Kon-Tiki Enters Revised Top 10 Mai Tai List

Perhaps no destination demonstrates the search for the ultimate Mai Tai better than The Kon-Tiki in Oakland. Their Mai Tai has always been good, but self-described constant R&D means their 2022 Mai Tai has leapfrogged into the top 10, replacing sister bar The Kon-Tiki Room.

This sweet and savory cocktail uses Super Jugoso Orgeat, rum-based orange shrubb, and a blend of rums from Guyana, Martinique, and Jamaica. The house Mai Tai is excellent at Kon-Tiki, or try one with their special Kon-Tiki Single Barrel Rum from Worthy Park.

Kon-Tiki is also the place where where a customized Mai Tai was the best we’ve ever had.

Here are the top 10 Mai Tais that you can have right now.

  • Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29
  • Dr. Funk
  • Hale Pele
  • Halekulani Hotel
  • The Kon-Tiki Oakland
  • Rumba
  • Maunakea Mai Tai at Skull & Crown Trading Co.
  • Smuggler’s Cove
  • San Francisco Mai Tai at Trader Vic’s Emeryville
  • Undertow

Mrs Mai Tai and I are going to New York City at the end of the month and expect to visit Sunken Harbor Club, home of Garret Richard’s famed Mai Tai. A possible new entry in this list, so stay tuned.

World’s Best Dive Bar Mai Tai

Friday night found me in El Cerrito at one of their noteworthy dive bars, The Little Hill Lounge. The lounge was recently reopened after being purchased by Matt and Christ of The Kon-Tiki and Palmetto fame.

So many old school touches in this place that looks like it was transported from 1985. Only the modern point of sale system and reliance on holding credit cards for customer tabs would give a time traveler any clue it was 2022. There weren’t even many people using their smartphones.

The atmosphere was raucous but friendly. The group of middle-aged ladies in the booth behind me were doing a whole lot of hooting and hollering. Music was all 1980s-era deeper cut hard rock (Billy Squier/Deep Purple not Bon Jovi/Guns n’ Roses) with some Beastie Boys and Black Sabbath thrown in to spice things up. In fact, when “Paranoid” came on I got to see not one but multiple dudes grooving and air drumming (I can neither confirm nor deny that I was one of said dudes). There’s a vintage CD jukebox inside but is currently out of order.

As the PBR sign outside indicates, this is obviously a beer place with a number of craft beers on tap and a variety of beers in bottles/cans. Yet, the cocktail menu demonstrated that Little Hill Lounge is not your average dive bar. Aside from the Prickly Pear Margarita and house-made Sangria, there at the top of the list is the Little Hill Mai Tai. This may have had something to do with my visit.

It is incredible to drink a 1944 Mai Tai in a bar with wood paneling and Olympia Beer signs all over the place. Yet, something tells me that the Mai Tai I would have ordered in in 1985 would have tasted different. Yes, friends, the cocktail is pretty good at Little Hill Lounge and possibly the world’s best dive bar Mai Tai.

Now, my honest feedback is that leans a little far in the Agricole direction given the clientele. Or maybe boost the orgeat a bit. For a second round I ordered a Wisconsin Old Fashioned that was very well prepared and tasted fantastic. Service was great here.

Best Tropical Cocktail and Food Combo at The Kon-Tiki in Oakland

Landed at The Kon-Tiki in Oakland for my favorite combo meal: The Kon-Tiki Mai Tai and a single patty Kon-Tiki Burger. Pound for pound the best cocktail and food combo you’ll find at any tiki bar. I call it the Ultimate Mai Tai Special.

The Mai Tai – funky with rums from Guyana, Martinique, and Jamaica. And the best cheeseburger I’ve ever had. Still going strong after five years.

There’s been some redecorating of the name plagues of the people who’ve completed the Kon-Tiki Expedition Rum List (see if you can spot mine). Thank you to the Kon-Tiki staff for keeping the flame alive.

Wasn’t overly crowded before six and still always a cool vibe inside. The upbeat 70s vintage tunes included some deep cut Parliament songs that were fantastic. Fine for Friday.

The Kon-Tiki Expedition Rum Explorers


Historic John’s Grill in San Francisco

John’s Grill is one of our go-to places in the City, located downtown where we usually park and also because we like the atmosphere and food and cocktails. We totally enjoyed our dinner on Saturday. The place was pretty full but we were able to easily get a reservation earlier that same day.

There aren’t 63 cocktails on their menu but we did enjoy the Gimlet and the Cosmo.

Trying it Once at Dr. Funk

Landed again at Dr. Funk to try more cocktails from the refreshed menu.

Phoenix Rising – mezcal, rum, Aperol, pineapple, lime, coconut cream, cinnamon, serrano tincture. Plus, fire. This is a pretty good cocktail, but too spicy for me. Probably from the serrano – but honestly mezcal isn’t really my bag either. One and done, I guess. Your mileage may vary.

Missionary’s Downfall – white rum, peach liqueur, lime, pineapple, and mint. The original Don the Beachcomber version was blended, a format I’ve struggled with at home. This way may not be as frothy and rich on the tongue, but all the flavors are there. It’s a big plus that they use Probitas Rum, a blend of Foursquare rum from Barbados along with some Jamaican rum from Hampden. Really helpful to stand up to the other ingredients in this tropical cocktail that has plenty of mint.

Note that there’s going to be World Cup Viewing Parties out in San Pedro Square from November 20 – December 18. So, I’d expect a lot of folks to be out cheering for their favorite team. But, thankfully, Dr. Funk doesn’t have any TVs inside so if you’re looking for a tropical escape you still have this option.

Happy 1st Anniversary Wilfred’s Lounge

Getting married on a holiday ain’t bad when you both have the day off from work and can head up to Napa for an Anniversary lunch at Wilfred’s Lounge. Happy Anniversary @juliebeane.

We had a great time at Wilfred’s. We appreciated the hospitality of the anniversary champagne, appropriate since Wilfred’s is celebrating their 1st anniversary today too.

Lunch was fab. We split the salmon rangoon, salmon entree and pineapple fried rice, really great. And I enjoyed the spam musubi. The Ono Pie is not to be missed.

Cocktails are still on point. The Maximum Aloha remains Mrs Mai Tai’s favorite, a tart cocktail that can be sweetened with the banana whip cream. I tried the new Manta Ray cocktail that is a light blend of gin, rum, and wonderful flavors.

Cheers to @doc_parks and the team at Wilfred’s. Such a cool vibe inside, with friendly service and cool surf tunes playing inside.

Saul’s Own Punch at Trader Vic’s

Had a great time on Sunday for the Holiday Bazaar and Brunch at Trader Vic’s Emeryville. So many great vendors, and we bought from several. There were two rooms of vendors and it seemed like business was booming. The mug release for the Tiki Diablo mug seemed to be pretty successful, though we didn’t partake.

For brunch I tried the monthly special cocktail, Saul’s Own Punch. An original cocktail from Vic’s longtime bartender, featuring Red Wine, Citrus, Honey, Passionfruit, and Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum. Longtime readers know I’m not big into wine but this was just the right amount for a rum-soaked Sangria. The Kulua Pork Hash was pretty amazing, too.

Service was pretty good at Vic’s, especially considering it was a packed house. We were seated by DJ Otto who provided a varied mix of retro and retro-inspired tunes. And we got to sit by the window on a picturesque afternoon in Emeryville. Good times at Trader Vic’s.

Classic Cocktails Done Well by Faith Hingey

There’s no doubt that Faith Hingey‘s Instagram account @barfaith introduced me to a number of cocktail concepts and recipes when I started to deep dive into cocktails, but her posts the last couple years have been less frequent. Well, it turns out Faith has been working on a book. Classic Cocktails Done Well: Tried-and-True Recipes for the Home Bartender is out now with a modestly priced hardcover format, as well as an eBook version.

I really appreciate the layout of the book into spirits-focused sections, starting with Gin and then Whiskey, Brandy, Rum, and Other Spirits. Faith includes recipe adjustments and other tips for many of the recipes, so this is more than just a list of recipes and photos. There’s also an excellent index in the back, breaking down the cocktails into use cases by occasion (brunch, date night). And a crisp section up front with commentary about spirits and other ingredients, equipment, and techniques. Where other cocktails books can be quite prescriptive about equipment such as shakers, you’ll find no judgment here. The focus is on the home bartender.

The commentary and suggestions are truly helpful, and include key tips and helpful reminders about these classic cocktails. The selection of classic cocktails seems to be pretty good in my estimation, though I don’t consider myself an expert. Pictured is the Junior cocktail with Rye, Lime, Benedictine, and Bitters. Boozy but delicious.

But, there is an elephant in the room that we’d be remiss in addressing here at UMT HQ. This is a book of classic cocktails and for the rum section it is hard to argue that the Mai Tai doesn’t belong along with the Daiquiri and Mojito as an all-time favorite. But the Mai Tai isn’t included in the book because of the exclusion of cocktails with “specialty ingredients that may be less accessible or versatile for regular use across a wide variety of drinks,” meaning orgeat I presume.

I think the criteria is reasonable and orgeat is most certainly not an everyday kitchen ingredient. That said, I find it hard to believe the average home cocktail hobbyist would find orgeat harder to find than some included liqueurs and spirts such as Benedictine and Yellow Chartreuse. But, we do acknowledge that orgeat isn’t really in any other (non-tropical) classic aside from the Japanese Cocktail. Maybe we can hope for a sequel focusing on tropical cocktails, a category that I know Faith is particularly fond of.

If you’re looking for a stocking stuffer for the next budding home bartender, Classic Cocktails Done Well is made to order and perfectly balanced.


Ultimate Kuleana Rum Mai Tai

We worked hard at Ultimate Mai Tai Headquarters to come up with a great Mai Tai using Kuleana’s rum expressions. With four Kuleana rums to work with it was difficult to hone in on the right formula, but after exhaustive testing this one really stuck the landing. The cocktail has complex and fruity flavors that will remind you of the islands, but still remaining true to the original Mai Tai formula.

I wanted to use at least two Kuleana rums, especially their Hawaiian Rum Agricole that I find delightful. But that rum has such as unique taste it can overpower other rums, even Kuleana’s premium aged expression Hōkūlei. So we dialed the Rum Agricole back and added Kuleana’s lightly aged rum, Nanea.

To give the cocktail a tropical twist, we replaced the ¼ oz of rock candy syrup with liliko’i/passionfruit syrup. Because sometimes you want the flavor but not the foam.

Ultimate Kuleana Rum Mai Tai by Kevin Crossman
1 oz Lime Juice
¼ oz Passionfruit Syrup
½ oz Orgeat
½ oz Orange Curacao
½ oz Kuleana Hawaiian Agricole Rum
½ oz Kuleana Nanea Rum
1 oz Kuleana Hōkūlei Rum
Shake with crushed ice and garnish with pineapple and cherry

Products used: Small Hand Foods Passionfruit Syrup, Latitude 29 Orgeat, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao.

If you have these rums, give this recipe and try and drop a comment with your impressions.

Interestingly, these same rums are used in the Kuleana Mai Tai at Kuleana Rum Shack. Wonder what the proportions are, and what’s in Kuleana’s “secret mix” in that Mai Tai. Hmmmmm.

The bottles were provided by Kuleana but this is not a sponsored post.

Tiki With Ray Episode 142: Can The Mai Tai Evolve Again?

It’s always a pleasure talk with Tiki with Ray off or on camera. This conversation was on camera for Ray’s YouTube show, and he asked me the provocative question – can the Mai Tai evolve again?

The Mai Tai evolved around a decade after it arrived in Hawai’i, so it seems like a possibility that it could evolve again? Ray put out some theories and I reacted with some opinions. Be sure to check out the video on YouTube.

The episode was filmed at Tiki Tom’s. Be sure check out Ray’s interview episode with Tiki Tom’s owner Darrin DeRita from a couple weeks ago.