This essay has been gracing the back cover of the Trader Vic’s Cocktail Menu for decades. It serves to highlight the spirit that is most prominent in Trader Vic’s cocktails, and is both a history lesson and a list of “shout outs” to famed mixologists. This is a scan of a menu circa 1965.
This is one area where I think that Victor Bergeron deserves more credit, as quite often he would credit the original creator of a cocktail on the menu or in his books. In the essay he highlights a number of 20th Century barmen including Frank Meier of the Ritz Bar in Paris, Constantine at La Florida Bar in Havana, and Albert Martin of Con Ton Bar in New Orleans. He ends with several pointed salutes to Don the Beachcomber of Hollywood.
The design includes pictures of some of the famous venues and a caricature of Don the Beachcomber himself.
Though the exact recipe may not be known, it does seem clear that the Mai Tai’s rise to fame in Hawaii started at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach. In 1953, Trader Vic Bergeron contracted with Matson to provide menus for their passenger ships and their hotel properties that included the Royal Hawaiian. The Mai Tai became a big hit with tourists in Hawaii and by the end of the decade had supplanted the Zombie as the most famous tropical cocktail in the world.
Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai (Classic Recipe) ½ oz Lime Juice ¼ oz Lemon Juice 1 oz Orange Juice 1 oz unsweetened Pineapple Juice ¼ oz Sugar Syrup ¼ oz Orgeat ¼ oz Orange Curacao 1 oz Demerara Rum 1 oz Dark Jamaican Rum 1 oz Light Rum
Garnish with a Pineapple finger, Sugar Cane stick, Orchid, and Mint Sprig.
This recipe dates to 1971 according to the entry in Beachbum Berry Remixed (page 72).
Note that the recipe for this Mai Tai does not have the dark rum float most typically associated with Island Mai Tais. Though, I suppose, you could hold back the Dark Jamaican rum and float it.
Today, the Royal Hawaiian provides the “secret recipe” for their “Original” Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai, and it differs considerably from the older recipe provided by Beachbum Berry. Purists will note the use of Amaretto rather than Orgeat, and a mere 1½ ounces of rum.
The photo above is the Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai sampled in 2019.
Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai (Modern Recipe) Build in shaker with ice: 1 oz Bacardi Rum 1 tsp Cherry Vanilla Puree ½ oz Amaretto di Saronno ½ oz Cointreau 1 oz Fresh Govinda Orange Juice 2 oz Fresh Govinda Pineapple Juice ½ oz Whaler’s Dark Rum Float
Roll the shaker, pour in a large “bucket” glass. Float with Whaler’s Dark Rum, garnish with a parasol with cherry, pineapple and lime wedge.
Compare to the 1956 Mai Tai
Note that both recipes differ considerably from the 1956 Mai Tai recipe that Trader Vic provided to a patron of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. That recipe is much closer to a traditional 1944 Mai Tai, though it is possible that in 1956 that the Mai Tais in Hawaii were still made without Pineapple and Orange juices.
I visited 52 different tiki bars in 2019, so when I tell you on August 15th that Banana Hut is only my 12th in 2020, it ain’t because I’ve been sitting around doing nothing on purpose. Well, actually, in a way I have.
Sadly, Eureka’s Hawaiian restaurant with a tiki theme will be closing on August 29; the owners are retiring. Glad we made it. As of today they are offering to-go food, a limited beer and canned soft drink selection, and Pina Coladas. So, I didn’t get to try what is likely California’s northern most on-menu 1944 Mai Tai.
The decor here is great, and I love the way they used the popcorn ceiling to make the cloud effect. Lots of tikis left over from Chicago’s famed Kona Kai. When we were waiting for our food, someone came in expressing interest in buying the lot. It is too bad this place is closing.
Our food was pretty good. Mrs. Mai Tai had her favorite, Macadamia Nut Mahi Mahi, complete with rice, gravy, and macaroni salad. I had a teriyaki chicken sandwich and spam musubi. Good Hawaiian food. I bought a menu as a memento.
A sad reminder; visit tiki bars when you have the chance.
This is from our oceanfront balcony in Crescent City. The resort here has a working bar so first time on the trip up the coast we are having real cocktails. These are a special here at the resort and are pretty good for what they are.
I love these signs prepared by Dave Hansen of Lake Tiki Woodcrafts. Hand-carved and hand-painted. They look amazing.
These pay tribute to my two favorite Tiki Bars, Trader Vic’s in Emeryville and The Kon-Tiki in Oakland. Not too far away from home here in Fremont, and thankfully both are still open serving excellent take out food and cocktails.
The Island of Hawaii (“the Big Island”) is a great destination for Mai Tai fans, being the home of the last remaining Don the Beachcomber location, as well as the yearly Mai Tai Festival. This is not intended to provide an exhaustive review of every Mai Tai on the island, since you can get a Mai Tai in nearly any restaurant and every bar, but we do want to highlight some key destinations.
Today is the 5th Birthday of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Walt Disney World, though sadly there won’t be any on-site celebrations. Nonetheless, Trader Sam’s is one of Florida’s notable tiki bars, and arguably the most fun.
To celebrate, we’re launching a new Tiki Travels page covering the tiki bars of Florida. These range from the prototypical “Florida Tiki Bar” all the way to the famed Mai-Kai Restaurant, arguably the best tiki bar in the world.
We’ve added a new page to the Search for the Ultimate Mai Tai website: Tiki Travels – Central California.
We’re calling this list of Tiki Destinations “Central California” mostly to group them apart from their Bay Area and Los Angeles counterparts. These locations are in smaller cities and often have a local and less urban orientation. Nonetheless, there are some interesting and unique tiki destinations in the middle of the state.