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

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: Short-lived daiquiri disappared when Cuba fell

Updated July 2014
This is one in a series of reviews of drinks that appeared on the original 1956-57 Mai-Kai cocktail menu but were later retired. Included is the ancestor recipe that inspired it, plus a tribute that attempts to reinterpret what The Mai-Kai’s version would taste like today had it not disappeared.

See below: Ancestor/tribute recipe | Cuban Daiquiri review
Related: The story of the Floridita Daiquiri rivals any novel
Mai-Kai cocktail guide | More “lost cocktails”

Arguably the most definitive rum cocktail, perhaps even the prototype for all future tropical drinks, is the humble daiquiri. This simple combination of rum, lime and sugar mixed with ice can be traced back to Cuba in the early 1900s.

Cuban Daiquiri
From a Don the Beachcomber menu.

While not nearly as old as proto rum cocktails such as the British Navy Grog or pre-colonial punches, the Daiquri is distinctive for its precise craft and reliance on ice as a crucial ingredient. Though deeply linked to Cuba, the Dauquiri was reputedly invented by an American, mining engineer Jennings Cox, who was working in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

The drink quickly became a favorite among the military, then the tourists who flocked to the Caribbean island, especially during Prohibition. It’s likely 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.

Cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry covers the fascinating history of the daiquiri extensively in his epic book, Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them, released in late 2013 by Cocktail Kingdom. It covers everything from the town that inspired the name, to all its reputed inventors, to its adaptation by mid-century Tiki bars.

The Beachcomber and Trader Vic menus are loaded with daiquiris, as is the menu at the iconic Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale. Open since 1956, it still features many drinks traced back to Donn Beach (Special Reserve Daiquiri) but also the traditional Floridita Daiquiri and an acclaimed original creation of mixologist Mariano Licudine, the Derby Daiquiri.

Continue reading “Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Short-lived daiquiri disappared when Cuba fell”

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”