Modern Caribbean Rum

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Find out what makes the Shark Bite so Jawesome

Updated August 2020
See below: Our Shark Bite review | Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipe
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide
* Shark Bite featuring The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend

We continue our journey through dangerous waters with another of The Mai-Kai’s signature drinks, the Shark Bite.

Hurricane Hayward enjoys a Shark Bite in The Molokai bar in September 2016 during a book-release party for Tim "Swanky" Glazner's "Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant." (Atomic Grog photo)
Hurricane Hayward enjoys a Shark Bite in The Molokai bar in September 2016 during a book-release party for Tim “Swanky” Glazner’s “Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant.” (Atomic Grog photo)

Considering that this is the heart of the summer vacation season and we’re still digesting Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” this is an appropriate choice. Actually, the Shark Bite’s potency is a bit overstated. It’s our favorite drink from the “medium” section of the menu.

Like the much stronger Shrunken Skull, the Shark Bite has an ominous name and also a shot of flavorful rum added as it’s served. It’s also one of many of the legendary Fort Lauderdale Polynesian restaurant’s drinks that date back to the early days of Tiki, when Donn Beach (aka Donn the Beachcomber) laid out the template for tropical drinks that is still followed to this day.

The Shark Bite is an almost spot-on copy of the Shark’s Tooth, a drink featured on Don the Beachcomber menus as well as other bars and restaurants during the mid-century golden age of Tiki. You’ll find a Shark’s Tooth recipe below that was unearthed by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry for his seminal 1998 book, Grog Log, and later republished in Beachbum Berry Remixed (2010). Also below is a slight variation that we’re calling a tribute to the Shark Bite.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Find out what makes the Shark Bite so Jawesome”

Minimalist Tiki

Disney World is still cool at 40 thanks to retro artists Shag, Kevin & Jody

Update/review: Artists shine amid copious crowds at Disney World’s 40th
Related: Disney World celebrates 40 years of mid-century magic
Disney World’s updated Enchanted Tiki Room has retro feel
See below: Shag’s Disney World 40th anniversary collection | Video
Kevin Kidney & Jody Daily’s Disney World 40th anniversary collection

The author with a friend at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, December 1972.
The author with a friend at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, December 1972.

It’s late 1972. I’m visiting my grandparents in South Florida but I’m more excited about our day trip to the East Coast’s answer to Disneyland: Walt Disney World. The park had opened just a year earlier and promised to be – in the eyes of an 11-year-old in the early ’70s – the coolest place on Earth.

I’ll never forget my first ride on the futuristic Monorail, the spooky and fun Haunted Mansion, the cartoonish architecture of Tomorrowland, plus the iconic castle and all the classic characters. The day flew by too fast but I cherished my souvenirs, including a Haunted Mansion record that I played to death over the years.

Fast-forward some 30 years and I’m a childless grown-up in South Florida. I’ve made the rounds of most of the state’s attractions as a teenager and young adult but never made it back to the Magic Kingdom. My only Disney World experiences were a day at Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) and a trip to Downtown Disney for a concert at the House of Blues. Like many others, I thought I was too cool for Disney World.

Continue reading “Disney World is still cool at 40 thanks to retro artists Shag, Kevin & Jody”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Drink like a native with the deadly Shrunken Skull

The Mai-Kai's Shrunken Skull, from ancestor to tribute

Updated October 2023
See below: Our Shrunken Skull review | Ancestor recipe
Official recipe | Tribute recipe | Bonus recipes
NEW: Shrunken Pumpkin Head is a sinister, seasonal spin on the classic
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Our expedition through the mysterious tropical drink selection at The Mai-Kai takes a dangerous turn with another mid-century classic from the menu’s “STRONG!” offerings.

The Shrunken Skull, served in the Abelam mug in May 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Shrunken Skull, served in the Abelam mug in May 2012. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Tongue-in-cheek drinks lionizing primitivism were common during Tiki’s golden age. The ominous Shrunken Skull and its variations were among the most infamous. The idea was to conjure up a sense of danger lurking in your local tropical getaway. Classic Tiki bars offer the ultimate escape from the mundane day-to-day existence, and every island adventure needs a little bit of macabre yet kitschy risk-taking.

In this case, the danger lies in the strong rums that permeate this deadly concoction. The Shrunken Skull is one of only two current Mai-Kai drinks that feature a rum floater (a shot of rum added to your drink as it’s served). Not coincidentally, the other also comes with an element of danger attached to its name: the Shark Bite.

The Shrunken Skull is also one of only a handful of Mai-Kai cocktails to come in its own custom mug, originally a vintage shrunken head design by Al Kocab. The artist had his hand in many projects at The Mai-Kai, from furniture to advertising design.

It was replaced some time in the 1980s by a modern version based on Kocab’s design that remains to this day. The modern version features the details painted under the glaze, while the vintage version has the details painted over the glaze.

Our collection includes Mai-Kai Shrunken Skull mugs from the 1960s (left), 1970s and 1980s. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Our collection includes Mai-Kai Shrunken Skull mugs from the 1960s (left), 1970s and 1980s. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The above links and info come courtesy of My Tiki Life, a website featuring a user-generated database of mugs past and present. This highly recommended resource is so robust, in fact, it lists nearly 300 mugs (as of October 2023) with a tag of “skull.” Featuring photos, designer and manufacturer info, plus a full description of the mugs, mytiki.life is essential even if you don’t register as a member.

In recent years, the Shrunken Skull is also often served in a modern Abelam mug, which features a mask-like design of the Abelam people who live in the East Sepik province of Papua New Guinea. The original was also designed by Kocab.

Both mugs have a handle, which is atypical of most Tiki mugs. It’s usually an indication that the mug does double-duty on the dessert menu as a vessel for hot coffee drinks. At The Mai-Kai, the current Abelam mug also can be enjoyed with an after-dinner classic, the flaming Kona Coffee Grog. The Shrunken Skull mug is also used for the Tahitian Coffee.

When the restaurant reopens in 2024, look for both mugs in the gift shop, aka The Mai-Kai Trading Post.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Drink like a native with the deadly Shrunken Skull”

Disney World’s Enchanted Tiki Room will reopen Aug. 15 with vintage show

July 2013 update: Tiki Room celebrates 50 years of enchantment
Modern Retro Disney World: Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room
Aug. 2011 update: Disney World’s updated Enchanted Tiki Room has retro feel

The Enchanted Tiki Room at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in November 2008, before a fire closed the "Under New Management" version of the attraction. (Photo by Susan Hayward)
The Enchanted Tiki Room at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in November 2008, before a fire closed the "Under New Management" version of the attraction. (Photo by Susan Hayward)

Whatever (or whoever) started a fire in Walt Disney World’s Enchanted Tiki Room back in January may have inadvertently set off a chain of events that has corrected one of the biggest blunders in the history of theme park attraction renovations.

Closed for the past seven months, the iconic attraction is scheduled to reopen Aug. 15 with a new animatronic show that pays tribute to the original attraction, which was a pet project of Walt himself. To the delight of many hardcore fans, the oft-reviled “Under New Management” theme has been ditched (for good, hopefully). Iago from Aladdin and Zazu from The Lion King have been replaced by José, Fritz, Michael and Pierre – the four crooning parrot hosts who have been entertaining guests at California’s Disneyland since 1963.

The redesign of Disney World’s Enchanted Tiki Room was announced in May at Disney’s “D23 Destination D: Walt Disney World 40th Anniversary Conference,” a special event for members of Disney’s D23 fan club (D23 refers to Disney and 1923, the year the company was founded). The Aug. 15 date was officially announced by Disney World on Tuesday.

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Mai-Kai cocktail review: Robust flavors and potency are hallmark of 151 Swizzle

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Robust flavors and potency are hallmark of 151 Swizzle

Updated November 2021
See below: Our 151 Swizzle review | Ancestor recipe
Tribute recipes UPDATED
Postscript: The 151 Swizzle tribute on social media NEW
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide | All 100+ Mai-Kai cocktail recipes
Demerara rum: The Mai-Kai’s secret weapon
Rums of Guyana star in classic cocktails

NEW: The Atomic Grog on Tiki Trail Live

On Tuesday, Nov. 16, Hurricane Hayward was the special mixology guest on Tiki Trail Live on Zoom, mixing up the new tribute to The Mai-Kai’s 151 Swizzle.
* Click here to jump to the recipe below
Tiki Trail Live: Get more show details on Instagram and Facebook
* Buy the 151 Swizzle Cup from Cocktail Kingdom

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The 16 deadly drinks in the “strong” section are no doubt the stars of The Mai-Kai’s legendary cocktail menu. There’s a reason they comprise 13 of the Top 20 in our rankings. They’re by far the most inventive, mysterious and flavor-packed drinks on the menu.

The only thing more dangerous than a 151 Swizzle: Two 151 Swizzles
The only thing more dangerous than a 151 Swizzle: Two 151 Swizzles. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January 2015)

Just be careful when imbibing. The Mai-Kai doesn’t use the word “strong” lightly. Some contain 3 ounces of rum (or more), others a healthy dose of overproof. Among these, there are “strong” drinks and then there are “STRONG!” drinks. In the latter category, one of the first cocktails that comes to mind is the classic 151 Swizzle.

Like many Mai-Kai drinks, this deliciously dangerous concoction dates back to Tiki originator Donn Beach (better known as Don the Beachcomber) and has been on the Fort Lauderdale restaurant’s cocktail menu since its opening in 1956. It has become an iconic standard at some of the world’s top Tiki bars, from the 60-year-old Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles to the 5-year-old False Idol in San Diego. At Hale Pele in Portland, The Mai-Kai gets a shout-out in the menu description, and the presentation is very familiar. It’s likely they’re using a variation of one of our seven tribute recipes below.

Martin Cate, one of the world’s top rum and Tiki cocktail authorities, considers the 151 Swizzle his favorite drink on The Mai-Kai’s menu. [See interview] “When it’s made perfectly, it’s a wonderful drink,” he said. “That to me is my mothership.” At his acclaimed Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, he serves a souped up version called the 2070 Swizzle, which he calls “my giant killer.” [See recipe]

The Swizzle Cup is part of the Tiki barware collection produced by Cocktail Kingdom in association with Beachbum Berry
The Swizzle Cup is part of the Tiki barware collection produced by Cocktail Kingdom in association with Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. (Cocktail Kingdom photo)

Revealed in Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s groundbreaking 1998 cocktail guide, Grog Log, the original Don the Beachcomber recipe is fairly simple (see below). As the cocktail sleuth pointed out in the book, it was originally served in a metal cup with a flared top, “but good luck finding one.” The Mai-Kai, of course, follows tradition and has always served its 151 Swizzle in a chilled metal cup.

Finding the correct cup outside of the handful of bars mentioned above, however, has traditionally been difficult. You could typically find a Mint Julep cup or other close approximation on eBay, but they fall short of the sleek, flared design of the original. Berry took matters into his own hands in May 2015, when he released a new line of Tiki barware via Cocktail Kingdom, including a Swizzle Cup. [See story]

When metal cups are in short supply, this is how you're likely to be served the 151 Swizzle at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January 2017)
When metal cups are in short supply, this is how you’re likely to be served the 151 Swizzle at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January 2017)

Beyond the cup, The Mai-Kai’s version of the 151 Swizzle is unlike any other. Like many Mai-Kai drinks, it’s based on the Don the Beachcomber version but was given a unique twist by original owner Bob Thornton and mixologist Mariano Licudine, who learned his craft from Donn Beach. We’ve taken a stab at re-creating the same flavor profile and have posted an ever-evolving list of “tribute recipes” below. Like Thornton, his stepson Dave Levy also tinkered with the recipe from time to time when he was in charge over the past 30 years, especially when changes were made to the rums.

The recipe grew out of discussion on The Grogalizer, a site highly recommend if you’re a fan of classic Tiki cocktails. Developed by The Swank Pad’s Tim “Swanky” Glazner, The Grogalizer is a database of hundreds of recipes from all of Beachbum Berry’s books, plus a few select others. The site allows you to rate the drinks, see how other mixologists rank them and share comments on each.

Sign up (it’s easy) and keep track of your progress through all the great recipes in these books. It’s also a seamless way to keep track of all the various bar ingredients you’ll need to re-create these classics, which include many in this guide. After compiling your online bar, you can figure out which drinks you can make with which ingredients, as well as resources for buying hard-to-find stuff. In September 2016, Glazner released his long-awaited book, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, an essential addition to any Mai-Kai fan’s collection.

Metal cups for the 151 Swizzle, along with other frozen glassware, are kept in a special freezer in The Mai-Kai's kitchen service bar
Metal cups for the 151 Swizzle, along with other frozen glassware, are kept in a special freezer in The Mai-Kai’s kitchen service bar. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, November 2011)

The evolution of the tribute recipe has gone through several stages, as you’ll see below. The first big breakthrough came in March 2012, when I discovered Kohala Bay, a rare dark Jamaican rum that was a key ingredient in many of The Mai-Kai’s strong cocktails. In addition, a search of eBay yielded a set of metal cups that were similar to the real deal. With the cup and rum in my arsenal, I were able to come up a much more accurate tribute recipe.

But just when I thought I had it down pat, The Mai-Kai dropped a bombshell in late April 2012 with the reintroduction of Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum, which had been absent from its bars for some 15 years. This only made a great drink even better and returned it to its vintage recipe. This resulted in tribute recipes No. 2 and No. 3. The fourth variation of the recipe, created in early 2015 when Lemon Hart was replaced by Hamilton 151 rum from Guyana, is more complex and full of outstanding flavors.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Robust flavors and potency are hallmark of 151 Swizzle”

The Jetsetter touches down tonight at The Mai-Kai

Join Mike “Jetsetter” Jones tonight for what’s quickly becoming the coolest event on The Mai-Kai‘s calendar: His semi-regular DJ set following the usual Friday night happy hour.

As an added bonus and in keeping with the Jetset theme, Jet Pilots are half-price all night long. See the flier below for all the details.

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Mai-Kai cocktail review: The mystery of the Gardenia Lei

Updated June 30, 2014
See below: Our Gardenia Lei review | Ancestor recipe
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Though it’s officially listed on The Mai-Kai’s legendary cocktail menu as an after-dinner drink, the Gardenia Lei is well worth checking out at any time, especially if you’re a fan of classic Tiki drinks.

Ice shells are prepared and waiting in The Mai-Kai's back bar. (photo by Go11Events.com, June 2010)
Ice shells are prepared and waiting in The Mai-Kai's back bar. (Photo by Go11Events.com, June 2010)

It’s also a great showcase for the lost art of the ice shell. Our tribute to the Special Reserve Daiquiri, another drink that uses this same technique, includes instructions on how to make one. We saw how they were stored in the back bar’s freezer during our special tour in November 2011.

The Gardenia Lei is a vintage cocktail that has been on the menu since the opening of The Mai-Kai in 1956, with its roots going even farther back to Don the Beachcomber’s Mystery Gardenia. As we’ve pointed out in many other reviews, a majority of The Mai-Kai’s cocktails have their origins in the 1930s and 1940s when Donn Beach invented the tropical drink as we know it today.
Related: The Mai-Kai’s tropical drink family tree

Many original Don the Beachcomber recipes have been unearthed by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and published in his many highly recommended books. Berry’s dogged research resulted in a greater understanding of the art of tropical mixology and helped spur the Tiki cocktail revival that shows no signs of abating.

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Pooch brings his surreal world to Howley’s with solo art show

One of our favorite lowbrow artists, Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli, will be hosting a showing of his recent prints next Tuesday (July 26) at one of our favorite retro restaurants – Howley’s diner in West Palm Beach.

View the Pooch

The show, titled “View the Pooch,” will run from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. and will also feature live music from South Florida blues guitarist J.P. Soars. Howley’s has a full bar featuring beer, wine and cocktails plus an extensive menu of diner classics.

Pooch is well-established as one of the most talented artists in South Florida and continues to branch out and establish himself throughout the greater art world. As owner/operator and chief artist at Altered State Tattoo in Lake Worth since 1996, he’s long been the go-to guy in South Florida if you’re looking for one-of-a-kind, eye-popping ink. Pooch’s award-winning tattoo work is known for its rich color and incredible detail. His work has been featured in many tattoo publications, such as Tattoo Society and International Tattoo Art.

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Don’t suffer from Tiki envy: Get your Hukilau collectibles now

Related: Full Hukilau 2011 coverage from The Atomic Grog
Official sites: TheHukilau.com | Facebook | Flickr | Go11Media

Tiki For 2

The 10th anniversary of The Hukilau, the annual gathering of Tikiphiles from around the globe that happens every June in Fort Lauderdale, is still fresh in our memory. But if we need a reminder, we just look to our mug and glassware collection, where Hukilau collectibles are a essential.

If you didn’t get a chance to hit the merchandise booth in June, or if you were unlucky enough to miss The Hukilau entirely, it’s not too late to pick up a wide assortment of goodies from the official Hukilau online store:

Tiki For 2, the commemorative mug set sculpted by Kevin Kidney and produced by Munktiki. These 4-ounce mugs (photo at right) feature the familiar “Huki” design by Kevin, similar to the full-size 2009 mug. One features a brown exterior glaze with green interior glaze, while the other features a vanilla exterior glaze with a orange sherbet interior glaze.

Continue reading “Don’t suffer from Tiki envy: Get your Hukilau collectibles now”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: What could be Cooler than a Mai Tai history lesson?

K.O. Cooler, October 2017. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Updated July 2018
See below: Our K.O. Cooler review | Ancestor recipes | Tribute recipe
Related: Trade in Vic’s Mai Tai for this classic | Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Beachbum Berry presents Don the Beachcomber's Q.B. Cooler, which he made during a symposium on the history of the Mai Tai at The Hukilau 2009 at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Go11Media)
Beachbum Berry presents Don the Beachcomber’s Q.B. Cooler, which he made during a symposium on the history of the Mai Tai at The Hukilau 2009 at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Go11Media)

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.

Beachbum Berry discusses the history of the Mai Tai and its relation to the K.O. Cooler during his symposium at The Hukilau 2009 at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Go11Events.com)
Beachbum Berry discusses the history of the Mai Tai and its relation to the K.O. Cooler during his symposium at The Hukilau 2009 at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Go11Events.com)

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.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: What could be Cooler than a Mai Tai history lesson?”