawaiian and Filipino flavors. And there is a variety of rum drinks to choose.
The place is small and intimate. The site can only accommodate about 45 to 50 people. And because the place is so popular, visitors are required to have a reservation, and there's a two-hour time limit. The indoor restaurant and bar are for adults only. Families can bring their kids and dog but are sat outdoors in the patio area.
Adamson said the pandemic forced them to close the restaurant temporarily, and when it reopened, they had to pivot. They developed a to-go program and offered bottled cocktails.
But as the pandemic waned and restrictions loosened, Strong Water fully reopened a couple of months ago and has seen a lot of pent-up demand.
Some people even dress up to match the restaurant's theme, said Chang.
"There are a lot of people that are fully decked out from head to toe with jewelry. They knew what they are coming for. It's amazing," she said.