Three ‘secret cocktails’ drop in for a night of flights at The Mai-Kai

In the heyday of Tiki in the 1950s and ’60s, having one of the most extensive and iconic tropical drink menus was not enough. At The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, where the list of classic exotic cocktails runs to nearly 50, there were always requests for off-the-menu concoctions that everyone had heard about. To meet this demand, recipes were created but never added to the menu.

lost-cocktails

Decades later, there aren’t many requests for the Fog Cutter, Singapore Sling and Suffering Bastard. But that didn’t stop the Gumbo Limbo Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Moai from organizing an event that gave guests a taste of all three of these “secret cocktails.”

On Saturday, Feb. 21, starting at 5 p.m., The Molokiai bar filled up with more than 50 eager participants for a chance to taste a flight of the three mid-century classics that have never appeared on the 58-year-old tropical drink menu. For just $15, we received roughly half-sized samples of all three drinks. In addition to a large turnout of FOM members, several VIPs were in the house after participating in Emeril Lagasse’s “Tiki Showdown” the night before in Miami Beach: Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and Martin Cate.

Though the event was billed as “The Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai,” these three drinks were not really “lost,” manager Kern Mattei pointed out. “We’ve always had them, but nobody knew it,” he said. Their popularity fell by the wayside and people stopped requesting them. All three recipes date back to the early days of the restaurant, when famous mixologist Mariano Licudine worked with owners Bob and Jack Thornton to create a unique cocktail program based on Licudine’s experience as a bartender for decades for Tiki bar pioneer Don the Beachcomber. “They’re Mariano’s recipes,” Mattei said.

Here’s a look at the flight, and the special menu prepared by Mattei:

Each of the three drinks not only has its own distinctive taste, but also a unique and interesting back story:

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Special event at The Mai-Kai takes guests on a flight back to classic ‘Potions of the Caribbean’

Updated on Sept. 22

Since its release last December, Beachbum Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them has set a new standard for cocktail history books. Chock full of vintage photos and artwork, detailed research and stories, not to mention 77 recipes, the 317-page hardcover opus was recognized in July as Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book at the annual Spirited Awards during Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans.

Drink Flight at The Mai-Kai featuring 'Beachbum Berry's Potions of the Caribbean'

While critics raved, fans devoured the cocktails along with the stories, creating a unique drinking and reading experience. At Fort Lauderdale’s famous Mai-Kai, which is featured in the the book, general manager Kern Mattei was so impressed with the classic recipes he decided to feature some of them during a one-night-only event on Saturday, Sept. 20.
See below: Virgin Island Kula recipe

From 6 to 8 p.m. in the restaurant’s Molokai bar, Mattei and his staff presented a flight of three cocktails straight from the pages of Potions of the Caribbean. It was the first time ever that these drinks were served in the nearly 58-year history of The Mai-Kai. And at just $12, it was a great bargain. The bar’s regular happy hour started at 5 and revelers stayed well past 8 as they enjoyed many of The Mai-Kai’s nearly 50 acclaimed tropical drinks. Tables were also filled with Pupu Platters and other small plates as a crowd of more than 50 filled the back section of the bar.

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Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Take a journey to the exotic Island of Martinique

This is the final review of the drinks that appeared on original 1956-57 era menus but were later retired.

See below: Ancestor recipe | Review
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide | More “lost cocktails”

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 menu from Don the Beachcomber's Chicago restaurant, circa 1963
A menu from Don the Beachcomber’s Chicago restaurant, circa 1963.

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.

The Mai-Kai's 1956-57 menu
The Mai-Kai’s original 1956-57 menu includes 33 cocktails still served today, and 10 that are no longer offered, including the Martinique Cocktail.

However, finding a recipe was another matter entirely. I discovered many “Martinique Cocktail” recipes online, but none attributed to Donn Beach. But, of course, Tiki cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry once again came to the rescue with his most exhaustive research effort to date, the voluminous Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them, published in December by Cocktail Kingdom. The hardcover opus deservedly won the 2014 Spirited Award for Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book at Tales of the Cocktail in July.

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.

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Historic Mai-Kai celebrated, new cocktail menu unveiled at anniversary party

Updated Jan. 20, 2014
NEW: The new cocktail menu made its public debut on Jan. 17. Check out our review and recipe for the new drink, the Tiki Swizzle.

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The Mai-Kai celebrated its 57th anniversary with a customer celebration party that not only recognized the landmark Polynesian restaurant’s storied past, but also looked ahead to the future.
* See below: New tropical drink menu sneak preview

The Mai-Kai's new cocktail menu (right) harkens back to its 1956 original (left), with all the drinks displayed on an impressive centerspread
The Mai-Kai’s new cocktail menu (right) harkens back to its 1956 original (left), with all the drinks displayed on an impressive centerspread. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

There was much to celebrate at the Saturday, Dec. 28, event: The recent historic designation by the city of Oakland Park, the 50th anniversary of a longtime employee, and the screening of a new PBS documentary filmed at The Mai-Kai. But attendees were also given a sneak peak at what’s to come: The first major redesign of the Tiki palace’s iconic cocktail menu in more than 30 years.

The celebrating actually started on Friday night, with a rare South Florida performance by instrumental surf band The Novarays in The Molokai bar. The Orlando band ripped through three sets of classic covers and original tunes. On Saturday, the bar was nearly full at 1:30 p.m. for an early happy hour to kick off the day’s special events.

The several hundred guests then filled the main dining room, which sits beneath the original, awe-inspiring A-frame structure built in 1956 by brothers Bob and Jack Thornton, a couple upstart restaurateurs from Chicago who envisioned the world’s grandest Polynesian palace in Tiki’s mid-century heyday.

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Beachbum Berry’s ‘Potions of the Caribbean’ cruises back to the birthplace of Tiki cocktails

Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them (Cocktail Kingdom), hardcover, 317 pages, $34.95.
* Order now: Cocktail Kingdom (U.S.) | Amazon | More info on BeachbumBerry.com
Jump to recipes below: Rum Pot | Witch Doctor | Planter’s Punch

Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them

Like a fine barrel-aged rum, the new magnum opus from Tiki cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry benefited from years maturation, developing a rich depth of flavor and nuance. When Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them is finally uncorked next week, it will undoubtedly be savored to the last drop by a growing legion of fans.

It could also quite possibly be Berry’s last call as a self-proclaimed “layabout” author. While the carefree image will likely remain, Berry’s other much-anticipated project could soon make him a much busier Bum. The former screenwriter, whose six books since 1998 have sown the seeds of the Tiki cocktail revival, will be embarking on a new career next year when he opens his own bar in New Orleans.

These plans are accelerating, Berry confirmed in an e-mail this week, and he hopes to sign a lease at an undisclosed location by the end of the year. That would put him on track to open his Tiki bar (in partnership with Mrs. Bum, aka Annene Kaye) as early as spring 2014. They already have a designer, architect and key staff lined up. In the meantime, Berry’s solo career as a literary figure will reach its peak with the release of Potions of the Caribbean.

Berry’s sixth book on tropical drinks and the fascinating stories behind them, Potions of the Caribbean could be considered the sequel to Sippin’ Safari (2007), both in style and substance. Berry’s first three books were mainly spiral-bound drink recipe compilations, and his previous (Beachbum Berry Remixed, 2010) was a redesigned and expanded re-release of the first two.

Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them

But with Sippin’ Safari, Berry used his seemingly endless supply of vintage recipes, photos and artwork to embellish the stories of the bartenders, restaurant owners and other pioneers of the early days of Tiki. The result was a wonderful read – a beautifully illustrated cocktail guide, history book and retro culture travelogue all rolled into one. The new book follows this same format, with the stories taking a starring role and the recipes enhancing the narrative.

The rich history of the Caribbean and its role in the Tiki cocktail movement was actually supposed to be an additional chapter of Sippin’ Safari. A subtitle near the end of the book’s final chapter, which tells the story of Mariano Lucidine and The Mai-Kai, introduces the Potions of the Caribbean name while very briefly mentioning the birthplace of rum and its role in Tiki cocktails.

Berry explained his dilemma on the Oct. 29 episode of The Quiet Village podcast. “I was trying to cram all this stuff into one chapter,” he told host Digitiki. “After we talked about The Mai-Kai, I was just going to go down to Cuba and Jamaica. But I realized there was just way, way too much stuff to do that, so it became its own book, five years later.”

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Zombies regaining critical mass: New book features 86 deadly recipes

Updated Dec. 22, 2013

Our Halloween hangovers have long ago subsided, but one ghoulish remnant of the evil holiday has proven to be a year-round phenomenon. After decades of lying dormant and only occasionally awakening for a tasty feast, the undead have truly lurched into a renaissance.
Recipes: The Undead Gentleman | Frankie’s Tiki Room Zombie | Zombie face-off

Professor Cocktail's Zombie Horde: Recipes for the World's Most Lethal Drink

Yes, we’re talking about zombies, folks. But not the flesh-eating kind, though the parallels are eerie. Sure, flicks starring zombies exploded in the mid-century, peaked in the ’60s and bottomed out in the ’70s and ’80s. They were later revived by a renewed interest in the finer points of the horror genre, with the current revival showing no signs of slowing down.

But our true obsession is Zombies with a capital Z. The legendary rum-based exotic drink devoured its competition in the post-Prohibition Tiki bar explosion, gained critical mass as Polynesian Pop reached its zenith, then went back underground when its enemies (bad ’70s and ’80s cocktails) gained a foothold.

In the 21st century, the great cinematic zombies have been embraced with gruesome glee by graphic novelists and indie filmmakers. Meanwhile, the great alcoholic Zombies have suddenly become a favorite of some of the most devious minds of both the Tiki revival and the craft cocktail movement.

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PBS stations say aloha this week to long-awaited documentary on Tiki culture

We got a sneak peek at The Hukilau in April 2012, then an exclusive premiere at The Mai-Kai during the 2013 edition of the Tiki event in Fort Lauderdale. Now, the rest of the world will be exposed to Plastic Paradise: A Swingin’ Trip Through America’s Polynesian Obsession, a documentary that traces the history of America’s love affair with exotic style and tells a fascinating story of pop culture.

Plastic Paradise: A Swingin' Trip Through America's Polynesian Obsession

Filmed at Tiki events, bars and restaurants across the country and produced by Miami’s award-winning commercial and documentary filmmakers Common Machine, Plastic Paradise has finally been released to PBS affiliates. It was commissioned by Miami affiliate WLRN, where it premieres this Wednesday (Sept. 18) at 8 p.m. It will air again on WLRN on Thursday at 2 a.m., Friday at 7 p.m., and Monday (Sept. 23) at 11 p.m. It will also be carried by WXEL in Palm Beach County beginning on Saturday (Sept. 21) at 8 p.m. WLRN’s Plastic Paradise page also lists air times on PBS stations in Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois and Washington. It also encourages you to call your local PBS station if you want to see the documentary in your area.

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A Tiki Top 10: Photos and memories from The Hukilau 2013

The Hukilau was held June 6-9, 2013, at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel (aka the Yankee Clipper) and The Mai-Kai restaurant.
See below: Gallery of 40 photos

The Intoxicators from Tallahassee unleash a surf-rock fury in The Molokai lounge during Thursday's late-night bash.
The Intoxicators from Tallahassee unleash a surf-rock fury in The Molokai lounge during Thursday’s late-night bash. (Atomic Grog photo; click for gallery)

More than 800 devotees of Polynesian Pop culture and classic mid-century style assembled for the 12th annual gathering of the tribe known as The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale. Despite inclement weather that forced some venue and schedule changes, the colorfully-clad attendees didn’t seem to mind, flocking to a wide assortment of events showcasing eclectic music, rum-filled cocktails, expert speakers and lots more.

Below are the highlights of The Atomic Grog’s whirlwind weekend, which began early in the week with organizational efforts and didn’t end until Sunday’s post-event party at The Mai-Kai. I missed one band and a couple symposiums, but I tried to hit all the major happenings and photographed the revelry for posterity (see photos below). For extensive photo coverage, click on the Go11Media link below the gallery.

The following is highly subjective but should give a fair snapshot of the wide array of festivities, along with a few tasty cocktail recipes. I apologize to any bands and participants I may have neglected to mention, but all did a great job. It was tough narrowing this list down to 10. In roughly chronological order …

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Take 5: Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Tiki cocktail author and historian extraordinaire

Jeff “Beachbum” Berry is extremely passionate about Tiki, tropical drinks and The Mai-Kai. In April, we caught up with the author of such essential Tiki cocktail bibles as Grog Log and Sippin’ Safari in his natural habitat (The Mai-Kai gardens) and posed the following questions.

Jeff "Beachbum" Berry (right) and Hurricane Hayward enjoy their classic Mutiny cocktails in The Mai-Kai gardens
Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (right) and Hurricane Hayward enjoy their classic Mutiny cocktails in The Mai-Kai gardens. (Photo by Susan Hayward, April 2013)

Interview by Jim “Hurricane” Hayward

1. If you could transport yourself for one night back in time to any Tiki bar or restaurant, what would it be and when?

That would be Don the Beachcomber’s in 1934: Ground zero, the big bang, the creation of the Tiki bar as we know it – by Donn, right after Prohibition. I would have loved to have seen what that was like.

2. If Food Network or the Travel Channel came to you and said, “Pitch us a show about tropical drinks,” what would you suggest?

I would suggest that they just take their suggestion and shove it. Because none of those channels, none of those hosts, none of that garbage is about what these places are about. What these places are about is “aloha,” it’s about the spirit of true hospitality, of welcoming, of making you feel important, of making you feel good. All of these TV channels traffic in all of this competition bullshit, where restaurants are not places to go to relax and unwind. Where you get stressed out and compete against your fellow chefs or bartenders. I hate all that. That’s the antithesis of the true spirit of hospitality, of genteel camaraderie, of going to a place to exchange confidences and emotions, and happy experiences with people that you either know or you’ve met at these places. It’s not about competition, it’s not about who’s the best, it’s not about some guy with spiked hair telling you about the awesomeness of the food. That’s just artificial garbage. … All these people are self-appointed experts. They don’t know anything about anything.

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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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