Tiki fans packed a conference room early on the first day of Inuhele: Atlanta’s Tiki Weekend on Jan. 20, eager to hear and see details of the upcoming multimillion-dollar refurbishments planned for the historic Mai-Kai restaurant in South Florida. The Atomic Grog was happy to oblige, presenting exclusive photos, renderings and video of the project that is poised to shift into high gear in the coming months.
Jim “Hurricane” Hayward sprinkled the presentation on the 225-seat room’s large screen with new images and architectural plans. Appearing via pre-recorded video, creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller took viewers on 10-minute walk-through of his work in The Molokai bar, one of the restaurant’s oldest dining rooms, plus a stroll through the gardens. The video received a great response after the interior designer and craftsman urged attendees to enjoy their Mai-Kai cocktails after the presentation.
Other upcoming projects were detailed for the first time, including new Mai-Kai mugs and other merchandise by contemporary Tiki artists, plus a signature rum blend from two historic Caribbean distilleries. After digesting all the news, the approximately 175 guests were invited to quench their thirst with authentic Mai-Kai cocktails in a poolside VIP lounge for a meet-and-greet event.
The fourth Inuhele event was held Jan. 20-22 at the Atlanta Sheraton Downtown, just two blocks from the historic Trader Vic’s location, where many attendees paid a nightly pilgrimage. Highlights included a wide array of presentations all three days, an authentic luau, rocking live bands, a marketplace featuring many top artists and craftspeople, daily room parties and special events, plus more. Check out our event preview for an overview of the diversity and creativity of Inuhele’s offerings. Event recap and more photos coming soon!
Jump to more below:
* Chapter 1: The Legacy
* Chapter 2: The Deluge
* Chapter 3: The Renewal
EXCLUSIVE: Updates, new images of the site plan
EXCLUSIVE: New rum, mugs, other merchandise
PHOTOS: Images of presentation, after-party | Video
Recent coverage of The Mai-Kai
* Historic preservation board approves The Mai-Kai’s renovation plans, clearing way for project to move forward
* The Mai-Kai turns 66 as work progresses on multiple renovation projects
It was a pleasure to share all the latest exclusive information on The Mai-Kai refurbishment plans with an enthusiastic audience. It was the first presentation on the first day, and the line to enter the “Jungle Room” stretched down the hall and into the lobby.
Mahalo to Jonathan and Allison Chaffin and their expert staff for the great event. And okole maluna to hospitality director Lucky Munro and Mai-Kai historian Tim “Swanky” Glazner for their help with the cocktails. The support staff at the presentation was also very gracious, helping us solve a few technical issues and get the event on track as fast as we could. We hope to see y’all next year!
Inuhele, which started in 2018 as the Atlanta Tiki home bar tour, means “cocktail journey.” So I thought it was only fitting to kick off the show by talking about my personal cocktail journey at The Mai-Kai. My fascination with the delicious drinks, and the Tiki revival in general, started there around 15 years ago and is still going strong. Go to The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide to see the results of this journey.
Past presentations at The Hukilau and The Mai-Kai have included deep dives into the cocktails, the menu, and the restaurant’s historic rum collection. In 2022, we turned our attention on the blog to the massive renovation project, posting exclusive news and photos as work progressed. When the opportunity arose to share our insights at Inuhele, we jumped at the chance.
None of this would have been possible without the crucial cooperation and assistance of several key members of The Mai-Kai team who have be extremely helpful over the years with all of our coverage: General manager Kern Mattei and public relations director Pia Dahlquist. Also mentioned at the top of the presentation was the leader of the new ownership team, Bill Fuller, a founder of both real estate development firm Barlington Group and restaurant management group Mad Room Hospitality.
I thanked Fuller for having the vision to restore and reimagine The Mai-Kai, and for providing access and graciously answering all my questions as I continue to cover the most magical restaurant in the world.
CHAPTER 1 – The Legacy
While most Tikphiles in attendance knew quite a bit about the 66-year history of The Mai-Kai, we couldn’t discuss the significance of the current renovations without a brief tour through the past. Opened Dec. 28, 1956, in the small Fort Lauderdale suburb of Oakland Park, The Mai-Kai became a local and national historic landmark in 2014.
The dining rooms were outfitted with authentic artifacts from Polynesia, along with much work by budding restaurant decor firm Oceanic Arts. Massive Tikis by legendary carver Barney West were installed in the early 1960s. Sadly, only one survives. But it’s due to be restored as part of the refurbishments.
The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue was the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States (including Hawaii) until the 2020 closing due to a roof collapse over the kitchen and back-of-house area. The show’s original bandleader, Toti Terorotua, came from Don the Beachcomber in Hawaii and continued to perform until shortly before his death in 2020. Inuhele guests were treated to the sounds of Terorotua & His Tahitians, his band from the 1950s, before and after the presentation.
Launched in 1962, the stage show is poised for a comeback under the leadership of Mireille Thornton. She started as a dancer, soon became the show producer and choreographer, then married owner Bob Thornton. The family, led by daughter Kulani Thornton Gelardi, remains part of the ownership team and will continue to run the restaurant and serve as its creative force.
The Mai Kai was already considered a landmark when it expanded in 1970. The $1 million project (see image above) included new dining rooms, lush landscaping of what is now the Tiki gardens, and the construction of the 7,000-square-foot back-of-house section that was compromised in October 2020. Also added were the kitchen’s rare Chinese wood-burning ovens, which were saved and will be relocated.
Also added: A redesign of The Molokai lounge using decor salvaged from the Marlon Brando film Mutiny on the Bounty (1962). The nautical theme extends to the entrance area and back of house. One of the bar’s signature features is windows that are covered in a constant faux rainstorm that adds to the illusion of being trapped in a turn-of-the-century seaport saloon.
The 1970 additions would be the last major construction project at The Mai-Kai until 2022. For the next five decades, the restaurant cemented its reputation as the most grand Polynesian palace built during the mid 20th century.
CHAPTER 2: The Deluge
The Mai-Kai managed better than most during the early days of the pandemic in 2020. While indoor service shut down, cocktails and food were available to go, and the restaurant fully reopened after two months. But the old adage “when it rains, it pours” proved to be true (literally) when a massive storm hit in late October at the same time a pipe burst in a main sprinkler system line, leading to the collapse of the roof over the 1970s-era kitchen.
The Mai-Kai was forced to close days before the annual Halloween event, but the owners and management made the best of the ensuing months with many outdoor events and the popular “Gallons to Go” cocktail program, which continues to this day. The three gallons served at Inuhele came directly from The Molokai bar following the last pick-up opportunity in January. The next round comes Feb. 9-10.
But behind the scenes, the damage was more severe than most people knew. After assessing all the options, the Thornton family felt that the only chance of saving The Mai-Kai was to put the property up for sale in order to raise funds for the repairs. They wanted deeply to protect the legacy and future of the beloved landmark as fans rallied to preserve it.
Offers came in from around the world, including developers who wanted to change the property. Finally, Miami’s Barlington Group came to the table with its vast experience restoring historic properties.
* Full coverage of The Mai-Kai sale in September 2021
CHAPTER 3: The Renewal
When the scope of the renovation project was revealed, it became clear that this would not be a quick fix. The project was pegged at $5 million, with another $1 million added later. “Everybody who invested really just cares about bringing The Mai-Kai back to its glory,” Fuller told a packed symposium at The Hukilau in June 2022. “If we need to spend an extra million dollars or two, we’re going to do it because we want it to be perfect.”
Fuller and his team introduced the plans at an Oakland Park public meeting in April 2022. The ambitious reimagination includes not just a new roof and AC system, plus modern infrastructure and kitchen. The visionary plan proposed demolition of the long dormant Bora Bora building, a rerouting and reimagination of the entry experience, and the addition of a new building for special events.
Then came the challenge of putting these plans into action. A key addition was Typhoon Tommy, who began work restoring the interior in July. While it wasn’t damaged in the roof collapse, the decor in many of the dining rooms was in distress and badly needed a refurbishment. Tommy was the perfect man for the job.
His meticulous work restoring dozens and dozens of hanging lamps is fantastic. Along the way, he uncovered old panels that were part of the original design of The Molokai, circa 1958.
He also discovered vintage Tiki carvings hidden beneath the stage, revealed for the first time at Inuhele. These authentic totems are believed to have been created by the late Leroy Schmaltz of Oceanic Arts and were used as decorative posts.
According to those in the know, The Mai-Kai at one point used the stage for dinner seating during times when shows were not being performed. These Tikis would rise up from below and further add to the exotic atmosphere. They may also have had a functional use as dividers between tables. We hope to find out the rest of this story later when the Tikis are excavated.
Allsmiller, who humbly calls himself “a scenic artist who builds Tiki bars,” recorded a video four days before Inuhele on Jan. 16 that was shown on the big screen. Filmed by manager Kern Mattei, the video features Allsmiller taking viewers behind the scenes to see the work being done in The Molkai bar, the New Guinea dining room, and the outdoor Tiki gardens.
During the exclusive video shown only at Inuhele, Allsmiller greeted us in The Molokai. “I’m sure you would all agree that you’d rather I be here working than there with you drinking,” he quipped. He then proceeded with a show and tell of his work rebuilding the lamps, “trying to restore them back to their original glory.”
He explained his goal to “seamlessly recreate and restore” the lamps. He described his process of restoring old and damaged wooden beams, including meticulously chiseling and repainting using the exact same style and aging techniques used when it was built in 1970.
“It all matches seamlessly,” Allsmiller said. “If I do my job right, you won’t even know I was here.”
One noticeable addition, however, can be found in the back of The Molokai, where he pointed out a piece of the wood salvaged from the original 1958 bar. He installed it near the ceiling, visible behind a plexiglass window as a new “Easter egg” for fans to find.
Moving on to New Guinea, one of The Mai-Kai’s oldest dining rooms (originally Tahiti in the 1950s and ’60s), Allsmiller gave us insights into some of his aging techniques. The old wall matting had to be replaced, but it needed to match the old walls that were aged by decades of smoke from diners as well as the nearby fire shows.
The new matting was a perfect match, but it was “too pretty,” Allsmiller explained. He had to treat it to give it a “nice nicotine stain” to bring it back to the right color. These are the little details that are crucial to the restoration process, he said.
“When it comes time for you to be back, it will still feel like home,” Allsmiler said. “It won’t feel like something’s off. I’m really trying to get as close to that as possible.”
He also explained the work being done to replace the room’s thatch roofing materials, which suffered water damage due to roof leaks over the years. It will also be aged and stained to make the replacement appear seamless.
Allsmiller then welcomed viewers to a stroll through the refurbished walkways in the back gardens. The main dock that you traverse to enter the gardens from the Lanai was widened with all new wood. An additional chain was added to the railings to make the path safer. But stylistically, it looks exactly the same.
Walking by the building that houses the Chinese ovens, he pointed out where the entrance to the new event space will be. “It will all blend in perfectly,” Allsmiller said.
New pilings and wood on the bridges match the style of the dock, making the path more consistent. The vegetation is beginning to look sparse due to lack of gardening care, but Allsmiller promised that a lot more foliage will be added.
The tour ended at the newest giant carved Tiki added to the property, the 7-foot Hiroa Nui (created by local artist Will Anders in 2016). It stands at the famous photo spot in front of The Mai-Kai’s giant roadside sign, where it was also in the process of being restored.
In closing, Allsmiller told the Inuhele attendees that he hoped they enjoy their Mai-Kai cocktails. “We’ll be here, waiting for the return,” he said.
I would be remiss without also giving credit and featuring Kern Mattei’s contributions to The Mai-Kai refurbishment project. His father, Kern Mattei Sr., was general manager from 1964 to 1991. Kern Jr. was born into The Mai-Kai. His mother was a dancer in the show, and he worked many jobs before becoming a manager in 1993 after getting his bachelor’s degree in hospitality from Florida International University. He has remained as a stabilizing influence for the past three decades.
Mattei oversees the daily operations as well as the takeout cocktail program. He mixes most of the quarts and gallons personally. But he also has his hands in multiple design projects, from overseeing Allsmiller to leading efforts to restore the distinctive table lamps themed to nine different dining areas (see photo above).
* More on the table lamp project
He also heads the efforts to upgrade the hundreds of interior lights with LED bulbs. Regarding the completed lighting enhancements in The Molokai, Allsmiller said in his video: “It’s a lot cooler, more energy efficient. And we can control the look and feel a lot better. It’s safer as well.”
After the roof was shored up and all AC and electrical enhancements completed, work began on the porte-cochère and roof thatching in late summer. But The Mai-Kai had to tap the brakes on all projects that involved the look and feel of the exterior of the historic property and go before Oakland Park’s Historic Preservation Board to get full approval for any updates.
On one hand, this can be perceived as a negative, bogging down the process and leading to construction delays. But on the other hand, these historic property rules will absolutely ensure that The Mai-Kai is restored as close as possible to the exact same condition. As I pointed out in the presentation: When was the last time you heard of a city pushing for an old Polynesian restaurant to be preserved instead of torn down? It’s really a blessing.
The public hearing before the preservation board was not scheduled until January, so the target reopening date had to be pushed back to spring. The Jan. 11 meeting went as well as could be expected, resulting in unanimous approval of a “certificate of appropriateness” that will allow The Mai-Kai to make specific changes to the historic property.
FULL COVERAGE: Historic preservation board approves The Mai-Kai’s renovation plans, clearing way for project to move forward
An overview of The Mai-Kai’s landscaping and foliage plan is seen above next to an aerial map from roughly the same orientation. The new arrival experience takes guests around a lush, planted perimeter, diverting traffic into two different lanes coming in and going out. The images were shown at the Jan. 11 meeting of the Oakland Park Historic Preservation Board.
* Click here or on the image for a larger view
* Click here for a larger view of the landscaping plan
With approval to make changes to certain aspects of the historic property, The Mai-Kai then went before the city’s Development Review Committee on Jan. 26. This meeting with city engineers and zoning officials dealt mostly with issues such as parking, landscaping, and architectural plans.
The vote was again unanimous. However, final approval was withheld until The Mai-Kai makes various adjustments to its plans and resubmits them. As of the first week of February, we were still waiting for every “i” to be dotted and “t” to be crossed.
Check back for coverage and details from the Jan. 26 meeting. In the meantime, we’ll reveal the treasure trove of material from the Historic Preservation Board meeting. In the images above and below, you’ll see the plans shown at Inuhele that weren’t part of our original story.
A key to the reimagination of the entry experience is the removal of the Bora Bora Room, which hasn’t been used since it was damaged by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. The preservation board approved, with conditions that as much historic decor be saved as possible.
At the Jan. 11 meeting, Jesse Muller of Perry-Becker Design spoke of how the immersion in The Mai-Kai begins when arriving vehicles cross the wooden bridge from Federal Highway. “We want that experience to start as soon as they drive into the site, not when they get out of their car, not when they walk into the building. As soon as they enter that bridge,” he said.
The bridge will be completely refurbished with new posts, rope and netting along with torches and additional barrels and thematic lighting. After the bridge, however, things will change drastically under the new landscaping plan by Perry-Becker, which specializes in theme park design and previously worked on the new entryway to Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.
Traffic will be redirected around the two giant banyan trees that sit just to the north of the porte-cochère, then flow into a traffic circle. This roundabout will be a new focal point for guests, with “concrete themed to look like sand, so it’s as if the guests are getting out of their car onto the beach of The Mai-Kai,” Muller said.
The roundabout will feature tapa-style designs with Polynesian cultural symbols embedded in pebble rock. The island will feature a lighted volcanic rock display that Muller described at the meeting. It will be themed to look like a caldera, a large cauldron-like hollow that forms shortly after the emptying of a magma chamber in a volcano eruption.
The texture and rock work will look like cooled magma, Muller said. There will be no heat or fire, however. The volcano effect “will be accomplished with lighting features and water jets to simulate the bubble of lava.”
He added that the volcano should look like it’s been there for hundreds of years. “We want this new revitalized space to not look like it was built yesterday, and that it’s existed as long as The Mai-Kai Restaurant has been here. And that it’s all been here since the beginning.”
One of the more ambitious plans presented to the city of Oakland Park is an outdoor patio under the porte-cochère with a stand-alone bar and stage designed to look like an authentic Polynesian catamaran.
* Click here or on the image for a larger view
* Click here for a larger view of the catamaran stage
The plan calls for the bar to be clad in lava rock veneer that looks the same as the lava rock around the property. There is also a proposed water feature behind the bar. The sound of rushing water behind the lava rock will create a familiar Mai-Kai experience, Muller said.
Perry-Becker took the idea of an adjacent stage for bands and performances to the next level with a design inspired by a Polynesian catamaran. This life-sized replica would be “tucked into the landscape” with its onboard hut used to hide the stage’s technical equipment, Muller said.
But what about the building plans? As detailed in our previous coverage, some of the new additions will be pushed back to Phase 2. It will require a large investment of time to build the new kitchen and event space, so The Mai-Kai will open with a provisional kitchen (and abbreviated menu) but a full bar menu. [See floor plan]
Inuhele guests were then treated to views of all four sides of the building via architectural renderings presented by Kravit Architectural Associates at the Jan. 11 meeting. The current view is on top with the planned version below (click or tap for larger versions).
Above: The east side of the building facing Federal Highway. Note that these are one-dimensional renderings. The new A-frame on the event center (left) will be significantly stepped back from the roadway and will not be seen clearly amid the lush garden landscaping.
The profile of north side of the building, which features the porte-cochère and main entrace, will remain much the same. The wood planks on the side of the building will be elevated to hide rooftop mechanical equipment. The A-frame will be restored to much like it was in the early years with synthetic thatching covering the rear two-thirds.
The rear of the building, which is not usually seen by guests, will not be ignored in the renovations plans. Previously plain stucco, the west side of the building will have new wood planks to match the north side, also raised to hide equipment. Plans also call for the facade to feature “creeping fig vines” to simulate the gardens.
A fence separates the south side of property from the neighboring furniture store. This view shows how the new event space’s A-frame would rise up on the left, featuring a synthetic thatched roof like the others. This side of the event center would include sliding impact doors with access to an additional outdoor patio space, and painted stucco walls that match the rest of the building.
The event center will sit in the southwest corner of the building in what was previously used as a storage/warehouse space adjoining the large kitchen. The new patio will occupy an alleyway that can be seen in a photo that was shared during the Inuhele presentation:
The rendering above, shared at the Jan. 11 meeting with Historic Preservation Board members, shows the plans that include lava rock at the back of the patio space. This feature serves a dual purpose of creating a focal point while also hiding the back-of-house access to the parking lot. A bamboo fence at least 8 feet tall will shield the area from the neighboring furniture store and parking lot.
This idea of total immersion in the space is something the new design team is taking seriously, inspired by the founding Thornton brothers. The Mai-Kai has always been a Disneyesque fantasyland shielded from the outside world.
“We don’t want guests who are coming to The Mai-Kai to look out and see the real world,” said Muller of Perry-Becker at the Jan. 11 meeting. “We don’t want you to see the traffic, we don’t want you to see the parking lots, we don’t want you to see the powerlines. We’re thinking about every angle where guests could be standing in this space to allow them to have a safe and happy experience.”
The next slide shown in the Jan. 20 presentation at Inuhele features a photo of the current view looking toward the Chinese ovens (left), which will be moved to a dedicated space in the new kitchen. Guests walking the hallway will still be able to gaze in on the exotic cooking method to their right. The renderings show the Chinese oven area transformed into the event center lobby (top), along with a view of the entrance.
Typhoon Tommy is designing the event center with a Marquesan theme, creating a unique area to pair with the other dining rooms: Samoa, Hawaii, Tahiti, Moorea, New Guinea, and Tonga.
The final slide of renderings shown at the Jan. 11 meeting shows Typhoon Tommy’s vision for the inside of the event center. According to the Jan. 11 presentation by Kravit Architectural, it’s designed to feature wooden entry doors and beams carved in a traditional Marquesan style, plus wood posts, bamboo, matting, and all the usual design elements you find throughout The Mai-Kai.
EXCLUSIVE: New rum, mugs, other merchandise announced
For many in attendance, the juiciest news came at the end of the presentation, when The Mai-Kai allowed us to leak info on a variety of upcoming merchandise items in the pipeline:
Merch from Mcbiff: As we announced in November, the artist Mcbiff (aka David McNeley) has designed exclusive merchandise that will be released at the reopening in his colorful mid-century modern style. Limited-edition items in the works include signed giclee prints, glassware, aloha shirts, and tote bags.
Plans call for everything to be available in the gift shop, aka The Mai-Kai Trading Post. We hope to get word on possible online sales closer to the opening date. Mcbiff is a highly regarded young artist known for his Tiki-inspired artwork, and also his contracted paintings sold in art stores at Disney parks and resorts.
Mugs, mugs, mugs! As shown above, The Mai-Kai has tapped Tiki Farm to produce seven new mugs that should be available in time for the grand reopening. Several that are pictured are completed and approved, while others are still in the production process. All will be available in the gift shop, and possibly also served with cocktails.
The carving by Hawaii’s Bill Collins will likely be installed in the new event center in fitting with its Marquesan design. The mug is a spot-on likeness with a matte finish.
The mug designed by Sven Kirsten, the godfather of the modern Tiki revival, pays tribute to one of the author’s favorite images: The Mai-Kai’s iconic trio of cannibals that were used in most of the early advertising and promotional campaigns. You can still find the cannibals on the lamps in the Tonga dining room.
A design by South Florida lowbrow legend Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli depicts an entire ship with the Molokai Maiden on the bow. The 36-ounce vessel can hold a cocktail for two.
The arrival of these new items should not cause fans of The Mai-Kai’s traditional mugs to fret, however. All the legacy glassware will return, from the iconic Rum Barrel, to the Shrunken Skull, to the Kona Coffee Grog. Mattei told me that all will be produced by the same overseas purveyor that was providing the mugs at the time of the closing. The mugs wll continue to be used in service in many of the classic cocktails, but as usual you should also be able to purchase them in the gift shop (see photo above) and online store.
Along with securing the mugs, Mattei has been busy lining up sources for all the traditional glassware featured on the menu. This includes a return to the more traditonal metal swizzle cups (for the 151 Swizzle and maybe even the Rum Julep); signature snifters (for the Black Magic, Mutiny, and The Hukilau); the Peal Diver glass produced by Beachbum Berry and Cocktail Kingdom (inspired by the Don the Beachcomber classic as well as The Mai-Kai’s Deep Sea Diver); plus more.
In addition, cocktail enthusiasts will be happy to know that all 47 cocktails on the menu will return exactly as they were before. The menu will be re-created in much the same way, but with a retro-modern twist. Thanks to California artist Eric October, the menu will once again feature renderings of all the drinks instead of photos. Drawn in his own distinctive style, images of the more popular drinks will also be featured on apparel such as T-shirts.
NEW: Limited release Rum Barrel T-shirts available
Last but not least, the guests at Inuhele were among the first to learn details on The Mai-Kai’s new signature rum, designed to replace the long-lost Dagger and Kohala Bay in many classic cocktails. Since the latter became unavailable, The Mai-Kai has resorted to making its own in-house blend by combining three different rums into one bottle. But by securing a proprietary blend of its own, The Mai-Kai will not only have a distinctive and traditional rum for use in the back bar, it will also have its own branded rum to promote to home enthusiasts for the first time.
This was the official announcement released for the event: “To honor the legendary cocktails of The Mai-Kai, a collaboration with Plantation Rum and master distiller Don Benn will produce a 100-proof mixing rum sourced from the West Indies Rum Distillery in Barbados and the Long Pond Distillery in Jamaica.”
News spread quickly online, and an initial version of the label for Mai-Kai Rum No. 1 surfaced shortly after Inuhele. There was much discussion about the source of the blend, but we’ll wait for The Mai-Kai’s official announcement before getting into all those details. The rum is still five or six months away from an official release, which will coincide with the reopening. But expect rum and Tiki cocktail enthusiasts to be given sneak previews in the coming days, weeks and months.
Without getting into details, this is definitely unlike any other Plantation product. It is being produced exclusively for The Mai-Kai and shipped from Barbados to Florida, where it will be bottled and receive its distinctive Mai-Kai branded label. Initially, it will be available only in The Mai-Kai’s gift shop, though wider distribution in the future is not out of the question.
I’ve been following the development of this rum from the early stages, and I can honestly say that it was not chosen willy nilly. After various options were sampled and discussed over many months, a meeting of the minds at The Mai-Kai in the summer of 2022 led to the development of this blend. It’s a tribute to a style popular in the 1940s, when Don the Beachcomber perfected the cocktails that inspired master mixologist Mariano Licudine to create the 43 classics on The Mai-Kai menu in 1956.
Sourced from several historic pot stills that were recently recommissioned, the rum (like The Mai-Kai itself) is a throwback to another era. At 100 proof, it’s similar to the old Dagger rums (produced in Jamaica by Wray & Nephew, typically at 97 proof) in firepower. However, it’s much more sophisticated than the simple “punch style” rums that were previously employed as the most popular mixing rum at The Mai-Kai.
I’ve tasted the blend several times, both neat and in a Rum Barrel. In my opinion, it’s a strong but refined rum that stands up well to the many juices and syrups that dominate Mai-Kai cocktails. With slight hints of Jamaican funk and also a higher-proof kick than its predecessor, it elevates the Barrel to modern tastes, yet it doesn’t lose touch with its roots.
It’s not exactly like Dagger or Kohala Bay, but it’s an excellent substitute. Bob Thornton and Mariano Licudine would likely approve.
PHOTO GALLERY: Okole Maluna! The Return of The Mai-Kai presentation at Inuhele
Photos from the Jan. 20 presentation on The Mai-Kai and subsequent meet-and-greet with Jim “Hurricane” Hayward at Inuhele. All photos by Susan Hayward for The Atomic Grog, unless noted.
VIDEO: Tiki Hunting at Inuhele
Check out the short video from the Tiki Hunting team of Monserrat and Cacalito Xavier Mendoza from South Florida as they explore the Inuhele marketplace, then sit in on The Mai-Kai presentation. Mahalo for keeping it “top secret.”
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