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)
Of all the cocktails that disappeared from The Mai-Kai’s bar menu since the famed Polynesian restaurant opened in Fort Lauderdale in 1956, perhaps the most elusive has been the Martinique Cocktail. It lasted into the 1980s, but disappeared without a trace.
A 1979 menu described the drink as “a small, yet robust creation of Martinique Rum, fresh juices and harmonious syrups” (see image below). I was able to identify this drink as a descendant of a classic cocktail by tropical mixology’s founding father, Donn Beach, aka Don the Beachcomber. Although I haven’t seen it on many Beachcomber menus, I was delighted to find the Martinique Cocktail listed as one of the “original rum drinks” at the Chicago location in 1963, seven years after The Mai-Kai opened.
It’s highly likely that this was the same drink, and not just because of the name. Mariano Licudine, The Mai-Kai’s original bar manager and mixologist, had a history of borrowing recipes from his days working at Don the Beachcomber, which began in 1939 in Hollywood. He was the No. 2 bartender at that very same Chicago location from 1940 until 1956, when he joined owners Bob and Jack Thornton at The Mai-Kai.
Included in the chapter on the influence of the Caribbean on early Tiki cocktails is a recipe for Don the Beachcomber’s Island of Martinique Cocktail, along with the backstory. Like many Donn Beach drinks, there were multiple recipes over the years, including an early version based on the classic Caribbean drink the Ti Punch (aka Petit Punch), which dates back to the late 1800s in Martinique. It was a simple combination of rum, lime and sugar, what Berry calls the “holy trinity” of tropical mixology.
Like an ugly stepchild, The Hukilau cocktail at The Mai-Kai is often shunned in favor of its more glamorous siblings. But don’t underestimate this newcomer. It’s one of the more accessible strong drinks and worthy of inclusion on the iconic menu.
The Hukilau was added to the menu in the fall of 2006, named in a contest by attendees of the fifth annual Polynesian Pop festival of the same name. But the contest was merely to name the drink. The actual recipe came from an in-house source and was selected by owner Dave Levy.
We’ve been unable to confirm the drink’s exact creator, but it’s obviously a close relative of both the Mutiny and Black Magic (see photo). All three are served in large snifter or goblet glasses, appear on the strong menu and share many of the same ingredients. We like to call them the “Holy Trinity” of Mai-Kai large-format drinks.
Recently, however, The Hukilau lost one of the defining characteristics of the trinity. In early 2016, the recipe was tweaked to remove the “splash of coffee” that had been touted on the menu since its debut. This was done to offer guests who prefer a non-caffeinated cocktail a chance to enjoy one of these signature drinks. There were apparently frequent requests to “hold the Joe.”
The Hukilau is also a bit sweeter than its siblings. It’s perfect for those who may not care for the flavor of coffee and who like their drinks more tart than exotic and spicy. And it’s also a fine way to honor an event that has called The Mai-Kai home since 2003.
The official menu description THE HUKILAU
The official drink of The Hukilau, an event held yearly at The Mai-Kai, is full flavored with a splash of Appleton Rum.
Okole Maluna Society review and rating
Flavor profile: Passion fruit, tart juices, honey and exotic sweet flavors.
Review: A sweeter and coffee-free alternative to The Mai-Kai’s similar large-format drinks. A smorgasbord of juices and Appleton rum shine through the sweetness to create a perfect balance of flavors.
Ancestry: Added in 2006, The Hukilau is the newest original cocktail on The Mai-Kai’s current menu. The recipe was adjusted in 2016 to remove the coffee and add a secret mix that dates back to the early days of Tiki and Don the Beachcomber.
Bilge: The Hukilau is one of four Mai-Kai cocktails that specifically call for Appleton rum (along with the Shark Bite, Mai-Tai and Special Reserve Daiquiri). No other rum brand is mentioned by name on the current menu.
Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!
NEW:Tribute to The Hukilau at The Mai-Kai By The Atomic Grog (version 2.5, updated August 2018)
* 2 ounces fresh-squeezed orange juice * 1 1/2 ounces fresh-squeezed lime juice * 1 1/2 ounces fresh-squeezed lemon juice * 1 ounces fresh grapefruit juice * 1/2 ounce rich honey mix * 1 1/2 ounces passion fruit syrup * 1 1/2 ounces light Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum * 2 ounces Appleton rum * 1/2 ounce Mariano’s Mix #7 (see below)
Blend with up to 1 1/2 cups of crushed ice in a top-down mixer for at least 8 seconds, or until frothy. Pour into a large snifter glass or goblet with more crushed ice to fill.
NEW:Tribute to The Hukilau at The Mai-Kai By The Atomic Grog (version 2.0, updated August 2018)
* 2 ounces fresh-squeezed orange juice * 1 1/2 ounces fresh-squeezed lime juice * 1 1/2 ounces fresh-squeezed lemon juice * 1 ounces fresh grapefruit juice * 1/2 ounce rich honey mix * 2 ounces passion fruit syrup * 1 1/2 ounces light Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum * 2 ounces Appleton rum
Blend with up to 1 1/2 cups of crushed ice in a top-down mixer for at least 8 seconds, or until frothy. Pour into a large snifter glass or goblet with more crushed ice to fill.
In the absence of coffee, the addition of Mariano’s Mix #7 in version 2.5 fills the void to keep this cocktail near the top of our rankings. The secret mix adds a sharp anise flavor and exotic richness to temper the sweet and sour elements in this refreshing drink. Version 2.0 is similar to The Hukilau before the reintroduction of the mix and after the removal of coffee. Our original tribute recipe (version 1) is also featured below.
August 2018 updates
This completes the updates of the trinity of strong cocktails served in 24-ounce snifter glasses. Note that in April 2018, The Mai-Kai started using new, heavier goblet-style mugs instead. They’re much less breakable but have the same capacity.
The earlier tribute recipes fell short of filling our similar glasses, so I adjusted all three to feature around 12 ounces of ingredients, similar to the Barrel O’ Rum. When mugs or glasses were unavailable, these drinks routinely swapped vessels, so it follows that they all contain the same volume.
As for the ingredients, the addition of Mariano’s Mix #7 and removal of coffee weren’t the only tweaks. We were forced to remove cinnamon syrup from all of our tribute recipes after learning that this old Don the Beachcomber secret weapon was nowhere to be found at The Mai-Kai. It’s not really missed here, especially in the version that features the spicy #7.
The Hukilau is more accessible than the Black Magic or Mutiny, so we’ve created this tribute as a more mainstream version of those two iconic cocktails. It’s not an exact duplicate, but it’s definitely in the ballpark.
Notes and tips for home mixologists
* There’s a lot of juice in this cocktail, so make sure you use quality, fresh-squeezed versions. As we’ve pointed out in other reviews and this deep dive on Tiki Central, The Mai-Kai looks to South Florida’s Kennesaw for its fresh orange and grapefruit juices. These are fresh-squeezed, pulpy, unpasteurized juices that come straight from Florida citrus groves. Kennesaw juices are sold at old-school South Florida fruit stands, including my favorite, Bob Roth’s New River Groves in Davie, not far from The Mai-Kai. I’ve also seen them pop up recently at area Whole Foods stores. There are other fine orange juice brands, but look for non or lightly pasteurized. Note that Kennesaw rarely offers white grapefruit juice, at least for the retail market. At The Mai-Kai, the style of grapefruit juice changes with the season. The freshest juice is stocked, whether it’s white or red (or sometimes both). Though white is typically preferred in classic cocktails, the Kennesaw red grapefruit juice is the best I’ve tasted and preferable to any canned or bottled white version. One new find, as detailed in that same Tiki Central link, is a fresh white grapefruit juice on the shelf at a local Fresh Market store. Availability seems to be sporadic, unfortunately. The Mai-Kai uses a distinctive, tart Key lime juice (possibly a blend from another food service provider). Squeezing Key limes is not a viable option, so I’ve found that blending a bottled Key lime juice with fresh-squeezed “regular” (aka Persian) limes yields the best result. The Tiki Central post goes into much detail on the types of bottled Key lime juices as well as the recommended blends. If you’re in Florida, look for the 100% natural Terry’s Homemade Key Lime Pie juice. It’s sold by the gallon at New River Groves. It’s by far the best. Finally, it’s fine to use standard fresh-squeezed regular lemons. I’ve been toying with a blend featuring Key West lemon juice, but that may be too tart for some palates.
* Honey mix is another one of those nods to Don the Beachcomber, a historic ingredient that The Mai-Kai features in more than 20 cocktails. To get the proper amount of sweetness, we recommend a rich syrup (2 parts honey to 1 part water). Shake until thoroughly combined, then refrigerate. It should last for a while. And always use Florida Orange Blossom honey. Commercial brands can be found everywhere, but if you’re in Florida, we recommend seeking out locally produced varieties. I always pick up a bottle of the raw, unfiltered honey from McCoy’s in Loxahatchee when I make a juice run to New River Groves (see above). But any good Florida Orange Blossom honey should work fine.
* Passion fruit syrup is another key sweetener, used in more than a dozen cocktails at The Mai-Kai. There’s a hefty amount in this drink, so you’ll want to make sure it’s not too cloyingly sweet. I like to make a homemade syrup following the recipe I first saw in 2007 in Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari. Monin makes a bottled syrup that’s similar in flavor to The Mai-Kai’s house-made version. There are many other choices, from premium (Small Hand Foods, B.G. Reynolds, Aunty Lilikoi) to budget (Real Syrups, Finest Call) brands.
* Jamaican rums are featured in as many as 40 cocktails at The Mai-Kai, and Appleton (from the J. Wray & Nephew distillery) is the brand of choice. [Click here to see our full guide to Appleton rums at The Mai-Kai] The menu description is misleading, as I believe there’s more than a “splash” of Appleton in this drink. You can clearly taste an ounce or two. The original menu description (see above) described a “splash of coffee and Appleton Rum,” then was shortened to remove the coffee. It’s our guess that the splash referred to the coffee, not the rum. In any case, there’s likely 3 1/2 ounces of rum in this drink, similar to the other large snifter/goblet drinks. A light Virgin Islands or Puerto Rican rum (such as Cruzan, Bacardi or Don Q) forms the base. Appleton brings the flavor, and we’re recommending 2 full ounces. It’s unlikely that the premium Appleton Estate Rare Blend is featured here, but feel free to use a splash, up to 1/2 ounce. Our guess is that J. Wray Gold, which was formerly known as Appleton Special, is used here. It’s a lighter bodied gold rum but still has plenty of flavor and just a hint of Jamaican funk. I don’t believe that Signature Blend (formerly known as V/X) is featured, as that is now the substitute for the defunct Kohala Bay in many other cocktails. The Hukilau was never on the list of funky Kohala Bay drinks. And we’ve been told that Reserve Blend is not in stock behind the bar. Therefore, our recommendation would be 1 1/2 ounces J. Wray Gold and 1/2 ounce Appleton Estate Rare Blend. But feel free to use any combination of Appleton rums. You can’t really go wrong.
* Finally, there’s Mariano’s Mix #7, named for The Mai-Kai’s original mixologist, Mariano Licudine. He was head bartender from 1956 until he retired in 1979 and brought many secret recipes from his 16 years at Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood and (for the majority of those years) Chicago. The Hukilau was created decades after Licudine’s tenure, of course. He passed away in 1980, but his influence can still be felt. The Hukilau originally didn’t contain this mix and was for many years similar to the second tribute recipe above, with the addition of coffee. From time to time, you’ll still get this older version (sans coffee) if the mix is unavailable. Secret mixes were Don the Beachcomber staples, created to both streamline the mixing process and keep his bartenders from stealing his recipes when they moved on to other bars. A few trusted barmen, such as Licudine (and Ray Buhen, who opened the Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles in 1961), either had access to how they were made or reverse engineered their own versions. As the years went by, a few of Licudine’s more obscure syrups disappeared from use when the ingredients became unavailable. Then, in the summer of 2016, we started noticing new flavors in several drinks, such as the Bora Bora. Owner Dave Levy confirmed that indeed these old syrups were being re-created with the help of an old bartender who used to work with Licudine. They’re not exact, but they’re close enough to bring back the historic flavors from the early days of Tiki. Mix #7 tastes like falernum but with floral and anise flavors standing out. In fact, as Beachbum Berry revealed in the new 10th anniversary edition of Sippin’ Safari, Donn Beach had multiple falernum variations. You’ll also find #7 in the Black Magic and Mutiny, used to similar effect to add some extra sweetness and spice to those large cocktails. Though we have no idea what actually goes into the mix, we’ve come up with our best guess at a tribute: * 1/4 teaspoon of Herbsaint * 1 tablespoon falernum (Fee Brothers brand preferred) Combine and keep at room temperature in a glass bottle. Simply increase the proportions to make larger batches. If Herbsaint is unavailable, use Pernod but scale back slightly. The anise flavor should be a background note and not dominate. Herbsaint is slightly more mellow and floral, making it better for this mix. Fee Brothers is the brand of falernum employed by The Mai-Kai. Substitute only rich, non-alcoholic versions such as Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 Formula Falernum from Orgeat Works. Both are made in the old style used by Don the Beachcomber (and The Mai-Kai).
It’s very difficult to get the balance of this drink correct, but when you do it’s one of the best, hence the high rating.
Our original tribute recipe containing cinnamon and coffee remains below for reference. It’s arguably just as good, if not better, than those above even though it’s no longer accurate. Enjoy them all.
Tribute to The Hukilau at The Mai-Kai, v.1
* 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed orange juice * 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice * 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice * 3/4 ounce fresh grapefruit juice * 3/4 ounce rich honey mix * 1 ounce passion fruit syrup * 1/2 teaspoon rich cinnamon syrup * 1/4 ounce strong Kona coffee, chilled * 1 1/2 ounces light Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum * 1 1/2 ounces Appleton rum
Blend with up to 1 1/2 cups of crushed ice in a top-down mixer for 3-5 seconds. Pour into a large snifter glass with more crushed ice to fill.
Notes and tips for home mixologists
* The amount of orange juice required may depend on whether you use fresh-squeezed (preferred) or a bottled brand. If you’re tasting too much OJ in the final mix, just reduce to 1/2 ounce. You also may need to slightly adjust the coffee, depending on its strength.
* Kona coffee was our original recommendation, and it works fine if you brew it strong (up to double strength). The Mutiny and Black Magic reviews go into much detail on chilled coffee in The Mai-Kai’s cocktails, including the recent revelation that Colombian coffee is actually the style of choice. It features a heavier, darker flavor and can be used at standard strength.
* B.G. Reynolds makes the intense, rich cinnamon syrup that you’ll need in this version. Feel free to use your own homemade syrup. There are many recipes online or in Beachbum Berry’s books. If it’s on the lighter side, just increase to taste.
One of the most iconic images of the tropical drink is a vessel made from a hollowed-out pineapple. This over-the-top cocktail experience has been perfected at The Mai-Kai with the classic Piña Passion.
The Piña Passion is served in a fresh pineapple that guests can take home. The one exception is during happy hour in The Molokai bar, when you’ll have to settle for having the drink in an old fashioned glass.
If you ever get a chance to take a peek into The Mai-Kai’s main service bar, tucked way behind the kitchen and hidden from guests, you’ll find cases of pineapples awaiting their fate. [See photo]
Drinks in pineapples were staples on tropical-themed cocktail menus across the country during Tiki’s heyday in the 1950s and 1960s. You can still find them at old-school establishments such as San Francisco’s Tonga Room (est. 1945) and Chicago’s temple of Witco, Hala Kahiki (est 1966). In the Hawaiian language, a pineapple is called “hala kahiki.”
Even in the dark days of Tiki in the 1970s and ’80s, pineapple drinking vessels remained essential on cruise ships and resorts in exotic locales. They go hand-in-hand with the concept of a tropical paradise.
They’re not as easy to find at today’s smaller Tiki and craft cocktail bars, which tend to favor traditional glassware and ceramic mugs. But this is changing in a big way thanks to a new breed of craftsmen who are taking Tiki hospitality to a whole new level.
Italy’s Daniele Dalla Pola, who built upon the success of his Nu Lounge Bar to open Esotico Miami in August 2019, is also a big proponent of the spiky fruit. His new exotic bar and restaurant features both food and drink served in fresh pineapples. At The Hukilau 2017, he presented two Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy classes called “Pineapple Paradise” with information and advanced techniques on using the hospitable fruit in tropical drinks.
Of course, the pineapple is iconic as the worldwide symbol of hospitality. It was so sought-after in colonial times that people would rent them for a day to use as a party decoration. Considered the world’s most exotic fruit, pineapples were brought back to Europe by Columbus and other explorers. George Washington praised the fruit in his diary, noting that among his favorite foods, “none pleases my tastes” like a pineapple.
Because of their scarcity and high price, pineapples were typically served only to prestigious guests, and even those who could not afford them picked up on the image to share the sentiment of a special welcome. Towns, inns and households began displaying images of the pineapple to convey a sense of welcoming. You can find pineapple images on historic buildings around the world.
Most classic Mai-Kai cocktails can be traced back to tropical drink pioneer Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber), and the S.O.S. is no exception. Most are easy to spot due to the similar names (Cobra’s Fang = Cobra’s Kiss, Pearl Diver = Deep-Sea Diver). But others are a little harder to trace.
The clue to the origins of S.O.S. is actually the garnish: the distinctive three speared cherries. In reviewing old Don the Beachcomber menus, it’s hard to miss the classic Three Dots and a Dash, a tribute to Americans fighting overseas. “Three dots and a dash” was Morse code for “victory” during World War II, when Donn Beach created the drink. Beach served in the Army Air Corps and was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
Thanks to tropical drink historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and his 2007 book, Sippin’ Safari, we also have the recipe to compare. Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine, who knew Donn Beach’s recipes well from his days slinging drinks at Don the Beachcomber in Los Angeles and Chicago, simply changed the name to S.O.S. and tweaked the complex recipe to make it a bit more user friendly.
The result is a highly recommended cocktail from the mild side of The Mai-Kai’s menu, full of nuances yet still not too overpowering. Be sure to pick up the expanded and updated 10th anniversary edition of Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari, featuring many new and historic recipes, a new hardcover design with additional photos, plus forward and afterward that chronicle the years leading up to the Tiki revival plus the influence the book has had over the past decade.
July 2018 update: The S.O.S. 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 explaining the importance of fresh Florida juices, Hayward demonstrated how to make the S.O.S. tribute recipe while the class received sample drinks. The juices and syrups, along with a simplified rum profile, give the S.O.S. an altogether different flavor than Three Dots and a Dash, the students learned. The juices take a more prominent role, and the S.O.S. is a great spotlight for the fresh Florida orange juice used in many Mai-Kai drinks. See photos from the class:Facebook | Flickr
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.
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.
The Moonkist Coconut is one of the most distinctive – and dodgy – drinks on The Mai-Kai’s vast and colorful cocktail menu.
Don’t get us wrong. This classic cocktail has been on the iconic Fort Lauderdale restaurant’s acclaimed tropical drink menu since it opened in 1956. And its quality and consistency are beyond reproach. It’s one of many “rum rhapsodies” on the menu that can be traced back to Tiki pioneer Don the Beachcomber. It’s a bolder and spicier option to the Piña Colada.
The trick is getting this puppy served in its trademark coconut. The young, green coconuts that The Mai-Kai fashions into drinking vessels are seasonal. And the off-season seemingly drags on forever. Not that you really should fret. When the smooth, heavy coconuts are unavailable (and also during happy hour), you’ll get your drink in a nice big old fashioned glass, often garnished with an orchid (see photo above). Note that you also will receive the drink in a glass during happy hour, when it’s half-priced.