Mai-Kai cocktail review: True origins of a lost classic, the Island Queen, are revealed

Updated April 2, 2013
See below: Our Island Queen review | Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipe
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide | More “lost cocktails”

Over the course of more than 50 years, the outstanding tropical drinks at The Mai-Kai restaurant have proved to be both enduring and mysterious. And some of the biggest mysteries involve those “lost classics” that no longer appear on the menu, such as the Island Queen.

Queen's Road Cocktail

I thought I had this mystery solved, posting this review last week declaring the drink a rare original concoction by the late, great Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine. But it appears I was out-sleuthed by another master, Tiki bar historian and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. As the Bum correctly pointed out soon after I published the original Island Queen review, it bears a striking resemblance to Don the Beachcomber’s Queen’s Road Cocktail, which appears in his excellent 2007 book, Sippin’ Safari. (Be sure to read the chapter on Licudine and The Mai-Kai.)

So after further research (see ancestor recipe below), the genealogy of the Island Queen has been updated to include it on the long list of Mai-Kai cocktails that are retooled versions of classics created in the 1930s and ’40s by Tiki bar pioneer Donn Beach, aka Don the Beachcomber. The updated Mai-Kai family tree now lists a total of 40 drinks (including 31 on the current menu) that can be traced back to Beach, who originally hired Licudine at his Hollywood, Calif., flagship restaurant back in 1939. Prior to that, Licudine spent five years as a private chauffeur and personal mixologist for the legendary Laurel and Hardy comedy team.

A vintage ad that ran in South Florida, circa 1958

A vintage ad that ran in South Florida, circa 1958.

This new discovery takes nothing away from the talents of The Mai-Kai’s “magician of mixology.” Licudine came to Fort Lauderdale when the Polynesian palace opened in 1956, leaving his longtime gig at the Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Chicago. When he retired in 1979, he left a legacy of world-class drinks that decades later still resonate with Tiki enthusiasts and average guests alike. His own original creations – such as the Barrel O’ Rum, Black Magic, Mara-Amu and Derby Daiquiri – appeal to all tastes and stand up next to any Donn Beach original.

And much of his genius was in taking older drinks that had been created for a different generation and updating them to modern, mid-century tastes. Unfortunately, some of these creations are no longer offered on the current Mai-Kai menu. We’ve now identified a dozen of these and have been painstakingly trying to figure out the origins of these “lost cocktails”. Berry has made our research much easier, publishing not only dozens of Don the Beachcomber recipes but also several of Licudine’s long-lost classics (Big Bamboo and Last Rites).

Fortunately, The Mai-Kai has a general manager who not only shares our reverence for the classic recipes, but also guards them with the same care as Beach and Licudine did. Over the past year, Kern Mattei has hosted events that have featured several of these coming out of the vault, such as the Demerara Cocktail in August and Last Rites in October. Then, at a special event in February, more revelations, including the gone-but-not-forgotten Island Queen.

An authentic Island Queen is served during a special event at The Mai-Kai

An authentic Island Queen is served during a special event at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2013)

We caught up with Mattei a few weeks ago to sample the Island Queen and several other classics. (We’re pleased to announce that more reviews and recipes are coming soon.) He recalled making them when he worked behind the bar decades ago. And while he remained secretive as always and didn’t reveal the recipe, he did offer a few hints and tips. Enough information for us to come up with the tribute recipe below.

The resurrected version came to us in the same small glassware The Mai-Kai uses for other mild drinks, such as the Mai-Kai Special, Oh So Deadly and Samoan Grog. It was also similar to these drinks in its sweetness, simplicity and rating. (Note that we typically reserve our top ratings for the more complex and strong cocktails, but this is still a fine example of mid-century mixology.)

We hope you enjoy this look into the past and our re-interpretation of a bit of Mai-Kai and tropical drink history.

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Island Queen

ISLAND QUEEN

Exotic juices and smooth rums subtly blended into a small, dry, lady’s cocktail.

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Size: Small

Potency: Mild

Flavor profile: Lime juice, honey, Appleton gold rum, a hint of orgeat.

Review: Dry and sour with rich honey notes and just a touch of gold rum makes this a savory mild cocktail.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars (see how it ranks). If it were still on the menu today, it would fall near the bottom half of the 3-star ratings with other mild drinks.

Island Queen, circa 1980s

Ancestry: Hidden among the classics on the original 1956-57 menu, the Island Queen is a descendant of Don the Beachcomber’s Queen’s Road Cocktail. It was still there some 30 years later (see image at right) but was removed during a later update, perhaps in the 1990s when the non-alcoholic additions made so many mild choices unnecessary.

Bilge: The Island Queen was originally served in a stemmed glass and was aimed at The Mai-Kai’s female clientele. You can sample an authentic Queen’s Road Cocktail at PKNY in New York City.

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!

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ANCESTOR RECIPE

Don the Beachcomber's Queen's Road Cocktail by The Atomic Grog

Don the Beachcomber’s Queen’s Road Cocktail by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2013)

Queen’s Road Cocktail
(By Don the Beachcomber, from Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari)

* 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1/2 ounce orange juice
* 1/2 ounce honey mix
   (equal parts honey and water, mixed)
* 1 1/2 ounces gold Puerto Rican rum
* 1/2 teaspoon ginger-infused sugar syrup
* Dash Angostura bitters

Shake everything with ice cubes. Strain into a cocktail glass with optional ice shell (click here for details on how to make one).

Created by Donn Beach sometime before 1941, when it first appeared on the Hollywood Beachcomber menu.

Tasting notes

Sour, sweet and tart with a distinctive rich ginger taste. Very well balanced and full of flavor.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* Pretty standard stuff except for the ginger syrup, which you’ll also find in Donn Beach’s Q.B Cooler, the ancestor to The Mai-Kai’s K.O. Cooler. I have a bottle of the Sonoma brand that I picked up at Whole Foods, but you can also grab some online from B.G. Reynolds’ Syrups. If you’re a purist, here are a few tips on making your own.

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Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Island Queen, circa 2013
By The Atomic Grog

Tribute to the Island Queen by The Atomic Grog

Tribute to the Island Queen by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2013)

* 1 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1 ounce fresh orange juice
* 3/4 ounce rich honey mix (2 parts honey to 1 part water, mixed and cooled)
* 3/4 ounce light rum
* 3/4 ounce Appleton Special gold Jamaican rum
* 1/4 teaspoon orgeat syrup

Pulse blend with 1/2 cup of crushed ice for 5-8 seconds. Pour into a chilled cocktail or specialty glass.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* As usual, fresh juices are essential in getting the best flavor. Squeeze the limes and be sure to get a quality brand of OJ. Honey mix is a familiar ingredient in Mai-Kai cocktails (see Hidden Pearl, Rum Julep, Oh So Deadly and many others) and needs to be rich and intense to have the full impact.

* We also detected a hint of orgeat lurking in the mix, most likely a replacement for the ginger syrup. Just keep it minimal so it’s a background note. (Orgeat is a common syrup in classic Tiki cocktails such as an authentic Trader Vic’s Mai Tai. There are now many decent brands available online or, if you’re lucky, at local retail outlets.) The bitters may also have been left out to keep the drink more on the sweet and sour side.

* Mattei confirmed that Appleton Special was used in the resurrected Island Queen. It joins the many other current and retired drinks that feature rums from the venerable Jamaican brand.

The Island Queen is a fairly simple, mild cocktail that uses classic tropical drink ingredients. This tribute comes fairly close to emulating this lost classic that we hope will make more return visits from the vault.

Okole maluna!

About Hurricane Hayward

A professional journalist and Florida resident for more than 30 years, Jim "Hurricane" Hayward shares his obsession with Polynesian Pop and other retro styles on his blog, The Atomic Grog. Jim's roots in mid-century and reto culture go back to his childhood in the 1960s, when he tagged along with his parents to Tiki restaurants and his father's custom car shows. His experience in journalism, mixology, and more than 20 years as an independent concert promoter make him a jack-of-all-trades in the South Florida scene. A graduate of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications, Jim is a longtime web producer for The Palm Beach Post. In his spare time, he has promoted hundreds of rock, punk, and indie concerts under the Slammie Productions name since the early 1990s. In 2011, he launched The Atomic Grog to extensively cover events, music, art, cocktails, and culture with a retro slant. Jim earned his nickname by virtue of both his dangerous exotic drinks and his longtime position producing The Post's tropical weather website.
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