Top 10 Mai Tais of 2024 (so far)

It’s June 30, which is halfway through the year so this is a great time to review our list of the best Mai Tais we’ve had at commercial or home tiki bars so far this year.

Note that many of these feature custom rum orders compared to the standard-issue at these locations. Sometimes you want a Mai Tai with a special rum, and if you ask nicely the bartender will typically be able to accommodate the request. This can often lead to an excellent cocktail.

10. Mister, Might I… by Doc Parks at The Kon-Tiki
Besides being a great Mai Tai, this was served with a side of pineapple juice that allows the customer to decide what to do with it. Some might incorporate it into the cocktail, but I took it as a chaser.

9. My Tie, Youse Tai
Served at the home tiki bar of Stephan Curran, this elegant cocktail used premium aged rums from Jamaica: Appleton 15 and Appleton 21. I felt like a celebrity drinking this amazing upscale Mai Tai.

8. Stray Pirate
The standard-issue Mai Tai at Vegas’ newest immersive bar is really great and uses Jamaican and Martinique rums.

7. Matiki
I was totally blown away by this outstanding Mai Tai at Vienna’s modern tiki bar. It uses Rhum Saint James Agricole along with Appleton 12 and Smith & Cross Jamaica rums.

6. The Beachcomber
Fans of Rhum Agricole know The Beachcomber is the place to be in London. Their off-menu Mai Tai is savory and sweet and just as good this year as it was last year.

5. Strong Water Anaheim
The strong cocktail program at Strong Water means that their standard Mai Tai is really great, using Demerara Rum and Jamaica Rum.

4. Dr Funk ($8 MTM)
The quality control problems in this San Jose tiki bar seem to be addressed with their formidable Mai Tai back on track. This one was only $8 for Mai Tai Monday and still uses Appleton 12 and Smith & Cross. So good.

3. Trader Sam’s 1944 w/Smith & Cross by Maddie
Skipper Maddie killed it with some off menu cocktails and her presentation for a classic Mai Tai nailed the look and the taste. Amazing.

2. Kon-Tiki with Hamilton Pot Still Blonde
When tasting rums at The Kon-Tiki I’ll often have them in a Mai Tai. I’m such a fan of Pot Still Blonde and the bartenders made it perfectly.

1. The Sinking Ship at Tiki-Ko with Rhum J.M Terroir Volcanique
I couldn’t believe how much I loved this Mai Tai made just with Rhum Agricole aged in heavily charred casks. The sweet orgeat rounded off the smoky edges from the rhum and it was heavenly.

Runners up:
11. Mai Tai with Appleton 15 at Rumpus Tiki Budapest
12. Trader Vics’s Emeryville
13. Zombie Village with Saint Benevolence Rum Clairin
14. Lost Inferno
15. The Fink
16. Trader Vic’s San Jose Airport
17. Trailer Happiness
18. Equiano Rum Mai Tai at The Shipwreck

Honorable Mentions:
Wilfred’s Lounge, Our Big Luauski, Trader Vic’s Munich, The Formosa Cafe, Red Dwarf, Hula Hoops (Lilikoi Tai), Golden Tiki

Matiki Vienna Has Amazing Craft Cocktails

The charming Spittelberg neighborhood is the home of Matiki, a modern tiki bar that has truly outstanding cocktails. We visited early on a Friday and passed the outdoor seating to decide to sit inside. There are some sparse tiki displays inside plus windows, so this isn’t a dark tiki bar. Nonetheless we enjoyed our visit thanks to the service and craft cocktails.

Tutti Flirty

Every tiki bar decides to emphasize specific things, and Matiki’s is the cocktails. Some really interesting menu items here, including a section of highballs, and each tiki drink comes in a specific mug or glass. There were a few classics and several more inspired originals including the Tutti Flirty with gin, amaro, port wine, falernum, and juices. That cocktail was garnished with a candy and a little love note where you could add your telephone to give to new friend. Mrs. Mai Tai also liked the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a with gin, orgeat, lemon, and Peychaud’s. She liked the mug so much we even bought one.

Meanwhile, I was totally blown away by Matiki’s amazing Mai Tai. Billed as having rhum agricole and Jamaica rum, I pretty much got the same Appleton 12/Smith & Cross notes I’ve had at other tiki bars – and sure enough that’s what they were using in addition to Saint James aged agricole. One of the best Mai Tais of 2024 so far. I also loved the If You Like, a petite colada variant with cream topping, and also Pu Er Sour with gin, brandy, amaretto, and Pu Er Tea syrup.

Mai Tai

Matiki had some of the highest quality and varied cocktails that we’ve had in a while. Some savory popcorn is also provided when you sit down and overall we really enjoyed the vibe inside and talking to the friendly staff who understood by my Aloha shirt that we were not there by accident. We exited and soon found a wonderful Austrian restaurant to have dinner outside in the square. This one a wonderful evening in Vienna.

The Beachcomber is a Fab Tiki Bar in London

Mrs. Mai Tai and I landed in London after a red eye from California and walked like zombies over to Queensway to The Beachcomber for dinner. We did the same thing on our visit last year, with similar results. Totally chill vibe early in the evening, with some great Thai food and better cocktails.

The food here comes from Horapha which is a Thai restaurant on the street level next door. We really liked our dinner and it’s even better in a basement tiki bar. The decor inside Beachcomber isn’t totally high tiki but for London is not bad at all and the escapist nature of the venue is really nice.

Cocktails are pretty good here. I was really impressed by the off-menu Mai Tai that has rich flavors of Rhum Agricole, the specialty of the Beachcomber, but is fantastically done and has balanced sweetness. My only gripe was that it seems a little small! Meanwhile, Mrs. Mai Tai’s Nocholada has coconut, chocolate, and hazelnut flavors that’s a really amazing desert cocktail.

The Refresher cocktail includes peach liqueur, Yellow Chartreuse, elderflower cordial, and other flavors. As the customer you can choose the spirit to use, including gin, vodka, or agave spirits. I chose Copalli white rum for Mrs. Mai Tai while I had the Clement Blanc Rhum Agricole for mine. You definitely can taste the different, though we both felt the peach was a little too forward in the balance. Nonetheless, the name is certainly that – very refreshing.

The Refresher(s)

Our service was prompt and friendly, and there’s a nice selection of spirts of the back bar that aren’t on the menu, so if you’re a Rhum fan definitely check out the selection before ordering. Music on our visit was 1970s including multiple Fleetwood Mac and Jim Croce songs. Maybe not the best music for a tiki bar, but I know that traditional exotica is tough in this market. At least it was vintage and mellow leaning, which added to the relaxing feelings inside.

The Beachcomber can be clubby later in the evening and on the weekends (like all of London’s tiki/tropical bars) but we really enjoyed the vibe in the early evening.

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 Sinking Ship Room is Bakersfield’s Amazing Basement Tiki Bar

Mrs Mai Tai and I were excited to visit The Sinking Ship Room again, the basement sister venue from the folks behind Tiki-Ko. Access is through a separate door on the street and you cannot pass from bar to bar without going outside. The hours currently are more limited for The Sinking Ship, which is a larger and more elaborately themed space than Tiki-Ko upstairs.

After our visit to Tiki-Ko earlier, we arrived at The Sinking Ship right at opening at 7 pm on a Saturday and quickly got our drinks. I ordered the standard-issue Mai Tai that was really great with a blend of Jamaican and Martinique rums and some pleasant nutty flavors from the orgeat. The mood music was in full effect and allowed us to admire all the nick nacks, tikis, and nautical decor inside. There’s a mix of tables and lounge tables, with a large booth available by reservation.

Mai Tai with Rhum J.M Terrior Volcanique

I was feeling like I wanted to try another cocktail and scanned the shelves to see if there was an interesting rum to have in a Mai Tai. I spotted a bottle of Rhum J.M Terrior Volcanique and thought this aged agricole rhum might do well. Terrior Volcanique is aged in barrels with a double char process that results in a smoky and spicy rum. I haven’t loved this rhum neat in a glass but it was absolutely fantastic in a Mai Tai even at only 43% ABV. Like really, really amazing. Easily the best so far this year and a lock for placement on the year-end Top 10 list.

The Sinking Ship Room is an amazing space that every tikiphile needs to support and visit. The outstanding and immersive decor pairs so well with the Tiki-Ko crew’s unpretentious and friendly service orientation.

Mai Tai Presentation for Three Rum Club

Had a great time yesterday for a private seminar for the Three Rum Club, a group of home tiki bar bar owners who are affiliated with Tiki Tom’s in Walnut Creek. The Three Rum Club crowd was a great audience, asked good questions, and even laughed at the punchlines.

The presentation was Appreciating Rum Through the Lens of the Mai Tai, a rum-focused seminar on how the rums in the Mai Tai changed over the years. We covered the different rum styles used by Trader Vic’s over the years, when Rhum Agricole was first used, and how rum blends have been a key component in a Mai Tai for decades.

The welcome cocktail was a special Three Rum Mai Tai that I put together and got to prepare behind the bar at Tiki Tom’s. The three rums included 1 oz of Worthy Park Estate 12 yr and ½ oz each of Worthy Park 109 and Kuleana Hawaiian Rum Agricole. The bold Jamaica rums combined well with the Hawaiian rum that imparts vegetal notes and was really delicious. We have to thank Darrin, Steffani, and the entire team at Tiki Tom’s for their assistance and always appreciated hospitality.

Thanks to Sherri for the logistical help and for the photos.

Christmas Suffering Bastard

Not the most traditional Christmas cocktail, but with the new green glaze I think the Suffering Bastard Mug is a perfect vessel. In order to prepare the cocktail we need to make some decisions about the ingredients.

The Trader Vic’s Suffering Bastard is very different from Joe Scialom’s original from the World War II era, and is basically a larger and boozier Mai Tai.

This is the recipe from Trader Vic’s 1972 Bartenders Guide Revised and from 1974’s Rum Cookery and Drinkery. Noteworthy that it specifically calls for an aged Rhum Agriole. But what’s missing? The lime, for one.

Suffering Bastard (1970s)
3 oz Trader Vic’s Mai Mix
1 oz Light Puerto Rican Rum
2 oz Rhum St. James
Shake with ice and garnish with spent lime shell, mint, fruit stick, and cucumber

The same books list the Mai Tai as using 2 oz each of Mai Tai Mix and Trader Vic’s Mai Tai rum, so we must assume the lime is incorporated into the Mai Tai mix. As for the blend of Orange Curacao and Orgeat, I thought I’d try the ratio used for the 1958 Mai Tai from the Trader Vic’s in Havana, 12 parts Curacao to 7 parts Orgeat, and make 2 oz of this mix to go with the 1 oz of lime. I don’t have any Rhum St. James but substituted Clement VSOP Rhum that’s also from Martinique. Plus Trader Vic’s Light Rum from Puerto Rico.

Christmas Suffering Bastard
1 oz Lime Juice
¾ oz Orgeat (Latitude 29)
1¼ oz Orange Curacao (Ferrand)
1 oz Trader Vic’s Light Rum
2 oz Rhum St. James (sub Clement)
Shake with ice and garnish with spent lime shell, mint, fruit stick, and cucumber (if you have one)

This was very satisfying. You certainly get a bit of that aged and grassy taste from the Clement, but it is balanced well by the subtle sweetness of the Mai Tai mix blend. The use of the light rum softens the edges of the Martinique rhum and keep this as the boozy cocktail it was meant to be.

Mele Kalikimaka