“Mai tai roa ae” or “Out of this world,” exclaimed Tahitian natives Eastham and Carrie Guild when they first sipped a new concoction presented to them by the late Vic Bergeron of Trader Vic’s fame. The mai tai name stuck and, in 1953, Bergeron introduced the rum-based cocktail to Hawai‘i at the Royal Hawaiian and Moana hotels in Waikīkī. Today, there are just as many variations on this icon of tiki culture as there are bars. But here are some of our favorites.
The name says it all. So not surprisingly, there are seven different iterations of the original mai tai: Vic’s 44, Bali tai, 96 Degrees in the Shade, White Wash, choco tai, signature Royal mai tai and the over-the-top Alii mai tai—priced at $35!—blended with 21-year-aged Appleton Rum from jamaica, 15-year special reserve El Dorado Rum from Guyana, Ferrand Dry Curacao, freshly muddled pineapple, orgeat, fresh lime juice, all topped with the bar’s famous Coco-Loco foam and bitters. The Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort, Waikiki, 2259 Kalakaua Ave, 808.923.7311
Immortalized in a 1925 Charlie Chan novel, House Without A Key is Halekulani's popular indoor/outdoor gathering spot for casual breakfast, lunch, dinner, appetizers, entertainment and, of course, its signature mai tai, a classic to be enjoyed any time of the day. What sets this mai tai apart from others is the half ounce of Lemon Hart 151 Rum that floats to the surface and creates a sunset hue. Equally intoxicating is the scenery (come for sunset) and live hula performances. Halekulani, 2199 Kalia Road, 808.923.2311
Tiki culture is indeed alive at this poolside bar. In fact, Splash Bar’s general manager Jesse Suderman considers this place a homage to Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt, better known as Donn Beach, founder of Don the Beachcomber. In honor of the tiki guru, Suderman developed a mai tai sampler, which includes a classic version, a mango-infused variation and a Brazilian-influenced mai tai that blends Leblon Cachaça with Hana Bay Dark Rum. “It’s a perfect way to try three versions of the most popular tropical drink here in the state of Hawaii,” Suderman says. “And you can only find this cocktail here at the Splash Bar.” Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, 120 Kaiulani Ave., 808.922.5811
A place with an emphasis on tiki better offer a mai tai worthy of its name; Tiki’s does. Its 1944 Mai Tai doesn’t exactly replicate the original recipe since it’s doubtful that Don the Beachcomber had access to “Licor 43 Passionate Fruit Foam,” an ingredient that sets this mai tai apart from others. The foam adds a whimsical element, just like the take-home, tiki-etched glass that the mai tai comes in. Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel, 2750 Kalakaua Ave., 808.923.8454
Garnished with pineapple, lime and a cherry, the mai tai here comes in two different styles: The Moana mai tai (with Cruzan Aged Light Rum) and the original 1944 mai tai (with Cruzan Signature rum and Bacardi Silver). For an added tropical touch, have either one served in a pineapple. Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa, 2365 Kalakaua Ave., Waikiki, Oahu, (808) 922-3111
Whether you’re sitting at the bar or seated in the dining room, this Waikiki institution offers panoramic ocean views, live music and a potent mai tai that adds POG (passion-orange-guava juice) to the mix. Don’t think the fruitiness dilutes the flavor because it doesn’t. The Old Lahaina Dark Rum and Hawaiian Light Rum still stand out. Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort, 2335 Kalākaua Ave., 808.922.2268
Since rum is the primary ingredient in a mai tai, and rum just happens to be a specialty at this beachfront hotspot, the “Epic Mai Tai” headlines the cocktail menu. The Sunset Mai Tai is made with Maui’s own Old Lahaina Premium Rum, passion fruit puree, lime and tropical juices, while the 1944 Mai Tai offer a blend of Kula Dark Rum, Pyrat XO Reserve Rum, orgeat and Orange Curaçao. The High-Maka Mai Tai is certainly better than most since it uses Ron Zacapa Centenario 23-year-old Rum as its base with flavors of falernum and ginger. Sheraton Waikiki, 2255 Kalakaua Ave., 808.922.4422
Classic Mai Tai
Makes 1 drink
1 oz. light rum
1 oz. gold rum
1/2 oz. orange Curaçao
1/2 oz. orgeat syrup*
1/2 oz. lime juice
2 cups ice
1 fluid ounce dark rum
1 wedge fresh pineapple
1 maraschino cherry
Fill an old-fashioned glass with 1 cup crushed ice. Set aside in the freezer.
Combine light rum, gold rum, orange Curacao, orgeat and lime juice in a cocktail shaker. Add 1 cup ice, cover and shake until chilled. Strain into the chilled old-fashioned glass. Top with dark rum. Garnish with a wedge of pineapple and a maraschino cherry. Add an umbrella for a tropical touch.
* If you don’t have orgeat, substitute with Simple Syrup: Bring equal parts sugar and water to a boil, stirring to dissolve. Let cool. Refrigerate extra Simple Syrup for up to 1 week.