A proper modern Tiki weekender requires human interaction – from the tastes and smells of rum and craft cocktails, to the tactile hands-on experiences with artists and vendors, to the exciting dynamics of group participation in educational symposiums and enjoyment of unique entertainment. All of this came to a crashing halt – or was altered radically – one year ago by the coronavirus pandemic.
Virtual events continue to be enriching and enjoyable, and quite a few smaller gatherings have returned over the months as society slowly crawls ahead with safe, socially-distanced protocols. We’ve documented many of them on The Tiki Times, our constantly updated guide to online and real-life happenings.
One thing missing, however, was the glue that holds the scene together. The quintessential Tiki experience can happen only at multi-day weekend conventions that have become annual highlights for thousands of followers. They plan their annual calendars around them, sometimes traveling halfway around the world to attend. But most of the major events either scaled back drastically (Tiki Oasis), went totally virtual (The Hukilau), or were canceled altogether (Tiki Kon). Past coverage:Recap of 2020 events
Now, with vaccinations becoming widespread in the United States and some light visible at the end of the tunnel, it’s time to get back to basics with a good old fashioned Tiki bash. And who better to kick off the return to “normal” than Baby Doe and Otto von Stroheim, the power couple responsible for inventing the format two decades ago amid the burgeoning Tiki revival in Southern California.
While their flagship Tiki Oasis won’t return until the summer, this spring provided the perfect platform to re-launch in-person events on a large scale with last weekend’s Arizona Tiki Oasis at Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale. By all accounts, the second edition of the full festival went off without a hitch April 22-25 and was a rousing success.
It was exciting to watch, even from afar via social media, as Tiki’s movers and shakers once again gathered in appreciation of not just the thriving subculture, but also in celebration of coming out of our cocoons for real social interaction. The pent-up demand for such an event was clear and immediate: Attendees filled every room in the resort.
For the first time in more than a year, we saw author Sven Kirsten back behind the lectern for a sold-out seminar on Tiki culture (From Don to Steve to The Mai-Kai: The Enigma of the Tahitian Cannibal Carvings). Other seminar speakers included historian Mike Skinner, collector Jason T. Smith, and author CJ Cook.
There were rum and spirits tastings with local tropical oasis Hula’s Modern Tiki, plus tours of Scottsdale’s mid-century architecture and culture. Mixologist Tiki Lindy provided pro tips for home enthusiasts. Ukulele lessons, pool parties and Saturday night’s Tiki Tiki Ho-Ho Luau were other highlights. Many events were held outdoors under Arizona’s flawless spring skies, allowing maximal fun with minimal risk. The website says guests could enjoy “a wide range of resort activities while sipping tropical cocktails, wearing your festive aloha wear and snazzy masks.” It also provided a full page of health and safety protocols.
Many events have been held at The Mai-Kai during its colorful 64-year history, from star-studded Hollywood parties to multi-day conventions of Tiki culture and cocktail enthusiasts. Now, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and an unprecedented closure for repairs and refurbishment, the historic Polynesian restaurant has been forced to puts its creativity to the test.
Following a string of successful gatherings in its vast parking lot, The Mai-Kai is hosting its first-ever Tiki Marketplace this weekend, welcoming guests to a safe and fun-filled environment chock full of art and collectibles, music and fire-dancing, tasty cane spirits, and a generous spirit of ‘ohana. It’s almost as if The Mai-Kai never closed.
While marketplaces are a staple of Tiki establishments in California, they’re a new concept in stormy South Florida. But mid-April is the perfect time for such an event, a typically mild period before the rainy season and oppressive summer heat kick in. Saturday’s forecast for Fort Lauderdale calls for partly cloudy skies with highs in the upper 80s and a 20 percent chance of rain.
Fans of The Mai-Kai’s famous cocktails have even more reason to rejoice this week. As has been the custom before recent parking lot events, a window of opportunity opened for locals (or ambitious enthusiasts) to pull into the distinctive porte-cochère and take home their own ample supply of four different signature tropical drinks.
It’s now been a year since The Mai-Kai launched the ambitious “Gallons to Go” program during the height of the pandemic shutdowns in South Florida. And it remains a vital source of revenue in trying times, as well as a much appreciated treat for loyal customers, some of whom travel long distances to pick up their favorite cocktail.
And what a great deal for the price. If blended or shaken with crushed ice and served in the appropriate glassware, you can enjoy eight Rum Barrels and Black Magics, 12 Mai Tais, and 14 Jet Pilots from each 128-ounce jug. If you want to sample multiple drinks, grab some 32-ounce containers . They stay fresh in your fridge for at least a week and are impeccably mixed by manager Kern Mattei.
The second generation manager told us he’s personally batching the cocktails, closely following the classic recipes. We can confirm this, rating the Black Magic we picked up March 28 as among the best we’ve ever tasted. All four drinks (in single servings and quarts) will also be available for walk-up ordering at Saturday’s event. You can also grab a beer, wine and water. And as a special treat for the kids and teetotalers, virgin Piña Coladas will be available by the drink and quart.
There will also be plenty to nosh on and pair with your drinks. Dahlquist and The Mai-Kai have lined up three food and ice cream trucks: * M.C.K. Fusion from Mobile Culinary Kitchens serves Colombian and Latin fusion dishes including tacos, quesadillas and more. * Inspir-Asian features Chinese dishes done street-food style, such as tacos and shrimp fried rice. * Good Humor Ice Cream is a throwback treat featuring classic bars, cones and cookie sandwiches.
Vendors include exotic art, Tiki-inspired gifts, clothing, glassware and more
Two dozen artists, craftspeople, collectors and small retailers have signed up to be part of The Mai-Kai’s first Tiki Marketplace.
The Mai-Kai Trading Post will also have a vast assortment of branded merchandise and other items for sale, including clothing and glassware. Look for new T-shirts and many goodies released exclusively at the event along with favorites from the restaurant’s gift shop. Help The Mai-Kai directly with your purchase. Leftover items will be available in the online store, but many sell out during the event, so don’t miss out.
For a restaurant that has been closed since October, The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale is sure a busy place these days. In advance of this Sunday’s parking lot car show, guests are picking up quarts and gallons of classic tropical drinks. Meanwhile, vendors are being sought for the historic Polynesian palace’s first-ever outdoor Tiki marketplace, scheduled for April 17.
The Mai-Kai’s DJ Mike will also be on hand spinning tunes at this socially distanced event. Unless seated with your party, guests are required to wear masks and/or practice physical distancing at all times. Feel free to bring chairs, hang out and enjoy the show.
In preparation for the cruise-in, The Mai-Kai batched up an ample supply of four cocktails for pick-up this week, along with an exclusive rum. The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend, a special Barbados rum from the Foursquare Distillery, is available only during these limited take-out opportunities right before special events. Look for the next window to open in April.
The same four cocktails will be offered on Sunday in single servings or quarts, along with beer, wine and water. Guests can pair their drinks with gourmet street food from the M.C.K. Fusion food truck. The Mobile Culinary Kitchens truck features Colombian and Latin American fusion cuisine, including burgers, tacos, quesadillas and more.
It was great to be back at The Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show on Sunday for the Cruise-In Classic Car Show. Cool…
Following the 64th anniversary party on Dec. 28, fans received a bombshell when it was announced that the Thornton family was considering selling the 2.69-acre property. Possible partnerships are also on the table, but the consistent message from The Mai-Kai has been a desire to keep as much of the original property intact as possible.
This did not quell the overwhelming outpouring of concern and support from fans, who took to social media to console each other and seek ways to help the cause. The most high-profile effort is the “Save The Mai-Kai” petition on Change.org, which at press time has topped 10,750 signatures with no signs of slowing down.
Thousands of fans unite to show support for The Mai-Kai during closing Previous coverage: More than 10,000 have signed a petition and thousands are flooding social media channels as the historic restaurant plans events, take-home cocktails while potential partners/owners are sought.
News of the next parking lot event was revealed when The Mai-Kai put out a call for vendors for an ambitious Tiki marketplace on April 17. While similar events have become popular regular happenings at Tiki bars around the country, this is believed to be the first time The Mai-Kai has hosted an outdoor Tiki marketplace in its long history.
The Mai-Kai’s director of public relations, Pia Dahlquist, is rounding up vendors to fill the restaurant’s 150-space parking lot. She said she’s aiming for around 25 to 30 booths with a “diversified” lineup. If you’d like to participate and need more information, contact Dahlquist via email or call (954) 646-8975. The cost is just $50 per booth.
I’m sure they exist, but it’s rare to find an Irish-themed Tiki cocktail. While we all enjoy sipping fine Irish whiskeys and quaffing a pint of authentic (not green!) stout or ale on St. Patrick’s Day, there’s always room for a complex symphony of booze, juices, syrups and bitters. We hope this new creation hits all the right notes.
Alloa Aloha features a healthy dose of Irish whiskey with a splash of overproof rum. It also includes many staple tropical flavors that unite to form a taste-tempting treat greater than the sum of its parts. Blue curacao, not artificial coloring, gives it the perfect hue.
The name, like the drink, is an Irish-Polynesian mash-up. It pays tribute to John Jameson, the founder of the iconic whiskey brand, who was originally a lawyer from the town of Alloa in Scotland before he opened his first distillery in Dublin in 1780.
ALLOA ALOHA (By Hurricane Hayward, The Atomic Grog)
* 2 ounces blended Irish whiskey (recommended: 1 ounce Jameson original, 1 ounce Jameson Black Barrel) * 1/2 ounce overproof rum (recommended: Plantation O.F.T.D) * 1/4 ounce blue curacao * 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice * 1/2 ounce white grapefruit juice * 1 ounce coconut cream * 1 teaspoon vanilla syrup * 1 dash chocolate bitters * 1 dash absinthe
Pulse blend with a heaping cup of crushed ice. Pour into a small snifter or specialty glass, adding more ice to fill. Garnish with mint and other green things.
Flavor profile: Rich, creamy and boozy with slight anise and bitter notes to create balance and complexity. Baileys Irish Cream meets Tiki.
When the owners of The Mai-Kai announced in December 2020 that the historic restaurant and the several acres of land the mid-century marvel has occupied since 1956 were possibly for sale, the first reaction from most longtime customers was shock and fear.
Shock that the seemingly indestructible Tiki temple had been taken down, not by the coronavirus pandemic or hurricane-force winds, but by a vicious rainstorm that caused irrecoverable damage to the kitchen that was beyond the capacity of the family-run operation to fix. And fear that the announcement that the owners were seeking partners (or buyers) meant the end of the world’s most well-preserved example of a Polynesian supper club on the grandest of scales.
They flooded social media channels to commiserate, but those emotions did not lead to resignation or despair. Rather, it lit a fire under the legions of followers that had come to love and cherish The Mai-Kai over its many decades of operation.
UPDATE:‘Save The Mai-Kai’ petition tops 10,000 signatures
Primed by the don’t-just-sit-there ethos of the pandemic, these passionate boosters quickly turned their frustration into action. The most shining example of this united front of support can be found in a petition posted on Change.org on Jan. 23. After just two days, it topped 2,600 signatures. Three weeks later, the “Save The Historic Mai-Kai Restaurant & Polynesian Show” petition was closing in on 10,000 signees. It passed that mark on Feb. 22 and has a new goal of 15,000.
The petition is aimed at Mayor Jane Bolin of Oakland Park, the Fort Lauderdale suburb that has always been an ally of its most famous business. Also named is Broward County Commissioner Lamar Fisher, whose district includes the restaurant that faces Federal Highway (aka U.S. 1) just a few miles from the area’s famous beach.
It urges supporters to sign the online petition to let the officials “know that you don’t want to lose this iconic fixture that makes Oakland Park a global tourist destination and revenue source for so many.” On top of the signatures, more than 270 people took the time to post comments, lamenting the potential loss of a beloved part of their lives.
“The Mai Kai is an icon of authentic Americana in Fort Lauderdale, a place that visitors from across the U.S. and from abroad expect to find in this city – because there is nothing like it anywhere else,” wrote author Sven Kirsten, who featured the restaurant in The Book of Tiki, his influential treatise on Tiki culture.
For others, it was very personal. Holly Kriss wrote: “This is an important cultural landmark which must be saved at any cost! One of the reasons we moved permanently to FL was because of the MaiKai!!” Added Kathryn Pease: “My family and friends go to the Fort Lauderdale area specifically to go to the Mai-Kai.”
Julie Perkins summed up the feelings of many perfectly: “The Mai Kai is historically important architecturally and culturally. It is no hyperbole to say that there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. Other tiki restaurants exist, but very few have been in operation for over 50 years, and none with the combination of architecture, live show and gardens that attract visitors from around the world as the Mai Kai does. My family and I visit Ft. Lauderdale from Texas once or twice a year solely because of the Mai Kai.”
Fans gather on Facebook to offer support, share experiences
In addition to the petition, a new “Save the Mai-Kai” group exploded on Facebook, gathering more than 730 like-minded members in just two days and 1,400 four days after forming on Jan. 21. It’s now nearing 2,000 members and has become the site of shared emotions, from angst to despair to hope. Many take the opportunity to share family photos of their trips to The Mai-Kai, some from decades ago.
The description says the purpose of the group “is for tiki fans worldwide to band together and see what we can do to save this incredible treasure.” The group’s only rules are “Be civil” and “Be respectful.”
By all accounts, members are not just respectful but also reverential and reflective. One member shared a photo of his parents enjoying cocktails at The Mai-Kai in 1962, noting that “57 years later I finally went in 2019. Not sure why I waited so long to go.”
Undoubtedly, it was a year many would rather forget – preferably by downing a few Mai Tais. If we take “hindsight is 2020” at face value, perhaps some day there will be positive lessons to be learned from last year’s many tragedies. Despite this, not all the news was negative in the modern Tiki revival. Dispensing with the bad news first, here are The Atomic Grog’s picks for the nine most newsworthy stories of 2020. Bonus recipe below:The Urban Archaeologist (tribute to The Book of Tiki 20th anniversary and commemorative mug)
1. CORONAVIRUS SHUTDOWNS
Of all the industries that were dealt a sucker punch by the pandemic, the bar and restaurant world is the one that seems to have suffered the most long-running impact. When the mandatory closings swept across the United States (and the world) in March and April, most were ill-prepared to deal with the consequences. Heroically, the majority were able to survive by pivoting to take-out and streamlined operations. Sadly, others have remained closed with still no ETA on reopening dates. The list of businesses that closed permanently is sobering. But as we look back at the year, we’re proud of the efforts everyone put forth to keep their Tiki bars and related companies alive against all odds. We will continue to pray for their survival and encourage everyone to help as best they can.
It’s hard for a community to thrive and survive when it’s stripped of its ability to congregate en masse to celebrate and boost each other’s spirits. This hit home in the Tiki world in early March, when Inuhele: Atlanta’s Tiki Weekend held the dubious distinction of being the last pre-pandemic event to take place. The summer season’s blockbuster festivals were forced to scramble. Some postponed, some went to a virtual format, others canceled altogether. But there was still no keeping the fervent followers from seeking out their friends and favorite events, even in stripped-down and online-only form. We tip our hat to the organizers who keep the faithful happy and their brands alive, along with their supporters who kept their heads up and their communities alive throughout the year.
In any other year, the closing of The Mai-Kai would undoubtedly be news story No. 1. But 2020 was no ordinary year, full of curve balls and unexpected twists. After closing during April and May, The Mai-Kai reopened under state social-distancing guidelines and was successfully navigating the pandemic through the summer and fall. An inventive take-out program was pushing boundaries and pleasing fans, while the historic restaurant was consistently filling its available seats with guests eager to watch the acclaimed Polynesian Islander Revue. All that changed in late October, however, when massive rains flooded the kitchen and back-of-house after a roof collapsed during the storm. With no functioning kitchen, The Mai-Kai has closed until the extensive repairs can be done. The annual Halloween party became a drive-in movie event in the parking lot and online sales were stepped up. A family-run operation since 1956, The Mai-Kai faces perhaps its biggest challenge, possibly with a new partnership or ownership. Here’s hoping the grand reopening will top the list of 2021 news events. The Mai-Kai for sale:See the official statementNEW UPDATES: Owners vow to “preserve family legacy” while continuing take-out drinks and more events
In September, The Mai-Kai, its extended family and longtime fans mourned the death of Toti Terorotua, a founding member of the restaurant’s acclaimed Polynesian Islander Revue in 1962. “Toti was not only an outstanding musician and entertainer, he was a great friend and part of what made the Mai-Kai one great big family,” an official statement from the restaurant said. “Toti was a highly regarded musician in Tahiti before coming to the US, creating two classic Tahitian albums with his namesake band Toti’s Tahitians. You can still hear songs from his albums, along with his unforgettable voice, softly playing in the background on the Mai Kai’s nightly soundtrack.” Toti was discovered in the late 1950s by Donn Beach himself, who picked him to be part of his show at the Don the Beachcomber in Waikiki when it opened at the International Marketplace. Toti came to Fort Lauderdale and The Mai-Kai to be part of the original Polynesian show and never left. He retired 2000 after 38 years, but came back in 2006 to play drums at The Mai-Kai’s 50th anniversary at age 71. He continued to perform on stage for another decade-plus. In announcing his death, The Mai-Kai shared a tribute in Tahitian, translated to: “We will miss you so. But dreams will keep us near you. We know we’ll meet again. Farewell for just a while. For just a little while.” Listen:Buy or stream Lure Of Tahiti by Terorotua & His Tahitians
The cause of her death was related to COVID-19, her publicist announced. Tina Louise, the last surviving regular cast member from the 1964-67 series, paid tribute to Wells on Twitter: “I will always remember Dawn’s kindness to me. We shared in creating a cultural landmark that has continued to bring comfort and smiles to people during this difficult time. I hope that people will remember her the way that I do — always with a smile on her face.”
When remembering Wells, many recall images of the enduring show about castaways stranded on a deserted Pacific island. A few lucky Tikiphiles also cherish the memorable chance to meet the actress in June 2015 at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale.
Organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White invited Wells to participate in the annual Tiki weekender, designing a special event just for her: A “Three Hour Tour” cruise in a luxury yacht through the Intracoastal Waterway. The Hukilau villagers joined their favorite castaway on June 12, 2015, aboard the Lady Windridge Yacht as it set sail from the Pier 66 Marina at the event’s host hotel.
Guests were invited to dress in their favorite Gilligan’s Island garb, with Wells selecting the costume contest winners. They also enjoyed an open bar featuring craft Tiki cocktails and food, luxuries not afforded the passengers on the ill-fated S.S. Minnow. Wells later participated in an autograph session and mingled with attendees of The Hukilau throughout the weekend at both the Pier 66 hotel and The Mai-Kai restaurant.
The Hollywood Reporter quoted Wells as saying the “values and principles” of Mary Ann mirrored her own and are timeless: “I know this because the core of Mary Ann is really me. I mean, I built her from scratch … if you play a character long enough on stage or screen, I think your true self shows through.”
This past year was unlike any other. As the deadly coronavirus pandemic swept the world, events were postponed and canceled while the hospitality and entertainment industries suffered economic disaster. New and rescheduled events became fundraisers and calls to action to help struggling businesses. As social gatherings moved online to a virtual format, so did many events and a new lineup of symposiums and learning experiences. The Atomic Grog documented many of these happenings and participated in a few over the past tumultuous 12 months. The Tiki Times continues to follow the top events of interest to retro-minded enthusiasts of Tiki, mid-century modern, surf and rockabilly music, rum and spirits, plus more. Below you’ll find the cream of the crop of 2020 events, along with artwork and links to official sites. Under many events, you’ll also find images and videos from social media plus links to news articles. We hope everyone remains healthy and safe as we find out what 2021 has to offer. COMING SOON: Full 2021 calendar UPDATES:Support Tiki bars online – Buy merch, contribute to fundraisers Social media:Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest
In 64 years, The Mai-Kai has never failed to celebrate the anniversary of its Dec. 28, 1956, opening with its own distinctive flair. This year will be no exception, despite a global pandemic and an unfortunate roof collapse in October that forced the restaurant’s temporary closing.
It is finally the end of 2020 and we’re here to help you finish strong. We have made a fresh batch of Rum Barrels and…
On Monday, the owners of the historic landmark in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Oakland Park will open up their vast parking lot for Under The Mai-Kai Moon, the 2020 version of the annual Customer “Mahalo” Appreciation Party. The socially distanced event sold out less than a week after going on sale.
The event is not just a bittersweet celebration. Proceeds will benefit laid-off employees as well as keeping The Mai-Kai in business until repairs are finished. Unfortunately, it could be a long process (see below).
Since 1962, the centerpiece of any celebration at The Mai-Kai has been the Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii. Under The Mai-Kai Moon will feature three performances by the acclaimed group, which includes dancers and musicians from islands in every corner of Polynesia.
Cars will be spread out across the 150-space lot behind the restaurant with gaps in between to allow a “tailgate party” atmosphere, except it won’t be BYOB. The Mai-Kai will be selling several signature cocktails as well as beer, wine and soft drinks. One or more food trucks will be on hand to provide ample options for noshing.
The event will run from 6 to 10 p.m., and vehicles can arrive as early as 5:30. Unlike the recent Hulaween Drive-In Movie party, there’s no cutoff time on arrivals. All parking spots will allow views of the performances, and guests can spread out their folding chairs in adjoining empty spaces.
You’ll want to be there by 8 p.m., however, to catch the first of three shows by the Polynesian Islander Revue. The performances will be staged on a flatbed truck, which will be moved around to different locations to allow all cars a good view, according to The Mai-Kai’s director of public relations, Pia Dahlquist. A DJ will also be spinning tunes to keep the atmosphere lively.
The historic Mai-Kai restaurant may be closed for repairs and refurbishment due to damage caused by an October flood, but fans still have plenty of opportunities to support the staff and management. Several fundraisers have been organized, and online merchandise sales are ramping up for the holidays. There are also limited opportunities to take home cocktails, plus more special experiences to be announced.
Organizers of the regular charity Online Tiki Bingo events were quick to step up with a benefit for employees of The Mai-Kai. Hosted by the Gumbo Limbo Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Moai, the virtual version of the long-running event was held Thursday evening (Dec. 10). Donations will directly benefit the furloughed staff.
A previous online bingo benefit was held for Mai-Kai employees in May during the closing due to COVID-19, and subsequent events aided other Florida Tiki establishments in need. In normal times, Tiki Bingo is held monthly at The Mai-Kai to benefit local charities and provide a fun social event for Tikiphiles in South Florida.
In conjunction with the online bingo event, the FOM is hosting a virtual Benefit Auction for The Mai-Kai staff. Bids are being accepted through 6 p.m. Sunday (Dec. 13) on a variety of items, including:
Importer Ed Hamilton has announced the arrival of a new Hamilton Rum blend bottled for the Florida Rum Society, soon to be available in retail locations across the Sunshine State. Plans call for the rum, a blend of Jamaican and Guyanese rums, to be distributed in 2021 to other states as well.
The first shipment arrived in Orlando on Friday (Dec. 4) from Hamilton’s New York bottling facility, he announced during a Zoom happy hour event that evening. On Thursday, he teased Florida rum lovers with an Instagram post containing the label, announcing that the rum was “on I-75 on the way to Florida.”
The quick arrival pleased the longtime rum connoisseur, author and owner of his own boutique label and import company, Caribbean Spirits. The new rum will be part of Hamilton’s Ministry of Rum Private Collection, containing a similar label but more limited-edition bottlings than his standard Ministry of Rum releases. These include a variety of rum blends sourced from Jamaica, Guyana, St. Lucia and other islands.
He also imports a selections of acclaimed rums from Martinique, including the Neisson, La Favorite and Duquesne labels. Ministry of Rum refers to the website and message board Hamilton launched in the late 1990s that remains an essential reference tool for researching and learning about all rum.
For the Florida Rum Society blend, Hamilton said he went with a modified version of his popular Navy Strength blend, a powerful 114-proof combination of 60 percent Guyana rum and 40 percent Jamaican rum. The new blend is more accessible, clocking in a 45 percent alcohol by volume, or 90 proof. Hamilton said the blend is 65 percent from Demerara Distillers in Guyana and 35 percent from Worthy Park Estate in Jamaica.
Besides the proof and percentages, there’s a slight variation the age of the rum, Hamilton said. The Jamaican component is a 1-year-old rum while the Navy blend contains unaged distillate. The Guyanese rum is the same blend of 2- to 5-year-old rums that Hamilton uses in the Navy Strength bottling, as well as the Hamilton 86 and 151 Guyana rums that are well-known and loved at Tiki bars across the country. Check our in-depth look at Hamilton’s journey in bringing these rums to market, and their use at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale.
The Florida Rum Society blend promises to be more versatile and just as tasty as the Navy blend, its lower proof and added aging making it more assessable as a sipper and all-purpose mixer. It’s also a higher proof than the similar New York Blend, an 84-proof version of the Navy blend. At 65 percent Demerara, it could also make a fine substitute for Hamilton 86 in cocktails. During the Zoom meeting, Hamilton sipped on one of his favorite easy-to-make highballs, a blend of Hamilton 86, Hamilton Jamaican Pimento Dram, and orange juice. I tried a mix of 1 part dram, 3 parts rum and 6 parts juice, and it was delicious.
The new rum should also work well in classic Tiki cocktails that call for a roughly equal blend of non-overproof Demerara and Jamaican rums, such as the Navy Grog (and Beachbum Berry’s The Ancient Mariner), Pearl Diver’s Punch, and Sidewinder’s Fang. The extra 5 percent ABV will give the drink a boost to help it hew closer to the original rums. In the mid-century heyday, it was not unusual for standard mixing rums to be higher than 80 proof, especially those from Guyana and Jamaica. During the Zoom meeting, I enjoyed a Navy Grog featuring three of Hamilton’s signature rums (see recipe below).
UPDATE: Sarasota Liquor Locker and the rum society’s online shop were the first get the rum. Soon after, it was on its way to Five Star Liquor & Wine in Orlando, Primo Liquors in Broward County (multiple ocations), Big Game Liquors in Miami, and Beach Liquors in the Panhandle (multiple ocations).
Hamilton said he expects retail outlets across the state to carry the rum. Part of the goal of the partnership with the Florida Rum Society, he said, is to leverage the group’s influence to persuade more retailers to carry the Hamilton (and Caribbean Spirits) product line. The bottling includes 112 cases, he said, though he didn’t rule out another batch in the future depending on demand. If the store you frequent in Florida doesn’t carry Hamilton rums, or you’d like to request the new blend, ask them to contact the distributor: Progress Wine Group from Opa Locka, (321) 230-4682.
UPDATE: The Florida Rum Society announced an online cocktail contest featuring the new blend, with the winner earning “a hoard” of Hamilton rums. The group has quickly ramped up its activities after forming only in mid-2019. Members began holding in-person gatherings before the pandemic and have continued them online, with Hamilton and other high-profile rum industry veterans, such as Privateer Rum’s Maggie Campbell, joining in.
The Hamilton blend is not the society’s first special bottling. Just last week, a Plantation 2008 single cask rum from Guyana featuring a Florida Rum Society label landed in Orlando. This label release is extremely limited (just 140 bottles) and available at Five Star. There are also a few bottles remaining at Five Star from the exclusive (214 bottles) release in August of a 109.2 proof New England rum from Privateer dubbed Rumdemic. The release marked the return of Privateer’s single barrel program (now known as the Letter of Marque series).
If that’s not enough for Florida rum fanciers, another exclusive release is coming in 2021. The Florida Rum Society Masters Selection from Chairman’s Reserve and St. Lucia Distillers is available for pre-sale at Jensen’s Liquors in Miami. This 115.6 proof blend is expected around April. Shipping and pick-up are both available.
15 things you need to know about Ed Hamilton and Hamilton Rum
As part of the inaugural Miami Rum Congress in February 2019, the “Minister of Rum” (he actually prefers to be called “Administer of Rum”) hosted his first-ever master class at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale on his Hamilton Rum product line, including a discussion of his journey from Caribbean sailboat adventurer to rum importer and label owner.
The hands-on symposium took place in the historic restaurant’s intimate Samoa dining room and included rum and cocktail samples, plus a heaping helping of Hamilton’s wit and wisdom. Here are a few nuggets we gleaned from the presentation:
* After studying chemical and mechanical engineering and getting his college degree, Hamilton worked a job “selling bomb parts” in the mid-1970s. “It really wasn’t something I wanted to base my career on,” he said. When his boss queried him about what he wanted to be doing in five years, he exclaimed: “Go sailing.” Asked how he could make that happen, he replied: “I quit.” He says never spent another day looking for a job after that.
The Mai-Kai specializes in time travel, taking diners back to the mid-century heyday of grand Tiki temples by creating a spectacularly immersive feast of the senses. So it’s no surprise that the Fort Lauderdale restaurant successfully scared up a vintage Halloween party in 2020, transporting hundreds of Hulaween revelers to a vintage drive-in theater in its expansive parking lot for a physically-distanced celebration like no other.
The sold-out Hulaweeen Drive-In Movie on Oct. 30 creatively navigated the new pandemic reality, giving the occupants of the 60+ vehicles multiple treats to savor. From the screening of the infamous 1970 B-movie Beast of Blood, to the live costume contest projected onto the 33-foot screen, to the rockin’ pre-movie festivities fueled by classic tropical cocktails, the evening provided a frightening (but safe) good time for all in attendance. Previous story:See the full event preview
Unfortunately, someone apparently played a trick on The Mai-Kai. After successfully navigating the scary new pandemic reality since late May, the historic restaurant faced a scare of its own just days before the 12th annual Hulaween when a massive storm caused damage that will require an extended, temporary closing for repairs and refurbishment.
The sudden closing caused some last-minute scrambling to keep the drive-in movie on track, but The Mai-Kai and the event’s driving force, director of public relations Pia Dahlquist, pulled it off with the usual aplomb. Since guests could not enter the restaurant, drinks were served from a pop-up bar behind the building, and portable restroom facilities were secured. With the kitchen closed, a food truck arrived to fill the need with finger-licking barbecue.
But all the innovative plans appeared to be in danger all afternoon as dark clouds literally loomed over the event. An afternoon storm blew through The Mai-Kai property on Federal Highway, but miraculously the entire event remained dry. It was a blustery evening, however, and the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival staff had their hands full keeping the inflated screen stable. The dark and ominous weather was apropos, but not an issue at the end of the day.
The FLIFF crew was indispensable, not only handling the high-tech rear-projection screen but also guiding all the vehicles into parking spots the old-fashioned way. Some of us brought portable chairs, and my hurricane radio came in handy to tune into the FM frequency that broadcasted the clear and crisp audio.
Considering the weather and makeshift logistics of the entire endeavor, the 90-minute preshow video and 90-minute feature film were both professionally presented and easy to enjoy. The evening concluded, as usual, with a kooky costume contest that was up to the same creative standards of past Hulaween parties.
The Mai-Kai’s refreshment stand served two other popular cocktails – the Jet Pilot and Mai Tai – along with a selection of beer, wine, soft drinks and water.
Many spirited guests came in full costume, and some bedecked their vehicles with flaming Tiki accouterments. Those who chose to enter the contest were filmed as they arrived. The clips were later edited together, and the resulting video was shown after the movie. A panel of judges picked the top three winners: Dr. Paul Bearer and Dolly, Death By Swizzle, and Annubis & Isis. As usual, the costumes included many movie and TV references (The Witches, What We Do in the Shadows, Spirited Away, The Walking Dead, et al.) as well as just-plain-wacky get-ups. PHOTO GALLERY:Scroll down to see scenes from Hulaween, plus all of the costumes
The Hulaween Drive-In Movie will proceed as scheduled Friday despite the announcement of a temporary closing of the restaurant after extensive flooding. Details on the shutdown and possible reopening date will be covered in a future story. See the official statement below.
The Mai-Kai is still offering a menu of signature cocktails and other beverages for attendees of Friday’s event. The beverage options include: * 32-ounce servings of the Hulaween special Blood Island Green Potion #2 (see details below), plus three other longtime favorites: Barrel O’ Rum, Jet Pilot and Mai Tai. All of these can be pre-ordered by guests for pick-up when they arrive, along with a bottle of The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend, an exclusive new rum. Ticket-holders were sent an email with a link to pre-order. Clicking the “Hulaween Take Out Menu” option reveals Friday’s offerings. * There will also be a cash bar featuring beer, wine, soft drinks and water.
Also just announced to guests via email: A food truck will be on hand providing authentic smoked BBQ with a special menu for Hulaween guests. Iron Butt BBQ features 100 percent all-natural USDA meats smoked over oak and hickory, plus gluten-free sauces.
Any pre-ordered merchandise will also be available for pick-up. Signed posters are still available, but the mugs are sold out. Check-in time remains 6:30 through 7:45 p.m. The special pre-movie video starts at 6:30, featuring past Hulaween photos and video, plus classic film and music clips. The main attraction, Beast of Blood, starts at 8 p.m. The costume contest immediately follows the movie. Though the indoor facilities are closed, restrooms will be available.
The Mai-Kai’s official statement, issued Oct. 28: “With gratitude for many happy and successful years, the management team of Mai Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show is regretful to announce the temporary closure after a weekend flood. Our lovely family run business has such a passionate, loyal fan base and we are excited to begin this first phase of enhancing both the structure and design of one of the historic and unique dining and entertainment venues in all of South Florida. Mai-Kai is in the process of finalizing its renovation plan and remains committed to providing exceptional guest service, exceptional comfort and amenities and a memorable experience.”
Since the coronavirus pandemic descended upon the world like a horror movie come to life, bars and restaurants have been forced to adapt in new and creative ways. Rather than cancel its traditional Halloween party, The Mai-Kai in Fort Laudedale reached back into the past for inspiration.
True to its roots as a mid-century icon, the historic Polynesian restaurant will reanimate its parking lot as a drive-in monster movie theater, complete with a big screen showing an infamous 1960s-era horror film. The 12th annual Hulaween promises to be one of most devilishly distinctive holiday events to grace the South Florida calendar.
*** Friday, Oct. 30 – Hulaween Drive-In Movie at The Mai-Kai featuring a screening of Beast of Blood, costume contest and prizes, food and drink specials, plus more. Times: Event starts at 6:30, movie at 8 p.m. Cost: $30 per vehicle. Sponsored by Appleton Rum and Drive-In-Sanity Films. UPDATE:This event is sold out! | Facebook event
The 63-year-old restaurant and its Molokai lounge have been open with limited capacity and social distancing since early June, following an extended closure due to the pandemic. And while business is slowly returning to normal, management decided that the only way Hulaween could reawaken in 2020 was to think outside the box.
This socially-distanced drive-in theater event, complete with a kitschy B-movie, is sure to please anyone seeking a safe but scary thrill for Halloween. Vehicles will fill most of The Mai-Kai’s expansive back lot, but parking will be staggered and spaced out to allow a comfortable viewing experience. The film festival will provide a 33-foot screen along with staffing and technical assistance that will include streaming the movie soundtrack (along with a special pre-movie block of music videos) to the FM radio airwaves.
An extensive menu of food and adult beverages will be available from The Mai-Kai’s takeout menu for Hulaween guests. Pre-ordering is suggested to avoid a wait. Your order will be delivered to your car window when you arrive. There will also be a small outside bar with special offerings. The Molokai bar and restaurant will be open as usual, so popping into The Molokai is always an option, especially during happy hour (5-7 p.m.). Mai-Kai takeout menus: Food | Tropical drinks | Wine
Join us tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern (6 p.m. Pacific) as we mix up the latest tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Jet Pilot on the Tiki Trail live on Zoom. Click here to check the recipe and make sure you have all the ingredients to pour along. The Zoom meeting ID is 724 724 4576.
Hosted by Jeff Ballard, the Tiki Trail is one of the longest-running Zoom meet-ups of 2020. Every week, Tikiphiles gather to socialize and ask questions as Jeff interviews a rotating array of guests including mixologists, artists and musicians. Don’t be late as we’ll be making the Jet Pilot right at the top of the show.
The Tiki Trail kicked off in 2016 to bring together “the people, venues, events, music, art and style of all that is Tiki,” according to the mission statement on the official websit, TikiTrail.com. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Ballard traveled around the country visiting Tiki bars and events, posting interviews and sharing the stories of the subculture’s movers and shakers. The website includes an events calendar, marketplace, and information on the Tikicomber app. * The Tiki Trail on social media: Facebook | Instagram | YouTube
When COVID-19 shut down most bars and events, Ballard shifted his efforts online to continue to bring people together and also help struggling artists. All the special guests on the show are given the opportunity to promote their latest endeavors. There are also often sponsors who provide goodies for special giveaways. I created some tasty cocktails earlier in the month using some unique ingredients promoted on The Tiki Trail …
Launched in August 2019, Tikicomber is the first-ever Tiki community app. It gives users a fun, easy and engaging way to “discover, collect and share” all the people, bars, drinks, art, music and more that make up their own Tiki world. The app allows you to track your Tiki adventures, discover new Tiki finds, share your Tiki collection, and more. Click here for more info. Check for availability on the app store on your device.
In honor of National Rum Month, The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale has released a new batch of its first-ever signature rum for guests to enjoy in the restaurant or take home in limited-edition bottles. The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend can be paired with new branded glasses also available for purchase.
The initial batch of the 92-proof rum, aged and blended by Richard Seale at Foursquare Distillery in Barbados, was quickly snapped up during the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic in April. But the closing of the historic restaurant for two months forced the release party and seminar by The Real McCoy’s founder to be canceled. That presentation will now be held virtually, and everyone who buys a bottle of the rum is invited.
Thursday, Aug. 13: Rum Runners of the Prohibition Era Virtual Seminar featuring Bailey Pryor of The Real McCoy Rum and hosted by The Mai-Kai. From 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Eastern time. The Emmy Award winning documentary filmmaker and founder of The Real McCoy Rum will discuss the history of rums during Prohibition along with the creation of The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend. Guests can ask questions at the end of the presentation. [Facebook event]
An invitation to the Zoom event will be sent to anyone buying a bottle of the newly released Batch 131. It’s available at the restaurant for $64.20 (including tax). To order and arrange for pick-up, call marketing director Pia Dahlquist at (954) 646-8975 or email Pia@MaiKai.com. Unfortunately, you must pick up the rum in person. Shipping is not available. Those who bought a bottle of Batch 130 in April can also reach out to Pia to attend the event, which will include tastings of the rum.
The limited-edition glassware can be purchased along with the rum. The square shot glass ($10.70, including tax) and double old-fashioned rocks glass ($13.85) are both etched with The Mai-Kai logo and artwork. After picking up the new rum and glasses and enjoying the seminar, guests are invited to The Mai-Kai for National Rum Day on Aug. 16. A updated rum menu is now available featuring 49 different choices from The Mai-Kai’s “cellar,” including The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend. Scroll down for more on the new rum choices.
The Mai-Kai’s first branded rum is touted on the menu as a “single-blended Barbados rum, exceptionally smooth with unmistakable notes of toasted pecan, vanilla and wood spice, with a long, elegant finish.” It’s The Real McCoy’s latest partnership with an acclaimed Tiki bar after working with Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco on a similar 92-proof, 12-year-old rum in 2017.
The Mai-Kai rum is a blend of rums from copper column and pot stills, aged in heavily charred American oak Bourbon barrels. As noted in our May blog post, it was produced at a higher proof than The Real McCoy’s 12-year-old single blended rum (92 vs. 80) and has more pot still rum in the blend. This “heavier” blend is a better fit with flavor profile of the rums used in The Mai-Kai’s signature cocktails, typically higher proof rums from Jamaica and Guyana.
But don’t expect The Mai-Kai blend to be used frequently in cocktails. It’s designed (and priced) as a “super premium” rum like its predecessors and presented that way on The Mai-Kai’s new menu (see below). But it would not be out of line to feature it in a Daiquiri or other simple and elegant cocktail that showcases the rum. We’ve featured a few of these below as well.
Lacking a bottle of The Real McCoy’s standard 12-year-old rum to compare – as our friends at The Rum Traveler blog did [see video] – I took a different approach. My mind jumped immediately to another 12-year-old rum that is highly regarded as both a sipping and mixing rum, a longtime favorite at The Mai-Kai that appears in several highly-regarded cocktails.
Essentially, I wanted to know how The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend held up, both neat and in cocktails, against Appleton Estate 12-year-old Rare Blend (soon to be known as Reserve Casks) rum from Jamaica. Both come from well-respected distilleries and acclaimed master blenders in the English-speaking Caribbean’s two islands with the richest history of rum production.
There are distinct differences when you compare Barbados and Jamaican rums more broadly, but these two particular premium rums are closer than you might think. At 86 proof, the masterfully blended juice in the Appleton Estate flagship product is also aged in American oak Bourbon barrels and is a combination of column and pot still rums. After extensive tastings, I have no problem declaring it a virtual tie in my own informal rum ratings (3.7 out of 5). They’re easily distinguishable from each other, but both display the unmistakable characteristics of 12-year-old blended rums made with care and precision.
But as the shutdowns, stay-home mandates and restrictions due to the pandemic stretch into a fourth month, it’s possible to get a taste of The Hukilau without going far or putting yourself and others at risk. We’ve come up with ideas stretching over seven days, from educational symposiums to a special virtual event set for Friday and Saturday at The Mai-Kai. While The Hukilau’s kickoff party typically doesn’t launch until Wednesdays, we know many villagers like to arrive early and get a head start. The Hukilau 2019 also featured special events for bartenders starting Monday, so we’re following that plan.
Rum and education are two of the foundational elements of The Hukilau, so what better way to start the week than a special presentation by Matt Pietrek. The former Microsoft specialist and writer has turned his passion for rum and Tiki cocktails into a second career, earning an impressive three nominations in the upcoming 2020 Spirited Awards at Tales of the Cocktail in July.
In his debut at The Hukilau last year, Pietrek did double duty with a symposium (How the British Navy Influenced the Birth of Tiki) and Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class (Stocking Your Home Tiki Bar). Pietrek also joined The Atomic Grog for The Rums of The Mai-Kai: From the Back Bar to Your Glass, a special presentation and discussion in the main dining room at the historic restaurant. He was in the midst of digging up more fascinating facts for this year’s Hukilau guests when everything was put on hold.
If you need to stock up on some rum while planning your week of festivities, we recommend you support the brands who support The Hukilau with sponsorship money, free samples, and merchandise. Among the 2019 sponsors were Angostura, Appleton, Cockspur, Diplomatico, Don Q, Gubba, Hamilton, Lemon Hart, Orgeat Works, Plantation, Pusser’s, The Real McCoy, Real Syrups, Rhum Barbancourt, Rum Bar, Rums of Puerto Rico, St. Benevolence, Sandy Feet, Santa Teresa, Tiki Lovers, Swedish Punsch, Tanduay, and Worthy Park.
The Hukilau’s Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy classrooms may be dark this year, but there’s been no shortage of bartender knowledge spreading on the Internet, thanks to many talented mixologists around the world keeping their audience engaged. I’ve never seen so many professional recipes and trusted information available daily like it is now.
Since the pandemic hit, Radev has been tireless. He launched “Mixology From The Fridge” on YouTube and Facebook, featuring dozens of entertaining how-to videos with recipes for cocktails, syrups and more. You can support Radev by watching his YouTube videos, buying his book and ordering items from the Laki Kane online store.
Radev joined forces with another online juggernaut, Tiki marketing maven and event organizer Jupiter Jones, for a weekly “Tiki Tuesday” broadcast on the Zavvy network of shows and podcasts. Their past guests have included Tonga Hut manager and rum/cocktail expert Marie King; Tiki and music historian Brother Cleve; and Trader Vic’s marketing exec Eve Bergeron, granddaughter of company founder Victor Bergeron. All of these VIPs had presentations or pop-up bars last year at The Hukilau, and Brother Cleve was scheduled to return in 2020 as a DJ.
The Mai-Kai continues to adapt and adjust to meet guest demand after the historic Polynesian restaurant reopened less than a month ago amid Florida’s struggles with the coronavirus pandemic. Following the popularity of the cocktail “Gallons to Go,” locals can now pick up quarts of five different popular topical drinks.
The 32-ounce glass mason jars were introduced during the special virtual event in honor of The Hukilau on the weekend of June 5-6. Online videos hosted at The Mai-Kai by Jupiter Jones and Retro Rekindled were streamed worldwide, but local guests had the added treat of picking up a special Beachbum Berry mug from sponsor Real Cocktail Ingredients, plus quarts and gallons of The Hukilau cocktail featuring Don Q Rum.
Since that event, the curbside pickup cocktail menu has been updated to include 32-ounce jars of the four favorites that had been available only in 128-ounce jugs, plus several variations of the classic Rum Barrel. The Hukilau has also remained on the expanded menu. The quarts are a great option, allowing smaller groups to partake, or larger groups to sample multiple cocktails. Planning a backyard Fourth of July bash? Look no further.
Here’s the takeout cocktail menu and pre-tax prices as of June 26: * Barrel O’ Rum – $74.77 gallon, $23.37 quart * Black Magic – $74.77 gallon, $23.37 quart * The Hukilau – $74.77 gallon, $23.37 quart * Jet Pilot – $122.90 gallon, $32.71 quart * Mai Tai – $112.15 gallon, $32.71 quart By request, if available: * Coconut Barrel (rum) – $74.77 galllon, $23.37 quart * Vodka Barrel – $74.77 gallon, $23.37 quart
Each quart contains at least four servings of the robust Barrel, Black Magic and The Hukilau, but even more of the Jet Pilot and Mai Tai, which are usually served in smaller glasses. The gallons include 15 servings at 8 1/2 ounces each, but you’ll get many more servings of the smaller drinks. All are great deals compared to the prices for single servings in the restaurant.
Of course, since May 29, guests have been able to enjoy happy hour in The Molokai Bar from opening until 7 p.m., featuing half-priced cocktails and appetizers. In addition, The Mai-Kai recently announced the return of the Wednesday night free sushi buffet. A minimum $10 bar tab comes with a complimentary buffet featuring sushi and other finger foods from 5 to 9 p.m.
As they have since the reopening, The Mai-Kai management and staff are taking extra precautions to keep guests safe. “Masks are required when approaching the buffet, there are clear lines on the floor keeping everyone 6 feet apart and guests do not serve themselves,” according to a June 24 announcement on Facebook.
The restaurant and attached bar have been operating in accordance with all state and local guidelines, going above and beyond with additional measures in sanitization, distancing, team wellness, and training. Face coverings are required for all guests when entering, according to the latest Facebook post (see below). “We appreciate everyone’s cooperation in keeping each other safe. Mahalo!”
However, if you’re not quite ready to venture out for a meal or just want to enjoy a taste of The Mai-Kai at home, there are penty of take-out options available every day. You can place an order online or by phone and schedule your pick-up time seven days a week: Curbside pickup hours Monday-Tuesday: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday: 3 to 9 p.m.
Note that if you prefer to stay in your car, the staff will bring your order to you. Also, if you live close to the restaurant, you may be able to get delivery of food and beverages on Wednesdays through Sundays.
The menu is expansive, perfect for upcoming Fourth of July family festivities. In addition to cocktails, the wine list features more than a dozen different bottles. But for a full Polynesian feast, you need to explore the distinctive food menu, which includes a delicious mix of classic Tiki bar staples and modern Pan Asian cuisine. As of late June, the menu included 23 appetizers, 36 entrees, six side dishes, and four desserts. Official website: Check MaiKai.com for updates
The Hukilau 2020: Virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need Pay homage to the canceled Tiki weekender with educational symposiums, a special virtual event at The Mai-Kai, plus more. * See video replays, all of the activities
Expanded hot food menu joins cocktail ‘Gallons to Go’ as The Mai-Kai reopens to guests Updated June 3
The Mai-Kai announced on May 21 that it will reopen for guests under the latest coronavirus rules for restaurants in Broward County and the state of Florida on Friday, May 29.
“Of course, our guests’ and employees’ health and safety are our first priority,” the email announcement said. “We have met and surpassed all CDC guidelines and mandatory government-issued operational requirements and we’ve taken additional measures in sanitization, distancing, team wellness, and training. Please note when entering the restaurant face coverings are required and temperatures will be taken. We appreciate everyone’s cooperation in keeping each other safe.”
The Mai-Kai also announced that the extensive menu of takeout food, wine and cocktails will still be available, even after the May 29 opening. Check out all the details below on the signature appetizers, entrees and “Gallons to Go” of tropical drinks you can order by phone for curbside pickup. To make the experience even easier, The Mai-Kai has just launched a new online ordering platform accessible directly from MaiKai.com.
Original story: Expanded hot food menu joins cocktail ‘Gallons to Go’ as The Mai-Kai plans reopening
Like many other bars and restaurants across Florida and the U.S., The Mai-Kai was forced to close its doors suddenly in March when the coronavirus pandemic caused a statewide shutdown. Sadly, the 63-year-old Polynesian palace had no more work for its extensive staff, from the cooks and bartenders to the sarong-clad Molokai Girls and performers in the Polynesian Islander Revue.
But the Fort Lauderdale landmark quickly found a unique way to give South Floridians a taste of its historic cocktails: Thirsty patrons hauled away hundreds of “Gallons to Go.” This curbside takeout program was a smash success, leading The Mai-Kai to release a limited edition rum, then later launch an ambitious menu of wines, meats and desserts for Mother’s Day.
Now, with the shutdown approaching eight weeks but with a reopening date on the horizon, The Mai-Kai has ramped up its takeout menu to include many favorites from its regular ala carte menu. You can pair your gallons of Rum Barrels and Mai Tais with hot appetizers, dinners and rice bowls.
Restaurants in Broward County will be allowed to reopen beginning Monday, May 18, but The Mai-Kai has not announced an opening date yet. “We are looking at the entire scenario and planning according to all rules for the safety of our guests and staff,” marketing director Pia Dahlquist said on Facebook. “Meanwhile, please enjoy our takeout food and favorite tropical Gallons to Go! And look for the announcement when we will re-open.”
With a 50 percent limit on capacity, among other restrictions, The Mai-Kai will certainly look to keep these curbside takeout offerings going even after the reopening. Judging by guest reaction, many hope they will remain permanently.
Said one comment in the Fans of The Mai-Kai Facebook group: “I am so impressed with what The Mai-Kai has come up with during these tough times. For a restaurant so steeped in tradition, they have surely thought outside the box to keep some revenue flowing. Their creative mindset is as stellar as ever! A lot of businesses could learn from them.”
Dahlquist said the success of the cocktails to go inspired management to increase the offerings. The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend, an exclusive new rum that was scheduled to launch at a special event in April, quickly sold out of its sneak preview allotment when it was added to the menu in April. [Check out our preview of the rum below] Then, on Mother’s Day weekend, bottles of wine (and signature glasses) joined the menu along with select meats and desserts to give Mom a proper holiday feast.
What’s even more impressive than the delicious selection of tropical fare is the fact that the entire operation has been run during the pandemic by a skeleton crew of mangers and owner Dave Levy. Like most others in the hospitality industry, The Mai-Kai faced the agonizing reality of having to let its entire staff of around 100 go. This was especially hard for the family-run establishment that prides itself on the loyalty of its employees, many of whom remain there for decades.
While we wait for news on the reopening, it’s a great time to take advantage of the extensive takeout menu and help support the owners and staff as they face another difficult task. We hope that the expanded food and cocktail offerings mean that some of the staff will be back in the kitchen and behind the bar and able to regain their salaries.
We look forward to a day in the not-too-distant future when we can once again enjoy a relaxing one-of-a-kind experience you can only get at The Mai-Kai, from the classic cocktails in The Molokai lounge to a quiet walk in the exotic Tiki garden, to dinner in one of the secluded and mysterious dining rooms, to a thrilling performance of the Polynesian Islander Revue. But in the meantime, we appreciate the ability to take a taste of The Mai-Kai home with us.
And for the first time since closing in March, you can order appetizers and entrees direct from the kitchen. The menu features nine signature appetizers (pupu platter, crab rangoon, friend shrimp, etc.), 11 dinners (from Cantonese Shrimp to Ginger Garlic Lobster to USDA Prime Filet Mignon) and six rice bowls (with chicken, beef, shrimp and veggies). There are also four side dishes and four desserts.
You can also now order and pick up cocktails during an expanded window of office hours, seven days a week. Food is available for pick-up between 4 and 9 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Go to MaiKai.com for all the info.
Aid for Mai-Kai employees On May 7, an online Tiki bingo benefit raised $4,400 for employees of The Mai-Kai affected by the closing due to coronavirus. Players brought $10 bingo cards and played for donated prizes, including a Mai-Kai Club membership and other items from The Mai Kai. The check was presented by the event organizers to The Mai-Kai’s Pia Dahlquist (left) and Kern Mattei (right). (Photos from Facebook)
PHOTOS & RECAP: Gallons to Go quench South Florida’s thirst for The Mai-Kai
The Mai-Kai’s Gallons to Go take-out cocktail program launched on just one day – Friday, April 3 – and was an immediate success. Orders were received for more than 100 gallons during that initial three-hour pick-up window. Two weeks later, pick-ups were expanded to two days (April 17-18) and orders topped 200 gallons.
The core offerings were four of the acclaimed bar’s most popular tropical cocktails: Barrel O’ Rum, Mai Tai, Jet Pilot and Piña Colada. Priced from $80 up to $131.50, the gallons are touted as serving around 15 drinks, a great value any way you slice it. A gallon yields more than 25 servings of the small but powerful Jet Pilot, so even at the top price point you’re getting a hell of a deal.
Word leaked out that the Black Magic was also available by special order, pleasing fans of that cult classic. In later weeks, guests could also order more mainstream offerings such as the Coconut Barrel, Vodka Barrel, and a virgin Pina Colada. The current menu is the same with the exception of the Piña Colada, which is temporarily not available. Gallons to Go official menu:Click here to see that latest offerings
To meet the onslaught of orders, the bar staff had to kick into high gear in just a few days of production. By “staff” we really mean one hard-working bartender, the tireless Miles “Max” Vrahimis, who some readers may remember for his work with Lemon Hart Rum. He’s still a Lemon Hart rep, but Vrahimis has taken on his new role at The Mai-Kai with abandon, as you can see by the photos below.
That’s not to say he didn’t have help. Owner Dave Levy and his management team were there running the show, and they also helped prep cocktails and orders. Kudos to director of sales and marketing Pia Dahlquist for personally handling all of the orders by phone and email. Manager Kern Mattei looked out-of-place without his usual dapper suit, but he and director of catering John Gelardi kept busy filling orders and helping Vrahimis in The Mai-Kai’s famous back bar.
The secret hidden lair behind the kitchen is also strategically located near the restaurant’s back door, which made production and distribution of the massive amount of cocktails just a bit smoother. After the first round of gallons, the two-week breather became necessary to secure more containers and gear up for the next round.
The reaction was immediate and overwhelming. The Mai-Kai closed its doors after service on March 25, so the ensuring weeks had built up quite a demand from its South Florida faithful. Social media posts boosted interest (see below), with envious fans from around the country inquiring hopefully if they could get gallons shipped to them.
The world’s hospitality community is experiencing an unprecedented shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, with ramifications still undefined and the “new normal” still open to debate. As our favorite bars agonize over layoffs, and the lucky ones eke out a living via takeout and delivery, many of us have tried to help the best we can.
The Atomic Grog compiled a list of links to buy merchandise, donate to crowd-sourced fundraisers, and learn more about efforts to assist Tiki bars in need. This blog post focuses on the Tiki revival and adjacent rum bars, but we don’t want to forget all the others in the bar industry that also need assistance sooner rather than later. All deserve our support.
But we also need to blow off some steam and relax. In these days of social distancing (we prefer the term physical distancing) and stay-at-home orders, many are cranking up their home bars to 11, posting photos and recipes, hosting virtual happy hours, and more. While all of these are worthy pursuits, I’m focusing my efforts here on the bars and bartenders I most admire.
Rather than just repost their recipes, I thought it might be appropriate to pay tribute with something new … but also something old and comforting. So belly up to the home bar for Daiquiris of Hope (#daiquirisofhope), an attempt to put a small but loving spotlight on those influential establishments that are unfortunately dealing with a potential business disaster. Of course, this comes on top of all the personal toll the virus is taking.
But let’s focus on the positive: Those memorable and distinctive flavors that stay with us long after we’ve left the bar. The challenge is how to best translate that simply, with no fuss or muss. Not everyone is stocked to the gills in their home bar. But everyone at the very least should have access to rum, lime (or some other sour citrus) and a sweet ingredient of some sort. If you have bitters and other enhancements, all the better.
My hope is that others – enthusiasts and professionals alike – will join me in sharing photos and recipes on social media using the hashtag #daiquirisofhope in an effort to raise awareness for our friends in their time of need. Let them know we’re thinking of them as we spread the word via their great gift: A well-crafted cocktail.
The humble Daiquiri (rum, lime and sugar at its most basic) is a cocktail that transcends all eras, trends, styles, and social status. It’s the great equalizer behind the bar, often used as a litmus test to judge a bartender’s chops, but more often used as a stress-breaker and common denominator as perhaps the most ubiquitous “shift drink.”
For all those reasons and many more, we chose this classic Tiki template – embraced by both Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber and featured in some shape or form on every tropical cocktail menu over the past century – as the means to salute bartenders dealing with today’s state of affairs.
Of course, the history of this Caribbean standard goes back to the town of Daiquiri, Cuba, in the early 1900s, where it was reportedly invented by an American working there during the Spanish-American War. Others may beg to differ, and the drink’s origins are still hotly debated in Cuba’s prestigious cocktail bars.
Unlike the frozen, blended version (often flavored with fruit) that many mainstream drinkers may associate with the name, a classic Daiquiri is always shaken with ice and strained into a coupe or other small glass. Rum, lime and sugar are constants – though Victor Bergeron and Donn Beach kicked off an era of post-Prohibition experimentation that continues to this day.
With many bars and restaurants across the country (and world) still closed due to coronavirus restrictions, many establishments near and dear to our hearts are going through rough times. Even with reopenings, business is often minimal as the pandemic continues to surge across the country. Some are even experiencing a second or third shutdown.
We feel strongly about supporting the owners, managers and employees as they face severe turbulence in their chosen profession. Please do all you can to help them out by whatever means possible. One easy way is to frequent their online stores, buy merchandise and gift cards, and put some cash back in their coffers.
Also note that many areas of the country have expanded rules to allow take-out and delivery of alcohol as well as food, so check with your local establishments for more info. It may be their lifeline. You can also visit this Facebook group for more info on Tiki bars offering to-go food and cocktails. We’ve also noted some of these services below.
We also remind you to continue to support the many artists and merchants who also depend on direct sales to customers to survive. You can find links to many of them in the right rail of this blog post. With marketplace events being canceled and postponed, they rely even more on a steady stream of online income. Some of the online events held around the world also include ways to make donations.
SUPPORT TIKI BARS ONLINE
The following establishments are offering online ordering. If you find any broken links, please let us know and we’ll update. Also, please send us any additions to this list via email or as a message on our social media pages (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram).
Archipelago, Washington, D.C. – The online merch shop for this island-themed neo-Tiki hotspot features a small but well designed assortment of glassware, including snifters and Mai Tai glasses along with a signature mug from Tiki Farm. Gift cards are also available. After operating outdoor patio seating for months, the bar closed in late December for a winter siesta. Takeout service resumed in February, and as of late April Archipelago was open for patio seating Wednesday through Saturday.
Bahi Hut, Sarasota – This historic (est. 1954) but underappreciated Tiki landmark took a while to ramp up its merch, but in September finally launched an online shop. Shirts, pins and signature “Big Tim” mugs (created by Robo Tiki) are available. Recognized as the oldest Tiki bar in Florida, Bahi Hut is also site of the annual Tiki Fever event, which recently set a new date for October 2021. The bar reopened on Oct. 3 with both indoor and outdoor seating. In January, a collector’s edition Tiki Fever mug featuring both Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid and The Disasternauts was released, selling out quickly.
Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29, New Orleans – The bar and restaurant owned and operated by author and Tiki revival pioneer Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and his wife Annene Kaye is well represented in the BeachbumBerry.com store, including syrups and barware. While you’re there, pick up the Bum’s books so you can make the hundreds of tropical classics at home while we wait for our favorite bars to reopen. After six months, Latitude 29 reopened Oct. 2 with reservation-only seating, including a new outdoor area. After closing in January 2021 due to a spike in COVID-19 cases in the area, Latitude 29 reopened April 1 with restrictions. Indoor and outdoor dining are available, and reservations are required via Latitude29NOLA.com. To-go drinks will also be offered “in the tradition of our fine city,” management announced. Daiquiri of Hope: Beachbum’s Special Daiquiri
Clifton’s Pacific Seas, Los Angeles – Closed since the early days of the pandemic, the Tiki bar inside the legendary Clifton’s complex is represented in its parent company’s vast online shop, Exposition Marketplace of The Neverlands. There are tons of exclusive items available, including artifacts to “create your own Tiki paradise” (nautical anchors and bells, mixology tools and books, rope buoys, and much more). Check back regularly for new items. Clifton’s is working with local and county agencies to determine when its venues can reopen.
Esotico Miami – In addition to a wide selection of “Tiki Away Cocktails,” this tropical hideaway in the Magic City led by noted Tiki mixologist Daniele Dalla Pola offers unique custom bar tools and mugs. Esotico also has a GoFundMe page that benefits its employees. The restaurant reopened indoor dining under social distancing restrictions in August after offering outdoor dining as well as takeout, curbside pick-up and delivery throughout the pandemic.
False Idol, San Diego – Consortium Holdings, one of the partners (along with Tiki bar guru Martin Cate) in this over-the-top throwback to classic Tiki hidden inside the Craft & Commerce bar, offers mugs and gift cards for sale online. False Idol has reopened at 25 percent capacity, serving cocktails and food via reservations only. In November, pioneering Tiki artist Bosko (who designed much of False Idol’s decor) released The Fog Cutter mug for False Idol exclusively at TikiBosko.com.
Forbidden Island, Alameda, Calif. – You can buy apparel, mugs, and gift cards directly from one of the Tiki revivals’s first shining beacons. After being closed for more than four months, Forbidden Island opened a socially-distant Tiki garden and patio for limited hours in late July. New restrictions in December limited Forbidden Island to take-out service, but outdoor seating was fully open again in February. In March, Forbidden Island announced the arrival of their long-awaited Turquoise Kapu mug, the eighth glaze in 15 years. Also from Tiki Farm, a limited-edition version (in brown and green) of the Tamuaki mug designed by carver and artist Benzart Davis, embossed with the FI logo. Get them now in the online store as well as the bar. On March 15, interior seating returned at 25 percent capacity with many special precautions and features, including new air purifiers. Reservations are highly recommended.
Frankie’s Tiki Room, Las Vegas – A wide variety of mugs, glassware and apparel fill the online store of this beloved Tiki bastion in Sin City. You can also pick up gift certificates and a copy of the 2013 book, Liquid Vacation, which features recipes for 77 of the cocktails served at Frankie’s. Frankie’s is currently open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with 50 percent occupancy, requiring face masks and observing all COVID-19 safety protocols. The annual anniversary party and mug signing was canceled, but a 12th anniversary mug by Bosko was released in December and quickly sold out.
Fuchsia Tiki Bar, New Paltz, N.Y. – This small tropical escape hidden away in Ulster County, around 70 miles north of the Big Apple, is plugging away with merchandise, gift cards and cocktails cocktails to go. On June 25, Fuchsia opened for indoor dining with limited seating capacity. On July 6, new T-shirts went on sale in the online store. After closing again Dec. 21 for a short hiatus, Fuchsia Tiki Bar reopened at the end of January with a new menu.
The Grass Skirt, San Diego – This fun Tiki hangout hidden inside Good Time Poke in the scenic Pacific Beach neighborhood has a plethora of merch: Mugs, bowls and glassware; plus a variety of shirts and pins. Also, a portion of gift card purchases go toward helping the staff. The Grass Skirt reopened in late May and hosted the annual Christmas-themed pop-up, Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Santa, at the end of 2020.
Hala Kahiki, Chicago – The historic Tiki bar and lounge, established in 1966 in the suburb of River Grove, has an extensive online menu available for pick-up. The family owned and operated establishment is open to guests with socially distant indoor seating plus a covered and heated “tropical patio.” There is also a vast array of food and drinks on the to-go menu for hungry guests, along with many items from the in-house gift shop (which is also open in a limited capacity). Locals can pick up Hawaiian shirts, glasses and mugs, even an assortment of spirits. Even more merchandise can be found on June 6, when the next Lowbrow Aloha art show and sale will be hosted by Hala Kahiki.
Hale Pele, Portland, Ore.– The Pacific Northwest’s long-running Tiki paradise has an array of merch in its new online store, from mugs to glassware to shirts to pins to gift cards. There’s also a virtual tip jar for the staff. While you’re there, sign up for the email blast to get news and updates. After initially offering cocktail mixes for pickup, Hale Pele was finally permitted to sell take-out cocktails (with food) in January.
UPDATED:Hidden Harbor, Pittsburgh – The web store at this popular Tiki revival craft cocktail bar offers gift cards plus (when available) exclusive mugs and other merchandise. Sign up for their newsletter and be the first to know about new offerings. Hidden Harbor has managed to say open since June, using its limited outdoor seating and special events to keep its loyal customers engaged and also shopping via a robust take-out menu (including merchandise). Hidden Harbor also offers cocktail classes in its tented, heated back patio focused on Tiki history. In celebration of the bar’s fifth birthday on Feb. 6, a limited edition of the bar’s Keeper of the Mug by Crazy Al Evans was released to guests at the anniversary event. Keep an eye out for two more editions later this year. The latest Virtual Tiki Bingo event hosted by the Gumbo Limbo Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Moai benefitted the staff of Hidden Harbor.
Kowloon, Saugus, Mass. – This historic Asian restaurant with Tiki flair (est. 1950) has a full-blown online gift shop filled with mugs and bowls, shirts, hats and plushes. You can also buy gift certificates. Kowloon reopened with outdoor seating in June, then added drive-in movies and car-hop service for guests to enjoy from their cars along with an outdoor Tiki bar and live music. In January, it was announced that Kowloon would eventually be closed to make way for redevelopment of the property. On Facebook, the restaurant’s management said that they were “planning for the future,” but clarified that future would “be years not months away.”
Laki Kane, London – The acclaimed craft Tiki bar from mixologist and author Georgi Radev has an online shop featuring a nice selection of mugs, plus signed copies of Radev’s Let’s Get Tropical. Laki Kane reopened in July 4 by reservation only under strict new guidelines, but was forced to close again on Dec, 16. It was allowed to reopen again for outdoor drinks, dining and takeaways on April 12, 2021.
Last Rites, San Francisco – Dubbed “Polynesian noir,” this unique and modern take on Tiki with a backstory revolving around a plane crash has had to battle its own takedown by coronavirus. While the bar remains closed, you can buy gift cards and make donations to help the staff via LastRitesBar.com.
Lost Lake, Chicago – Early in the pandemic, this award-winning craft cocktail bar created a GoFundMe page with 100 percent of the virtual tips going to the laid-off staff. Donors received a special newsletter containing food and drink recipes to make at home, plus other special features. In June, Lost Lake began offering takeout cocktails along with food. In October, the ambitious Lost Lake at Home program was launched, giving members access to unique and special rums, bottled cocktails, plus more.
UPDATED:Lost River, Detroit – The Web store of this rum-focused tropical neighborhood bar on Detroit’s Eastside features gift cards, plus an assortment of merchandise (mugs and glassware, plus shirts and pins). There’s also an option to “tip your bartender.” While indoor service was closed, Lost River featured ambitious to-go cocktails, such as February’s Twilight Zone theme. In late January, a new limited edition lavender glaze of the bar’s house mug was released online. Lost River shut down in April but returned May 1 with a grand reopening. The bar is open Thursday-Sunday, and reservations are strongly suggested. To-go drinks should also be up and running again soon. Get updates on Facebook and Instagram.
South Florida’s Skinny Jimmy Stingray and his band rocked The Molokai bar during a special Retro Rekindled monthly community gathering at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale on Dec. 15. The live set followed a presentation with The Atomic Grog’s Hurricane Hayward about the guitarist’s musical journey from punk to instrumental surf.
UPDATE: Below you’ll find a video of the entire presenation, followed by four multi-camera videos of songs performed by Jimmy and his band. Mahalo to Sergio Figuera of Prime Photo & Video for the great job with the videography.
During the 34-minute talk, Skinny Jimmy spoke about his early days in Michigan playing in rock ‘n’ roll cover bands, his introduction to punk rock, and his eventual move to Florida. After many years in punk bands, he reinvented himself as a surf guitarist.
Following the interview, Skinny Jimmy and his band – Frenchy on bass and Kevin on drums – played a full set for an appreciative Retro Rekindled audience. Four of the songs have been released on YouTube, the first proper videos featuring the current band lineup.
The first song released was an original that has been part of Skinny Jimmy’s repertoire for years …
Most fans of the spectacular tropical drinks at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale are content with the current 47 cocktails, a majority of them classic concoctions that have withstood the test of time for 60 years. But The Atomic Grog can’t get enough of The Mai-Kai, so we like to crank up our flux capacitor and go back in time to dig up a few “lost cocktails” that disappeared from the menu over the years.
When the Demerara Cocktail came out of retirement in August 2012, it gave us the inspiration to dig deeper into the history and explore some of the other long-gone drinks. Here’s the cool part: They’re not really long gone. The old recipes are still kept in owner Dave Levy’s office, safely under lock and key. Levy is the stepson of founder Bob Thornton, and keeper of most of the remaining cocktail secrets.
So after the return of the Demerara Cocktail, the next logical step was to revisit its sister drink, the Demerara Float. It took more than six months, but our wish was granted unexpectedly in early in 2013, when the photo above popped up on the Facebook news feed of The Hukilau organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White. It looked like a Shark Bite with its Appleton rum floater. But this was no Shark Bite. The rum was noticeably darker. Could it be?
Prior to the opening of The Mai-Kai in 1956, there were perhaps other icy cocktails that employed dark rum and coffee as key ingredients. But none perfected it quite like the Black Magic.
The drink that has spawned dozens of imitators – and even two similar concoctions at The Mai-Kai – has taken on legendary status in the Tiki cocktail community. The Black Magic is the oldest of what some call the “Holy Trinity” of large snifter drinks at The Mai-Kai: The Black Magic, Mutiny and The Hukilau.
One of the keys to this drink is a distinctive dark rum favored by original Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine: Dagger was a dark Jamaican brand that stopped production some time ago. It became somewhat of a holy grail of Tiki mixologists looking to duplicate the key flavor in many Mai-Kai cocktails, especially the Black Magic.
Needless to say, we immediately went on an intensive search, but short of taking a trip to Jamaica it was nearly impossible to locate. We were told it was being imported only to Florida, and The Mai-Kai was one of only two bars to serve it. After some digging, however, we miraculously found a rare retail outlet that carried Kohala Bay and immediately stocked up. Our discovery of Kohala Bay sparked many other tribute recipes that you’ll find in this guide, and also spurred many other home mixologists to seek out the rum. Click here for more on the history of Kohala Bay at The Mai-Kai.
But all good things must come to an end. Kohala Bay was taken off the market in April 2016 and has not returned. While still seeking out an appropriate dark and funky run to fill the bill, The Mai-Kai switched to one of the Appleton Estate rums as its dark Jamaican mixer. Then, suddenly, a new rum appeared in April 2019. It’s a secret in-house multi-rum blend, similar to one of those we had been touting here on the blog. Click here for an in-depth guide along with all the suggested Kohala Bay substitutes.
The name Black Magic comes from the combination of dark rums and coffee, which sets this drink apart from most others from its era. It was reportedly created by Licudine while he was still working for Donn Beach as the No. 2 bartender at the Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Chicago. But even Beach’s top men were not given the opportunity to contribute their own creations to his legendary drink menu.
Lured to Fort Lauderdale to run The Mai-Kai’s bar and create what would decades later become an iconic menu in its own right, Licudine borrowed heavily from Beach’s classics but also added his own flair (Mara-Amu, Derby Daiquiri, etc.). The Black Magic may be his crowning achievement, and it was his first creation to appear on a Mai-Kai menu.
While it’s not nearly as complex, an early Don the Beachcomber cocktail from the 1930s called the Jamoca could possibly have influenced Licudine, since he worked at Don the Beachcomber in Los Angeles at the tail end of that decade. As revealed by Tiki cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry in his 2007 book, Sippin’ Safari, the Jamoca contains 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice, 1/2 ounce coffee syrup, 1 ounce chilled coffee, 1 ounce gold Puerto Rican rum, 1 ounce gold Jamaican rum, and 4 ounces of crushed ice. Blended at high speed for 5 seconds and poured into a specialty glass, it’s a coffee-heavy drink that hits few of the high notes later achieved by Licudine with the Black Magic. Berry theorized that it may have been an early Donn Beach experiment inspired by turn-of-the-century soda fountain fare. It’s historically worth noting, but probably not a true ancestor of the Black Magic. We consider this classic to be a true Mariano Licudine original.
Tiki bar pioneer Don the Beachcomber’s Test Pilot was one of the most copied drinks during the mid-century heyday of Polynesian cocktails. It morphed into the Ace Pilot, Space Pilot and Astronaut, among others. At The Mai-Kai, it became the Jet Pilot.
As discussed in the review of the vintage S.O.S. (Don the Beachcomber’s Three Dots and a Dash), Donn Beach was a decorated World War II veteran and always had a deep connection to the armed forces. In his honor, a B-26 Marauder was painted with a replica of the Don the Beachcomber driftwood sign on its nose. The plane and crew flew many successful missions in the Pacific.
The Test Pilot is also an interesting study in how Donn Beach constantly tweaked his drinks. A Don the Beachcomber cocktail from the 1930s or ’40s could be vastly different than one with the same name in the 1950s or ’60s.
Included below is a Test Pilot recipe unearthed by cocktail sleuth and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry from the 1940s. It’s one of the most popular in the Tiki revival, and it features many of the same ingredients as The Mai-Kai’s Jet Pilot. We’ve also listed a later recipe from a book by Donn Beach’s widow, Phoebe. It’s slightly different but also very strong and has a similar flavor profile. Other popular old-school versions include the Jet Pilot served at Steve Crane’s The Luau chain in the 1950s (revealed by Beachbum Berry in Sippin’ Safari in 2007) and the Space Pilot, still served today at the Tiki Ti in Los Angeles (est. 1961).
In Minimalist Tiki by Cocktail Wonk blogger Matt Pietrek, a 2020 Spirited Award nominee for Best New Cocktail or Bartending Book, the Test Pilot and Jet Pilot are both listed among the “Classic 30” cocktails from the first golden era of tropical mixology.
Like Tiki Ti owner Ray Buhen, The Mai-Kai’s original mixologist, Mariano Licudine, worked for Donn Beach in the early days. In 1956, he was lured from the Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Chicago to design The Mai-Kai’s original tropical drink menu. So it’s likely he had a vast knowledge of multiple versions of the Test Pilot when he created arguably one of the best, The Mai-Kai’s high-octane Jet Pilot.
The official menu description JET PILOT Fast and courageous, a vigorous blend of heavy bodied rums and zesty juices.
Okole Maluna Society review and rating
Flavor profile: Dark and powerful rums, spicy and bitter notes with a hint of exotic sweetness.
Review: Very complex and intense. Not for the timid. Sweet, spicy and strong all at the same time.
More than 75 years after its invention, the Mai Tai is widely hailed as the definitive tropical drink. You’ll get some arguments from Zombie fans like myself, but there’s no denying that the Mai Tai is one of the world’s most popular and distinctive cocktails, period.
We subscribe to Berry’s theory that Trader Vic created the Mai Tai after tasting a Don the Beachcomber drink with a similar flavor profile called the Q.B. Cooler. Donn Beach, who created the Tiki bar concept in 1934 in Los Angeles, also had a drink called the Mai Tai Swizzle, but it was gone from the menu by 1937. It’s widely accepted that Vic frequented Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood before opening his first Trader Vic’s in Oakland. Could he have lifted the name from one drink and the flavor profile from another in creating his Mai Tai?
It’s entirely possible, but that has nothing to do with The Mai-Kai, or its version of the Mai Tai. The Mai-Kai already serves a descendant of the Q.B. Cooler called the K.O. Cooler (See our previous review). If you’re looking for the taste of a proto Trader Vic’s Mai Tai, try the K.O. Cooler.
In the mid-century, however, The Mai-Kai was not quick to jump on the Mai Tai bandwagon. The cocktail has not been spotted on a menu before 1970 (see image). It’s missing from all previous menus in our collection, including this one from 1966.
At first, it was likely an off-menu drink made upon request, like the Scorpion and Suffering Bastard, two other Trader Vic’s classics popular with many guests. The latter finally made it to The Mai-Kai’s menu during the last major update in 2018.
Rather than copying Vic’s recipe, Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine put his own spin on the Mai Tai (and Suffering Bastard), owing to his roots as one of Don the Beachcomber’s early Filipino barmen. He worked behind one of Donn Beach’s original Hollywood bars in 1939 before becoming assistant bar manager at the Chicago location during his years there (1940-1955). He joined The Mai-Kai as bar manager in 1956, crafting its opening day menu with owners Bob and Jack Thornton.
Don The Beachcomber had the Zombie. Trader Vic had the Mai Tai. While Fort Lauderdale’s iconic Mai-Kai has many cocktails worthy of classic status, it’s the mighty Barrel O’ Rum that has become the 55-year-old landmark’s signature drink, and possibly the most underrated tropical drink in history.
Sure, it’s hugely popular. Just wind your way through The Molokai bar during any busy happy hour and you’ll see more Barrels than BP lost in the Gulf. Among the general public and popular media, the Barrel O’ Rum and The Mai-Kai are synonymous.
But among the the cocktail intelligentsia, the Barrel just doesn’t quite measure up. What gives? Come on guys, this is an incredible drink. A deceptively deadly celebration of rum and citrus that manages to be both simple and complex. This is a work of art courtesy of The Mai-Kai’s inimitable mixologist, Mariano Licudine, who took an often muddled concept and perfected it for the thirsty, rum-swilling masses during Tiki’s heyday. A half century later, it’s a timeless classic, often copied, never duplicated.