If you were at The Monterey Club on Monday for the Nekromantix show or any of the other concerts this week, you surely noticed that the club has yet to open its expanded concert space. Negotiations and permits are taking longer than expected, but the owners hope to have it open in time for the Revenge of the Tiki 3 event scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 8.
Presented with the adjacent Kreepy Tiki Tattoos, the 14-hour bash (2 p.m. until 4 a.m.) is scheduled to include 30 bands (including country hellraiser Wayne Hancock from Austin), a custom car and bike show, vendors, a burlesque show and more. The bigger concert venue will be a welcome addition to the South Florida scene.
Those at the Nekromantix concert, or who may have recently visited The Monterey or Kreepy Tiki, may also have noticed another change in the area (just north of Fort Lauderdale International Airport on the east side of U.S. 1). A landmark building is being demolished.
Next door to The Monterey Club, Gold Coast Roller Rink, one of the few remaining vintage rinks in Florida, is in the process of being torn down after closing in mid-August. The property was purchased and will soon be home to a pet-boarding facility for travelers using the airport. Good news for jet-setting pet owners (or Monterey clubgoers looking for some extra parking), but bad news for skaters as well as fans of iconic buildings.
With much fanfare, Walt Disney World’s Enchanted Tiki Room was back in business this week after being closed since January due to a mysterious fire that precipitated a full overhaul of the legendary attraction.
And, much to the glee of Disney fans and Tikiphiles, the Tiki Room officially reopened in the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland with a new animatronic show that gives more than a nod to the original attraction, which has been a mainstay at California’s Disneyland since 1963.
We won’t be able to take a gander until October, but we’re happy to share some of the reviews, photos and video that have emerged this week. For a full recap of the Enchanted Tiki Room’s history and the story behind the renovations, check out our previous post.
It’s late 1972. I’m visiting my grandparents in South Florida but I’m more excited about our day trip to the East Coast’s answer to Disneyland: Walt Disney World. The park had opened just a year earlier and promised to be – in the eyes of an 11-year-old in the early ’70s – the coolest place on Earth.
I’ll never forget my first ride on the futuristic Monorail, the spooky and fun Haunted Mansion, the cartoonish architecture of Tomorrowland, plus the iconic castle and all the classic characters. The day flew by too fast but I cherished my souvenirs, including a Haunted Mansion record that I played to death over the years.
Fast-forward some 30 years and I’m a childless grown-up in South Florida. I’ve made the rounds of most of the state’s attractions as a teenager and young adult but never made it back to the Magic Kingdom. My only Disney World experiences were a day at Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) and a trip to Downtown Disney for a concert at the House of Blues. Like many others, I thought I was too cool for Disney World.
Our expedition through the mysterious tropical drink selection at The Mai-Kai takes a dangerous turn with another mid-century classic from the menu’s “STRONG!” offerings.
Tongue-in-cheek drinks lionizing primitivism were common during Tiki’s golden age. The ominous Shrunken Skull and its variations were among the most infamous. The idea was to conjure up a sense of danger lurking in your local tropical getaway. Classic Tiki bars offer the ultimate escape from the mundane day-to-day existence, and every island adventure needs a little bit of macabre yet kitschy risk-taking.
In this case, the danger lies in the strong rums that permeate this deadly concoction. The Shrunken Skull is one of only two current Mai-Kai drinks that feature a rum floater (a shot of rum added to your drink as it’s served). Not coincidentally, the other also comes with an element of danger attached to its name: the Shark Bite.
The Shrunken Skull is also one of only a handful of Mai-Kai cocktails to come in its own custom mug, originally a vintage shrunken head design that can fetch more than $100 on the open market. It was replaced by a modern version that is not quite as rare but can still reach $50 or more for older versions.
The above links and info come courtesy of Ooga Mooga, the premiere website for Tiki mug collectors. This highly recommended resource lets users track their mug collection while showing it off to others. Loaded with photos of great vintage mugs, it’s worth checking out even if you don’t register as a collector.
The Shrunken Skull also often comes in an Abelam mug (average price: $30), which features a mask-like design of the Abelam people who live in the East Sepik province of Papua New Guinea. A vintage Abelam mug is typically priced in the $100 range.
All of the above mugs have a handle, which is atypical of most Tiki mugs. It’s usually an indication that the mug does double-duty on the dessert menu as a vessel for hot coffee drinks. At The Mai-Kai, the current Abelam mug also can be enjoyed with an after-dinner classic, the flaming Kona Coffee Grog. The shrunken head mug is also used for the Tahitian Coffee.
I picked up both mugs in the gift shop, aka The Mai-Kai Trading Post. I’ll be monitoring their prices on Ooga Mooga like any good mug investor.
Whatever (or whoever) started a fire in Walt Disney World’s Enchanted Tiki Room back in January may have inadvertently set off a chain of events that has corrected one of the biggest blunders in the history of theme park attraction renovations.
Closed for the past seven months, the iconic attraction is scheduled to reopen Aug. 15 with a new animatronic show that pays tribute to the original attraction, which was a pet project of Walt himself. To the delight of many hardcore fans, the oft-reviled “Under New Management” theme has been ditched (for good, hopefully). Iago from Aladdin and Zazu from The Lion King have been replaced by José, Fritz, Michael and Pierre – the four crooning parrot hosts who have been entertaining guests at California’s Disneyland since 1963.
The redesign of Disney World’s Enchanted Tiki Room was announced in May at Disney’s “D23 Destination D: Walt Disney World 40th Anniversary Conference,” a special event for members of Disney’s D23 fan club (D23 refers to Disney and 1923, the year the company was founded). The Aug. 15 date was officially announced by Disney World on Tuesday.
Though it’s officially listed on The Mai-Kai’s legendary cocktail menu as an after-dinner drink, the Gardenia Lei is well worth checking out at any time, especially if you’re a fan of classic Tiki drinks.
It’s also a great showcase for the lost art of the ice shell. Our tribute to the Special Reserve Daiquiri, another drink that uses this same technique, includes instructions on how to make one. We saw how they were stored in the back bar’s freezer during our special tour in November 2011.
The Gardenia Lei is a vintage cocktail that has been on the menu since the opening of The Mai-Kai in 1956, with its roots going even farther back to Don the Beachcomber’s Mystery Gardenia. As we’ve pointed out in many other reviews, a majority of The Mai-Kai’s cocktails have their origins in the 1930s and 1940s when Donn Beach invented the tropical drink as we know it today. Related:The Mai-Kai’s tropical drink family tree
Many original Don the Beachcomber recipes have been unearthed by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and published in his many highly recommended books. Berry’s dogged research resulted in a greater understanding of the art of tropical mixology and helped spur the Tiki cocktail revival that shows no signs of abating.
It’s 1937. A budding Oakland, Calif., restaurateur named Victor Bergeron ventures south to Hollywood to see for himself what all the hoopla is about surrounding a small tropical-themed bar called Don the Beachcomber. According to legend, Bergeron was inspired to adopt the same Polynesian theme and shortly thereafter changed the name of his restaurant from Hinky Dink’s to Trader Vic’s.
The rest is history, and Trader Vic’s remains the standard-bearer for Polynesian restaurants worldwide with more than 25 locations. The Don the Beachcomber chain disappeared, save for a lone corporate restaurant/bar location at the Royal Kona Resort in Hawaii and a recently closed one-off franchise in Huntington Beach, Calif., that’s reportedly reopening soon in a new location. Neither, however, have much tangible connection to founder Donn Beach. He officially left the company when his ex-wife, Sunny Sund, took the helm during World War II.
Our nation’s soldiers always held a special place in the heart of Beach, a veteran of the Army Air Corps during WW II and recipient of both a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. One of the drinks on Beach’s menu in 1937 was the Q.B. Cooler, named for the Quiet Birdmen, a drinking fraternity of aviators founded by seven World War I pilots in 1921. Donn changed his Q.B. Cooler recipe over the years, but as cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry revealed in his 2007 book, Sippin’ Safari, the original version tastes remarkably similar to what Trader Vic later introduced to the world as perhaps the most famous of all tropical drinks, the Mai Tai.
As Berry theorized in the book and later demonstrated during a symposium at the 2009 Hukilau at The Mai-Kai, it’s likely that Bergeron created the Mai Tai by copying the flavor profile of the Q.B. Cooler. What’s remarkable is that the Mai Tai contains quite different ingredients (orange curacao, sugar syrup, orgeat syrup). The two drinks have only rum and lime juice in common. But it’s undeniable that the tastes are incredibly similar.
Of course, Bergeron later claimed that he invented the Mai Tai in 1944 and eventually won a court battle that established him as the originator of the famous cocktail. Berry puts forward the theory that Bergeron most likely did invent the Mai Tai as we all know it, but he was inspired by the Q.B. Cooler and re-created it using almost entirely different ingredients. In honor of the battle to make the best Mai Tai, the Royal Kona holds on popular bartending competition every year dubbed the Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai Festival.
In cocktail bars these days, every effort is made to let the customer know what their drink contains. And this is a good thing. Especially when we’re guaranteed “hand-crafted cocktails made with fresh squeezed fruit,” as we just discovered on the menu for the new Longboards restaurant in downtown West Palm Beach. Longboards goes even further, spelling out every ingredient (and their exact measurements). See the menu here. Now, we suspect that part of the reason for this is to give the inexperienced bartenders easy-to-find directions on how to make the cocktails. But no matter. As long as it raises the bar for quality tropical drinks, we’re all for it.
The Mai-Kai, on the other hand, is a throwback. Not a throwback to the dark days of cocktails when ham-fisted bartenders used artificial ingredients to create abominations that gave tropical drinks a black eye. But a throwback to the golden age of Tiki, when cocktail pioneers such as Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic created complex, iconic drinks that were so over-the-top delicious that the recipes became closely guarded secrets. They’re made behind closed doors, in back bars away from public view. And even the bartenders preparing the drinks aren’t completely aware of every ingredient. Proprietary mixes and syrups with cryptic names and numbers are common.
When you think of the Mint Julep, you immediately think of the Kentucky Derby. In 1959, when the organizers of the $100,000 Florida Derby sought a similar drink to promote their race, they turned to The Mai-Kai.
The Derby Daiquiri, created by mixologist Mariano Licudine, became the race’s official drink. The Florida Derby, which began in 1952, is still run today every spring with a purse now set at $1 million. Winners usually go on to compete in the Kentucky Derby.
The Derby Daiquiri immediately gave the race and The Mai-Kai a huge publicity boost. It also won first prize in a Rums of Puerto Rico cocktail competition and was featured as Esquire magazine’s drink of the month.
Hurricane Hayward joined the Austin Rum Society online to reveal several new rum blends that hope to duplicate The Mai-Kai’s late, great dark Jamaican mixing rum. In the video below, we also enjoyed a Rum Barrel featuring the new recipe and discussed the history of The Mai-Kai …
APRIL 2020 UPDATE: Building a better Barrel
The new tribute recipe was revealed on The Trader Brandon Transmissions on Instagram …
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.