The History Behind Halekulani’s Iconic Mai Tai

National Mai Tai day is June 30th and we cannot think of a better way to celebrate than making our signature Mai Tai, which dates back 36 years during the restoration of the hotel!

Two people claim to have invented the Mai Tai. Don the Beachcomber, the founding father of Tiki Restaurants, said he invented the drink in 1933 at his tropically themed Hollywood restaurant. His version of the Mai Tai is different than the classic cocktail we know today, so most people believe that the true Mai Tai was created by Victor J. Bergeron. When he opened his version of a tiki restaurant in the Bay Area in the late 1930s, he called it Trader Vic’s. Bergeron says that he created the drink one afternoon in 1944 for some friends who were visiting from Tahiti. He had a bottle of 17-year old rum and was looking for a blend of flavors that did not overpower it. He took a fresh lime, added some orange curacao from Holland, a dash of rock candy syrup, and a dollop of French orgeat to give the drink its subtle, almond flavor. He added shaved ice and shook it by hand. When he gave the new drink to one of his visitors, she took a sip and proclaimed, “Mai tai roa ae,” which, in Tahitian means, “the best.” And thus, the drink got its name.

Flash forward to 1983 when the Mai Tai became a staple cocktail at Halekulani. Wing Liu, a bartender at House Without A Key, noted that although the hotel had been serving tropical drinks, he wanted to create a cocktail that would really set apart Halekulani from the other hotels.

“So, we sat down, brainstormed and decided that we were going to create a Mai Tai that we wouldn’t say was the best, but that our guests would tell us was the best,” said Liu.

Our signature Mai Tai includes the distinct blend of three rums, Bacardi Gold, Bacardi Select and Bacardi 151, a light brown, distilled rum that is 151 proof. The Mai Tai is always made with freshly squeezed lime juice, which balances beautifully with the Orgeat syrup, a sweet syrup made from almonds.  To start, the first layer of the Mai Tai is a blend of the golden rum and orange Curaçao and evokes the golden sunshine of our beachfront location. The combination offers a smooth, mellow taste. It is then topped with the Bacardi 151, for an instant hit of flavor the moment you take your first sip. The fresh and tantalizing cocktail deserves an equally fresh garnish of fresh mint and sugar cane stick.

We invite you to #HawaiiFromHome with us and celebrate National Mai Tai day all month long by creating this special drink at home. Be sure to check out how we make our classic Mai Tai in the video below and share your home-made creations with us by tagging @halekulanihotel. Cheers!