The Atomic Grog had the distinct pleasure of serving up cocktails on Aug. 27 for special guests of artist Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli at the 20th anniversary party for Altered State Tattoo, the South Florida shop that has gained him a worldwide following for his highly creative ink. See recipes below: Altered State Zombie | Mai Ta-IPA
Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli gets festive at the party marking the 20th anniversary of his Altered State Tattoo shop.
Respectable Street in downtown West Palm Beach hosted the private bash, which also included a rare performance by Pooch’s hard-rocking band, Ferocious Stones; a lowbrow art marketplace featuring Altered State artists; and a DJ keeping the eclectic tunes flowing during the three-hour party. The Atomic Grog pop-up bar was featured on the back patio along with food by chef Corey Hall.
Pooch opened his modest shop in August 1996 in Lake Worth, funneling his creative energy into a new career as a small business owner. His talent as an artist (and musician) was always evident, with much of his early work centered around his acclaimed hardcore metal band Raped Ape. Pooch quickly became an in-demand tattooist, showcasing his highly original work in national magazines and building a loyal following. A lowbrow art career soon followed, with Pooch’s paintings shown at gallery shows from Los Angeles to Seattle to New York City.
Altered State Tattoo 20th anniversary party at Respectable Street: Kenny 5 (left), Pooch and JC Dwyer kick out the jams with Ferocious Stones. Many guests enjoyed cake, while Dwyer was a two-fisted drinker of Atomic Grog cocktails. (Atomic Grog photos)
The artist’s eye-popping surrealist work includes many exotic images, including Polynesian Tikis, Day of the Dead, and his own unique take on roller coasters. Full disclosure: The Atomic Grog home bar and surrounding walls feature a half-dozen Pooch prints, including Franken Tiki Island. Pooch painted a boomerang table that hangs behind the bar and also gave me this rare Tiki piece he painted. Needless to say, I’m a huge fan of his work. I even traveled to his 2005 gallery shows in Seattle and Los Angeles.
Not only is Pooch a major talent in the lowbrow and tattoo art worlds, he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. A seemingly imposing figure, Pooch is actually a gentle giant, literally and figuratively. Nowadays, we typically meet up for cocktails at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, sharing our affinity for Tiki culture and exotic libations. Mrs. Hayward and I also often join Mike and Stacy (Mrs. Pooch) at the creative gastropub Sweetwater in Boynton Beach.
Hurricane Hayward mixes up the Altered State Zombie and Mai Ta-IPA during Altered State Tattoo’s 20th anniversary party. (Atomic Grog photos)
If you missed The Hukilau earlier this month, or somehow didn’t grab all the official merchandise by artists such as Shag and Eekum Bookum, now’s your chance to snag some collectible souvenirs.
Mugs, prints, glassware, swizzle sticks, plus beach and bar towels are all on sale now while supplies last. Many items are expected to sell out fast, so don’t delay. Keep an eye on the merchandise page on the official website for updates.
Shag/Mai-Kai Lithograph: A limited-edition print with The Hukilau’s logo and artwork of The Mai-Kai’s iconic Mystery Girl created by Shag over a vintage photo of the restaurant. The acclaimed artist was a special guest at The Hukilau, hosting events such as Shag’s SkyLounge and the symposium “I Learned My ABC’s in Waikiki”. Of the 250 printed, 100 remained for online sales at $25 each.
Fans of the much-anticipated Tiki bar coming soon to the Polynesian Village Resort at Walt Disney World were treated to a sneak preview during the inaugural Mahaloween Luau at Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel. Disney Imagineers showed off a logo T-shirt and several mug prototypes, along with some insight on the design and theming of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto.
The event on Monday, Sept. 29, was a seasonal-themed party that included food and drinks, live music, exclusive merchandise, and a presentation by Walt Disney Imagineering on the past, present and future of Tiki at the Disney parks. Among those in attendance was Steve “Tikiman” Seifert, who keeps fans of the Polynesian Village Resort updated on all the recent changes and refurbishments with his authoritative website and Facebook page. Seifert kept an eye out for news on the Polynesian and the Grog Grotto, and he gave us a full report after the event. Check out his photos and more insights on Mahaloween below. Thanks also to EPCOT Explorer for his photos.
Amid all the construction and re-imagining of the Polynesian, Disney has released very little info about its new Trader Sam’s outpost in Orlando since a big announcement and release of concept art on May 2 [See The Atomic Grog’s story and photos]. And while Imagineers Brandon Kleyla and Kyle Barnes didn’t drop any bombshells, they did provide a few visual and informational treats. Kleyla, in fact, was wearing an orange T-shirt featuring a Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto logo that will likely soon become a merchandise item. A blue shirt was also shown during the presentation. Kleyla, who grew up in Florida and frequented Disney World in his youth, was the Imagineering set decorator for Trader Sam’s in Anaheim, bringing to life an immersive environment that borrows heavily from classic Disney attractions such at the Jungle Cruise, Enchanted Tiki Room and Adventurer’s Club [See interview].
Veteran Imagineer Kyle Barnes, who had a lead role in the Disneyland Hotel bar’s design, took the mic to talk about the concept behind Disney’s second lounge “owned” by Trader Sam, the infamous “head salesman” on the Jungle Cruise attraction at Disneyland and Disney World. Barnes said that while the Disneyland location celebrates the Jungle Cruise and a 1930s African Queen aesthetic, the Disney World bar will synch up with the Magic Kingdom and feature more of a “technicolor” look and feel.
Barnes also confirmed suspicions that have made the rounds since the concept art was released showing a giant squid tentacle behind the bar [See photo]. The Grog Grotto will celebrate the classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, “with various props from that attraction,” he said.
A nautical theme makes perfect sense considering a grotto is often a small cave near water. And it will be located just across Seven Seas Lagoon from the Magic Kingdom and Adventureland, which includes Trader Sam’s home in the exotic rivers of the Jungle Cruise, as well as the animatronic tikis in the Enchanted Tiki Room. The T-shirt logo also includes a giant squid, so don’t be surprised if the Grog Grotto features a backstory about Sam’s adventures on and beneath the sea.
The first “Atomic Grog Mai-Kai Mixer” on June 9 served up not only a rousing party featuring a cool retro DJ and live vintage surf music, but also an inside look at some of the 55-year-old Polynesian landmark’s acclaimed tropical drinks.
Surf band Skinny Jimmy & The Stingrays and DJ Mike “Jetsetter” Jones rocked the house all night long as partygoers enjoyed the festive vibe in the Fort Lauderdale restaurant’s elaborately themed Molokai bar. Click here for a full recap of the entertainment, plus photos. But for some, the event’s highlight came during happy hour.
Early arrivals were promised “blind tastings” of three vintage cocktails presented by Mai-Kai manager Kern Mattei. There were 32 flights served in the packed bar, with at least 44 tasters participating. Prizes were awarded to those who correctly guessed which exotic drink they were tasting. Priced at just $15 for three 8-ounce drinks, it was a bargain for the lucky participants. In addition, everyone enjoyed the regular early Saturday happy hour featuring half-priced drinks and appetizers from 4:30 to 7 p.m.
What could be more comforting on a chilly winter night than some warm rum and spices with a big dollop of butter? The holiday season would not be complete without a traditional Hot Buttered Rum.
Like the milk punch, Hot Buttered Rum is a seasonal classic that dates back to colonial times. According to the American Heritage Cookbook, the drink even “found its way into domestic politics.” Candidates would ply their constituents with it to influence their vote. If only today’s politicians would try this method instead of the usual dirty politics.
Drinks using the key ingredients – rum, butter and hot water – were documented during the early days of mixology in cocktail pioneer Jerry Thomas’ mid-19th century bar guides as Hot Rum and Hot Spiced Rum. The Mai-Kai’s version is not very different than the traditional Hot Buttered Rum and was no doubt influenced by Don the Beachcomber’s early Tiki classic.
Hot Buttered Rum and the lesser known Hot Rum Grog were staples on Donn Beach’s early menus. A menu from the 1940s includes this description of the Hot Buttered Rum: “Rums from the islands of Jamaican and Barbados. Mulled with cinnamon, cloves, orange peel, sweet butter and hot water. This will rekindle the fires in your heart.”
By the 1950s, Donn’s copycats were experimenting with the traditional recipe, adding creme de cacao (Pub and Prow Hot Buttered Rum), along with maraschino liqueur and black tea (Volcano House Hot Buttered Rum). We can thank tropical cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry for these, which he published in Beachbum Berry Remixed (2010) and the Total Tiki app.
Mahalo to the Bum and his 10th anniversary edition of Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari in 2017, we have perhaps the most reverent Hot Buttered Rum recipe to Donn’s original (rum, honey butter mix, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon). Berry gleaned it from a 1969 issue of the Stardust Hotel’s in-house magazine, but those who follow Tiki history will know that the Aku-Aku restaurant, which operated from 1960 to 1980 in the iconic Las Vegas landmark, has a direct connection to Don the Beachcomber. Beach consulted on its creation and undoubtedly contributed his recipes to the cocktail menu. Sippin’ Safari is a must-read for many great stories about Donn and the Aku-Aku.
Oh So Deadly is a deceptive name since the cocktail is actually from the mild section of The Mai-Kai’s extensive menu. It packs intense flavors, however, ranking it among the best of the mild drinks.
Until recently, we were convinced that cinnamon was a featured ingredient. When this guide was launched in 2011, Oh So Deadly was among 10 cocktails that we thought contained cinnamon syrup, a key secret weapon of Tiki bar pioneer Don the Beachcomber. Many of The Mai-Kai’s best drinks are direct descendants of Beachcomber classics from the 1930s through 1950s, when original mixologist Mariano Licudine tended bar at Don the Beachcomber restaurants in Hollywood, Calif., and Chicago. In this case, Oh So Deadly can be traced back to Never Say Die.
In 2012, we posted our take on Oh So Deadly featuring cinnamon and considered this among our better tributes. However, in June 2015 we learned that cinnamon syrup is not featured in any of the current cocktails. Manager Kern Mattei and owner Dave Levy assured me that it’s not used anywhere on the menu, though the cinnamon sticks used for garnish in several of the drinks can give you that illusion. This caused a minor stir on Tiki Central, where Mai-Kai cocktail fans debated the revelation.
The distinctive juices, rums and syrups used at The Mai-Kai have always given the cocktails a unique flavor that’s nearly impossible to duplicate. The phantom cinnamon flavor in drinks such as Oh So Deadly just reinforces that fact. The juices come fresh-squeezed from South Florida groves, the rums include bold Jamaican and Demerara brands, and the syrups are house-made following mysterious recipes that only Levy knows.
More recently, the recipe was tweaked to add falernum, which gives it an added boost of flavor. This Caribbean syrup features many exotic flavors, including almond, ginger, cloves, and lime. It’s featured in multiple drinks on the menu, including Cobra’s Kiss, Mai-Kai Swizzle and S.O.S. Oh So Deadly contains a healthy dose of falernum, making it perhaps the best showcase of all.
What also sets it apart from many of the other mild drinks is the inclusion of two of The Mai-Kai’s most distinctive rums (Demerara and dark Jamaican). The mild cocktails typically contain light and gold rums that don’t impart as much flavor. Oh So Deadly is an exception to that rule.
What a difference and new rum and secret syrup can make. Relegated to the bottom end of our ratings and nearly forgotten, The Mai-Kai’s Bora Bora made a comeback in 2012 thanks to the return of the rich and flavorful Demerara rum to The Mai-Kai, which gives this cocktail a much-needed boost.
The little-known Bora Bora has always been a potent concoction. I used to recommended it to folks who like a strong Mai Tai (classic, Trader Vic style) due to its intense combination of sour juices and Martinique rum. But with the smoky and tasty Demerara rum from Guyana replacing the earthy and sometimes harsh agricole rum, this drink took on a whole new life.
It immediately jumped up five spots in our ratings (rising from 2 1/2 to 3 stars) and inspired the first two tribute recipes below. After further study, we moved it up another five spots to the top of the 3-star rankings. Click here for more on the return of Demerara rum to The Mai-Kai.
Then, in the late summer of 2016, it was among a handful of drinks to get a boost from the return of a mysterious secret ingredient that dates back to the early days of The Mai-Kai. Now featuring Mariano’s Mix #7, Bora Bora takes on a whole new life with a bold yet sweet and approachable anise flavor vying for your attention. As a result, we boosted our rating from 3 to 3 1/2 stars, moving it into the Top 25. [See the rankings] Check out the third version of the tribute recipe below.
July 2018 update: The Bora Bora was one of three cocktails featured at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale in June in Hurricane Hayward’s Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class, “How to Mix Like The Mai-Kai.” In the sold-out event, students learned tips and techniques for turning their home bars into a Tiki cocktail paradise by exploring the key elements of Mai-Kai cocktails.
(Atomic Grog photos from The Hukilau’s Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina on June 8, 2018)
After discussing the syrups, Hayward revealed documents that show how The Mai-Kai faithfully follows Don the Beachcomber’s early secret recipes, including one that features both Mariano’s Mix #7 and the even more obscure “#4”. The class then received sample drinks featuring the Bora Bora tribute recipe, batched by Hayward with expert assistance from Lucky Munro, proprietor of Lucky’s Cane & Grog in Pittsburgh. See photos from the class:Facebook | Flickr
We continue our journey through dangerous waters with another of The Mai-Kai’s signature drinks, the Shark Bite.
Considering that this is the heart of the summer vacation season and we’re still digesting Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” this is an appropriate choice. Actually, the Shark Bite’s potency is a bit overstated. It’s our favorite drink from the “medium” section of the menu.
Like the much stronger Shrunken Skull, the Shark Bite has an ominous name and also a shot of flavorful rum added as it’s served. It’s also one of many of the legendary Fort Lauderdale Polynesian restaurant’s drinks that date back to the early days of Tiki, when Donn Beach (aka Donn the Beachcomber) laid out the template for tropical drinks that is still followed to this day.
The Shark Bite is an almost spot-on copy of the Shark’s Tooth, a drink featured on Don the Beachcomber menus as well as other bars and restaurants during the mid-century golden age of Tiki. You’ll find a Shark’s Tooth recipe below that was unearthed by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry for his seminal 1998 book, Grog Log, and later republished in Beachbum Berry Remixed (2010). Also below is a slight variation that we’re calling a tribute to the Shark Bite.
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.
It was replaced some time in the 1980s by a modern version based on Kocab’s design that remains to this day. The modern version features the details painted under the glaze, while the vintage version has the details painted over the glaze.
The above links and info come courtesy of My Tiki Life, a website featuring a user-generated database of mugs past and present. This highly recommended resource is so robust, in fact, it lists nearly 300 mugs (as of October 2023) with a tag of “skull.” Featuring photos, designer and manufacturer info, plus a full description of the mugs, mytiki.life is essential even if you don’t register as a member.
In recent years, the Shrunken Skull is also often served in a modern Abelam mug, which features a mask-like design of the Abelam people who live in the East Sepik province of Papua New Guinea. The original was also designed by Kocab.
Both 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 Skull mug is also used for the Tahitian Coffee.
The 16 deadly drinks in the “strong” section are no doubt the stars of The Mai-Kai’s legendary cocktail menu. There’s a reason they comprise 13 of the Top 20 in our rankings. They’re by far the most inventive, mysterious and flavor-packed drinks on the menu.
Just be careful when imbibing. The Mai-Kai doesn’t use the word “strong” lightly. Some contain 3 ounces of rum (or more), others a healthy dose of overproof. Among these, there are “strong” drinks and then there are “STRONG!” drinks. In the latter category, one of the first cocktails that comes to mind is the classic 151 Swizzle.
Like many Mai-Kai drinks, this deliciously dangerous concoction dates back to Tiki originator Donn Beach (better known as Don the Beachcomber) and has been on the Fort Lauderdale restaurant’s cocktail menu since its opening in 1956. It has become an iconic standard at some of the world’s top Tiki bars, from the 60-year-old Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles to the 5-year-old False Idol in San Diego. At Hale Pele in Portland, The Mai-Kai gets a shout-out in the menu description, and the presentation is very familiar. It’s likely they’re using a variation of one of our seven tribute recipes below.
Martin Cate, one of the world’s top rum and Tiki cocktail authorities, considers the 151 Swizzle his favorite drink on The Mai-Kai’s menu. [See interview] “When it’s made perfectly, it’s a wonderful drink,” he said. “That to me is my mothership.” At his acclaimed Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, he serves a souped up version called the 2070 Swizzle, which he calls “my giant killer.” [See recipe]
Revealed in Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s groundbreaking 1998 cocktail guide, Grog Log, the original Don the Beachcomber recipe is fairly simple (see below). As the cocktail sleuth pointed out in the book, it was originally served in a metal cup with a flared top, “but good luck finding one.” The Mai-Kai, of course, follows tradition and has always served its 151 Swizzle in a chilled metal cup.
Finding the correct cup outside of the handful of bars mentioned above, however, has traditionally been difficult. You could typically find a Mint Julep cup or other close approximation on eBay, but they fall short of the sleek, flared design of the original. Berry took matters into his own hands in May 2015, when he released a new line of Tiki barware via Cocktail Kingdom, including a Swizzle Cup. [See story]
Beyond the cup, The Mai-Kai’s version of the 151 Swizzle is unlike any other. Like many Mai-Kai drinks, it’s based on the Don the Beachcomber version but was given a unique twist by original owner Bob Thornton and mixologist Mariano Licudine, who learned his craft from Donn Beach. We’ve taken a stab at re-creating the same flavor profile and have posted an ever-evolving list of “tribute recipes” below. Like Thornton, his stepson Dave Levy also tinkered with the recipe from time to time when he was in charge over the past 30 years, especially when changes were made to the rums.
The recipe grew out of discussion on The Grogalizer, a site highly recommend if you’re a fan of classic Tiki cocktails. Developed by The Swank Pad’s Tim “Swanky” Glazner, The Grogalizer is a database of hundreds of recipes from all of Beachbum Berry’s books, plus a few select others. The site allows you to rate the drinks, see how other mixologists rank them and share comments on each.
Sign up (it’s easy) and keep track of your progress through all the great recipes in these books. It’s also a seamless way to keep track of all the various bar ingredients you’ll need to re-create these classics, which include many in this guide. After compiling your online bar, you can figure out which drinks you can make with which ingredients, as well as resources for buying hard-to-find stuff. In September 2016, Glazner released his long-awaited book, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, an essential addition to any Mai-Kai fan’s collection.
The evolution of the tribute recipe has gone through several stages, as you’ll see below. The first big breakthrough came in March 2012, when I discovered Kohala Bay, a rare dark Jamaican rum that was a key ingredient in many of The Mai-Kai’s strong cocktails. In addition, a search of eBay yielded a set of metal cups that were similar to the real deal. With the cup and rum in my arsenal, I were able to come up a much more accurate tribute recipe.
But just when I thought I had it down pat, The Mai-Kai dropped a bombshell in late April 2012 with the reintroduction of Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum, which had been absent from its bars for some 15 years. This only made a great drink even better and returned it to its vintage recipe. This resulted in tribute recipes No. 2 and No. 3. The fourth variation of the recipe, created in early 2015 when Lemon Hart was replaced by Hamilton 151 rum from Guyana, is more complex and full of outstanding flavors.