Updated June 2018
Related: Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide | Index of 100+ recipes
Heeeeeeere’s the rich history and lost stories of The Mai-Kai
UPDATE: Rums of The Mai-Kai include potent, funky flavors from Guyana and Jamaica
NEW: The Mai-Kai updates bar menu, adds classic ‘lost’ cocktail
Jump below: List of reviews and recipes | Retired cocktails
NEW FEATURE: Downloadable, printable checklist of The Mai-Kai cocktail ancestry (PDF)
While earning my Okole Maluna Society card by reviewing every cocktail on the legendary tropical drink menu at The Mai-Kai, I learned quite a bit about the history of these tasty concoctions.
I knew that many were based on the classic templates laid down by the godfather of Tiki mixology, Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber). But I had no idea that total would hit 40 as I discovered more “ancestor drinks” along the way. Of course, many of these were reinterpreted by The Mai-Kai’s late, great mixologist Mariano Licudine, under the direction of owners Bob and Jack Thornton.
Licudine worked for Don the Beachcomber for 16 years before the Thornton brothers spirited him away to the grand Polynesian palace they were building in Fort Lauderdale in 1956. By the time Licudine retired in 1980, they had firmly established a tropical drink menu that not only still holds up, but puts most trendy craft cocktail bars to shame.
Below is a list of all the cocktails listed by their ancestry, to the best of my knowledge, plus a still-growing list of more than 90 recipes. The main page of the cocktail guide lists all the drinks by rating and by strength, but I thought it would be interesting to trace their lineage and list them here for the true cocktail geeks. Don’t forget to click on any review of a current drink to rate it on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. I’d like to see what you think.
I’d also like to use this space to send out a huge mahalo to owner Dave Levy, manager Kern Mattei, marketing director Pia Dahlquist and everyone else at The Mai-Kai who makes it the special place that it is. Also, much gratitude to two people without whom this guide probably wouldn’t exist: Author/mixologist Jeff “Beachbum Berry,” whose six books on tropical drink history are beyond essential; and Mai-Kai historian Tim “Swanky” Glazner, who keeps the stories and spirit alive through his great research and reverence for The Mai-Kai.
Mai-Kai cocktail ancestry
Based on research by Hurricane Hayward for The Atomic Grog. Click on hyperlinks for full reviews and recipes.
Drinks are listed in alphabetical order with ratings in parentheses, 1-5 stars.
Click here for the full list organized by rating.
>>> Drinks on current menu: 48 **
MAI-KAI ORIGINALS (10)
(Created by Mariano Licudine or other Mai-Kai mixologists)
TROPICAL STANDARDS (6)
DON THE BEACHCOMBER DESCENDANTS (32)
(Mai-Kai name / Don the Beachcomber name and recipe)
151 Swizzle (4 1/2) 151 Swizzle
Barrel O’ Rum (4) Beachcomber’s Rum Barrel
Bora Bora (3) Donga Punch
Cobra’s Kiss (4) Cobra’s Fang
Deep Sea Diver (3 1/2) Pearl Diver
Gardenia Lei (3) Mystery Gardenia
Hidden Pearl (3 1/2) Don’s Pearl
Hot Buttered Rum (3) Hot Buttered Rum
Jet Pilot (4) Test Pilot
K.O. Cooler (3 1/2) Q.B. Cooler
Kona Coffee Grog (3) Kona Coffee Grog
Mai-Kai Swizzle (3) Don’s Swizzle
Mai Tai (3 1/2) Mai Tai
Malayan Mist (3) Sumatra Kula
Martinique Milk Punch (3) Martinique Milk Punch
Moonkist Coconut (3 1/2) Coconut Rum
Oh So Deadly (3) Never Say Die
Piña Passion (3 1/2) Pi Yi
Planters Punch (2) Planter’s Rum Punch
Rum Julep (4) Rum Julep
Samoan Grog (3 1/2) Colonial Grog
Shark Bite (4 1/2) Shark’s Tooth
Shrunken Skull (4) Skull & Bones
S.O.S. (3 1/2) Three Dots and a Dash
Special Planters Punch (4 1/2) Don’s Own Planter’s
Special Reserve Daiquiri (3 1/2) Don’s Special Daiquiri
Tahitian Breeze (3 1/2) Tahitian Rum Punch
Tahitian Coffee (2) Tahitian Coffee
** Wahine Delight (2) Missionary’s Downfall
Yeoman’s Grog (4) Navy Grog
Zombie (5) Zombie
Zula #1 and #2 (3 1/2) Penang Afrididi
** Note: The main cocktail menu contains 47 tropical drinks, but our tally is 48. This is because the Wahine Delight moved to the dessert menu during a May 2018 update, but we’re still counting it on this list of classic cocktails.
Retired drinks, aka the “lost cocktails” (11)
We’ve also identified 11 cocktails from the 1956-57 menu that were “retired” at some point prior to our research, plus one off-menu classic.
MAI-KAI ORIGINALS (1)
(Created by Mariano Licudine or ancestry unknown)
Big Bamboo (4)
DON THE BEACHCOMBER DESCENDANTS (10)
Cuban Daiquiri (2 1/2)
Demerara Float (4 1/2)
Demerara Cocktail (3 1/2)
Dr. Fong (3 1/2)
Hanalei Bay (3 1/2)
Impatient Virgin (3)
Island Queen (3)
Last Rites (3 1/2)
Liquid Gold (3 1/2)
Martinique Cocktail (3)
See also: Fog Cutter and Singapore Sling
We’ll be posting more info on the history of these classics, so stay tuned as we continue our journey back in time to some of the best cocktails ever created.
More on The Atomic Grog
* 10 reasons why we love The Mai-Kai
* New giant carved Tiki added to The Mai-Kai’s outdoor garden
* ‘King Kai’ leads procession of new Tikis into The Mai-Kai
* Tour of The Mai-Kai’s mysterious bars and kitchen