Mai-Kai cocktail review: Suffering no more, this Bastard finally gets a chance to shine

Updated July 2018
See below: Suffering Bastard review | UPDATED: Tribute recipes
NEW: The Mai-Kai updates bar menu, adds classic ‘lost’ cocktail
Related: Trade in Vic’s Mai Tai for this classic | Mai-Kai cocktail guide
More “lost cocktails” | Tropical drink family tree
Three classic ‘lost cocktails’ drop in for a night of flights at The Mai-Kai

When The Mai-Kai updated its cocktail menu in May 2018, a decision was made to revive one of the classic “lost cocktails” from the notebook of original mixologist Mariano Licudine, who led the bar program from 1956 to 1979. There were nearly a dozen to choose from, many of them ionic drinks that Licudine had brought with him from his days working for Don the Beachcomber in the 1940s and ’50s.

The Suffering Bastard, a longtime off-menu
The Suffering Bastard, a longtime off-menu “lost classic,” was added to the permanent menu in May 2018. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Over the past five years, these lost cocktails have been featured at multiple special events, from The Hukilau to The Mai-Kai’s 60th anniversary party. In 2017, a special “Flashback Friday” promotion gave guests the opportunity to sample a different retired cocktail each month on that designated day. While many were popular, one stood out and earned a spot on the main menu, even though it was never on the menu to begin with.

The Suffering Bastard was de rigueur at mid-century Tiki bars. Like many other popular tropical cocktails of the era, it was bastardized (pun intended) and retooled to fit the needs of each particular establishment. The Trader Vic’s version was perhaps the most well-known, instantly recognizable by the iconic Suffering Bastard mug.

The Mai-Kai was no exception, but for reasons unknown it never appeared on the menu. Taking a cue from Trader Vic, Licudine created his Suffering Bastard as an alternative take on the Mai Tai. Of course, The Mai-Kai’s Mai Tai is nothing like Vic’s, and neither is the Suffering Bastard. Licudine did appropriate one distinctive touch from Vic: A large slice of cucumber as garnish. As odd as it seams, it really does work.

The Mai-Kai's version of the Suffering Bastard features a cucumber garnish, first popularized by Trader Vic. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2018)
The Mai-Kai’s version of the Suffering Bastard features a cucumber garnish, first popularized by Trader Vic. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2018)

The original Suffering Bastard, sans cucumber, was created in 1942 at Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo by mixologist Joe Scialom, a fascinating story uncovered by tropical drink historian and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. Scialom’s recipe – which includes gin, brandy, Rose’s lime juice, Angostura bitters and ginger beer – was revealed in the 2010 book, Beachbum Berry Remixed. An entire chapter is devoted to Scialom in Berry’s 2013 epic hardcover, Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them.

Before Berry and other Tiki revivalists came along in the 1990s, many of these classic cocktails were long forgotten. Without a slot on the menu at The Mai-Kai, it’s possible that the Suffering Bastard languished for decades in Licudine’s notebook before being rediscovered. The latest version includes a few new tweaks, so we’ve added a new tribute recipe below.

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The Hukilau crowns winner of Deadhead Rum Cocktail Contest

When the organizers of The Hukilau, the largest annual gathering of Tiki enthusiasts on the East Coast, asked attendees to come up with a signature cocktail for one of their new rum sponsors, the response was instantaneous and ambitious.

The Hukilau: June 6-9, 2013, at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel, Best Western Oceanside, and The Mai-Kai restaurant. Latest updates at TheHukilau.com and Facebook.

A selection of Deadhead Rum products
A selection of Deadhead Rum products. (Photo courtesy of Lucky the Painproof Man)

Nearly a dozen mixologists answered the call and submitted their entries last month featuring Deadhead Rum, a new craft spirit from Mexico that comes in in a distinctive shrunken head. As one of the lucky judges, I had the pleasure of sampling some creative and tasty cocktails. Even more impressive were the photos. Today’s wave of Tiki home bartenders obviously takes their craft seriously.

The initial field was narrowed to three, and the finalists were provided care packages by Deadhead (see photo at right) so they could fine-tune their final entries. This gold rum, aged at least six years in sherry casks, features both molasses and sugarcane juice from Mexico’s agricultural regions. It’s great as both a sipping rum and a mixer, with a flavor profile that includes cloves, anise and caramel. It’s available in more than a dozen states, including California, but not yet in Florida.

Continue reading “The Hukilau crowns winner of Deadhead Rum Cocktail Contest”

How big a punch can Tiki Month take?

Every February, Tiki cocktail bloggers gather for Tiki Month at The Pegu Blog to share cocktail recipes, tips, tricks and musings about the state of tropical mixology. Why February? It has something to do with an escape from Mother Nature’s frigid wrath, but I don’t really grasp that concept having been marooned in Fort Liquordale for more years than I can remember.

Martin Cate (right) supervises Rum Rat Pack members Wayne Curtis (left) and Stephen Remsberg as the punch begins to take shape at The 2011 Hukilau at The Mai-Kai
In go the mixers: Martin Cate (right) supervises Rum Rat Pack members Wayne Curtis (left) and Stephen Remsberg as the punch begins to take shape at The 2011 Hukilau at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Go11Media.com)

Not a bad place to be marooned, however, especially when The Hukilau rolls into town every year. There’s also a little restaurant called The Mai-Kai. Both serve as a beacon, summoning the greatest minds in the Tiki world to an annual bacchanalia of rum and revelry.

The single event that perhaps reached the pinnacle of rum and revelry was the appearance of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s “Rum Rat Pack” at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau in June 2011, which brings us back to Tiki Month. This year’s blog contributions have been entertaining and informative, covering such esoteric topics as homemade ginger syrup, garnishes made from ground coconut and orange peel, and more drink recipes than you can shake a shaker at. There was also something about geeks who re-create recipes they’ve never actually tasted, if you can imagine that.

Lost in all these intricate tropical concoctions is a common conundrum: How do you handle a thirsty mob who can’t wait for you to carefully fillet an orange or toast coconut? The Rum Rat Pack’s Rumposium demonstrated how to solve that problem with style and flair. In one fell swoop, they whipped up a Tiki punch for 200, featuring 240 ounces of six different rums, a jaw-dropping bowl filled with 630 ounces of deliciousness.

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Zombie alert: 5 crucial things you need to know about the deadly cocktail

Don the Beachcomber's Zombie

November 2013 update: Zombies regaining critical mass: New e-book features 86 deadly recipes

The living dead are enjoying an unprecedented renaissance. From the excellent AMC miniseries The Walking Dead (based on the Robert Kirkman comic book series), to a never-ending stream of books, to “zombie walk” events springing up during Halloween season, it’s clear that we’re fascinated with corpses rising from the dead like never before.

All of this flesh-eating hoopla has done little, however, to popularize a much less trendy and much more misunderstood Zombie: The infamous tropical drink that rose to infamy in the 1930s and was for decades perhaps the world’s most well-known cocktail. True to its name, the classic drink was shrouded in mystery, later becoming one of the most butchered recipes in cocktail history.

But several people and places have kept this powerful rum concoction alive and kicking, and to them we raise a hearty Zombie glass in tribute this Halloween:

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Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: The classic Demerara Float rises again … and again

Updated May 2017
See below: Demerara Float review | Ancestor recipe
Official recipe | Tribute recipe
Related: The delicious Demerara Cocktail just can’t stay retired | Mai-Kai cocktail guide
More “lost cocktails” | Tropical drink family tree

Most fans of the spectacular tropical drinks at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale are content with the current 47 cocktails, a majority of them classic concoctions that have withstood the test of time for 60 years. But The Atomic Grog can’t get enough of The Mai-Kai, so like to crank up our flux capacitor and go back in time to dig up a few “lost cocktails” that disappeared from the menu over the years.

A classic returns: The Demerara Float in March 2013
A classic returns: The Demerara Float in March 2013. (Photo by Christie J. White)

Consider this the advanced level of the Okole Maluna Society, our cocktail guide that includes reviews and recipes of every current drink and a few long-lost classics.

When the Demerara Cocktail came out of retirement in August 2012, it gave us the inspiration to dig deeper into the history and explore some of the other long-gone drinks. Here’s the cool part: They’re not really long gone. The old recipes are still kept in owner Dave Levy’s office, safely under lock and key. Levy is the stepson of founder Bob Thornton, and keeper of most of the remaining cocktail secrets.

So after the return of the Demerara Cocktail, the next logical step was to revisit its sister drink, the Demerara Float. It took more than six months, but our wish was granted unexpectedly in early in 2013, when the photo above popped up on the Facebook news feed of The Hukilau organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White. It looked like a Shark Bite with its Appleton rum floater. But this was no Shark Bite. The rum was noticeably darker. Could it be?

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Mai-Kai parties are a festive cure for the summer doldrums

The Mai-Kai's bar features classic Tiki cocktails served by The Molokai Girls
The Mai-Kai's bar features classic Tiki cocktails served by The Molokai Girls. (Photo courtesy of The Mai-Kai)

Updated Aug. 15, 2012

Got those sweltering August blues yet? Even if you don’t, you’ll want to get in the Tiki spirit this month within the cool, dark confines of The Mai-Kai’s Molokai bar with a couple of special events.

The two parties – set for Sunday, Aug. 12, and Saturday, Aug. 18 – promise to serve up two radically different experiences in the legendary Fort Lauderdale restaurant’s vintage shipwreck-themed lounge.

We urge you to sample one, or both:

Continue reading “Mai-Kai parties are a festive cure for the summer doldrums”

Cocktail flights soar at Mai-Kai Mixer, reveal revolutionary use of rums

Related: ‘Mai-Kai Mixer’ shakes up South Florida with rockin’ retro cocktail party
Lemon Hart returns to the promised land | Mai-Kai’s cocktail family tree
Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide | Exclusive bar and kitchen tour

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.

Mai-Kai Mixer participants enjoy their cocktail flights and a prize from B.G. Reynolds' Hand-Crafted Exotic Syrups.
Mai-Kai Mixer participants enjoy their cocktail flights and a prize from B.G. Reynolds' Hand-Crafted Exotic Syrups.

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.

Continue reading “Cocktail flights soar at Mai-Kai Mixer, reveal revolutionary use of rums”

‘Mai-Kai Mixer’ shakes up South Florida with rockin’ retro cocktail party

Updated June 16, 2012
See below: See exclusive photos from the bash

Related: Cocktail flights soar at Mai-Kai Mixer, reveal revolutionary use of rums
Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide | Rums of The Mai-Kai

The Mai-Kai’s Molokai bar was jumping on Saturday night, June 9, as an eclectic mix of cocktailians, Tiki enthusiasts, retro hipsters, and surf music fans gathered for The Atomic Grog’s first Mai-Kai Mixer.

Atomic Grog Mai-Kai Mixer

Doors opened at 4:30 for Saturday’s early happy hour, and dozens of Mai-Kai faithful queued up early for exclusive flights of the Fort Lauderdale Polynesian palace’s legendary cocktails. DJ Mike “Jetsetter” Jones got the festivities in high gear with his wide-ranging playlist of retro party music, and up-and-coming surf band Skinny Jimmy & The Stingrays nearly blew the doors off the place. The party went full-throttle until the midnight hour.

The event was held to celebrate the The Atomic Grog’s 52 weeks of Mai-Kai cocktail reviews and the recent reintroduction of a classic rum to the 55-year-old restaurant’s acclaimed drink menu.

The rum cocktail flights sold out quickly as more than 30 signed up to taste sample versions of three vintage drinks featuring Lemon Hart Demerara rum. Several hundred filtered through the bar throughout the evening for happy hour – which ran until 7 p.m. – and two high-octane sets from Deerfield Beach’s Skinny Jimmy & The Stingrays.

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Mai-Kai cocktail review: Ignite your passion for flaming drinks with the Kona Coffee Grog

See below: Our Kona Coffee Grog review | Ancestor recipe
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

This is the 51st weekly review in our yearlong series exploring the cocktails at the iconic Mai-Kai Polynesian restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, and it marks the completion of all the drinks on the current menu. Next week, we conclude our odyssey with a historic drink that’s no longer on the menu.

Kona Coffee Grog
From an old Don the Beachcomber menu.

One of the great rituals at The Mai-Kai is ordering the Kona Coffee Grog, a potent after-dinner drink that’s served tableside with a flamboyant pouring of flaming 151 rum. The traditional preparation and presentation of this classic has been passed down to generations of servers, and it remains one of the Fort Lauderdale Polynesian restaurant’s signature experiences.

The Kona Coffee Grog is just as much a throwback to the early days of Tiki as the Zombie or Mai Tai. And the fact that it’s still served in the exact same style only enhances the authenticity. Donn Beach, aka Don the Beachcomber, served many hot drinks in the early days of tropical mixology. There was Hot Buttered Rum, Hot Tiger’s Milk, and Don the Beachcomber’s Coffee Grog. The Kona Coffee Grog was likely a variation of the latter.

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‘Mai-Kai Mixer’ on June 9 serves up cocktail flights, live music and DJ dance party

Recaps and photosUpdated June 16, 2012
* ‘Mai-Kai Mixer’ shakes up South Florida with rockin’ retro cocktail party
* Cocktail flights soar at Mai-Kai Mixer, reveal revolutionary use of rums

Event preview:

Join The Atomic Grog on Saturday, June 9, for a special party featuring exclusive flights of Mai-Kai cocktails, live surf music, and a DJ spinning retro tunes all night long. The event runs from 6 to 11 p.m. in The Molokai bar.

 Skinny Jimmy & The Stingrays
Skinny Jimmy & The Stingrays (Facebook photo).

This first “Atomic Grog Mai-Kai Mixer” will mark the completion of 52 weeks of cocktail reviews, covering the entire menu of renowned tropical drinks at the legendary Polynesian palace in Fort Lauderdale. The flights, featuring three sample versions of these classic cocktails, will spotlight the recently reintroduced Lemon Hart Demerara rum. Click here for the full story.

But that’s not all. There’s a full evening of entertainment on tap. The party gets into high gear after happy hour with DJ Mike “Jetsetter” Jones and two sets of live surf music from South Florida’s Skinny Jimmy & The Stingrays. If you caught this authentic instrumental surf band opening recently for Dick Dale in West Palm Beach and Miami, you’ll know you’re in for a treat. And the Jetsetter will mix things up with his eclectic blend of surf, lounge, exotica, reggae, ska, classic punk and more.

Continue reading “‘Mai-Kai Mixer’ on June 9 serves up cocktail flights, live music and DJ dance party”