If there’s one cocktail that encapsulates the Tiki movement, it’s the Mai Tai. The rum classic takes its name from the Tahitian word “maita’i,” which translates to “good” or “excellent.” That descriptor pretty much sums up this irresistible combination of rum, orgeat, lime juice and orange liqueur whose crushability belies its deceptive potency. These are six modern riffs on the Polynesian potable.
Can't make it to any of the bars serving these great Mai Tais? Try making the Nu Mai Tai from this list at home.
At tropical-themed bar Esotico in the heart of Miami’s arts and entertainment district, this drink is co-owner and beverage director Daniele Dalla Pola’s tribute and gratitude to Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s. He creates a blend of rums from Martinique and Jamaica along with his house spiced rum. It’s shaken with lime juice, orange curaçao, passion fruit puree and what he dubs Dan’s Mix #9, a flavorful concoction of ginger syrup, marzipan, simple syrup and Alamea pimento rum liqueur. It’s poured unstrained into a Kahiko Mai Tai glass he designed and then garnished with a sprig of mint. “There's ‘lilikoi’ (‘passion’ in Hawaiian) in my Nu Mai Tai, as in passion, and passion fruit,” he says. “That's what made it new, [or] as I like to say, ‘What's old is Nu.’”
The flavors of everyone’s favorite Chinese takeout meal ender were the inspiration for this cocktail at East-meets-West concept Big Trouble at Zeppelin Station in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood. Beverage director Michael Huebner shakes a blend of aged rums with Combier, house-made orgeat containing sesame paste, vanilla and sugar, and a toasted sesame tincture. It’s poured into a ceramic maneki neko (“lucky cat”) mug and garnished with a customized raspberry fortune cookie with one of five phrases; four are relatively innocuous, and the fifth is a free drink on a guest’s next visit. “The ceramic mug is available for purchase for $12,” he says. “It’s bad luck to steal a lucky cat!”
Since Maui restaurant Lineage specializes in Hawaiian-Filipino fusion cuisine, bartender Natalie Hansen’s Mai Tai variant contains all the flavors of the traditional sour and savory namesake soup. But instead of using the traditional tamarind, she pours Plantation Stiggins’ Fancy pineapple rum to bring some tropical brightness to the cocktail, along with Cruzan black strap rum and Smith & Cross traditional Jamaican navy-strength rum. They’re shaken with lime juice, boiled peanut orgeat and Amaro Abano. The drink is served over ice in a bucket glass garnished with dehydrated orange, a lime wheel, mint sprig and a stick of cinnamon.
The Mai Tai at regionally influenced Rider in the Emerald City utilizes house ingredients and techniques. Bar manager Ben Chew shakes Clément rhum agricole and Plantation Original dark rum with lemon juice, house-smoked pineapple cordial and marcona almond orgeat. It’s double-strained into a Mai Tai glass and garnished with three pineapple leaves and three amarena cherries. “[I] changed the fruit profile a little bit but stayed faithful to the heart of the cocktail,” he says. “It’s the Mai Tai’s younger, more stylish nephew.”
Jack Rose Dining Saloon bartender Dee Brown’s ode to Trader Vic’s balances savory, nutty and citrus flavors. Lustau East India solera sherry, grapefruit-infused curaçao, and lemon and lime juices are blended with a four-nut orgeat made with almonds, pistachios, peanuts and pecans. It’s served in a Tiki chimney filled with crushed ice, topped with a float of Lemon Hart 151 rum and garnished with a lime shell and mint sprig. “I wanted to create a balanced, low abv cocktail that’s delicious and crushable,” Brown says. “You can’t have just one.”
The brunch cocktail menu at globally focused restaurant Beaker & Gray references video games and other pop culture elements. This Mai Tai riff is named after the Imperial vehicles in the “Star Wars” films. Bar director Ben Potts whips Miami Club and Smith & Cross rums with chai syrup, acid-adjusted pineapple and Angostura bitters. It’s served in a double rocks glass over crushed ice and topped with a pineapple chunk dipped in togarashi spices. “It has pineapple (which is super fun), but it’s acid-adjusted, which means no extra lime is required,” he says. “It also has chai syrup, which is a great brunch flavor.”