Tiki Mothership: The Mai Kai

Not sure what I can say about the Mai Kai that hasn’t already been said so I’ll just share my most recent experience…

We made the pilgrimage down there this past Saturday to celebrate my birthday. Where better for the Trader to celebrate? My wife, sons, parents and sister all join me on the voyage… it would be all of their first times enjoying dinner and the show.

Before I get into my experience, here is a very brief history of The Mai Kai…

The Mai-Kai opened to the public on December 28, 1956, in Ft. Lauderdale and is one of the few “Grand Polynesian Palaces of Tiki” still in operation today. In 2015 it was named the “best tiki bar in the world” by Critiki, an organization of fans of Polynesian pop culture. It is the last restaurant/bar in existence carrying on the traditions of service and serving the original drink recipes of Don the Beachcomber’s, and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (For more history, check out Wikipedia.)

There are a lot of amazing details about The Mai Kai and one of my favorites is how they transport you to Polynesia from the second you turn in. They have a loose board bridge that rattles under your car… helping you to forget US 1 behind you and teleport to Tiki heaven.

After handing our car over to the valet we headed in to the Molokai Bar. It was happy hour so we wanted to grab a half price drink before dinner (Trader Jay recommendation). I opted for my favorite Mai Kai elixir… The Barrel O’ Rum, a Mai Kai staple.  The menu describes it as a drink loved by smugglers, pirates and rum runners, it is bold, big and rightfully smooth.  The recipe (like most Mai Kai drinks) is secret… in the tradition of Don, they mix all their drinks “backstage” to keep their recipes secret. My wife ordered a Hukilau, which is the official drink of the annual tiki festival hosted by the Mai Kai. They even make some fantastic non-alcoholic drinks… my boys love the Maui Sunrise.  As you would expect, the drinks are all amazing. Now that I’m a pretend mixologist I like to try to breakdown the ingredients.  Their drink menu, like many tiki bars, is very extensive… it would take multiple visits to try them all (but it is worth a try).

The decor is amazing from top to bottom! The Molokai Bar has more of a old ship feel to it with rigging and some fantastical added effects, like the water streaming down the windows like rain. The tiki waterfall is one of my favorite touches!


After our Happy Hour round we went into the dining room for dinner. The decor in the dining room is equally “Tiki-rific” but the feel changes from the nautical to more classic tiki with thatch and bamboo and plenty of eclectic lanterns. It truly is a sight to see and words (or even pictures) don’t do it justice.

The food is really good as well. Everything we ordered was enjoyable! I always recommend the PuPu Platter as a starter. One fun addition to the kids menu is that a meal comes with a drink in a pineapple.

I also didn’t want to miss out on more “fun drink vessels” so I ordered a Mara-Amu (with take home Tiki mug). According to the menu, Mara-Amu means “when the west wind blows” in Tahitian and is another delicious rum punch.


The stage show is very good. It is the right amount of hula/dancing/chanting/etc. And it all leads up to the hands down kid favorite FIRE dancing! I’ve seen a decent number of fire dancing/twirling shows but I have to admit that this probably had to be the best! It is worth the price of admission for sure!

Right prior to the fire on stage came my choice dessert, which also involves fire… the Bananas Bengali (Mai Kai version of bananas foster). While I will admit it doesn’t quite measure up the Brennan’s in New Orleans, it was a great end to the meal. The Mai Kai definitely doesn’t shy on the rum and the two feet fire pour is very impressive. They even serve it still flaming.


The last thing that I would make sure not to miss is the Tiki Garden in the back! The Mai Kai has built this own tropical oasis complete with waterfalls and plenty of tikis (large and small). It is only a short loop but the boys really loved the adventure and there are plenty of photo ops.


So, as you can see, it really is Tiki Heaven! This historical gem really has it all! There is so much to experience that most probably can’t do it all in one visit. But, if you only have one chance to enter these historic doors then this is what I wouldn’t miss…

  • Barrel o’ Rum at Molokai Bar (happy hour)
  • Polynesian show (don’t miss the fire)
  • Bananas Bengali (Server Wes does a master fire pour)
  • And a 10 minute stroll through the Tiki Gardens

While I haven’t been in a while, I was thrilled to return! Being there with my family and celebrating my birthday in Tiki Perfection is everything I could have asked for.

Mahalo to The Mai Kai and my Ohana!

Our House Cocktail: The Coco Nut

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Coco Nut will be going through a re-invention soon using different rums… stay tuned for the Coco Nut 2.0 (but feel free to read about how the original came to be)…

As my (fake) tiki bar started to come together I figured that all great, well visited bars need a House Cocktail… something that people feel like they MUST have in order to get the full experience. If you go to Trader Vic’s, you know that you have to order a Mai Tai… when you visit Don’s, and now Latitude 29, you cannot leave without tasting a Zombie… you need to bring a few friends to the Mai Kai to make sure you can order the Mystery Drink… and you should make it a goal to give Smuggler’s Cove’s secret recipe Rum Barrel a try.

So, a few months back I set out to make such a drink.  I started much the same way that the Rum Runner was invented down at the Holiday Isle Tiki Bar in Islamorada, Florida, by focusing on what rum I had a plethora of.  However, different from the Rum Runner (which was trying to move inventory out), I wanted to make sure I was using rums that I would always have on hand.  The first rum was pretty obvious to me… a Coconut Rum… this was obvious for a few different reasons:

1) I love coconut
2) my last name is Cocorullo so anything with a “coco” wins in my book and
3) I could use the “coco” as part of the drink’s name.

I use Cruzan Coconut Rum… I enjoy that it is made in the U.S. Virgin Islands and can usually pick up a few bottles for cheap when visiting St. Thomas.

I wanted at least one more rum and my 1.75L bottle of Kraken Black Rum was staring me right in the face. (I love it for my Dark and Stormys.) I figured the Black would be a nice contrast to the clear Coconut.

Now that I decided on the rum, it was time to take my first real stab at “mixology”. I decided to use Vic’s Mai Tai recipe as my road map and see where that would take me.

I took the lime juice and replaced it with pineapple juice (seemed like a good start). Then I looked at the demerara simple syrup and decided not to change out anything there.  Next on the list was the orange curacao, which I didn’t have in stock at the time.  I did, however, have Grand Marnier. I figured bringing it up a notch couldn’t hurt.

Now I had my rums, I had my sweet, I had my sour(ish) and had a slightly different orange flavor… which left the orgeat (almond).  I didn’t want to just use orgeat… then it really just would be a coconut/pineapple mai tai and that was not what I was going for.  After pulling out every bottle under the bar, I looked up at one of my decorative shelves and there, like a shining beacon of tiki-ness, was my beautiful bottle of Trader Vic’s Macadamia Nut Liqueur.  (My wife and I discovered the Macadamia Nut liqueur about a year ago where we bought it for our tiki/Christmas/housewarming party and it has been a staple since.)  I thought, “orgeat is made from almonds… almonds are nuts… macadamias are nuts… how can this not work?”

The addition of the Trader Vic’s Mac Nut made it all come together as a nice little package and led to the simple but ideal name for the House Drink of Trader Jay’s.  It is not an extremely original name but it fits perfectly… The Coco Nut

I tweaked the amounts a little during the first few mixes (the Kraken was overpowering at first, and not allowing the coconut and macadamia nut to shine through). But after about three tries I nailed it!

The finished product… using the perfect tiki mug for it from Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29

So come on by, check out our menu (yes, I have ONE copy) and read through the options… but then order a Coco Nut because, of course, you will feel like you have to!

RECIPE:
-3/4 oz pineapple juice
-1/4 oz Mai Tai Simple Syrup
-1/4 oz Trader Vic’s Macadamia Nut Liqueur
-1/2 oz orange curacao (or other preferred orange liqueur)
-1 oz coconut rum
-1/2 oz Kraken Black Rum

Shake it all together and serve over ice (preferably in a coconut shaped tiki mug).

(Give it a try and then reach out and let me know your thoughts.)

Mele Tikimas

For many families this time year two things happen:

1) You go all out right after Thanksgiving to get your Christmas/Pick-Your-Other-Holiday decor up as quickly as possible.

And 2) You run short on time to everything done you want.

Life at Trader Jay’s is no different. Extra time to blog is very short but, fear not, the bar still gets a holiday overlay.

Instead of writing a ton, I thought I’d share some of the makeover here…

Tiki Drink Umbrella Tree – made by my wonderful and supportive wife, Nina

 

The Tikis get all into the festivities with lights

 

The bar is decked in plenty of Kalikimaka fun!

 

This stocking dates all the way back to high school… probably didn’t know it had a bright future as the perfect tiki bar decoration

 

Perfect Christmas tree for the bar – decorated with ornaments that were all gifts to Trader Jay’s

 

Two perfect signs found last year

 

Another perfect sign found randomly
Tiki Caines (carved by a wonderful friend) can’t go let the holiday season start without his Santa Hat

 

Not sure if I’ll get another post out before the holidays.  If not, I wish you and your families Mele Kalikimaka!

A Mermaid Kiss

We here at Trader Jay’s Tiki Blog are THRILLED to bring on our first Rum Sponsor… Florida Mermaid Rum.

Florida Mermaid Rum is made by NJoy Spirits, LLC out of Weeki Wachee, FL. It is a “Gold” 3 year old Florida Sugar Cane sipping rum blended with a Caribbean pot still rum then aged in their Wild Buck Whiskey barrels for 90 days.

Natalie and Kevin were very generous to provide the Trader with a sample of their local rum for tasting and mixing.


The rum recently won a Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition so, naturally, I was excited to try it.

I poured about a half an ounce out to just sip on. First, the aroma is very flavorful, it has a nice oak barrel smell. In the initial taste you can feel the natural rum taste, slightly strong, but then the sweetness peaks through and you can sense the Florida sugar cane (important to me as a Florida native). Finally, the finish ties it up in a bow as the smooth oak from the whisky barrels stays with you as the taste fades. Overall, a really nice, hardy 3 year pot still rum.

    
After a few sips I wanted to try a simple drink. Kindly, NJoy provided a few recipes to try. I decided to keep it simple with a Mermaid Old Fashioned. I took 2 ounce of Florida Mermaid Rum and mixed with the suggested 1 ounce of simple syrup (I used my homemade Mai Tai simple syrup). I then added 2 dashes of aromatic bitters, shook lightly and poured over a big single ice cube (I like to use these tiki ones). Once again, the oak was the star as it was the highlight of every sip. The 2:1 was a little sweet for my pallet, probably would pull back on the simple syrup and add an citrus peel (as suggested) but still a good after dinner sipping cocktail.

Now that I have tasted the flavor subtleties, I have a few Trader Originals in mind. Hope to experiment right after Turkey Day and share my findings. In the meantime, please give Florida Mermaid Rum a try. It is available in Florida and Georgia (full list) or you can order online here.

A special Mahalo to Natalie and Kevin for “sponsoring” my Tiki Blog.

Behind the Bar: The Black Pearl

A few months ago I came across a video for a drink called The Black Pearl that is made at The Cove Bar at Disney’s California Adventure theme park in Anaheim. I’d never had one but with the Pirates of the Caribbean movie reference I knew I had to give it a try.

It is fairly straight forward… half an ounce of gin, vodka and rum then add sour mix and “black berry liqueur”. Two things that made gave this a little trial and error… 1) I don’t really keep Chambord in stock and 2) they didn’t provide measurements for the chambour and sour mix. So I tucked the recipe away for some point in the future.

Last Saturday rolls around and some friends are at Trader Jay’s for the Florida Gator football game. I’m telling my buddy, Golden, about the Black Pearl and he offers to run back to his house to get… wait for it… his bottle of Chambord! And the mixing was on!

I decided that the Chambord was the key ingredient so I made it an equal pour to the other liquors (1/2 oz). Then I thought the sour mix should be enough to fill a rocks glass (1 oz combined with 2 oz of booze). To stretch it, you could add more sour (in the video it seems like at least 3 ounces), but where is the fun in that? Vodka and gin are pretty straight forward but the final decision was “type of rum”. Once again the video showed a white rum (probably Bacardi). There was some debate in the bar but The Trader ultimately decided that the BLACK Pearl should have Kraken Black Rum! (*See variation with Bacardi below)

The taste testing (and over a bottle of Chambord) confirmed that the mix was true! (Shout out to Justin for taking us to liquor store halfway through taste testing!)

Here is the full recipe that Trader Jay’s will be serving:

  • 1/2 oz Kraken Black Rum
  • 1/2 oz Bombay Sapphire Gin
  • 1/2 oz Grey Goose Vodka
  • 1/2 oz Chambord
  • 1 oz sour mix

Pour all ingredients into shaker, shake and strain into rocks glass with ice.

All who partook in the taste testing agreed it was a flavorful, fresh drink but can really pack a punch. So give it a mix and a pour and let me know what you think in the comments.

Cheers and Aloha!

*Golden claims that he’s had a similar drink called a Grateful Dead with Bacardi replacing the Kraken. After some research, the Grateful Dead also include Tequila. The Trader will use Bacardi upon request via the Secret Menu. We will call that “The Black Pearl’s Dinghy”.

Hurricanes in a Hurricane

As a Florida native, I’m no stranger to Hurricanes. While we take them very seriously, we also know that “Hurricane Supplies” should include alcohol… especially at Trader Jay’s.

Right on the heals of my trip to New Orleans, the perfect drink to feature, obviously, is the Hurricane.

Created and made famous by Pat O’Brien’s on Bourbon Street, it is known for being a strong drink, traditionally featuring at least 4 oz of rum.

My Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s in New Orleans in September 2016

The recipe on the Pat O’Brien site really is just “4 oz of rum and 4 oz of  Pat O’s hurricane mix”… this is all well and good if you buy their mix but not if you don’t want to cheat.

Another issue is that Hurricanes are a hard drink to tinker with because of the high alcohol amounts (had to keep some wits about me in case things went south with Hurricane Matthew).

After some interweb research, I came up with my owen recipes. They both have the same ingredients, just with different levels of alcohol (let’s go with “Cat 1” vs “Cat 4”; We will reserve Cat 5 for one using Overproof Rum).

For non-alcoholic ingredients I used orange juice, simple syrup, sour mix and cherry/pomegranate grenadine. For rum I went with Bacardi white rum and Kraken black rum. Finally, a popular ingredient to use is passion fruit juice or purée, however I decided to up the game by using Passoà passion fruit liqueur… that’s right, even more booze!

Trader Jay’s Category 4 Hurricane

  • 3 oz Bacardi White Rum
  • 2 oz Kraken Black Rum
  • 1.5 oz Passoà Passion Fruit Liqueur
  • 1.5 oz sour mix
  • 1.5 oz orange juice
  • 1 oz cherry/pomegranate grenadine
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup

Pour all ingredients into Hurricane glass filled with ice, give a stir and enjoy!

If you’re looking to bring it down a notch…

Trader Jay’s Category 1 Hurricane

  • 2 oz Bacardi White Rum
  • 1 oz Kraken Black Rum
  • 1 oz Passoà Passion Fruit Liqueur
  • 1 oz sour mix
  • 1.5 oz orange juice
  • 3/4 oz cherry/pomegranate grenadine
  • 1/4 oz simple syrup

Should fit in Collins glass with ice.

Enjoy, Cheers & Aloha! 🍹🌺🗿

Review: Latitude 29 (NOLA)

I will admit that prior to planning a trip to New Orleans, I didn’t know much about Beachbum Berry but after reading a little it seems I should give him a HUGE “THANK YOU” for having a big hand bringing Tiki back.

Head over to his site to learn more about him, and I urge you to read about his mission to find Don the Beachcomber’s original Zombie recipe.

But I’m here today to talk about a visit to his bar/restaurant, Latitude 29 in New Orleans, LA…

I’ll start with the decor which was fantastic and amazing! It was a very clean, crisp bamboo build with a good number of interesting tikis. My favorites, of course, were the duel tiki drummer replicas from Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room (I only have 1). The way they utilized different bamboo and paneling really gave me some good ideas for my bar. The other item that really stood out was the map of tikis behind the bar, full with limited edition tiki mugs. And, finally, my wife and I were trying to figure out how to hijack one of the Tahitian fish trap lanterns to repurpose as a Trader Jay’s centerpiece.

latitude29_2152  fish-trap-lanterns

The decor is all well and good, but most people go to a tiki bar for drinks and Latitude 29 does NOT disappoint. I started with the drink that Berry spent 20 years searching for the original recipe… Don the Beachcomber’s Zombie (seriously, read about his hunt here).


It tasted just like I feel like it should… strong without hurting, mixed very well and the final secret ingredient (cinnamon syrup) really shined.

My wife ordered a Paniolo which was also very delightful. It has Macadamia Nut liquor in it which is a Trader Jay’s house favorite.

#cocothumbsup for our first round of drinks – Paniolo & Zombie

For our second round I went with the Banshee… it was delish with the coconut, banana, lime and, of course, rum (plus I really needed a Latitude 29 coconut mug for my bar). My wife went old school with a Navy Grog. She is finding that she is a Grog fan and this didn’t let her down (she especially enjoyed the cone ice and Union Jack).

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Round 2 – Navy Grog & Banshee

Which brings me to maybe my favorite thing about Latitude 29… the garnish station! They take garnishing their drinks to a whole new level! All their signature drinks have at least 1 special garnish, and many have more. Everything from their signature stirrer to plastic snakes, mermaids and monkeys. A drink arriving is an event and I loved watching all the different ones go by. (Side note: thank you to our waitress who let me raid the garnish station!)

 

The garnish on my Banshee, a coconut milk tiki ice cube

A quick word about the food… Obviously the drinks are the star, but the food should never be a side thought here, it was exceptional! We started with Taro Chips (order them just for the siracha mayo alone) and Rumaki. I’m not a big chicken liver guy but let’s say that the Rumaki were so good that my wife had a second order as her dinner. I went with the Hawaiian Cuban Sandwich and it was also fantastic. I enjoyed the Hawaiian pulled pork mixed into a traditional Cuban… very flavorful and a good portion.

Finally, as if all this wasn’t enough, our appitizers were brought to the table by none other than Mrs. Beachbum! She was very nice to take a few minutes out of her evening to talk about my Tweeting the restaurant earlier, discuss the decor (and my tiki bar-work-in-progress) and Berry’s Zombie recipe mission. It was very much a pleasure meeting her!

So, there ya go, the overarching theme is that if you are in New Orleans, you MUST make Latitude 29 a stop! The location is great… it’s not in the middle of Boubon Street madness but also close to everything. Stop in for a Zombie… Without the Beachbum we would still all be drinking imitations!

Behind the Bar: Mai Tai Roa Ae!

In my first post about mixing my own exotic cocktails I figure there is no better place to start than with the most famous tiki drink ever… The Mai Tai!

There are verying stories about the creation of the Mai Tai but the most widely accepted one is from the Original Trader, Trader Vic…

“I was at the service bar in my Oakland restaurant. I took down a bottle of 17-year old Jamacian J. Wray Nephew rum, added fresh lime, some Orange Curaçao from Holland, a dash of Rock Candy syrup and a dollop of French Orgeat, for its subtle flavor. A generous amount of shaved ice and a vigorous shaking by hand produced the marriage I was after. Half a lime shell went in for color, I stuck in a branch of fresh mint and gave two of them to Ham and Carrie Guild, friends from Taihiti, who were there that night. Carrie took a sip and said, ‘Mai Tai – Roa Ae’. In Tahitian this means ‘Out of this World – The Best’. Well that was that. I named the drink ‘Mai Tai’.”

Unfortunately the popularity of the Mai Tai created a run on the 17-year Wray and it is no longer in existence. Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove believes that to create a taste similar to Vic’s original you should use a “blended, aged” rum (meaning of blend of the pot and column distilling methods and aged between 4 and 14 years). I experimented with a few different rums but found my favorite to be Appleton Estate Reserve Blend from Jamacia.

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Tiki Drummer guarding the Appleton Estate Reserve Rum closely!

Prior to this journey I’m not sure I would have said this but Fresh Fruit Juice makes a HUGE difference! So I now only use fresh squeezed lime in my Mai Tai. I also make my own Simple Syrup to keep as many ingredients homemade as possible. (I have not tackled my own Orgeat yet, but maybe in the future.)

My Homemade Mai Tai simple syrup (demerara suger, water and a dash of vanilla extract) and Fresh Lime.

Below is my adaption of Vic’s Original Mai Tai using guidance from Smuggler’s Cove… Give it a go and let me know what you think or put your own adaptation in the comments.

  • 3/4 oz FRESH lime juice
  • 1/4 oz Mai Tai simple syrup
  • 1/4 oz orgeat
  • 1/2 oz Orange Curaçao
  • 2 oz Appleton Estate Reserve Rum

Shake all ingredients vigorously with ice, pour over crushed ice and garnish with mint and/or lime.

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Finished product in the HippopotoMai-Tai tiki mug from Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto

Looks like Mai Tai Roe Ae to me! (Tastes like it too!)

Mahalo, Trader Vic

E Komo Mai

Welcome to my Tiki Blog!

A little over a year ago I embarked on my Tiki Journey.  It was really two events that got me started and one additional event that really lit a Pele’s fire under me…

The first two happened very close to each other… one being the opening of and my first visit to Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and the other was the purchase of a new house.

I’ll write an entire post on Trader Sam’s soon, but our new home had a bonus room that needed a theme and Sam provided the inspiration.

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Trader Jay’s post-renovation, obviously during moving time. My boys already bringing the relaxing vibe in.

With a blank slate sometimes it is hard to know where to start, but a bamboo bar as a housewarming present from my parents is never a bad place!

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The first piece of Trader Jay’s… showcasing some early tiki mugs and rums.

With the bar in place, the tiki theme was solidified!  And the Tiki Journey started.

As anyone knows, building tiki is never a fast process and in future posts I will definitely highlight the decor that has been added as Trader Jay’s grows and evolves, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco.

A visit to Smuggler’s Cove earlier this year opened my eyes even wider to the world of tiki, especially as it comes to creating exotic drinks and mixology.  Entering into the bar is an amazing experience and reading through the menu can be overwhelming but it is a MUST for any tiki enthusiast. The atmosphere is spot on and the drinks are AMAZING.

The experience immediately prompted me to purchase the new Smuggler’s Cove book. Martin Cate’s philosophy on tiki is spot on, in my opinion, and the book has become my “Tiki Bible”.

So, that’s where I’ll stop for my first post. In the coming weeks I hope to showcase the bar build and evolution, share my thoughts about the amazing tiki bars I’ve had the opportunity to experience and highlight my exotic drink mixology.  Until then, a hui hou (until we meet again).

Mahalo