I started out on a quest for the history behind Hawaii’s magical Mai Tai. This popular rum and fruit juice concoction has two very interesting men claiming ownership of its creative recipe.
The well-known cocktail was purportedly invented at Trader Vic’s Polynesian-themed restaurant in Oakland, CA in 1944. Trader Vic’s amicable rival, Donn Beach claimed to have created the Mai Tai first in 1933 at his own bar in Hollywood called Don’s Beachcomber.
The Mai Tai Mystery
The origin story of the renowned Mai Tai cocktail is shrouded in mystery and intrigue. It is unclear who really created the drink, with multiple tales hinting at its inception. Legend has it that Trader Vic whipped it up spontaneously one afternoon and decided to test its taste on some friends who happened to be visiting from Tahiti. Upon sipping the concoction, one of them, overwhelmed by its deliciousness, exclaimed, “Mai tai roa ae!” In Tahitian, this phrase translates to “very good, out of this world, the best”, thus inadvertently naming the drink we now adore as the Mai Tai.
Okole Mahuna (Bottoms up!) Mai Tai
This delightful cocktail’s history intertwines with post-World War II narratives. Following the war’s conclusion, Donn Beach, another potential contender for the Mai Tai’s creation, found solace in the scenic landscapes of Waikiki. Here, he established his second Polynesian Village venture, becoming a magnet for celebrities with his exquisite drinks and vibrant ambiance. Not stopping at just the village, Beach’s entrepreneurial spirit saw him spearheading the development of the iconic International Marketplace in Waikiki, further elevating his status in the tiki culture.
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Trader Vic – The Guy (We think Maybe?)
Meanwhile, in 1953, Trader Vic, the legend from our original story, also set foot in Hawaii. He confidently asserted that it was he who had introduced the Mai Tai to the islands, specifically serving it at the illustrious Royal Hawaiian and Moana Surfrider Hotels. As time went on, while the true creator’s identity remained ambiguous, the Mai Tai’s reputation soared, cementing its place as a timeless tropical classic.
After World War II ended, Donn Beach settled in Waikiki where he opened his second Polynesian Village establishment, entertaining his celebrity friends. Beach also went on to later develop the International Marketplace in Waikiki. In 1953, Trader Vic made his way to Hawaii, claiming to have introduced the drink to Waikiki at the Royal Hawaiian and Moana Surfrider Hotels.
While we may never really know who was the true creator of this famous concoction with the Tahitian name, all can agree that is one tasty cocktail that will be forever synonymous with Hawaii.