Rum, fresh-squeezed lime juice, orange curaçao, rich simple syrup and orgeat. The classic Mai Tai. As the story goes, Victor J. Bergeron laid claim to inventing the Mai Tai at his California restaurant Trader Vic’s in 1944. But imbibing on this iconic cocktail is, to many people, an island paradise in a glass. After all, Bergeron says he created the drink one afternoon for friends who visiting from Tahiti; the Tahitian word maitai literally means very good. Today, Hawaii keeps the Mai Tai loving tradition strong. It’s the official cocktail of luau and is found on virtually every island cocktail menu. And while it’s hard to have a bad one, here are four top Oahu Mai Tais that are not to be missed.
French Topless Mai Tai, Azure-The Royal Hawaiian
Azure is not only known locally for its quality seafood menu but its top-notch Mai Tai. That’s probably because it’s on the same property as the Mai Tai Bar, located on the manicured ground of the Royal Hawaiian, Hawaii’s second oldest hotel, affectionately called the Pink Palace of the Pacific. Both places have solid cocktail menus and renowned Mai Tais. For an upscale cocktail experience, head to Azure for the French Topless Mai Tai. This handcrafted libation has won a best in show spirits award in San Francisco. It’s a twist on the traditional Mai Tai, made instead with Korbel brandy, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, pineapple juice, and effervescence, but just as rewarding. Make a reservation at Azure-The Royal Hawaiian.
Ilikea Mai Tai, Wai’olu Ocean View Lounge
There’s good reason Wai’olu Ocean View Lounge won the title of World’s Best Mai Tai in 2011. The classic cocktail is polished with Amaretto, Canton Ginger Liquor, kaffir lime, and caramelized pineapple and topped with pineapple-Bacardi sorbet. If you only get one drink at the Wai’olu, make it this one. In fact, the rooftop bar has sold more than 30,000 Ilikea Mai Tais since winning the prestigious award five years ago. In addition to its superb cocktails, the open-air bar overlooking Waikiki offers a picture-perfect view of the Friday night fireworks. Make a reservation at Wai’olu Ocean View Lounge.
Mac Nut Mai Tai, 53 by the Sea
Rum aside, a key ingredient of the Mai Tai is the orange curaçao. 53 by the Sea takes the tradition up a kick with its housemade macadamia nut-infused orange curaçao. The result is sweet and smooth. Even better, each Mac Nut Mai Tai comes with a small bowl of housemade candied mac nuts. 53 by the Sea, is a stately mansion-esque looking restaurant located at 53 Ahui Street in Honolulu. As the name suggests, it’s located ocean side, ensuring you’ll have a great view with each sip of your Mai Tai. And from 4 to 6:30PM, the restaurant has a lively happy hour at its cozy bar. Make a reservation at 53 by the Sea.
1944 Mai Tai, Tiki’s Grill and Bar-Waikiki
Tiki’s Grill and Bar embodies the spirit of Trader Vic’s original cocktail creation with its 1944 Mai Tai. The rooftop bar is located in the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel. This bar restaurant has everything: strong drinks, good food and live music, all in an open-air rooftop setting. The 1944 Mai Tai is one of Tiki’s most popular cocktails, made with light and dark rums, orange curaçao, and fresh lime juice and topped with the bar’s signature Licor43 passion fruit foam. Be sure to order to poke and coconut shrimp with your second round. Make a reservation at Tiki’s Grill and Bar.
Tiffany Hill is a freelance writer based in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she writes about travel, culture and business. Read more about her here.