The Mai-Kai team joins The Atomic Grog for two special presentations at Tiki Oasis

The Mai-Kai at Tiki Oasis

The Mai-Kai and The Atomic Grog are headed to Tiki Oasis! We’re honored to be joined by manager Kern Mattei and creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller at the world’s original and largest Tiki weekender Aug. 2-6 in San Diego.

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Tiki Oasis

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* Sneak preview of The Mai-Kai seminars
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The 23rd annual event at the Town and Country Resort features live entertainment (Man or Astroman, The Tikiyaki Orchestra, Messer Chups, The New Les Baxter Orchestra, Shorty’s Swingin’ Coconuts, King Kukulele, Medusirena), seminars (Sven Kirsten, Charles Phoenix, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Ian Burrell), artists, vendors, and much more.

Tiki Oasis guests will enjoy five nights and four days of poolside lounging, fashion shows, room parties, live bands and DJs, a curated art exhibit, a gigantic Tiki marketplace, tropical cocktails curated by top mixologists, plus much more.

Click here for event tickets, ranging from $40 for Wednesday to $499 for a deluxe Wednesday-Sunday pass. If you have kids in tow, don’t fret. Tickets cost just $35 for ages 6 to 17. Children 5 under are free.

Click below for tickets to the seminars, which must be purchased separately.

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THE MAI-KAI AT TIKI OASIS

Jim "Hurricane" Hayward (left) is participating in Tiki Oasis 2023 with two key members of The Mai-Kai team: manager Kern Mattei and creative director "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller. (Mai-Kai photo)
Jim “Hurricane” Hayward (left) is participating in Tiki Oasis 2023 with two key members of The Mai-Kai team: manager Kern Mattei and creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller. (Mai-Kai photo)

For the first time in event history, South Florida’s historic Mai-Kai will be on hand for not one, but two official presentations. Last year, designer and artist Allsmiller taught a sold-out, two-day shelf-building class shortly after diving into his work restoring The Mai-Kai. This year, he’ll be featuring one of his restored vintage lamps from The Mai-Kai in a lamp show that runs all weekend.

On Friday, Hayward and Mattei will present a seminar on one of The Mai-Kai’s most iconic cocktails, the Derby Daiquiri. On Saturday, they will be joined by Allsmiller for a presentation jam-packed with the latest information on the restoration and reopening.

Here are are more details on the events:

The Derby Daiquiri and Beyond: How to Create Your Own Classic
Hosted by Kern Mattei and Jim “Hurricane” Hayward
2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4, $45 [BUY TICKETS]

In 1958, Mariano Licudine created the Derby Daiquiri, one of the most celebrated drinks of the mid-century tropical cocktail boom.
In 1958, Mariano Licudine created the Derby Daiquiri, one of the most celebrated drinks of the mid-century tropical cocktail boom.

The Mai-Kai’s Derby Daiquiri was one of the most celebrated cocktails of the mid-century, a simple riff on the Cuban classic by master mixologist Mariano Licudine. Six decades later, it remains one of the most popular drinks on the historic restaurant’s menu. It also provides a case study on how a vintage recipe can be enhanced by just a few simple tweaks, creating something new and exciting. Join The Mai-Kai’s longtime manager, Kern Mattei, and cocktail blogger Jim “Hurricane” Hayward for an examination of Licudine’s genius as they guide you toward creating your own signature classic.

About Kern and Jim

Kern Mattei was born into The Mai-Kai family and has worked there since his youth, from barback and bartender to the past three decades as manager. His father was the GM before him, and his mother performed in the stage show. His unique position makes him intimately familiar with the restaurant’s famous cocktails, their history and the secret recipes. During the current refurbishment, he runs the takeout cocktail program, providing quarts and gallons of classics like the Barrel O’ Rum and Black Magic to thirsty locals. Blogger and journalist Jim “Hurricane” Hayward has covered The Mai-Kai for more than a decade, documenting and recreating the cocktail recipes in exacting detail. As we approach a late 2023 reopening, The Atomic Grog has become a key source of information on The Mai-Kai restoration project.

Mariano Licudine serves the Derby Daiquiri in Puerto Rico in 1959. The seminar will reveal The Mai-Kai's relationship with the Rums of Puerto Rico trade group. (From Potions of the Caribbean, courtesy of The Mai-Kai)
Mariano Licudine serves the Derby Daiquiri in Puerto Rico in 1959. The seminar will reveal The Mai-Kai’s relationship with the Rums of Puerto Rico trade group. (From Potions of the Caribbean, courtesy of The Mai-Kai)

Seminar sneak preview

Here’s a glimpse of what you can expect during the first-ever official Mai-Kai cocktail seminar at Tiki Oasis:

  • Three different Daiquiris will be served by the Tiki Oasis cocktail crew, including the Derby, as we reveal and dissect each recipe.
  • Rare and never-before-seen images from the archives will be shown, including Mattei family photos.

  • We’ll take the most detailed look yet at the creation and explosive popularity of the Derby Daiquiri, known as “the $100,000 Drink.”

  • The seminar will conclude with the premiere of a new recipe created especially for Tiki Oasis and San Diego.

The Derby Daiquiri: The Mai-Kai’s ‘$100,000 drink’ is worth its weight in gold
The Derby Daiquiri: The Mai-Kai’s ‘$100,000 drink’ is worth its weight in gold UPDATED
A deep dive into the fascinating history of the cocktail that made The Mai-Kai and its head mixologist famous.
>>> UPDATED HISTORY, REVIEW AND MORE
NEW: Tribute recipe | The Derby Daiquiri on Spike’s Breezeway Cocktail Hour

Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Classic Daiquiri lost favor when Cuba fell, but influence endures
Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Classic Daiquiri lost favor when Cuba fell, but influence endures UPDATED
Revisit The Mai-Kai’s version of a classic, including a recently unveiled recipe that links back to Don the Beachcomber.
>>> UPDATED HISTORY & REVIEW | NEW: AUTHENTIC RECIPE

More on The Atomic Grog
* Okole Maluna Society: The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide
* More on the Daiquiri, plus 18 other recipes in the A-Z cocktail guide

The Mai-Kai is in the midst of a multi-year, multimillion-dollar restoration and renovation project. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / July 2023)
The Mai-Kai is in the midst of a multi-year, multimillion-dollar restoration and renovation project. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / July 2023)

Tiki History Reimagined: The Restoration and Reopening of The Mai-Kai
Jim “Hurricane” Hayward with “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller and Kern Mattei
2:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5, $20 [BUY TICKETS]

The Mai-Kai is a miraculous survivor. The South Florida historic landmark endured a near-catastrophic roof collapse in late 2020 but found new owners with deep pockets and an ambitious vision to preserve it for generations to come. When the restoration of the 66-year-old Polynesian palace is complete, it will be meticulously returned to its former glory and also include millions of dollars in enhancements that respect the past and charge boldly into the future. In this multimedia presentation, embedded journalist Jim “Hurricane” Hayward of The Atomic Grog blog will take you behind the scenes at The Mai-Kai. He’ll be joined by two key members of The Mai-Kai team: Creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller will offer unique insights into the painstaking restoration efforts, while longtime manager Kern Mattei will provide up-to-the-minute news on the renovation project, along with his unique perspective on Mai-Kai history.

Creative director "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller (right) has been joined by fellow Florida artist and craftsman Scott "Flounder" Scheidly for the ambitious job of restoring the interior of The Mai-Kai, including more than 100 vintage lamps. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / July 2023)
Creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller (right) has been joined by fellow Florida artist and craftsman Scott “Flounder” Scheidly for the ambitious job of restoring the interior of The Mai-Kai, including more than 100 vintage lamps. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / July 2023)

About The Mai-Kai team

Jim “Hurricane” Hayward is a veteran journalist and blogger, best known for The Atomic Grog blog – covering Tiki events, music, art cocktails and culture since 2011. Along with its popular Mai-Kai cocktail guide, the blog has become the go-to source of information on the landmark restaurant’s closing, sale, restoration, and reopening. Typhoon Tommy is a multiple Thea Award-winning scenic artist with 13 years of experience in the theme park industry. After turning his talents full-time to creating magical escapes in the world of Tiki, he became creative director and designer for The Mai-Kai renovation project in 2022. Kern Mattei grew up at the historic restaurant during its heyday and now leads the efforts to modernize the infrastructure while maintaining as much of its original beauty as possible. He has been general manager since 1993, following in the footsteps of his father, Kern Mattei Sr. (1964-1991).

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai team joins The Atomic Grog for two special presentations at Tiki Oasis”

New symposium at The Hukilau 2020: ‘How The Mai-Kai Perfected the Modern Tiki Cocktail’

The Hukilau 2020: A week of virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need
NEW: The Hukilau 2020: A week of virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need
You can pay homage to the canceled Tiki weekender with educational symposiums, a special virtual event at The Mai-Kai, plus more.
UPDATED: The Tiki Times
See what’s canceled, rescheduled – plus new online events

On April 20, The Hukilau announced that its 19th annual Tiki weekender scheduled for June 3-7 in Fort Laduerdale was being postponed by the coronavirus pandemic. In its place will be a series of events across the country aimed at raising money for Tiki bars devastated by shutdowns. Click the link below for more info.

The Hukilau hits the road to spread aloha, benefit closed Tiki bars
The Hukilau hits the road to benefit closed Tiki bars
The tour will include The Mai-Kai, other stops across U.S., plus The Hukilau London in October.

The original story remains below for posterity …

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Updated Feb. 25, 2020

Donn Beach, aka Don the Beachcomber, famously came up with the idea of a lavish and immersive lounge featuring South Pacific themes and Caribbean cocktails in the 1930s. But it took two upstart restaurateurs and one of Beach’s top bartenders to take the Tiki concept to a whole new level when they opened The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale in 1956.

The Mai-Kai's owners, Bob Thornton (left) and Jack Thornton (right), with master mixologist Mariano Licudine
The Mai-Kai’s owners, Bob Thornton (left) and Jack Thornton (right), with master mixologist Mariano Licudine. (Credit: Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)

At The Hukilau, set for June 3-7 in Fort Lauderdale, find out how the combination of the insightful ownership of Bob and Jack Thornton along with the mixology skills of former Don the Beachcomber bartender Mariano Licudine set a standard of tropical cocktail excellence that has stood the test of time for more than 60 years.

A vintage Mai-Kai photo of cocktails in The Molokai bar
A vintage Mai-Kai photo of cocktails in The Molokai bar. (Mai-Kai photo)

Sticking closely to Beach’s groundbreaking secret recipes, but putting their own more modern and accessible spin on them, the brothers and their head bartender envisioned a menu of some 50 elaborate libations that endure and are beloved to this day under the continued ownership of Bob Thornton’s family.

Founding co-owner Bob Thornton shows off the award-winning Derby Daiquiri
Founding co-owner Bob Thornton shows off the award-winning Derby Daiquiri. (Photos courtesy of Tim Glazner, SwankPad.org)

Learn how The Mai-Kai still follows Don the Beachcomber’s procedures and standards that were created nearly 90 years ago to maintain the mystery and allure of the modern tropical cocktail in the restaurant’s secret back bars.

Donn Beach (1930s), Mariano Licudine (1960s), and a current Mai-Kai bartender (2019)
Donn Beach (1930s), Mariano Licudine (1960s), and a current Mai-Kai bartender (2019). (Photos from newspaper archives and The Atomic Grog)

Join Hurricane Hayward of The Atomic Grog blog and some very special guests for an exploration of the passing of the torch from Donn Beach to the Thornton brothers, and the key role of Licudine in keeping these historic cocktails alive and thriving.

Continue reading “New symposium at The Hukilau 2020: ‘How The Mai-Kai Perfected the Modern Tiki Cocktail’”

Lost cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Classic Daiquiri lost favor when Cuba fell, but influence endures

Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Classic Daiquiri lost favor when Cuba fell, but influence endures

Updated August 2023
See below: Cuban Daiquiri review | NEW: Official Mai-Kai recipe
Related: The Derby Daiquiri: The Mai-Kai’s ‘$100,000 drink’ is worth its weight in gold UPDATED
* The story of the Floridita Daiquiri rivals any novel
More Mai-Kai Daiquiris: Special Reserve Daiquiri | Banana Daiquiri | Strawberry Daiquiri
* Mai-Kai cocktail guide | More “lost cocktails”
* More Daiquiri recipes | Cocktail Recipes, A through Z

The humble Daiquiri is arguably the most definitive rum cocktail, perhaps even the prototype for the 20th century tropical drink explosion. It influenced Don the Beachcomber, Trader Vic, and countless others who followed in their footsteps.

Cuba’s most famous cocktail can be traced back to the late 1800s, but the simple combination of rum, lime and sugar was not groundbreaking. Martinique and Guadeloupe had the Ti Punch while Jamaica had its Planters Punch. An argument can be made that this intoxicating combination was invented on the high seas in the 1700s, when the British Navy introduced Grog to its sailors.

A vintage image from a Don the Beachcomber menu.
A vintage image from a Don the Beachcomber menu.

In this pantheon, the Daiquiri is distinctive for its precise craft and the clean, crisp rum of its homeland. In Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them (2014), Jeff “Beachbum” Berry praised the Daiquiri as the most perfectly balanced of all the rum-lime-sugar proto-cocktails.

Though deeply linked to Cuba, the Daiquiri was actually invented by an American engineer, Jennings Cox, who ran a mining company in the small village of Daiquiri during the Spanish-American War. The original was more like a punch, batched and served over crushed ice. It was not reconfigured into a single cocktail, strained into an empty coupe, until around 1913, after Cox’s death

That’s when the Daiquiri really began to take off. Its popularity grew from a local favorite to a destination drink for tourists who flocked to the Caribbean island’s legendary bars such as Havana’s La Floridita, especially during Prohibition. It also caught the attention of Facundo Bacardi, who used the simple drink to promote his expanding rum empire.

A vintage Bacardi ad from Cuba. Havana's La Floridita and owner/bartender Constantino Ribalaigua Vert became known worldwide for perfecting the craft of the Daiquiri.
A vintage Bacardi ad from Cuba. Havana’s La Floridita and owner/bartender Constantino Ribalaigua Vert became known worldwide for perfecting the craft of the Daiquiri.

It’s likely that both Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber) and Victor Bergeron (aka Trader Vic) ran across the Daiquiri during their travels in the Caribbean before opening their bars in California that kick-started the Tiki cocktail craze in the 1930s.

Their menus are loaded with Daiquiris, much like The Mai-Kai. Open since 1956, the South Florida historic landmark still features many drinks that can be traced back to Donn Beach, such as the Special Reserve Daiquiri.

There’s also a blended classic (Floridita Daiquiri) and an acclaimed original creation of mixologist Mariano Licudine, the Derby Daiquiri.

Of all the Daiquiris that appeared on a Mai-Kai menu, the Cuban Daiquiri is the only one that faded into the history books. It was an opening-day drink in 1956, but it likely became a victim of the era’s political upheaval, not to mention the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba that began in 1960 and lasts to this day.

The Mai-Kai's 1956-57 menu, which featured the Cuban Daiquiri (upper right).
The Mai-Kai’s 1956-57 menu, which featured the Cuban Daiquiri (upper right).

Before the 1958 revolution, Mai-Kai owners Bob and Jack Thornton were known to take weekend jaunts to the island aboard a private plane. They brought back rare bottles of Cuban rum, which can still be found displayed in the restaurant’s back bar (see photo below).

The Derby Daiquiri took the Cuban Daiquiri’s place on the menu in 1959. It was revived during a menu expansion in the early 1970s, but it was removed for good in the 1980s and became largely forgotten.

The Daiquiri was sullied during the cocktail dark ages of the late 20th century by cheap imitations and dreaded frozen slushie-style machines. But the classic recipe maintained a quiet dignity. The traditional Daiquiri has seen an amazing resurgence during the 21st century craft and Tiki cocktail revival.

Continue reading “Lost cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Classic Daiquiri lost favor when Cuba fell, but influence endures”

The 12 Days of Christmas, Mai-Kai style

Derby Daiquiri. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, November 2011)
Derby Daiquiri. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, November 2011)

On the first day of Christmas
The Mai-Kai gave to me
a Derby Daiquiri

On the second day of Christmas,
The Mai-Kai gave to me,
Two Shrunken Skulls,
And a Derby Daiquiri.

On the third day of Christmas,
The Mai-Kai gave to me,
Three Shark Bites,
Two Shrunken Skulls,
And a Derby Daiquiri

On the fourth day of Christmas,
The Mai-Kai gave to me,
Four Hidden Pearls,
Three Shark Bites,
Two Shrunken Skulls,
And a Derby Daiquiri.

Continue reading “The 12 Days of Christmas, Mai-Kai style”

The Derby Daiquiri: The Mai-Kai’s ‘$100,000 drink’ is worth its weight in gold

The Derby Daiquiri: The Mai-Kai's '$100,000 drink' is worth its weight in gold

Updated November 2023
See below: Our Derby Daiquiri review | Official Mai-Kai recipe | Tribute recipe
More Mai-Kai Daiquiris: Cuban Daiquiri | Special Reserve Daiquiri | Floridita Daiquiri | Banana Daiquiri | Strawberry Daiquiri
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide
* More on the Derby Daiquiri from The Swank Pad
* The Mai-Kai’s Derby Daiquiri seminar at Tiki Oasis 2023
* The next level Derby Daiquiri in Tropical Standard
UPDATE: The Derby Daiquiri on YouTube and social media

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 in a vintage glass with its signature coaster. (Photo by Tim "Swanky" Glazner)
The Derby Daiquiri in a vintage glass with its signature coaster. (Photo by Tim “Swanky” Glazner)

The Derby Daiquiri, created by legendary mixologist Mariano Licudine, became the race’s official drink. The Florida Derby, which began in 1952, is still run today every spring at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale 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 was championed by Rums of Puerto Rico in countless national ad campaigns and was featured as Esquire magazine’s drink of the month.

When New York’s Cue magazine printed the recipe, restaurants all over Manhattan started serving the “$100,000 drink,” Jeff “Beachbum” Berry wrote in the chapter on Licudine and The Mai-Kai in his 2007 book, Sippin’ Safari. The lounge at the Newark, N.J., airport served the drink to vacationers departing for Fort Lauderdale.

The Mai-Kai's founding co-owner, Bob Thornton, shows off the Derby Daiquiri. (Photos courtesy of Tim Glazner, SwankPad.org)
The Mai-Kai’s founding co-owner, Bob Thornton, shows off the Derby Daiquiri. (Photos courtesy of Tim Glazner, SwankPad.org)

Not to be outdone, Berry wrote, Mai-Kai owners Jack and Bob Thornton sent a portable Tiki bar to the Fort Lauderdale airport, where Licudine himself served his creation to arriving passengers. In his thatch-roofed “goodwill wagon,” Licudine also met VIP arrivals at train stations and cruise ship docks, in the process becoming something of a local hero, Berry wrote.

The drink’s first menu sightings were on the 1959 Molokai bar menu and main drink menu. A certificate issued by Rums of Puerto Rico (see below) officially registered the drink on Aug. 1, 1958.

In 1958, Mariano Licudine created the Derby Daiquiri, one of the most celebrated drinks of the mid-century tropical cocktail boom.
In 1958, Mariano Licudine created the Derby Daiquiri, one of the most celebrated drinks of the mid-century tropical cocktail boom.

The 1957 menu does not include the Derby. Instead, you’ll find the Cuban Daiquiri, The Mai-Kai’s take on the classic that dates back to the town of the same name in the late 1800s. But with that island’s political troubles, it made sense to remove it. The timing of the Derby Daiquiri was perfect as a replacement.

Curiously, the only other menu changes around this time involved Daiquiris: the Special Daiquiri was renamed the Special Reserve Daiquiri and the Floridita Daiquiri was introduced. But the Derby was the clear favorite out of the gate.

Continue reading “The Derby Daiquiri: The Mai-Kai’s ‘$100,000 drink’ is worth its weight in gold”

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