Trader Vic's Mai Thais are the best cocktails in Atlanta
"100 Dishes To Eat Before You Die - Atlanta" called Trader Vics' Mai Thai's the best in Atlanta so of course I had to try them. There was even live music! I started with the original Mai Thai and took advantage of the happy hour deal, but then we ordered the Scorpion Bowl- which was enough for 5 of us! Definitely a fun time in Atlanta with tropical, energetic decor.
Ceramic Tiki Mugs & Bowls+ Quick Shop
TIKI STEM COCKTAIL GLASS
Our Tiki Stem Cocktail Glass is back! Re-imagined with a ceramic base and glass top.+ Quick Shop
TRADER VIC'S MINIS 6 PACK
Not mini.. just fun-sized! This set contains one each of, Mini Maori Haka (red), Mini.+ Quick Shop
MINI MAORI HAKA (WHITE)
Fashioned after our Maori Tiki at Trader Vic's Emeryville, similar carvings can be found in.
Nothing says, “Welcome to Paradise!” like Aloha with Trader Vic's Mini Coconut Cup! Our Mini.
Originating from Papua New Guinea, the design of our mask logo was introduced in 1951.+ Quick Shop
MINI MARQUEASEAN DRUM
The Drum of Ku" inspired by the Pahu of the Marquesas. This drinking vessel will have.+ Quick Shop
MINI SUFFERING BASTARD
Not mini.. just fun-sized! Originally called “Mai Tai Joe”, this mini mug looks like he had a.+ Quick Shop
MINI MAORI HAKA (RED)
Fashioned after our Maori Tiki at Trader Vic's Emeryville, similar carvings can be found in.+ Quick Shop
Our new creation was named by our good friend in Hawaii, after the Hawaiian word.
THE GOLDEN PALM
Sneak Peek at our new Golden Palm Mug created for our new restaurant and beach.+ Quick Shop
MARQUESAN DRUM MUG
"The Drum of Ku" inspired by the Pahu of the Marquesas. This drinking vessel will have.+ Quick Shop
MAORI HAKA MUG
Fashioned after our Maori Tiki at Trader Vic's Emeryville, similar carvings can be found in.+ Quick Shop
MAORI HAKA MUG WHITE
Fashioned after our Maori Tiki at Trader Vic's Emeryville, similar carvings can be found in.
Originating from Papua New Guinea, the design of our mask logo was introduced in 1951.+ Quick Shop
SJC SIGNATURE MUG
Our Signature Trader Vic's San Jose Mug is fashioned after a design on a Marquesan.
VooDoo Tumbler: A Trader Vic's Classic is Back! Sip on a "Babalu" in your Tumbler.+ Quick Shop
SUFFERING BASTARD MUG
Originally called “Mai Tai Joe”, this poor guy looks like he had a bit too.+ Quick Shop
PINEAPPLE W/ LID
A symbol of the Islands, this porcelain pineapple is used to serve our Pino Pepe.+ Quick Shop
Nothing says, “Welcome to Paradise!” like Aloha with Trader Vic's Coconut Cup! Capacity 14 fluid ounces.+ Quick Shop
This little Blowfish doesn’t sting. Only if you drink too many! Often seen hanging in.+ Quick Shop
NAUTILUS SHELL MUG
Like Captain Nemo’s own Nautilus, voyage into the deep with Trader Vic’s Nautilus Shell Mug.+ Quick Shop
GOLDEN KOI FISH MUG
In Japanese, koi sounds like the word that means "affection" or "love" koi are therefore.+ Quick Shop
Created to celebrate the opening of Trader Vic’s Seychelles, this Seahorse Mug welcomes our island.
MENEHUNE COMPOTE BOWL
Featuring The Trader’s favorite spritely friends, the Menehunes, this bowl is a perfect addition to.+ Quick Shop
CONCH SHELL BOWL
Rum Giggle for Two? The Trader Vic's Conch Shell is perfect for sharing your favorite love potion.+ Quick Shop
ORCHID ISLAND CANOE BOWL
Featuring one of the many boats on display in our restaurants, the Orchid Island Boat.
These tikis, modeled after the monolithic Moai of Easter Island, tower over an earthen bowl.+ Quick Shop
Created for the notorious Scorpion cocktail, a drink which does not shilly-shally in getting you.
Colossal drinking vessels are not only a Trader Vic’s tradition, they’re filled with it too.+ Quick Shop
Our Classic Fogcutter mug has graced our cocktail menus since the early 1940's. Known for.+ Quick Shop
MARINE TUMBLER RED PORT LIGHT
Used to indicate the port side (left) of a ship, this Marine Tumbler will get.+ Quick Shop
MARINE TUMBLER GREEN STARBOARD LIGHT
Used to indicate the starboard side (right) of a ship, this Marine Tumbler will get.+ Quick Shop
TIKI SALT & PEPPER SHAKERS
History has it that these salt and pepper shakers have always been the most permanently.+ Quick Shop
MENEHUNE SALT & PEPPER SHAKERS
Menehunes are to the Hawaiians what Leprechauns are to the Irish, but these friendly little.
Our porcleain butterfly dish is great for individual servings of sauces & condiments. Seen in.
Trader Vic's: Trader Vic's Mai Thais are the best cocktails in Atlanta - Recipes
Trader Vic's Book of Food and Drink [Doubleday & Company:Garden City NY 1946] is introduced by the venerable Lucius Beebe and authored by "Trader Vic" (Victor Bergeron). This is the first of several books authored by Mr. Bergeron. Writing style is casual, irreverant, exotic and fun. Serving Trader Vic's signature cocktails with original recipes. Compare with cocktails served at New York's exclusive The Stork Club (1946), Burke's Complete Cocktail & Drinking Recipes (1936) & Prohibition-era cocktails (1927).
"Here is a drink which can be served any time of the day or evening, when something refreshing is on order. This drink and the sunrise in the morning are the only sure things they count on in Tahiti. I think it was invented to cure the cafard (Loss of one's mind from the heart.]"
"I don't know who originated this one, but every bar in the West Indies serves it, practically every rum recipe booklet gives a formula for it, so my little collection of rum drinks would hardly be complete withojut it. Such popularity must be deserved, and it is. It's a swell drink!
"There's a good story about this drink, but sitting here trying to remember it, I'm stuck. I know I got the drink from some place, because I still have the scrap of paper I scribbled it down on. Anyway, I've served it for many years here in my little saloon to the satsifaction of those who want a good drink without too great alcoholic strength.
"Here's my idea of a killer-diller. Why people drink then I don't know, but I'll bet you make one before you throw this book away, and I'll bet you drink more of these than ony other drink in the book. Don the Beachcomber originated the drink and since then therer have been as many different formulas as there are for Planter's Punch. Here's a simplified version for home use.
Fish House Punch
". Classic among punches, Fish House Punch is our oldest formula, reeking with tradition and vaporizing visions of George Washington, Lafayette, and the 'Spirit of '76.' Roll out the drums!
Planter's Punch--Trader Vic
"Every bartenders' guide gives a recipe for Planter's Punch, and they're usually all different. I'll give you my wan of making one along with several others and you can pick your own.
"For good old American guzzling, this is terrific.
"This is a specialty of the famous Myrtle Bank Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica, and no treatis on rum would be complete without it.
"Fix qhat? You'll be in a hell of a fix after you've had two or three of these, I promise you!
Now don't take a shingle off the roof. This is really good. No fooling.
Trader Vic's Punch
"Here's a drink that's easy to make and especially enjoyed on hot days.
"Honolulu's famous Scorpion, a drink which does not shilly-shally or mess around in getting you under way. As originally mae, with okelehao and rum, the Scorpion is at its best, but the following formula is practically as good as infusion as the original. Serves about 12 people
"You know, bartending is a lot of hokum. You leave out one ingreceint, or put in another and give the thing a different name, and you've got a new drink. Or have you! Don't be fooled. This is just another variation of the Cuban Presidente.
"It's hard to tell where fact leaves off and fancy begins, but it is said that the Devil himself took a swig of this and then took a running jump in the lake.
A rum cocktail comparable to a Manhattan from La Florida Bar in Havana.
"This is an oldy and has nothing to do with underwear. It's worth a try though.
"Hot rum with a European touch and a good deal.
"This is delicious but a triple threat. You can get pretty stinking on these, no fooling.
"This is a cutie, especially recommended for the gals. You can knock their eyes out with this when it's your turn to entertain the club at luncheon. As a special feminine touch, garnish each drink with a small gardenia and serve with short straws.
- Frankly Speaking: Trader Vic's Own Story, A Candid and informal autobiography 
. Fascinating insight of Trader Vic's empire by the man who built it. Includes restaurant photos, selected recipes & index. Perfect beach reading.
- Trader Vic's Bartender's Guide 
. The first three chapters offer sage professional advice to the bartending staff: "Phonies, check-dodgers or the perils of bartending," "People that bartenders have learned not to like," & "Bartenders that customers don't like."
- Trader Vic's Bartender's Guide, revised 
. updated cocktails for the next generation of exotic imbibers.
- Trader Vic's Book of Food and Drink 
. Trader Vic's first book was an overnight sensation. Just enought exotic flair not to scare the average American. Includes instructions for a holding a luau at home for trendy American party hostesses.
- Trader Vic's Book of Mexican Cooking 
. embellishing the Pacific Island book on publisher Doubleday's request. Timing is everything.
- Trader Vic's Helluva Man's Cookbook 
. The book bills itself as "No-nonsense easy-to-cook timesaving recipes for men who like to cook." Some of these recipes are rather complicated. The headnotes are breezy and hilarious "Vegetables are usually boring. Jeezus, they don't even look like much on your plate." (p. 80, recipe is for Broccoli Puffs).
- Trader Vic's Kitchen Kibitzer 
. Practical advice for the average American housewife who yearns to entice her man with good food. About cookbooks, Mr. Bergeron writes "Don't ever stop buying cookbooks. One good idea is worth the price you paid for the book. If you get one good recipe from a cookbook you've been amply rewarded for the time and money invested. After all, you'd pay a couple of bucks outright for a good recipe, wouldn't you? You'll pay that much for one mediocre meal, but a good recipe is yours forever." (p. 9)
- Trader Vic's Pacific Island Cookbook 
. Expanding the orignal 1946 book with chapters on Polynesia, Japan, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, Mexico, Texas and Home Port (California). Drink recipes focus on San Francisco, eye openers, after dinner libations, signature tropical drinks & punch.
FoodTimeline library owns 2300+ books, hundreds of 20th century USA food company brochures, & dozens of vintage magazines (Good Housekeeping, American Cookery, Ladies Home Journal &c.) We also have ready access to historic magazine, newspaper & academic databases. Service is free and welcomes everyone. Have questions? Ask!
Trader Vic's World-Famous Mai Tai
Mai Tai creator and restaurateur Victor Bergeron well-documented his original secret formula: His recipe from 1944 is a delicious blend of 17-year-old rum, lime juice, orange curacao, simple syrup and orgeat for a subtle flavoring of almond. When Vic's Tahitian friends sipped his new creation, they said "Mai Tai Roa Ae"—Tahitian for "out of this world, the best." So Vic named his drink "Mai Tai," and the rest is cocktail history.
The recipe has changed throughout the years using younger rums and various fruit and citrus juice measurements—you can find these other versions of the Mai Tai posted around the Internet. There is even a Trader Vic's Mai Tai mixer available in some stores. But nowhere will you find a formula for the "World-Famous" $9.50 caramel-colored cocktail currently served at the 30 Trader Vic's restaurants that dot the globe. Why not? Because the secret ingredient in the current recipe is a concentrated syrup that is only available for commercial use at the restaurant chain. And that's the first formula we need to duplicate to get the exact flavors of the restaurant version into our home clone. I secured some of this "secret" concentrated mix, and figured out how to clone it using a super-sweet simple syrup solution plus orange and almond extracts. That's the first step. After that, add lime juice, lemon juice and dark rum, plus the syrup to a glass full of crushed ice apply the proper garnishes and you will have recreated two refreshing servings of one of the world's most famous cocktails.
Craving more famous cocktail recipes? Click here to see if I hacked your favorite drinks.
This recipe is available in
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons hot water
- 1 teaspoon orange extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 small lime
- 2 ounces fresh lemon juice
- 4 ounces dark rum (such as Myers's)
1. Make Mai Tai syrup by combining the sugar and hot water. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the orange and almond extract.
2. Make each drink by filling a 12-ounce glass with crushed ice. Add the juice of 1/2 of a small lime, 1 ounce lemon juice, 2 ounces dark rum, and 1 ounce of the Mai Tai syrup. Pour the drink into a cocktail shaker, shake well, and pour it back into the glass.
3. Garnish each drink with the squeezed lime halves, plus a wedge of fresh pineapple and a maraschino cherry speared on a skewer. Stick a sprig of mint in there, add a straw to each, and serve.
Hi! just want to alert you this site also stole your pic —
Truth has to be told: your recipe is the 3rd iteration of the drink by Vic Bergeron due to the non-availability of the original rum, Wray & Nephews 17 years old.
I like to use a very precious old Jamaica rum for it and skip the Rhum. Appleton 21 years old is fantastic — less expensive and maybe even more suitable [but far less available] would be Coruba 18 years old.
The original Mai Tai is also calling for orange curaçao [Cointreau could be seen as high quality triple sec curaçao], and a little bit candy rock syrup — which is an oversaturated sugar syrup.
In the original recipe, the used lime shell was used as garnish, as well as a piece of fresh pineapple [hence the confusion with the pineapple juice], mint and a cherry [I suggest an amarena cherry].
I was born in 1944, coincidence on year Mait’ai was invented! I had my 21st Birthday at Trader Vic’s and I’m coming back for the original Mait’ai on 2/19 with friends to celebrate my 70th birthday then I fly to Hawaii next morning. How fun is that! And… (Drum roll) I think a classmate of mine from Miramonte High married Mister Bougeron but I could be wrong, my maiden name is Carol Crosby.
How Kewl is that! 1st hand experience on the original Mait’ai. I love the Trader Vic’s story and I love Mait’ai’s and I can never find a restaurant or bar that knows how to make it. My first Mait’ai was at the Elephant Bar in Sunnyvale, California. Perhaps they made it correct. Since then the ones I’ve ordered were not the same. I have the Trader Vic’s Tiki Party book and plan on making my own! Love your post!
Since you’re in the Bay Area, head to Trader Vic’s in Emeryville. I’m sure they know how to make it
I’ll give you the best tip ever…in San Francisco go to the bar Smuggler’s Cove. It is the best rum bar in the world and they make the original version there, and can tell you the history of the drink and all the ingredients. Seriously a bucket list bar.
Thank you for keeping an authentic Mai Tai alive. If you consider that one of the traditional ways to enjoy rum is with lime and cane syrup, the Mai Tai splits the sugar further into almond and orange flavors. This recipe demonstrates that the dollop of rock candy syrup used in the original can be left out by adding a half-dollop more of the other sweeties. Push that mint into your face and enjoy!
Thank you for sticking close to the purity of this blessed cocktail. In all my travels, I can say the Halekulani hotel in waikiki stills makes one of the best. They add a small stick of sugar cane with the mint garnish, a powerful floater and don’t forget that snow-cone ice! So good…
Thanks Baffa! I will keep the Halekulani Hotel in mind if I ever make it down to Waikiki. Cheers.
A great recipe I made one close to this tonight (well, maybe it was a couple). I forgot the lime juice! I will remember next time.
Thanks Herbert! The lime juice is a definite must-have. Cheers.
Thanks for posting this. The first time I tried the recipe with fresh lime juice. Way too acidic for me but it could be the limes I was using. Second time around I used sweetened lime juice (bar mix type) and it came out perfect (to me anyway). I’m guessing the ‘sweetened’ part mimicked the rock candy in other recipes. I’m using Small Hand Foods orgeat syrup as it had lots of good reviews. Had to order it online as most local liquor stores were like ‘or-what?’. Also using generic orange curacao but will try with a better triple sec and rum next (using Mount Gay which doesn’t have the ‘vanilla’ I think the recipe calls for).
All great iterations of the best drink ever (at least best cocktail. )
Fresh lime. Torani Orgeat, orange Curaçao…And a solid Naval rum.… We’ve tried Triple sec, Cointreau etc. but always back to Curaçao. And you have to have mint
Side cars anyone?? Wife likes these when I have a mai tai.
Now I know what that 40’s looking bottle of Neisson Rhum is for… Makes this drink so weird, so funky, and so so good. Thanks for posting this I end up here every other month to look up the ratios (though I like a touch more sweet) thank you!
Been sampling various recipes, this is the winner.
Hi!! We drink mai tai’s at a tiny Polynesian joint in northern IL (I know ) that has been around since the 40’s. They use a secret recipe and their version is AMAZING…served with a stick of rock candy and lime, no mint. Your recipe seems like it would be close to theirs. SUPER excited to compare :-). Thank you for posting.
Drinking the TV Mai Tais tonight no mix from scratch. Side note. I am the proud owner of an original Trader Vic Bergeron painting! Yes he dabbled in painting. Long time Trader Vic Beverly Hills customers we are!! Now we have to go to Emeryville or at the London Hilton. So miss Chai the Maitre D’ and servers Wing and Ming. Long Live TV!
We love Daiquiris and this is basically a classic Daiquiri with a few bells and whistles.
In 1934, Victor Jules Bergeron, or Trader Vic as he became known, opened his first restaurant in Oakland, San Francisco. He served Polynesian food with a mix of Chinese, French and American dishes cooked in wood-fired ovens. But he is best known for the rum based cocktails he created.
One evening, in 1944, he tested a new drink on two friends from Tahiti, Ham and Carrie Guild. After the first sip, Carrie is said to have exclaimed, "mai tai-roa aé", which in Tahitian means 'out of this world - the best!'. So Bergeron named his drink the Mai Tai.
Vic's original Mai Tai was based on 17 year old Jamaican J.Wray & Nephew rum, which in his own book he describes as being "surprisingly golden in colour, medium-bodied, but with the rich pungent flavour particular to the Jamaican blends". Vic's recipe calls for "rock candy" syrup, an old term for the type of strong sugar syrup we prescribe here at Difford's Guide: two parts sugar to one part water. The term 'rock candy' referred to the fact that you could dangle a piece of string in the syrup to encourage crystallisation and make rock candy.
This recipe is adapted from Victor Bergeron's Trader Vic's Bartender's Guide (1972 revised edition):
"2 ounces of 17-year old J. Wray & Nephew Rum
Juice from one fresh lime
1/2 ounce Holland DeKuyper Orange Curacao
1/4 ounce Trader Vic's Rock Candy Syrup
1/2 ounce French Garier Orgeat Syrup
Shake vigorously over shaved ice and garnish with a mint sprig."
A more detailed history of this drink, along with its variants can be found on our Mai Tai cocktail page.
There are approximately 278 calories in one serving of Mai Tai (Trader Vic's) Cocktail.
How To Make A Tropical Mai Tai, According To The Experts
A delicate blend of citrus, with hints of almond and a smoky rum, Hawaii's Mai Tais are both sinfully strong and delightfully sweet. Tourists love to order them (they're charmingly garnished with a piece of pineapple or paper umbrella) and they're a go-to drink that Hawaii locals are unashamed to order (read: they're strong).
Plus, they're a deliciously Instagrammable beachside buzz.
The Royal Hawaiian's Scratch Mai Tai from their famed Mai Tai Bar in Waikiki.
Although the Mai Tai looks almost too perfect next to a Hawaiian beach, it is not native to Hawaii.
Victor J. Bergeron, owner of the famed Polynesian-themed restaurant chain Trader Vic's, claims to have invented the tropical cocktail at his northern California restaurant in 1944.
Legend has it that Bergeron shook the original ingredients together with shaved ice and handed the new cocktail to his friend who was visiting from Tahiti. She took one sip and said "Maita'i Roa Ae," which, in Tahitian means "good," or colloquially, "out of this world -- the best."
(Side note: Bergeron's friendly rival Don the Beachcomber has argued that he is the creator of the Mai Tai, though his drink varies slightly.)
Trader Vic's original Mai Tai recipe was made of golden Jamaican rum,
lime juice, orange curaçao liqueur, Rock Candy Syrup, and French orgeat,
shaken with shaved ice.
Bergeron brought the Mai Tai to Hawaii in 1955 when he crafted a special recipe for the iconic Royal Hawaiian resort in Waikiki, and the Mai Tai craze took off. With the addition of fruit juices such as pineapple and orange juice, the Mai Tai evolved into a sweeter, more drinkable cocktail (as opposed to Trader Vic's original rum and lime-centric recipe).
Most Hawaii restaurants include some version of the Mai Tai, but The Royal Hawaiian has had 60 years to master the art of the drink -- and it has an official beachside Mai Tai Bar with a delicious arsenal of cocktails to prove it.
"We didn't invent the Mai Tai," Kui Wright, head bartender for The Royal Hawaiian, told HuffPost. "Have we perfected it? Yes."
That's why we went to the resort's expert mixologist to uncover the secrets of a perfect Mai Tai. Below, 5 steps to making a deliciously tropical, Hawaii-approved Mai Tai.
To create your own Mai Tai, you'll need the basic ingredients: a citrus juice (such as lime, orange or pineapple), orgeat syrup, orange curaçao liqueur, and a dark rum (for the float).
The Royal Hawaiian mixes their drinks with fresh-squeezed pineapple and orange juices. Thick and pulpy fresh juice "has a lot of body to hold the alcohol," Wright says. "That's what makes our [Mai Tais] so good."
Pour 1 oz. white rum, 1/2 oz. orgeat syrup, 1/2 oz. orange Curaçao, 2 oz. pineapple juice and 1 oz. orange juice into a glass over ice.
It doesn't matter what order you pour these first ingredients because you'll combine them thoroughly in the next step. If you want to experiment with different flavors, this is is the best time to add them.
The Mai Tai Bar, for example, offers a Royal Mai Tai that contains Maraschino cherries puréed with vanilla extract and a ginger Mai Tai DeGeneres (made specially for Ellen DeGeneres while she was a guest of the resort) which includes Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur.
Pour the concoction, including the ice, into another cup. Pour it back and forth between the two cups until it's thoroughly mixed.
"This is an important technique," Wright says. After the pour, "you've got all these different flavors all layered up. We roll it back and forth so it really binds all the alcohol and juices together and the first sip will be one consistent flavor."
4. Top it off.
Although topping off the Mai Tai with dark rum wasn't included in Bergeron's original recipe, Hawaii's hand-crafted Mai Tais are famous for the dark rum float on top, which gives the drink its ombré appearance.
“When you think of a Mai Tai, you think of that two-tone [coloring]," Wright says. "You’re going to have that dark rum on the top and the lighter rum on the bottom. That’s when you know you’re having a Mai Tai.”
Add your float by pouring dark rum over the top of the drink. Wright suggests using Whalers Rum Original Dark because it has a smokier flavor.
5. Garnish and enjoy it.
Decorate your glass with a pineapple slice, cherry, lime wedge or mint leaf -- whatever your heart desires!
The Mai Tai can be enjoyed in a number of ways. You can mix the entire cocktail together (so the float mixes with the golden body), then taste. Or, you can pull your straw out of the glass as you sip, so the rum float enters the straw last.
Most importantly, try to enjoy the cocktail beachside -- it's the best ingredient you can add. Take it from us:
The Scratch Mai Tai, the Royal Mai Tai and the Mai Tai Degeneres at The Royal Hawaiian's Mai Tai Bar, looking over Waikiki Beach.
The Zombie and The Mai Tai: Two Historic Tiki Cocktail Recipes
At last week's Golden State of Cocktails, one of the best seminars was tiki-themed. Lead by Joe Swifka of La Descarga and rum enthusiast Matt Robold (who runs the website rumdood.com), the seminar traced the history of tiki culture, which began in Los Angeles with Don The Beachcomber in 1934. Despite the imagery and marketing of tiki, Robold explained that most of the drinks actually had Jamaican roots. “These drinks were planters punch pretending to be something from French Polynesia,” he said.
One of the more interesting aspects of tiki was how closely guarded the recipes for the drinks were. The lengths Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic's went to to keep their formulas from their competitors was amazing. Firstly, the drinks were made in back, in a closed kitchen. Secondly, the bartenders in back often didn't know the ingredients either – the proprietors pre-batched many components of the drinks, and the bartenders simply mixed together whatever was in color-coded or code-named bottles. Thirdly, some of the blends of ingredients going into the drinks weren't even made in-house – Donn Beach, owner of Don the Beachcomber, famously had many of his ingredients blended by a pharmacy.
Because of all this secrecy, it took years of cocktail anthropology to unearth the original recipes for tiki's most famous drinks. But thanks to dedicated enthusiasts, those recipes have come to light. Below, you can find the original recipes for the Zombie, created in 1934 at Don the Beachcomber, and the Mai Tai, created in 1944 at Trader Vic's (though Donn Beach claimed the recipe was stolen from him).
“People say mixology died with prohibition and didn't come back until recently,” Robold said during the seminar. “But go back and look at tiki, and the precision and dedication it took, and tell me that's not craft cocktails.”
1934 Zombie Punch
From : Don the Beachcomber
Yield: 1 drink
1 1/2 oz gold Puerto Rican rum
1 1/2 oz Jamaican rum
1 oz 151 Demarara rum
3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz Donn's mix*
1/2 oz falernum
1 teaspoon grenadine
8 drops absinthe
1 dash bitters
* Donn's mix was the most secret of secret ingredients used in the Zombie and remained a mystery for years. Turns out it was grapefruit and cinnamon syrup. You can find a recipe for the mix here.
1. In a blender, blend all ingredients with 1/4 cup of ice for 5 seconds.
2. Pour into a chimney glass and garnish with mint.
1944 Mai Tai
From: Trader Vic's
Yield: 1 drink
1 oz Jamaican rum
1 oz Martinician Rhum
3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz oregat
1/2 oz curacao
1/4 oz rock candy syrup (rich simple syrup)
1. Mix all ingredients and shake with crushed ice.
2. Pour into an Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with mint and an empty lime hull.
The Lush List of Fun Mai Tai Cocktails
Trader Vic’s Mai Tai
We have to begin with the original. My guest on Lush Life podcast, Odysseus Malice of Trader Vic’s in London made this for. They make it to Vic Bergeron’s specifications, so you are getting as close to the original as you can 60 years later! If you want to hear Odysseus Malice then tune into Lush Life’s episode!
Windjammer Landing’s Mai Tai
For sunshine in a glass, this is a simple Mai Tai cocktail from the Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort to make and enjoy. Rum is the Spirit of St Lucia and this Caribbean special will delight! You can find Bounty Light Rum & Bounty Amber Rum at Whisky Exchange!
Rumboat Retreat’s Mai Taiphoto by Lisette Davis
This Mai Tai recipe is straight from international rum expert Lisette Davis of Rumboat Retreat in Grenada, an island I can’t wait to get back to. Created with the addition of a spiced sugar syrup using all the amazing spices you can find on the island! You can get Clarkes Court’s rum at Master of Malt!
Montanya Rum’s Mai Thai
Lemongrass and ginger shake up the traditional Mai Tai in Montanya Rum’s Mai Thai! You can find Montanya Rum Oro Rum at Master of Malt
Sun Tavern’s Fu Manchu
The Sun Tavern in London had taken on the Mai Tai and made it heavy on the rum, which is a great thing! If you are in London, time to make a visit to the home of this amazing Mai Tai.
Cointreau’s Mai Tai
France and Barbados meet up in this modern Mai Tai cocktail! The Cointreau and Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum create an added depth of flavor!
Mauresque Mai Tai
The Mauresque Mai Tai is the Savoie Mont Blanc twist on the Mai Tai or you could say a tiki twist on the local Mauresque cocktail, originally made with Absinthe and Orgeat.
Timmy Time mixing up the Antigua take on the Mai Tai! All those island fruits make me want to head right back to Antigua and drink many more of their tasty delights!
Mata Hari Mai Tai
Stephan Schultz of the Mata Hari Bar in Nuremberg makes a mean Mai Tai with a touch of Apricot Brandy to give it depth!
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The thatched roof of Trader Vic’s in Emeryville, California, is visible from the parking lot, boats bobbing in the marina around it. There’s classic tiki flair everywhere: the swaths of bamboo and wooden carvings of unnamed gods and totems, the pu-pu platters, the Hawaiian music playing overhead, and, of course, the Samoan Fog Cutters (a cocktail made of rum, brandy, gin, and sherry).
Trader Vic’s Emeryville opened in 1973, a replacement for the Oakland, California, original that debuted in 1934. Renovations in 2010 made the space even more tiki-fied, with artifacts Trader Vic himself picked up during his travels, and others directly sourced by the corporate team from South Pacific islands and other far-off locales. Lighter dishes have been added to the menu alongside the deeply sweet cocktails. It’s a blend of high- and lowbrow, healthy and not really, excess celebration and laid-back lifestyle, not much different than the original was 85 years ago. In fact, over the last 20 years, not much has changed at any Trader Vic’s location — the few still open around the globe, anyway.
The chain once had almost 30 locations around the world, with 80 percent located in the U.S. Only two remain in the country today: Emeryville and Atlanta, open since 1976. The company has had much more luck overseas, with restaurants in London (the oldest open since 1955), Tokyo, Dubai, and Germany, among others.
Times have changed, though. Back then, sipping mai tais surrounded by island kitsch was a big night out. No one questioned whether the masks and tiki gods were direct rip-offs from other cultures. It was an escape. Today, that old-school aesthetic can feel a little dusty or even outdated to some. To others, it can be straight-up offensive. Diners might find it hard to ignore cringe-worthy scenes depicting men chasing half-naked native women, like the one on the cover of its cocktail menu same for the caricatures of Menehune, Hawai‘i’s mythological forest dwellers, as drink decoration, a throwaway topper like a paper umbrella. Detractors, and there are many, say that this faux-tropical ideal erases the actual experience of indigenous people, and that it’s insensitive to swill from a glass shaped like native symbols, warriors, and gods.
Trader Vic’s has used this kind of imagery since Bergeron served his first mai tai. It was all a part of the story, the mystique the selling of a momentary break from reality. But as the company plans a comeback — hoping to open new locations around the country and world, using the familiar branding, design, decor, and recognizable tiki kitsch — it’s difficult to tell if it’s looking forward while looking back. With larger conversations surrounding modern-day tiki culture, focusing on topics like cultural appropriation, imperialism, and racial injustice, is there still room for an OG like Trader Vic’s?
In 1934, when Bergeron opened Hinky Dinks, the progenitor of Trader Vic’s, the country was in the throes of the Depression. It was basically a shack, a “bean and beer” house, in Oakland. It wasn’t long before Bergeron got bit by the tiki bug (thanks to traveling around the Caribbean, not the South Pacific, and maybe influenced a little by Don the Beachcomber, which opened in LA in 1933) and started filling the place with items he picked up during his travels. He came up with things for the menu like bongo bongo soup, with oyster and spinach crab Rangoon, the fried crab- and cheese-filled wontons of his own invention and the mai tai. Soon he changed the name to Trader Vic’s, and within a decade he started franchising, with the first non-California location debuting in Seattle.
Thanks to Hollywood’s depiction of tropical islands, the post-World War II affection for the South Pacific, and Hawai‘i becoming the 50th state, nearly a dozen Trader Vic’s opened around the country during the 1950s and ’60s, including in Portland, Oregon New York City Beverly Hills, California and Chicago. In LA, the location at the famed Beverly Hilton was known as a hangout for Dean Martin, Ronald Reagan, and Hugh Hefner, among others. Everyone from uptown teenagers to Richard Nixon were regulars at the New York outpost (that is, until 1989, when Donald Trump took over the Plaza Hotel and closed it he said Trader Vic’s, which opened there in 1965, was too tacky).
Bergeron capitalized on where someone can go in their mind with one sip of a rum-based drink, served in mugs depicting everything from skulls to tropical themes, the most popular being tribal mask carvings of gods and warriors adapted from Maori, Tahitian, and other South Pacific cultures. The drinks usually come topped with swizzle sticks and plastic toys. Tricks and flair like cherries jubilee or bananas flambeed tableside, and 151-proof Coffee Grog that’s set on fire, are part of the experience. When the brand expanded, especially to other countries, this Americanized ideal of a tropical vacation is what attracted both locals and tourists. The aesthetic didn’t have to reflect traditional Hawaiian or Polynesian cuisine and cocktails it just had to be from somewhere close to Waikiki, Tahiti, or Easter Island.
The dining area of the former Trader Vic’s location in the L.A. Live entertainment complex Photo by Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
“It’s an escape,” says current CEO Rhett Rosen. “In the middle of summer, it’s 125 degrees, and you walk into Trader Vic’s and feel like you’re in Hawai‘i or a Tahitian-style village. That translates to whatever country you’re in, any place around the world. We keep to our brand standards, what we want it to look and feel like, and it will always feel like a Trader Vic’s.”
That’s the tricky part. The overall concept of “tiki” is a purely American creation, an amalgam of ideas, an inauthentic representation of island life, if that island is even actually on the map. Bars like Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s played that up, for decades never having to address the glorification of stereotypes their kitsch and flair might be propagating.
More recently, some have argued for the abolishment of the tiki bar, claiming that, even if artificial, the patchwork of iconography and traditions plucked from South Pacific islands completely glosses over their cultural significance and the history of colonization. How kitschy images of paradise — shaded palm trees, beaches, grass skirts, and tiki gods — whitewash any thoughts of imperialism and erase history with each sip of rum.
One Mai Tai, Hold the Colonialism Please
But Bergeron didn’t stop with tiki. In 1964, he created a new concept after traveling around Mexico. Señor Pico served what it called “Early California and Mexican food,” and was all about alluring Americans, mostly Angelenos and San Franciscans, with a Cali-Mexican fusion menu and lots of tequila. Like Trader Vic’s, the colorful restaurant was a result of Bergeron’s own whimsy, a place that was more about the experience than adherence to any one particular place or culture.
The original Señor Pico menu featured fried chile cream cheese balls, Bergeron’s own creation, and tableside guacamole. He popularized margaritas: Legend has it that at one point, Señor Pico restaurants sold more tequila than any other restaurant in the world. Of course, there were more cocktails: The Potted Parrot was a sort of South of the Border version of a mai tai — “Watch this bird! When he starts talking, you stop walking, he’s yours to take home,” the menu says. People loved the restaurant back in the 1970s and early 1980s, in Los Angeles and San Francisco even the estimable Jonathan Gold approved. With Señor Pico, Bergeron brought Cal-Mex cuisine abroad, with locations in Bangkok and the Middle East, but like his tiki paradise, it started to feel stuffy to a younger generation. Although the Oman location lasted until the early 2010s, the Los Angeles location shuttered sometime around 1980.
That’s when American tastes for entertainment and food started to shift. Boomers didn’t want what their parents loved, and Trader Vic’s locations started closing at a pretty fast tick in the ’80s. Today, all but one location that opened before 1970 are gone, and many that popped up during a brief resurgence in the early 2000s closed within a few years. (Rosen says the brand may have “overextended,” which resulted in franchisees moving away from Trader Vic’s original DNA.) But overseas, especially in the Middle East, the brand thrived, with locations in Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Jordan, and Qatar.
Now both Trader Vic’s and Señor Pico are on a rebound. The first Trader Vic’s to open in America in 10 years will debut at the San Jose International Airport by the end of 2019, with both a 135-seat full-service sit-down restaurant and a smaller grab-and-go cafe. This is the first of a larger rollout of new locations, with the goal to expand partnerships and the global company footprint, says Rosen.
For Trader Vic’s, Rosen says there’s “a lot of interest in bringing it back domestically, whether it’s Hawai‘i, New York, Chicago, Texas. People in New York who miss it, they want nothing more than to have Trader Vic’s back in their city. Although we are constantly evolving, people are still looking for that nostalgic and authentic feeling of years past. We have drinks and menu items that people have seen their whole lives, but we are constantly developing new items, healthier options and more innovative cocktails and experiences.”
Meanwhile, after launching Señor Pico in Dubai in 2020, plans are to reintroduce its mustachioed mascot in an oversized sombrero to the U.S. market. “We’re really just breathing new life into the concept that existed before,” Rosen says. “It was this suit-and-tie, white-tablecloth kind of place, maybe even a little bit too fancy, in my opinion. We took the DNA of the original brand along with a selection of original menu items. From there we modernized the overall look and have updated the menu with food and beverages options that are more aligned with our concept of an interactive casual restaurant.”
From the marketing materials, the corporate-ese claims the restaurant is a “feast for the eyes and senses,” an overall vibe of “street-market cool meets casual creative dining.” Vintage tchotchkes, Latin-inspired furniture, colorful baskets, and pinata lights will fill the space. Guacamole and cocktails will be mixed and served tableside from custom-built carts. There are cactus-shaped glasses and swizzle sticks adorned with mustaches.
With this revamp, however, the brand might find itself in a familiar position — adapting (or not) a concept, imagery, and mascot into a world more conscious of cultural appropriation. Señor Pico himself is everywhere: eyeing women on the glasses, smiling on the menu, his mustache on hats and hot sauce. That sort of caricature didn’t go so well for the “influencers” who walked around Los Angeles’s famed Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights dressed in a similar fashion. To Rosen, the brand is about building on Bergeron’s original vision, not cultural appropriation. “People feel offended when it’s not authentic,” he says. “Everything is about the experience. Still, we know we have to be aware of things that might upset different groups of people, and we have our finger on that.”
For the brand, the souvenirs are part of the experience: Rosen reports a 1,000 percent growth in revenue from its e-commerce site just in the past year, with customers stocking up on swag and tiki mugs. It now works with artists to custom-design special-edition tiki mugs and holds release parties for Señor Pico, the swag strategy is strong, with ceramic mugs and barware, hats, and T-shirts with catchy mottos. The brand hopes to tap into a fan base that will take to these things like influencers to Instagram. Rosen likens these new ideas to the Bergeron’s innovative spirit.
“Trader Vic really was ahead of his time, in a lot of ways. [People in every city] think it started in their city. For the regular customer, maybe they’re not so interested in where it came from, but that it’s been there for 30, 40 or 50 years,” he says. “People don’t just want good food and good drinks. They want that experience. At the original San Francisco location, you had to wear a jacket and tie to be sat at the restaurant. We wanted to make it all more accessible for today, to make sure everyone can experience what Trader Vic’s and Señor Pico truly is.”
Lesley Balla is a food writer who splits her time between Los Angeles and the Pacific Northwest.
Bárbara Malagoli is a multidisciplinary artist based in London.
Fact-checked by Andrea López Cruzado