The Mai Tai: How Hawaii Ruined and Resurrected a Perfectly Good Cocktail
"What the hell is this?" is the thought that comes to mind when I see your average Mai Tai. Picture, if you will, seven different kinds of fruit adorning the rim of a plastic rendition of the Tiki god Lono, shaded by a tiny purple paper umbrella and filled with a juicy sweet, heavily Grenandine-infused contrivance. I have to ask, "How could you serve this monstrosity and, in good conscience, call yourself a bartender?"
But I can't blame you. Bartenders just give people what they want. So I'll blame Hawaii.
Yes, the entire state. Once pineapple was substituted for lime sometime in the 1950s, the slippery slope from good taste became a landslide. The Mai Tai, developed in 1944 by the legendary Trader Vic, once rum, triple sec, lime juice, orgeat syrup (almond syrup) and simple syrup, garnished with a solitary mint leaf, became the gargantuan liquid lollipop it is today through the island's influence.
Yet it was on a trip to Honolulu over New Year's that gave me faith in the Mai Tai again. House Without a Key in the Halekulani Hotel in Waikiki makes a splendid version that has both flavor and style, although you will have to push aside the orchid served in each one. Come to think of it, order your Mai Tai and ask them to hold the flowers.