Based in San Diego, Villager Spirits has a line of canned cocktails including a Mai Tai.
“Made with rum, curaçao, and lime” sounds like a great place to start. But things went sideways along the way in this very artificial coconut and pineapple flavored “Mai Tai.” Sadly, we couldn’t finish the can, so we can’t recommend this.
We ventured to Damon’s Steak House for a family meal. We’ve been going to Damon’s since the 1990s because we love the vintage Polynesian decor and old school service style. And we sort of have a dysfunctional relationship with their signature cocktail: Damon’s Famous Mai Tai. It isn’t really great, but we can’t stop coming to try it. Mrs. Mai Tai doesn’t mind because their other standard cocktail is the Chi Chi.
A recent menu change is that they are leaning in big time to provide variations of the Mai Tai and Chi Chi. This is probably a good trend, and some of them seemed like inspired options. Though, notably, all of these have ‘Orgeat “secret sauce”‘ which is an unusual label. Once makes you wonder if it is really orgeat or something different.
The Trader Vics’ 1944 Mai Tai wasn’t bad at all, aside from the limp mint. This at least resembled a Mai Tai and wasn’t overly sweet. The same can’t be said of the Royal Mai Tai, which we thought might be good given the more exotic rums from Martinique and Hawaii. We saw the grenadine on the ingredient list, thinking it would be a dash. Instead it seemed to be a heavy splash of grenadine. Definitely not good and way too sticky sweet. Splitting the difference was Damon’s original island-style Mai Tai.
Service was truly excellent, with drink refills and cocktail refreshers coming super quickly. There was a mix-up with our soup, which our waiter fixed right away. There didn’t seem to be much music playing and the bar was filled with revelers, though it was relaxed out on the upper seating area where we were. They give you a lot of food at Damon’s, including soup or salad (the Split Pea Soup was great), and the staff offered some Mac and Cheese for our son who didn’t want either soup or salad. Food was just okay overall.
Damon’s hasn’t changed much in the 25 years we’ve been going. Still very old school for the most part, with some recent attempts to elevate the cocktails. Definitely have to have the right attitude going in, but we enjoyed our experience once again.
Mrs. Mai Tai and I ventured to Tonga Hut on Thursday night, expecting to hang out in their large COVID-era patio. We were greeted and offered inside seating, told that capacity was under 50% and a bit less than that on this particular evening. So we did the indoor thing at LA’s oldest tiki bar.
This was our first time at the North Hollywood Tonga Hut location. The Christmas decor was up and we were seated in one of the nice covered booths. So many nice things to look at, including the Drooling Bastard and all the plaques from the hearty souls who drank all the cocktails from the Grog Log within a year.
Our service was great, totally on the spot to check for additional drinks and super friendly. Music was mostly 90s-2000s modern rock, which wasn’t my preference for a tiki bar but it is a style of music I like and at least wasn’t top 40. Exotica was playing out on the patio.
I liked the Tonga Hut Mai Tai. While not overly challenging, I thought it was balanced well enough and sure was easy to drink (I chose the standard option, foregoing the Martinique rum option). I followed it up with a Tabu Tabu Grog, featuring OFTD, Honey, Grapefruit, Lime, Spices, and Passion Fruit. This was a really great ‘Grog’ variant.
Mrs. Mai Tai did her standard, the Nutty Chi Chi, and then followed up with the Mojave Punch featuring Hibiscus Syrup. I loved that punch at the Tonga Hut location in Palm Springs and thought it was great here, too. But Mrs. Mai Tai thought it leaned too tart.
Glad we finally made it to Tonga Hut. Thanks to Marie King and to the staff for a great time.
People sometimes ask, “aren’t you tired of always getting the Mai Tai?” I answer by saying I love to get the Mai Tai. It is never a burden.
But, some days are harder than others.
Isla Nu-Bar debuted a couple years ago when the Jurassic Park section of Universal Studios Hollywood was rebranded as Jurassic World. As you can see from the menu, there are a variety of tropical drinks available, along with beer.
The Mai Tai is made with Rum, Dark Rum, Pineapple, Orange, and Lime Juice. Firstly, there is rum, but also “dark rum.” So what is this other kind of non-dark rum, exactly? Probably focusing on the wrong sort of details.
It is an easy to drink cocktail that is sweet and fruity with enough rum to pass muster for $15 including souvenir plastic glass and an orchid garnish. But, it isn’t really a Mai Tai. But you already knew that.
I probably should have tried the “Tiki Tai” which actually does contain orgeat. But with pineapple rum from Don Q and passionfruit puree I doubt it would be much different or better.
The cocktail was refreshing and we enjoyed lunch at Jurassic World and watched some cool raptor encounters.
Well, certainly not the amazing Skull & Crown Trading Co. glass designed by Robert Maurer I love this glass that celebrates the best tiki bar within thousands of miles. If you’re in O’ahu and you skip Skull & Crown, you’re doing it wrong.
Anyway, back to Mai Tai Monday. I’ve seen conflicting advice regarding whether or not to shake the spent lime shell with the other liquid ingredients and ice in a Mai Tai. Some say it adds too much bitterness, others say it brightens up the cocktail. Well, I gave this a try and I have to say that the Ultimate Mai Tai tasted really amazing that night. You can see the lime shell down inside the cocktail.
But, I haven’t done extensive research or comparison testing. Anyone have any real-world experience on this?
Lastly, when you do shake the lime, do you fish it out to use as the garnish? Or do you use the other half of the lime to garnish?
The market for Ready to Drink (RTD) cocktails have trended upwards in recent years, offering a convenient alternative to beer and wine. RTDs are easy to prepare and consume, and are a worthwhile option for consuming cocktails away from home such as at the beach, camping, or on vacation. They also offer a convenient option at home, though their value is diminished at home since the quality is generally far less than from a freshly made cocktail.
Since the Mai Tai is a well-known cocktail, there are several Mai Tais on the RTD market.
Inspired by the Hot Mai Tai recipe developed years ago by Giuseppe González, this is something that I tried and liked more than I expected. The lack of Lime juice places additional focus on the Orgeat and Orange Curacao, and for this cocktail the ratio below seems to be optimal.
The whipped topping calls for the addition of Macadamia Nut Liqueur, though Amaretto isn’t a bad option. How much to add will be your choice, but I did at least half an ounce of liqueur to go into a ¼ cup of cream.
Some recipes of this type call for the use of an Irish Coffee glass, but I thought this iconic two-faced glass goblet would be more appropriate. This means that the volume of liquid is higher than in some recipes you might find.
Hot Mai Tai ⅔ oz Orgeat 1 oz Orange Curacao 2 oz Aged Jamaican Rum (Appleton Reserve) Dry shake and then pour into glass mug. Top with hot water. Top with whipped cream with Macadamia Nut Liqueur Add a few drops of Orange Bitters on top of the cream
I visited 31 commercial tiki bars in 2021, a nice return to form thanks to some bars reopening for business, several new tiki bars in the Bay Area, and some looser travel restrictions within our family and society at large. Many of these visits were to support the establishment via to-go orders, hence the bars in my home county topping the list.
The highlight was visiting Max’s South Seas in Grand Rapids. Such an amazing place, it’s a must visit. And then some great excursions in Milwaukee, Chicago, Phoenix, Vegas, San Diego, Morro Bay, Palm Springs, and the greater Bay Area.
It is always a pleasure to be invited to someone’s home tiki bar, and this year we got to visit a few including ones that were new to us. Thank you all.
Cheers to all the great people I’ve met and shared librations with – especially Mrs Mai Tai @juliebeane. We’re wishing for a safer and more pleasant 2022.
2017: 25 2018: 34 2019: 52 2020: 15 2021: 31
2021 Most Visited: 17 Kon-Tiki 13 Forbidden Island 10 Trader Vic’s Emeryville 6 Smuggler’s Cove (plus two pop-up events) 6 The Kon-Tiki Room
95: times this year I’ve walked into a tiki bar, home tiki bar, or bar with tiki event.
Each year we celebrate the 10 best Mai Tais that we had the pleasure of tasting in the last 12 months.
I’ll further note that the Mai Tais at Smuggler’s Cove have all been excellent this year. Not “fine” or “good”, but really excellent. They truly deserve to be on our list of Top 5 Mai Tais served anywhere.
Number 1: “Fritch’s Four” Mai Tai at Smuggler’s Cove (San Francisco, CA)
When Smuggler’s Cove reopened they had a special rum flight available to pay tribute to our friend Alex Fritch who was tragically killed in May. The rums included in the flight were the five rums Alex chose as part of our 5 Bottle Rum Challenge video recorded in January: Doorly’s 12, English Harbour Single Barrel, Plantation 3 Star, Smith & Cross, and Black Tot 50th Anniversary. The flight demonstrated Alex’s appreciation for different styles of rum, with proceeds going to Alex’s family.
After I tried the flight I asked the Cove team for Mai Tai made with four of the five rums (since four is easier to measure and omitting the really expensive Black Tot rum made this more affordable). There was still a bit of an upcharge from the standard-issue SC Mai Tai but it was totally worth it. The great Smuggler’s Cove Mai Tai base combined with rums selected by Alex himself made this one the most special Mai Tai of the year. Rest in Peace, brother.