To the Tiki

By | Category: Travel destinations

Put an umbrella on it at one of these Hawaiian hot spots…


Headed to Hawaii? No trip to these exotic islands would be complete without tasting a tropical tiki cocktail, for Hawaii is arguably as synonymous with the Mai Tai and Blue Hawaii – invariably serve with sliced pineapples and accompanied by paper umbrellas – as it is with surfing, volcanoes and aloha.

The Blue Hawaii – a colourful fruit flavoured cocktail  – came about when a sales representative of Bols, a Dutch distiller, challenged Harry Lee (Hilton Hawaiian Village’s legendary bartender) to create a drink that would showcase their blue hued Curacao liqueur back in 1957.

After much experimentation, Lee concocted a vivid ocean blue hued (that would be the Blue Curacao) mixer of vodka, pineapple juice and sweet/sour syrup topped with a pineapple wedge, maraschino cherry and multicoloured mini umbrella, which he named Blue Hawaii. This later became the title of the 1961 film starring Elvis Presley.

Meanwhile the Mai Tai – easily the most popular drink in Hawaii – was created by Victor Bergeron of Trader Vic’s restaurants back in 1944. Inspired by the success of Donn Beach and his Don the Beachcomber bar/restaurants – both in Hollywood and Honolulu – Bergeron decided to start his own Tiki themed establishment. Subsequently the first Trader Vic’s opened on Ward Street  in downtown Honolulu. Before long Trader Vic’s had – just like Don the Beachcombers – morphed into a franchise of 25 restaurants. Bergeron first served the Mad Men endorsed Mai Tai – which typically fuses two rums, fresh lime juice, orange Curacai, rock candy syrup and orgeat (almond syrup) – to his friends who, as legend has it, exclaimed in Tahitian “Maita’o roa ae” meaning “Out of this world!” And just like, the Mai Tai was born…

Feeling thirsty? Throw on your Hawaiian shirt and taste the Tropics at one of the following Oahu bars…

Tropics Bar & Grill, Hilton Hawaiian Village
“A Mai Tai is by far the number one thing that we sell, so it’s really important that we make a good Mai Tai,” says Scott Hamilton, director of food and beverage at Hilton Hawaiian Village. Tropics Bar not only makes one mean Mai Tai – it specialises in several. The Village Mai Tai sees a rich brown brew (rum) floating on top of glowing, sunset-orange liquid. Inside you’ll find Trader Vic’s rums (40 proof gold and dark), Orange curaçao, orgeat syrup (sugar almond with rose or orange flower water) and sweet and sour. Elsewhere the Maui Mai Tai is an upgraded version of the Village, using Old Lahaina Gold Rum from Maui, orange curaçao, pineapple, fresh pressed lime.
Tropics is also where Harry Yee – who served as Hilton Hawaiian Village’s head bartender for 30 years – created the Blue Hawaii, which he memorably garnered with paper umbrellas and orchids.

Mai Tai Bar at the The Royal Hawaiian
Victor Bergeron – creator of the Mai Tai – tweaked the recipe in 1953 when the Royal Hawaiian Hotel commissioned him to create drinks for its menu. It was while at the rose hued Royal Hawaiian Hotel – aka Hawaii’s first true luxury hotel – that Bergeron added pineapple juice to the Mai Tai. Fast forward to 2016 and this Royal Hawaiian bar still serves the Mai Tai 2.0. It’s called the Scratch Mai Tai and sees pineapple and orange juice take the place of lime juice, for a fruiter – and sweeter – flavour.
Even if you’re not a fan of Mai Tais – maybe you’re from Mars or something – this drop dead gorgeous bar in the pink palace (JAT’s favourite Hawaii hotel) is worth a visit for its panoramic views – you’ll be able to see as far as Diamond Head (Oahu’s best known landmark).

House Without a Key

The Mai Tai at this Halekulani (meaning ‘House Befitting Heaven’) hotel bar isn’t for the faint hearted. Make no mistake: House Without a Key’s version is seriously strong – expect two rums in its base – but sensational. As are the sunset views and nightly live music performances from local musicians. JAT says: if you only visit one bar while in Waikiki, make it this elegant open-air oceanfront venue that’s named after a 1925 Charlie Chan Honolulu based novel. If only we could drink here every day.

Banyan Court Beach Bar

If you want to taste the tropics in sophisticated surroundings, Banyan Court Beach Bar – an al fresco oceanside bar whose focal point is a beautiful old banyan tree – is where it’s at. The menu boasts a long list of tipples for the discerning drinker to choose from but, being in Hawaii and all, you’d be mad not to try their version of the Mai Tai – garnished with a generous wedge pineapple and topped with a cherry. Given Banyan Court Beach Bar’s location (it’s part of the five star Westin Hotel), prices aren’t cheap with cocktails weighing in around the US$15 mark but the magical setting can’t fail to put a smile on your face.
Bruno Mars devotees will want to drop in for a drink on Sunday and Wednesday evenings, when the Hawaiian music maestro’s Uncle (John Valentine) can be found playing a few sets.

Duke’s Waikiki
Sure this surf themed party bar – named after legendary waterman, Duke Kahanamoku (the handsome Hawaiian who broke world swimming records and captured four Olympic medals before appearing in more than 15 Hollywood films and becoming the ‘ambassador of Aloha’ ) – is touristy but its tiki drinks pack quite the punch. Top notch Mai Tais,  Blue Hawaii et al are made from scratch using the freshest of juices. One word of warning: if you’re planning on popping in at the weekend, be prepared to queue. Concerts by celebrated local musicians such as Henry Kapano and co, pull in the punters, who invariably  spill out onto the sand.



Germaine’s Luau
If you’re on a mission to try not only a Mai Tai and Blue Hawaii but also the Tropical Itch (another favourite island drink), Green Lizard and more, look to a luau (big feast). Just About Travel can vouch for Germaine’s, over on Oahu’s east side. The sounding of a conch shell signals the beginning of the evening’s festivities: expect an entertaining evening of Hawaiian history, culture, culinary delights (think kalua pua’a -roasted pig – poke – raw fish marinated in soy sauce and haupia – coconut custard) and Polynesian dancing, washed down with unlimited Hawaiian cocktails. You may arrive as a malihini (newcomer/visitor) but, after a few tiki themed drinks, you’ll leave as family… Other noteworthy Oahu luaus include Chief’s Luau, Waikiki Starlight Luau, Royal Hawaiian Luau and Ali’i Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Centre.


Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

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