A Great Mai Tai and Two Terrible Ones

Had dinner and some drinks last night in San Jose before The Surfrajettes show at Dr. Funk in Downtown San Jose. Our last visit gave us hope they’d maybe fixed the quality control issues we’d seen in the visits prior and had confirmed by so many others.

I started out with a Mai Tai, made once again with Appleton 12 and Smith & Cross rums plus Dr. Funk’s house-made orgeat that’s delicious. I saw that the orgeat and demerara syrup were squeezed directly into the shaker but the lime and rum measured with a jigger. And it turned out great, I really loved it.

A buddy showed up and ordered a Mai Tai but the flavors weren’t anywhere the same based on his tasting and mine via a “straw sample” of the cocktail. It tasted flat like maybe they used fewer ingredients or not enough of some.

Then he ordered a second Mai Tai that was even worse and legit terrible. Nothing was measured in a jigger and the shake was half-hearted. A truly awful Mai Tai.

It really bums me out that Dr. Funk cannot figure this out, since the space remains immersive and their excellent rum selection means that I can try some new-to-me rums. I tried the Black Tot Master Blender’s Reserve 2023 and it was absolutely delicious and very similar to the old British Royal Navy rum from the 1950s and 1960s that I’ve been able to try.

If Dr. Funk wants to be considered a craft cocktail bar, they need to measure the ingredients with jiggers.

If they want to be considered a world-class tiki bar the bartenders need to know where the overproof 151 Demerara rum is without having to spend a long time looking for it (no, I’m not kidding).

If Dr. Funk just wants to be a party bar just tell us that so that we can reset our expectations. San Jose doesn’t need another party tiki bar like Tiki Pete. They need a tiki bar where a great Mai Tai is expected – and not the exception.

Recipe: Cherry Pie Tai

This Mai Tai riff from Nathan Robinson was a delicious twist on an old favorite. It’s especially nice if you’re looking for something else to use with Cherry Heering liqueur. I love the combination of blended Demerara rum and a bit of Rhum Agricole from Martinique. Delicious, give it a try.

My only gripe is the name. Shouldn’t it be “Cherry Pai Tai”?

Cherry Pie Tai by Nathan Robinson
¾ oz Lemon Juice
½ oz Orgeat
¾ oz Cherry Heering liqueur
1½ oz Demerara Rum (pref Hamilton 86)
½ oz Rhum Agricole Blanc (pref JM Rhum Blanc)
Shake with nice and garnish with a cherry

The Shipwreck Nautical Bar in Martinez

Locals were promoting this new bar that’s located in the multi-vendor Market & Main venue in downtown Martinez, CA, and we were nearby so we popped in. The Shipwreck soft-opened earlier this month and is a small bar adjacent to the Shuck It! Oyster Bar where you can order food. We had a great lobster roll and shrimp cocktail and Shuck It! will deliver to your seat at Shipwreck.

We were told this was a tiki bar, but it is not. Thankfully, it is also not a pirate bar but instead is a modestly decorated small nautical bar that seems to pair well with Shuck It! next door. Don’t confuse it with “Shipwrecked” in nearby Davis, CA. The small drink menu is obviously tiki-inspired and overall we thought the cocktails were pretty good. Mrs. Mai Tai loved her Neptune’s Garden that paired Tequila with Elderflower Liqueur to great effect.

Neptune’s Garden

The back bar has a modest collection of spirits but very little in the way of rum. The 7 Year Mai Tai is named after the Angostura 7 rum, a mild aged rum that’s easy to drink along with pineapple juice and other traditional Mai Tai ingredients. Definitely pineapple leaning, though not overwhelming, and this fruity and sweet Mai Tai did taste good.

I asked about other rum options and they offered Cruzan Dark and Captain Morgan, neither of which were what I tend to go for. I then spotted a nearly empty bottle of Equiano Dark rum, a very nice blend of aged rums from Mauritius and Barbados, so asked for Mai Tai with that rum and without the pineapple juice. This one was served in the skull glass rather than the Angostura mug and used DeKuyper Orange Curacao and Liquid Alchemist Orgeat. That Equiano rum was really great in this well-prepared and balanced Mai Tai. I did suggest to the staff they ought to invest in at least a couple of additional rums, since that’s what folks would expect at this sort of bar.

Equiano Rum Mai Tai

Market & Main has a pizza place and cookie dough storefront, with Bentley’s classic cocktail bar located upstairs during the winter (and on the back patio during the summer). We liked the sleepy vibe of downtown Martinez that includes other restaurants and antique stores.

How it Started and How It Ended

How it Started
I was inspired by the recent video on The Rum Revival YouTube channel about the Hampden Great House series to make a Mai Tai with the 2020 edition that I have. I bought that bottle in 2021 and it is almost gone.

When you pour bold/heavy/high proof Jamaica rums in a glass by themselves it can be overwhelming on the palette even for seasoned rum drinkers. But that same big punch works great in a cocktail like a Mai Tai that doesn’t remove those flavors but allows them to be savored in the context of the sour cocktail format. Great House 2020 was amazing in the Mai Tai.

How it Ended
After cleaning the glass, we had an accident. Thankfully, this was a replaceable glass from the Make and Drink YouTube channel’s storefront and not something rare or limited edition.

For as many Mai Tais that I’ve made at home I’ve broken precious few glasses, which is a silver lining I suppose.

The Best Mai Tais and Tiki Bars in Las Vegas

We’ve added a new feature page to UltimateMaiTai.com covering the top Mai Tais and Tiki Bars in Las Vegas.

What’s the best Mai Tai in Las Vegas? Is it Jammyland, the craft cocktail bar with a reggae twist? Or is it Stray Pirate, the new bar with a theme of pirate dogs? Or is it Starboard Tack, the off-strip restaurant with a retro vibe? Perhaps there’s a wild-card entry from a bar with a potentially short lifespan.

On the Tiki Bar side, the best option might not technically be a tiki bar to begin with, and the true tiki bars all have pros and cons. So the “best” might depend on what you value most, such as decor, cocktails, or service. We have our Ultimate Mai Tai Tiki Bar rating system in place plus narratives for each location to help you decide.

Top Mai Tais and Tiki Bars in Las Vegas

Trader Vic’s Las Vegas

It is always sad passing by Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina at the Miracle Mile shops at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino because for a short time this was a Trader Vic’s franchise location. The lifespan ran from Fall 2007 to summer 2009, making this one of the shortest lived Vic’s locations. Patrons noted an emphasis on vodka drinks, though we stuck to the classics such as the Mai Tai (made with the Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Concentrate mix) that were wonderful. That’s us on two visits in 2008.

The vast space was sparsely decorated, perhaps as an intentional choice to go for a modern look or perhaps due to a limited decor budget. It definitely didn’t have the same vibe as most of the Trader Vic’s locations I’ve visited, but you could get a Mai Tai to go in a plastic cup thanks to Vegas’ liberal open container laws. Traditionalists griped about the food menu but it got a great review in the Las Vegas Review-Journal in early 2008.

The venture was not successful, due in part to the great recession that started in parallel with the restaurant’s opening. After closing, the restaurant’s parent company Boulevard Bar LLC filed for bankruptcy listing no assets – and liabilities of $14.267 million! The restaurant generated revenue of $1.368 million in 2007, $5.961 million in 2008, and $2.033 million in 2009 according to those filings.

Today’s burgeoning tiki scene in Vegas shows that the most successful ventures of this type are immersive experiential venues such as The Golden Tiki or Frankie’s Tiki Room. But fifteen years ago it is easy to understand the design decisions made to go with a modern design. I guess this shows that the escapist nature of these spaces is timeless and that today there is a lot more interest in exotic cocktails and tiki bars in general.

Las Vegas is always a gamble and sometimes you don’t win.