2023 Hawai’i Trip Mai Tai Recap

Someone commented about all the Mai Tais from our recent trip to Hawai’i and asked which was my favorite.

The Banyan Mai Tai at the Skull & Crown Trading Co. pop up at Don’s Treehouse at the International Market Place was by far my favorite. This one really hit all the right notes and was complex and so full of flavor. It also features three outstanding rums, all of which are amongst my favorites: Appleton Estate 12 Jamaica rum, Kō Hana Kea Hawaiian agricole rum, and Smith & Cross Jamaica rum.

Others that were top-tier included Heyday, Skull & Crown’s Maunakea Mai Tai, Hau Tree Lanai, and the Halekulani House without a Key. For those with pineapple, I liked Duke’s ’44 and the Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai best.

Only one I wouldn’t recommend was the Royal Hawaiian’s $40 Ali’i Mai Tai. Not that good period, much less for a premium price.

Cocktails and Hula Pie at Duke’s Waikiki

We had a little free time after the Tiki in Waikiki cocktail competition and went to Duke’s Waikiki for drinks. We enjoy this restaurant but it is always really crowded and hard to get in without a reservation. But the bar is open seating and we were lucky that server at the bar let us sit at a table that technically wasn’t open. Our service was very prompt and he was super friendly, too.

The very good Duke’s Vintage ’44 Mai Tai is made with Koloa rums from Kauai, lime, and a splash of fresh pineapple. I don’t mind a little bit of pineapple juice in a Mai Tai, though of course it really shouldn’t be called a ’44 if there’s pineapple in there. Nevertheless, this was the right balance and I thought this Mai Tai was pretty good. Definitely different than the traditional Duke’s Mai Tai made with POG juice.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Mai Tai had the pretty and sweet Lava Flow. Nothing fancy but this is the kind of drink she loves.

We couldn’t leave Duke’s without some Hula Pie. There’s something about a Hula Pie in Hawai’i that makes it taste better than one you have from a restaurant in California. Maybe it is how it melts just a little faster, but boy it was fab.

Afterwards, we wandered out to the for some photos and great views of the beach and Diamond Head.

Return to the Tipsy Tiki at International Market Place

Tipsy Tiki is the bar located in the food court at the International Market Place, previously known as Myna Bird. When we visited last year we appreciated that while this location was connected to the nearby La Pina Cantina there was also a separate list of tropical drinks under the Tipsy Tiki moniker. We enjoyed the Hawaiian-style Tipsy Tiki Mai Tai made by the bartender last year.

This year the Tipsy Tiki-specific menu has gone away, so when you ask for a cocktail menu it’s a Margarita-heavy menu for La Pina. There isn’t even a Mai Tai on the menu, which seems shocking given the still-present Tipsy Tiki signage.

Nonetheless, I’m pleased to report that my friendly bartender was easily able to make a Mai Tai and even went to extra effort to procure an orchid for garnish. It was an entirely serviceable Mai Tai that tasted just fine.

While a food court tiki bar doesn’t really scratch the itch of the hardcore tikiphile, there are far worse “tiki” experiences in Waikiki than this one (hello Cuckoo Coconuts!). I like the tiki touches here and did find the service to be very good. Plus my 11:00 am Mai Tai wasn’t half bad.

Heyday at White Sands Hotel

The White Sands Hotel was the host hotel for the Tiki in Waikiki weekend event, a refurbished historical hotel with plenty of midcentury design goodness. We chose not to stay there because we wanted someplace more modern and larger, but we spent plenty of time there. We thank Mike and Holly for hosting a fun room party with great drinks on the Friday evening as well as during the Saturday pool party.

Heyday is a round bar in the middle of the White Sands grounds, adjacent to the pool. Food is available after 3:00. A notable feature are the swings that serve as barstools for most of the circumference of the bar. They look great, but are practically not as fun as you’d think – and they make it hard to get to your drinks. They have a good selection of spirits and had a special on Real McCoy 12. The bar has a varied menu with some inspired recipes. The common use of free-pouring most of the ingredients means this isn’t quite as “craft” as maybe they aspire to, though both Mai Tais I had here were well-balanced.

the backside of Heyday

The Mai’i Tai is a riff featuring tea-infused rum, aged Kō Hana Hawaiian rum, orange and lime juice, and orgeat. This didn’t blow me away but I thought it was worthwhile and nicely leaned a little light which seemed to hit the spot around the pool. And there was plenty of booze, too.

The 1944 Mai Tai features aged Jamaican rum, Hawaiian rum, and Martinique agricole, plus Dry Curacao, orgeat, and lime. This is a formidable Mai Tai with a great blend of rums, worth seeking out the next time you’re in Waikiki. Heyday also offers a Beachside Mai Tai with pineapple juice and a Cool Kid Mai Tai featuring Campari.

White Sands has another bar with a camouflaged entrance called the Green Lady Cocktail Room. “Ask for Room 8.” We poked our head in and this small space was packed and had a cool vibe inside. Hard to beat the relaxed ambiance of the poolside bar Heyday, though.

Hanging at Heyday with Bob and Ashley

Hau Tree Lanai Brunch at Kaimana Beach Hotel

Years ago I visited the Kaimana Hotel located in the shadow of Diamond Head. Those visits were to see lunchtime solo performances by the legendary Arthur Lyman. He’d roll in, plug in the vibraphone and then play for a couple hours. Always the gentleman, Lyman would play his famous songs such as “Taboo” and “Yellow Bird” before asking for requests for those in attendance. It was such a pleasure to see Lyman play before his passing.

For this year’s O’ahu trip I wanted to return to the Kaimana hotel, so we jetted over for brunch at the Hau Tree Lanai. This is a wonderful location in the morning, since the patio is situated in shade and we were just feet away from the lapping waves. We were seated right next to the Hau Tree itself.

Brunch was fantastic, led by some Ube Cinnamon Buns that were to die for. Mrs. Mai Tai had a Mango Mimosa and I tried the Mai Tai that I remembered as being better than average from my visits years ago. The 1944 Mai Tai is made with Appleton and Kuleana rums, but I found this to be a little flat. Not really bad, but it didn’t hit me like I expected. As noted in a previous post I same reaction at some other places so it might have just been me.

As we ate, we noticed part of the beach being closed off but we couldn’t see exactly why. When we finished we walked out onto the beach to see a Hawaiian Monk Seal taking a siesta on the beach. Nice to see the folks keeping everyone away from the seal.

We really enjoyed our visit to the Hau Tree Lanai, a place we find very special. It’s pretty far off from the main drag of Waikiki but we felt the travel was totally worth it.

Skull & Crown Trading Co. – Hawaii’s Best Tiki Bar

During the Tiki in Waikiki weekend we visited Skull & Crown Trading Co. a couple times, including one visit with the standard service and one that was connected to the event’s Sunday luau featuring food stations and multiple cocktail bars.

We enjoy our visits and the excellent cocktails at Skull & Crown. The numerous historical items including several vintage tikis means this feels like a business that’s been in Honolulu’s Chinatown for a hundred years and somehow survived. We didn’t love the Moose and Deer head mounts since they didn’t really fit the theme, though we were told they would be going away. Service is always a strength here, and was again for us on both visits.

Our first visit this trip took place the night when we arrived and we were feeling the jetlag by the evening (or perhaps the day’s earlier cocktails). I ordered the Maunakea Mai Tai which is Skull & Crown’s traditional 1944-style Mai Tai, but the flavors weren’t as bold and complex as I remembered. This was the same reaction I had for a couple Mai Tais the earlier that day and the day after, so it might have just me that day. I normally find this Mai Tai with Appleton Estate 12, Clement Select Barrel, and Smith & Cross to be fantastic.

A couple nights later I tried the Firecracker, made with Tanduay Especia Spiced Rum, Select Aperitif, Fresh Tangerine, Peach, Li Hing, Chili Pepper Tincture, Lemon, and Orgeat. I asked for the chili pepper to be dialed down since I am sensitive and it tasted just fine for me. I liked this cocktail. The Poe Poe we tried at the luau event featured Kō Hana Kea, Ube Syrup, Coconut, and Lemon. This pretty purple cocktail was not as heavy as something like Pina Colada or Painkiller, which might be a plus or minus depending on the customer. I thought it was pretty good.

Skull & Crown is a gem of a cocktail bar and is a must-visit for any tikiphile or craft cocktail aficionado.

House without a Key at Halekulani Hotel Waikiki

We wanted to revisit House without a Key, having been able to score walk-up seats the pool bar on our last trip but wanting to sit closer to the performances that start at 5:00. Our reservation was for 5:30 and we saw that “drinks only” guests were seated up front in the sun and many used the provided umbrellas to shade themselves. When we were seated for dinner, we opted to sit in the shade under covering.

The performers sing a variety of Hawaiian songs and at 6:00 a former Miss Hawaii comes out to dance. This is a very nice and relaxing locale and once you’re in shade a little is quite pleasant, so consider a slightly later reservation.

I ordered the Mai Tai, made to a 50s style Hawaiian Mai Tai spec (no pineapple) but with a dark rum float. I normally love these but found it to be flat this visit, and they’re probably still not using Lemon Hart 151 for the float, a rum that I think is essentially for adding a lot of flavor. It most definitely not Bacardi 151 per the menu, since Bacardi stopped making that years ago and for sure the float had more of a smoky flavor (I’m guessing it was Myers’s). We enjoyed the rest of our dinner and desert with the Halekulani’s famous coconut cake.