Modern Caribbean Rum

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Mara-Amu is a second generation classic

Updated September 2016
See below: Our Mara-Amu review | Official recipe
Related: The Big Bamboo features big flavors, unique history | Mai-Kai cocktail guide
‘King Kai’ leads procession of new Tikis into The Mai-Kai

The Mara-Amu is one of the most popular of the 47 tropical drinks on The Mai-Kai’s vast menu, due in part to the fact that it’s the only one that comes in a Tiki mug you can take home after quaffing your cocktail (others require a special trip to the gift shop). The mugs have remained generally the same over the decades, but occasionally you’ll discover a different glaze or an entirely different design (see bottom photo).

Artist Will Anders spruces up the Mara-Amu Tiki in The Mai-Kai's outdoor gardens. (Photo by Tiki Kiliki, September 2015)
Artist Will Anders spruces up the Mara-Amu Tiki in The Mai-Kai’s outdoor gardens. (Photo by Tiki Kiliki, September 2015)

Since they’re given away with the drink, Mara-Amu mugs aren’t especially rare or hard to find. Check the Ooga-Mooga mug collectors site for recent prices and lots of photos. The mug is iconic, however, and inspired a Tiki that now stands in a prominent spot in The Mai-Kai’s famous outdoor gardens.

The Mara-Amu Tiki is unique, created by South Florida artist Will Anders when he was toying with the idea of making Tikis from foam. The idea was they could withstand the elements better than wood, and be easy for people to install in their outdoor pools and Tiki bars. They ended up being more difficult and costly to carve (and also susceptible to lots of superficial damage inflicted by unrespectful guests), so the idea never took off.

One of Anders’ claims to fame is his role in restoring the smaller Tikis in The Mai-Kai’s gardens. He was given access to molds created by late owner Bob Thornton from the original wooden Tikis, and over the years has re-created many of them in concrete. As you meander through the lush tropical paths in the gardens, much of what you see are re-creations by Anders. He also carved a giant new wooden Tiki, dubbed King Kai, that stands near the Mara-Amu in the gardens. See the full story and photos of the creation and installation of this 10-foot icon in May 2016.

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Minimalist Tiki

The Derby Daiquiri: The Mai-Kai’s ‘$100,000 drink’ is worth its weight in gold

The Derby Daiquiri: The Mai-Kai's '$100,000 drink' is worth its weight in gold

Updated November 2023
See below: Our Derby Daiquiri review | Official Mai-Kai recipe | Tribute recipe
More Mai-Kai Daiquiris: Cuban Daiquiri | Special Reserve Daiquiri | Floridita Daiquiri | Banana Daiquiri | Strawberry Daiquiri
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide
* More on the Derby Daiquiri from The Swank Pad
* The Mai-Kai’s Derby Daiquiri seminar at Tiki Oasis 2023
* The next level Derby Daiquiri in Tropical Standard
UPDATE: The Derby Daiquiri on YouTube and social media

When you think of the Mint Julep, you immediately think of the Kentucky Derby. In 1959, when the organizers of the $100,000 Florida Derby sought a similar drink to promote their race, they turned to The Mai-Kai.

The Derby Daiquiri in a vintage glass with its signature coaster. (Photo by Tim "Swanky" Glazner)
The Derby Daiquiri in a vintage glass with its signature coaster. (Photo by Tim “Swanky” Glazner)

The Derby Daiquiri, created by legendary mixologist Mariano Licudine, became the race’s official drink. The Florida Derby, which began in 1952, is still run today every spring at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale with a purse now set at $1 million. Winners usually go on to compete in the Kentucky Derby.

The Derby Daiquiri immediately gave the race and The Mai-Kai a huge publicity boost. It was championed by Rums of Puerto Rico in countless national ad campaigns and was featured as Esquire magazine’s drink of the month.

When New York’s Cue magazine printed the recipe, restaurants all over Manhattan started serving the “$100,000 drink,” Jeff “Beachbum” Berry wrote in the chapter on Licudine and The Mai-Kai in his 2007 book, Sippin’ Safari. The lounge at the Newark, N.J., airport served the drink to vacationers departing for Fort Lauderdale.

The Mai-Kai's founding co-owner, Bob Thornton, shows off the Derby Daiquiri. (Photos courtesy of Tim Glazner, SwankPad.org)
The Mai-Kai’s founding co-owner, Bob Thornton, shows off the Derby Daiquiri. (Photos courtesy of Tim Glazner, SwankPad.org)

Not to be outdone, Berry wrote, Mai-Kai owners Jack and Bob Thornton sent a portable Tiki bar to the Fort Lauderdale airport, where Licudine himself served his creation to arriving passengers. In his thatch-roofed “goodwill wagon,” Licudine also met VIP arrivals at train stations and cruise ship docks, in the process becoming something of a local hero, Berry wrote.

The drink’s first menu sightings were on the 1959 Molokai bar menu and main drink menu. A certificate issued by Rums of Puerto Rico (see below) officially registered the drink on Aug. 1, 1958.

In 1958, Mariano Licudine created the Derby Daiquiri, one of the most celebrated drinks of the mid-century tropical cocktail boom.
In 1958, Mariano Licudine created the Derby Daiquiri, one of the most celebrated drinks of the mid-century tropical cocktail boom.

The 1957 menu does not include the Derby. Instead, you’ll find the Cuban Daiquiri, The Mai-Kai’s take on the classic that dates back to the town of the same name in the late 1800s. But with that island’s political troubles, it made sense to remove it. The timing of the Derby Daiquiri was perfect as a replacement.

Curiously, the only other menu changes around this time involved Daiquiris: the Special Daiquiri was renamed the Special Reserve Daiquiri and the Floridita Daiquiri was introduced. But the Derby was the clear favorite out of the gate.

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Mai-Kai cocktail review: The Barrel O’ Rum is the Rodney Dangerfield of tropical drinks

Barrel O’ Rum: The Rodney Dangerfield of tropical drinks

Updated May 2024
See below: Barrel O’ Rum review | Ancestor recipe NEW | Official recipe | Tribute recipe
NEW: How to make the Barrel O’ Rum (video)
* Christmas Barrel review and tribute
Postscript: The Rum Barrel on social media
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Don The Beachcomber had the Zombie Trader Vic had the Mai Tai. While South Florida’s iconic Mai-Kai has many cocktails worthy of classic status, it’s the mighty Barrel O’ Rum that has become the historic landmark’s signature drink, and one of the most underrated tropical drinks in history.

Barrel O' Rum
Barrel O’ Rum (The Mai-Kai photo)

Sure, it’s hugely popular. Just wind your way through The Molokai bar during any busy happy hour and you’ll see more Barrels than oil companies have lost in the Gulf. Among the general public and popular media, the Barrel O’ Rum and The Mai-Kai are synonymous.

But among the cocktail intelligentsia, the Barrel just doesn’t quite measure up. What gives? Come on guys, this is a great drink. A deceptively deadly celebration of rum and citrus that manages to be both simple and complex. This is a work of art courtesy of The Mai-Kai’s inimitable mixologist, Mariano Licudine, who took an often muddled concept and perfected it for the thirsty, rum-swilling masses during Tiki’s heyday. More than a half century later, it’s a timeless classic, often copied, never duplicated.

Barrel O' Rum
It’s not unusual to see the Barrel O’ Rum served en masse. (The Mai-Kai photo)

As Rodney Dangerfield (who probably drank many Barrels in his day) would say, the Rum Barrel just don’t get no respect.

On the other hand, who needs respect? The Barrel’s lowbrow appeal is what makes it the classic that it is. It’s the drink for the everyman (and woman). As Rodney so eloquently put it: “My doctor told me to watch my drinking. Now I drink in front of a mirror.”

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The official menu description

Barrel O' Rum

BARREL O’ RUM

Smugglers, pirates and rum runners took their pleasures with this spirituous libation, bold and big, but rightfully smooth.

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

The Mai-Kai's Barrel O' Rum, June 2011. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Mai-Kai's Barrel O' Rum, June 2011. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Size: Large

Potency: Strong

Flavor profile: Dark rum, lime juice, passion fruit, bitters

Our take: An explosion of rums and juices in a prefect marriage of sweet and sour, strong and bitter.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (see how it ranks).

Ancestry: A variation on the original rum barrel popularized by Don the Beachcomber and other early Tiki establishments, this classic has been on the menu since The Mai-Kai’s opening in 1956. It was created by Mariano Licudine (1907-1980), who based The Mai-Kai menu on all the prototypes he’d been making during his years working for Donn Beach (1939-1955). He retired in 1979 after 23 years at The Mai-Kai.

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