My Official Mai Tai Number is 34 Mai Tais consumed in the State of Hawaii on my 11 day trip.
We had three correct guesses in the Mai Tai Contest (I should have considered a tiebreaker). Congrats to the winners: @we.shall.tiki, @farbrorfuzz, and @wishiwastraveling84. I’ll be sending out a prize package with coasters, cocktail napkins, and stickers (bummed nobody seems to be giving out swizzle sticks or matchbooks anymore).
You can see the chart with the plot of all the guesses. Thanks again to everyone for playing along.
Oahu: 19, Kauai: 14, Hawaiian air space: 1 23 different venues, some who served more than one type of Mai Tai, and others where I consumed more than one 1944 Style: 13, Island Style: 15, Original Riffs: 2, RTD: 4
1. Aulani (Island style) 2. Monkeypod Mai Tai (Island style) 3. Splash Bar at Sheraton Princess Kaiulani (Island style) 4. Tipsy Tiki (Island style) 5. Tiki’s Grill and Bar (1944 style) 6. Deck (1944 style) 7. Mai Tai’s (1944 style) 8. Dagger Mai Tai at Skull & Crown (Original riff) 9. Maunakea Mai Tai at Skull & Crown (1944 style) 10. Vic’s ’44 at Mai Tai Bar (1944 style) 11. Casa Crista (1944 style) 12. ‘Awa’Awa Mai Tai at Skull & Crown (Original riff) 13. Halekulani (1944 style) 14. Halekulani (1944 style) 15. Trader Vic’s Bottled (RTD) 16. Koloa Bottled (RTD) 17. Arnold’s Beach Bar (Island style) 18. Arnold’s Beach Bar (Island style) 19. Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai (Island style) 20. Hawaiian Airlines / On the Rocks (RTD) 21. Bamboocha Mai Tai at Lava Lava Beach Club (Island style) 22. Hilton Garden (Island style)nn Welcome Mai Tai at Mamahune’s (Island style) 23. Trader Vic’s Mai Tai at Mamahune’s (1944 style) 24. Koloa Tasting Room (RTD) 25. Welcome Mai Tai at Mamahune’s (Island style) 26. Vic’s Top Shelf at Tiki (Island style)nikii (1944 style) 27. Vic’s Top Shelf with Denizen and heavy Orgeat at Tiki (Island style)niki (1944 style) 28. Tahiti Nui (Island style) 29. Welcome Mai Tai at Mamahune’s (Island style) 30. Trader Vic’s Mai Tai at Mamahune’s (1944 style) 31. Kalapika Mai Tai at Duke’s Kauai (Island style) 32. Classic Mai Tai at Oasis at the Beach (1944 style) 33. Welcome Mai Tai at Mamahune’s (Island style) 34. Stinger Ray’s Tiki Bar & Lounge (Island style)
Swung by the Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian and managed to grab the best seat in the house and maybe the entire beach. Ground zero for the Hawaiian Mai Tai, when Trader Vic included the cocktail on the menu in 1953. That original ‘53 was pretty close to the ‘44 and needless to say today’s RH Mai Tai is quite different. But I must say I really liked the taste, much better than the Vic’s ‘44 we had earlier in the trip. The sweet blend of flavors worked for me on this visit. And you can’t beat the view of Diamond Head.
We ended up having dinner here, including the pancakes that were perfect. Service was pretty good too, though I’m sure the waitress was simply happy to deliver one or two drinks at a time compared to the typical table full of drinks.
The Royal Hawaiian is such a charming hotel, with a few cute stores and little passageways. And somehow insulated from the hustle of nearby Kalakaua Ave.
The Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Recipe
Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai (Classic Recipe from 1972) 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.
Today, the Royal Hawaiian provides the “secret recipe” for their “Original” Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai, and it differs considerably from the older recipe originally published in Drinks of Hawaii. Purists will note the use of Amaretto rather than Orgeat, and a mere 1½ ounces of rum.
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.
Learn more the Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai’s Evolution
The original Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai was very different from the two recipes shown above. Learn more about how this classic cocktail evolved.
Arnold’s Beach Bar is an under-looked gem of a bar in Waikiki. We were impressed on a previous visit and can confirm they’re still doing well.
The Mai Tai isn’t craft but at only $10 is really great. The ingredients are Calypso Virgin Islands White rum, Triple Sec, Amaretto, a splash of OJ and Pineapple, and a float of Dark Rum. A good shake means this Mai Tai is mixed well and chilled, better than many Mai Tais I’ve had this trip.
This is by far the best dive bar in Waikiki, with a friendly bartender and cheap booze. Plus some nice tiki decor. I enjoyed the visit and had two rounds.
The House without a Key was booked but we eventually figured out there is an adjacent pool bar that serves the full menu and even had a great view of the performance stage.
Our salads were good but expensive. A much better value was the Halekulani’s famous Coconut Cake. So light, with a cream frosting that I loved. Don’t skip it if you come.
The Mai Tai was good, not great (didn’t stop me from having two, though). The mix is batched and placed into glasses where they are procured when ordered and ice is added, then the dark rum float. No shaking or stirring, which makes the first sips less than satisfying. A little self stir rectified things.
According to the Halekulani’s published recipe, the float is supposed to be Lemon Hart 151, but we only saw Myers’s being used. Not a terrible choice but for sure lacking the requisite oomph we previously found to be this cocktail’s most important ingredient.
Nonetheless you’d be hard pressed to find a better Mai Tai in Waikiki. We continue to recommend this.
We popped over to the Mai Tai Bar for a drink. Wish the 1944 Mai Tai was better, but sadly it was sour and thin. Mrs Mai Tai had a better time with her Pink Palace, which is a Pina Colada with grenadine to add the pink color reminiscent of the Royal Hawaiian’s pink color.
We have to thank Christa for the tip on Deck, a restaurant and bar located at the far end of Waikiki on the 3rd floor pool deck at the Queen Kapiʻolani Hotel. This was around the corner from Tiki’s and proved to be an elevated cocktail experience.
The Mai Tai is a ’44 made with three rums from local favorites KōHana. This superior Mai Tai allowed the rum blend to shine brightly and lets you savor the unique taste of these Hawaiian Agricole rums. Really great.
Mrs. Mai Tai ordered the R&R, which is a Gin cordial with raspberry and thyme, topped with soda. Quite interesting and refreshing. We also tried their Basque Cheesecake which was just right for desert, and quite good.
Our service at Deck was great, and we appreciate the host who sat us in quieter portion of the restaurant rather than at the bar where there was a lot of hooting and hollering. Quite a nice place to relax, and during daylight hours there’s a fabulous view of Diamond Head.
We missed this family-style tiki restaurant on our last trip so we ventured over for dinner just past sunset. Tiki’s is a very large restaurant with a large interior space that is mostly closed for refurbishment, along with a very large patio. We were seated right away and enjoyed some live music playing and some second floor views of Waikiki beach. Our service was very good.
Our food was moderately priced and a good value for the quality and portion. Less kind things can be said about the “1944 Mai Tai” which is served with a heaping portion of passion fruit foam, along with tourist-friendly Cruzan Light rum and Bacardi Dark rum. Far too sweet, even without any pineapple or orange juice. A plus of sort is that you can keep the plastic glass.
The interior portion that is visible is very nicely decorated with a lava rock and red paint theme that I think looks great. Lots of Shag artwork and other nods to Hawaiian and tiki culture. So, not bad at all.
This is the former Myna Bird Tiki Bar location in the food court at the International Marketplace. There was an ownership change for the food court and this bar was rebranded as being part of the La Pina Cantina next door. So I was surprised to see a new name here and also a new menu.
And, friends, I’m here to tell you that Tipsy Tiki is fantastic. Our bartender Lee told us his Mai Tai is made from fresh ingredients and while I’m no Island Mai Tai fanatic, this one was pretty great. One of the best I’ve ever had. Mahalo Lee!
Mrs Mai Tai had the Cool n Fresh with Tequila, lavender syrup, cucumber syrup, lime, and coconut water and it was really amazing. We will return to try more of the menu.
This venue may not scratch the itch for the hardcore tikiphile, but I’m always ready to welcome a new tiki place when the cocktails are outstanding. Check it out in Waikiki!
Why two copies? For very important reasons we’ll get to.
I’ve been doing some research on the evolution of the Hawaiian Mai Tai. Contrary to popular belief, the Mai Tai did not land on the shores of O’ahu and have pineapple juice added immediately. In fact, it took into the 1960s before pineapple juice was commonly seen in published recipes. But the Mai Tai that became the “top tourist tantalizer” (as described in Honolulu newspapers) was not quite the 1944 recipe either. It more clearly resembled the recipe we covered on UltimateMaiTai.com as the 1956 Mai Tai, made with light rum as well as Jamaican rum.
When did the pineapple juice get added? We started to see this in published recipes starting in the early 1960s. The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, where the Trader Vic introduced the Mai Tai to Hawai’i, seemed to not switch over to this style until quite late – the early 1970s.
We thank Jeff “Beachbum” Berry for the reference, the recipe book Drinks of Hawaii by Paul B. Dick, originally published in 1971. Except that the 1971 edition features two Mai Tai recipes and neither is from the Royal Hawaiian.
The first Mai Tai is the “authentic unadulterated copy of the original recipe” which is: 1 oz Light Puerto Rican Rum 1 oz Dark Jamaican Rum ½ oz Orange Curacao ½ oz Orgeat ½ oz Simple Syrup Juice of ½ Lemon and ¼ Lime
The second recipe in the 1971 edition comes from the iconic Ilikai Hotel: The Ili Tai 1 oz “Appleton Punch” Jamaican Rum 1 oz Dark Puerto Rican Rum ¾ oz Orange Curacao ¾ oz Orgeat 1 oz Sweet & Sour 2 oz Pineapple Juice ¼ Lime
Appleton Punch rum was the successor to the Dagger line and was a dark Jamaican rum at 43% ABV.
Second Edition is the Holy Grail of the Modern Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Recipe
The elusive Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai didn’t appear in the first edition of the recipe book Drinks of Hawaii, so we sought out the 2nd edition published a year later in 1972.
As with the first edition, there are two Mai Tai recipes starting with the “authentic unadulterated copy of the original recipe” shown above.
The second recipe in the 1972 edition features the Mai Tai at the Surf Room at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. This is the recipe that Beachbum Berry included in several of his books and the Total Tiki App and the first documented use of pineapple juice in the Mai Tai at the Royal Hawaiian that I could find.
Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai (1972) 1 oz Light Rum 1 oz Dark Rum 1 oz Demerara 86 Rum ¼ oz Orange Curacao Dash* Orgeat Dash* Rock Candy Juice of ½ Lime ¼ oz Lemon Juice Equal Parts Pineapple Juice and Orange Juice
* Dash in this context is equivalent to ¼ oz.
How much Pineapple Juice and Orange Juice? It doesn’t say (Beachbum Berry suggested 1 oz each). This is a very different Mai Tai with darker and more flavorful rums, to balance all the added juices. This style of Mai Tai isn’t my favorite, but they’re certainly popular on the islands.
Drinks of Hawaii is an interesting book. There are some classic Don the Beachcomber recipes including the Pearl Diver and Navy Grog, but also 70s favorites like the Harvey Wallbanger and Margarita. Era-specific cartoons are by Honolulu political cartoonist Harry Lyons.
Look for my article on the evolution of the Hawaiian Mai Tai in the next issue of Exotica Moderne (and contemporaneously at UltimateMaiTai.com) in May.