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Tiki Central Forums Tiki Drinks and Food A Disappointing Visit to Mai-Kai
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A Disappointing Visit to Mai-Kai
BH
Member

Joined: Mar 10, 2010
Posts: 10
From: Pennsylvania
Posted: 2010-03-10 11:15 am   Permalink

I first discovered Mai-Kai by accident a few years ago when I happened to drive past it. The place looked interesting so my wife and I went in. I already had an appreciation for rum cocktails at the time so I was pleased when I saw the menu. I ordered the Barrel of Rum as recommended by our waitress and was immediately taken by it, finding a love for tiki that has persisted to this day. When I made it back home after the trip, I began investigating to learn more about the Mai-Kai and became very interested in tiki culture. I have been making tiki drinks at home ever since and have always wondered how to recreate that magical Mai-Kai flavor that seemed to punctuate many of their drinks. The elusiveness of that Mai-Kai flavor, along with my love for the history of the establishment, brought me back to the Mai-Kai at least 10 times. I had always enjoyed myself immensely, until this last trip.

This time my wife and I started with two of our favorite drinks off the light menu, I had a Mai-Kai Swizzle and she ordered an SOS. We had been waiting months to enjoy these drinks but immediately upon first sip something was off. Actually, upon first sight something was off with mine. The drink was served in a different glass than usual and lacked the pink color of past visits. Upon tasting the drink it was weak and lacked depth, mostly tasting of orange juice. My wife's SOS was even more disappointing. For those of you who have had the pleasure of tasting this drink in year's past, you know it was a complex blend of sweet and spicy flavors including cinnamon and allspice. The first time my wife ever tasted this drink her immediate reaction was that it reminded her of a Christmas wreath (believe or not, that was a compliment as she loves the Holidays). This time, however, the SOS was a muddled mess with a sharp punch of allspice and little in the way of balance or complexity. It was in short, a disaster on the palate and a huge disappointment. We ordered a few more drinks, including the Barrel of Rum, Oh So Deadly, Malayan Mist, Mai-Kai Special, Cobra's Kiss, and Shark Bite (this spanned two visits, btw, so our tastes were sharp throughout), with the same result. Each drink tasted differently than we remembered it and most were unpleasant.

One other thing that I should mention is that I ordered some of the drinks two times and there was no consistency. We ordered a Mai-Kai Special on the first night and then again on the second night, yet the two versions were miles apart, and neither was good. The same thing happened with the SOS. I don't know what is going on there, but I am very upset that what I considered to be the mecca of tiki drinking is now losing its edge. When I make cocktails at home I pride myself on using fresh squeezed juices and I am wondering if this could be part of the problem. Has Mai-Kai begun using premixed syrups instead of fresh juices? Our drinks came out a lot faster than we remembered them coming out in the past and our waitress told us that they now sell the Barrel of Rum, Mai-Tai, and a few others "to go" in gallon jugs where you just add the alcohol. Lastly, the old bar manager Rick is no longer there and I am wondering if his absence has something to do with it. This was my first trip back since he's been gone. In fact, on the second night we were there a charity organization rented out a portion of the Molokai Bar and brought in a guitarist to play classic and modern rock covers at a volume that made it difficult to talk to the person next to you (even at the other end of the bar). This is not the atmosphere I expect at a legendary tiki establishment.

In short, my reason for posting is to inquire if anyone else on TC has been to Mai-Kai recently and if so, have you noticed a difference in the drinks? The drinks were always my biggest draw to Mai-Kai, but now it seems that their historic flavor and quality is being compromised. I hope that flavor is not about to be lost forever like so many other classic tiki drinks. My experience this time around left me feeling like the Mai-Kai has become a commercial sell-out and I am interested in other people's thoughts.


 
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TikiG
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jun 17, 2008
Posts: 1542
From: Riverside, California
Posted: 2010-03-10 11:31 am   Permalink

I'm visiting the Mai Kai for my first visit this upcoming June (& Hukilau) - so this post has me more than a little concerned

So...I'm asking my Florida friends to please post their Mai Kai (recent visit) review soon.

Cheers!




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TikiG

tiki since '67!


 
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rev_thumper
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Oct 10, 2007
Posts: 366
From: Koala Kabana, New England
Posted: 2010-03-10 4:45 pm   Permalink

I was there from open to close on Saturday the 27th and had no complaints.

 
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Chip and Andy
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 13, 2004
Posts: 2205
From: Corner table, Molokai Lounge, Mai-Kai.
Posted: 2010-03-10 7:59 pm   Permalink

You, my friend, have found the dirty little secret of the Mai Kai.

We don't like to talk about it too much, it isn't pretty and tends to get tempers all worked up. Last time this came up we had to put good ol' Larry down for good.. tweren't pretty.

The Mai Kai. Greatest Polynesian Palace ever built. At least that is still standing today. On its sacred grounds sits not one, not two, but three great bars. Two massive kitchens (well, OK, one great big one divided in half... work with me here). Eight dining rooms. Three massive water features. Hundreds of Tikis, thousands of Polynesian artifacts new and old. And millions of memories.

Did you catch the part in the attempt at colorful prose about three great bars? One of the bars is in the Bora Bora room and it is closed for remodel/renovation so technically there are only two bars in the place, and that is the dirty little secret.

The drinks you order in the dining halls are mixed by true masters in the back bar (My happy place!) of the Mai Kai. And I do mean masters! Trained by the best and trained in the same methods and manners as Don trained his own many years ago. SPEED! ACCURACY! CONSISTENCY!

The drinks you order in the Molokai Bar are mixed by the masters-in-training. It is not that they are doing it wrong or cutting corners, it is that they haven't achieved 'that' level of understanding of what makes a good drink.

The locals have a different perspective on this phenomena.... by ordering drinks from the Molokai bar regularly (and often!) we can use the inconsistencies in the drinks to reverse engineer those same drinks to help bring the Mai Kai magic to people like you who can not make it in time for Wednesday's happy hour, at least not this coming Wednesdays happy hour.

Fear not the quality of the Mai Kai bar. This is not a sign of the End Time that many speak of. The Mai Kai is a living breathing thing, like the sea. A thing of beauty when approached with love and understanding. A fierce beast if approached with fear. Love the Mai Kai. And she will love you back.






(and all of that on only five Dark and Stormy's!)


 
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Chip and Andy
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 13, 2004
Posts: 2205
From: Corner table, Molokai Lounge, Mai-Kai.
Posted: 2010-03-10 8:01 pm   Permalink

Quote:

On 2010-03-10 11:15, BH wrote:... In fact, on the second night we were there a charity organization rented out a portion of the Molokai Bar and brought in a guitarist to play classic and modern rock covers at a volume that made it difficult to talk to the person next to you (even at the other end of the bar).



And for curiosities sake..... when was this visit?
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bigbrotiki
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 11159
From: Tiki Island, above the Silverlake
Posted: 2010-03-11 12:51 am   Permalink

I have noticed also that, as expert mixology, and especially complex rum cocktails, are being re-created by a new generation of young bartenders at hip metropolitan venues (thanks to the groundbreaking work of Beachbum Berry), and the press is giving this phenomenon ample attention (as I pointed out before, mixology has become THE current ambassador of Tiki culture), unfortunately several classic Tiki venues have difficulties stepping up to the plate -to whatever degree.

I would have never expected that the kind of gourmet cocktail consciousness that was awakened by the likes of the bum and Ted Haigh would go beyond our well established personal home bar and internet forum specialists interest. I always assumed that this time consuming, exotic ingredient requiring craftsmanship would just be too impractical out in the real bar and restaurant world. But luckily I have been proven wrong. Within a few years, exotic cocktail ingredients that were hard to come by or extinct have been recreated and made available, and new cocktailians like Martin Cate and Marcus Tello are leading a new generation of mixologists (please note: another term that had gone extinct before published in the Book of Tiki ) to a shining new future. (There's even already a backlash for that term: When asking Rivera's bar wizard Julian Cox "Do you consider yourself a bartender or a mixologist? " his reply was "I consider myself a bartender first and foremost. I love the art mixology but I think at times the term mixologist can be a bit pretentious." )

Not long ago I witnessed New York mixologist Brian Miller guest-bartending at the Edison to a packed bar, and while very hard at work, he nevertheless took the time to list all the ingredients of the concoction to the eagerly listening bar groupies.
General public gourmet cocktail awareness will most likely be a fad that fades eventually, but while it lasts, existing Tiki Bars have to recognize it as an opportunity to drum up new business, and not only rely on the fact (understandably so) that they have been doing a certain amount of this all along.


 
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KuKuAhu
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Dec 23, 2002
Posts: 567
From: Kahiki, Ohio
Posted: 2010-03-11 07:07 am   Permalink

Quote:

On 2010-03-11 00:51, bigbrotiki wrote:
..leading a new generation of mixologists (please note: another term that had gone extinct before published in the Book of Tiki )






Beachbum Berry's Grog Log 1998

Page two: "mixologist"

Unless I am mistaken, that is two years before the BOT was published.

So let's not start stealing the credit for the tiki drink revival, or the revival of mixology. Clearly that honor belongs to Jeff without exception.


Pretentious indeed.




Ahu
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Swanky
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 03, 2002
Posts: 5048
From: Hapa Haole Hideaway, TN
Posted: 2010-03-11 09:35 am   Permalink

Ahu! 1st post in 2 years!

I have had "poor" drinks at the Mai-Kai once. It was while they were slammed during Hukilau's first Happy Hour. And I have been to between 7 and 14 Hukilau Happy Hours, with only one suffering...

I echo Big Bro's sentiment in that since I have been so into cocktails and making them at home, I find that even what I get served at the venerable Trader Vic's does not much impress me. Just echoes of previous greatness.

However, the Mai-Kai has kept a high standard.

I may have to fly down there and check on this though. Seems like a good excuse. But, I suppose that is the real answer. Locals need to speak up. All of us who visit there semi-annually can only know so much about the consistency of the drink quality.
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Announcing Swank Pad and Crazy Al's Molokai Maiden!


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pappythesailor
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 07, 2005
Posts: 1564
From: Mass.
Posted: 2010-03-11 11:00 am   Permalink

Quote:

On 2010-03-10 19:59, Chip and Andy wrote:


Fear not the quality of the Mai Kai bar. This is not a sign of the End Time that many speak of. The Mai Kai is a living breathing thing, like the sea. A thing of beauty when approached with love and understanding. A fierce beast if approached with fear. Love the Mai Kai. And she will love you back.




That's so beautiful. *sniff*


 
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ikitnrev
Grand Member (first year)  

Joined: Jul 27, 2002
Posts: 1313
From: D.C. / Virginia
Posted: 2010-03-11 11:38 am   Permalink

I do love the amazing cocktails served at the Mai Kai, and look forward to return visits during the week of Hukilau. But in one sense, all of their drinks are mystery drinks, as you can't watch the drinks being made, nor personally interact with the person actually making them. There are many good things about the Mai Kai, but there are reasons I often prefer other cocktail establishments.

I contrast the Mai Kai with some of the other wonderful bars that are part of the new hand-crafted cocktail scene. At my favorite places in D.C., I love to sit at the bar and actually watch the cocktails being made. There may or may not have a current menu of unique/newly created cocktails to offer you. I like ordering from such menu, or looking at the liquor bottles on the shelf, and being able to identify some relatively obscure liquor tucked away in the shadows, and asking the bartender "Hey, what can you make me with ingredient X?" and see their eyes light up. I like it when they, on the spot, try some new combinations of liquors - shaking, stirring, perhaps sampling with a straw one or more times, adding a little more of this, until the final cocktail is ready and served to you. I like being able to say "this was a bit too ----- for me, could my next drink be a bit ----- instead", or "I really liked the ---- in that last cocktail - what would you recommend as a good transitional follow-up?"

Many of the above interactions you don't get at the Mai-Kai. But the Mai Kai makes up for this with its menu of time-tested cocktails, its wonderful setting, and you get to have your drinks served to you by a beautiful women - it is the fantasy of a late 50's exotica LP come to life. There certainly isn't anything nearly like this in the D.C. area, and it should rightfully be appreciated in its own way.

I bring this all up, because although you could call the unseen persons who mix the Mai-Kai cocktails 'mixologists' - they certainly aren't bartenders who reside at the bar and interact with customers - I contrast them to the type of cocktail creator I mentioned above. We know so little about them. Are they cheerful people? Shy? Do they like to explore and create their own cocktails, or are they content to simply recreate the same proven menu drinks over and over again? Do they make their own Jet Pilots at home, or do they prefer a simple Budweiser? Do they ever get a wild devilish impulse to add two shots of rum X in a drink instead of one, and secretly giggle at what possible effect it will have on the unseen person receiving that cocktail?

As to the term 'mixologist' I understand why people use it - to distinguish their mixing skills to the generic 'Bud/Miller/gin and tonic' focused bartenders. And people who are amateurs, who enjoy creating new recipes in their own kitchens and bars, can use the term 'mixologist' with pride - even if they might have rather gruff personalities or not wish to interact with the public.

But the persons creating the drinks in front of me above? Most of them prefer to be referred to as a bartender, rather than a mixologist. They see their main responsibility as pleasing the customer, and they take deep pride in this.

So long live the good bartender, the amateur mixologists, the Mai Kai, the Mai Kai cocktails and those who make and serve them, and long live all of us who touch upon the whole tiki/cocktail cultures.

Vern



 
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Swanky
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 03, 2002
Posts: 5048
From: Hapa Haole Hideaway, TN
Posted: 2010-03-11 11:50 am   Permalink

Vern, you bring up something that connects the Mai-Kai to it's roots as well. As I understand it, many of the places we revere like Kon Tiki, etc. hid their bartenders from site. I think they may have said it was to keep a certain decorum or to keep a stylized setting or whatever, but I dare say it also kept people away from the cult of the bartender. If people got used to hanging out with Mariano Lucindine at Don the Beachcomber's Chicago and then he was gone to the Mai-Kai, they might lose customers over it. That seperation was probably really started by Donn Beach. He was the master behind them all and they were replacable mixers.

I mean, it is a good bet Martin Cate took customers away to Smuggler's Cove from Forbidden Island...



 
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JOHN-O
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 16, 2008
Posts: 2692
From: Dogtown, USA
Posted: 2010-03-11 12:02 pm   Permalink

Quote:

On 2010-03-11 11:50, Swanky wrote:
That seperation was probably really started by Donn Beach. He was the master behind them all and they were replacable mixers.


Huh, didn't some of those "replaceable mixers" actually invent some of the drinks that Donn Beach took credit for ?? We'll never know for sure but I always figured Ray "Tiki-Ti" Buhen was the true mastermind behind some of those drinks.

[ This Message was edited by: JOHN-O 2010-03-11 12:06 ]


 
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BH
Member

Joined: Mar 10, 2010
Posts: 10
From: Pennsylvania
Posted: 2010-03-11 12:42 pm   Permalink

Quote:

On 2010-03-10 20:01, Chip and Andy wrote:

And for curiosities sake..... when was this visit?


Chip and Andy- Excellent reply to my original question. Your love for the Mai-Kai clearly shows. And you've made me want to return and try some drinks in one of the other rooms. I think I've only had one Mai-Kai drink outside of the Molokai Bar, so maybe you're onto something. And I do appreciate what you're saying about reverse engineering the drinks. When a "mixologist" adds a little too much of an ingredient it becomes obvious that it's a part of the recipe. I would be curious as to which Mai-Kai drinks you've successfully reverse engineered? I've only been able to replicate the Barrel of Rum, Mara-Amu, and Derby Daiquiri, mostly because I've found the recipes in various places.

Finally, to answer your question from above, it was just this past Saturday. And I'm not some old crank. I love music, especially live music. This was just bad, particularly for the Molokai Bar.


 
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croe67
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jan 05, 2003
Posts: 1079
From: Land of Cheese & Beer
Posted: 2010-03-11 12:57 pm   Permalink

Maybe all the good mixologists for the Molokai needed a break after we wore them out the weekend before you were there with our sizable rum-drinking crew.

 
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e33
Tiki Centralite

Joined: Sep 02, 2008
Posts: 15
From: Land of the Gumbo Limbo
Posted: 2010-03-11 1:02 pm   Permalink

I've been going to the Mai Kai about twice a month (as my budget allows) for about 4 years now, and I don't think there's anything to worry about here. Sorry you hit the place at a bad time as far as cocktail consistency goes BH, but it's most likely a new mixologist in training. I've found cocktail consistency to vary occasionally, but so far it's always just been a blip. Come on back and let us know before you get here and we'll meet you in the bar. Cocktails always taste better amongst friends.

Oh, and I highly doubt they've switched away from fresh juices. Heck, I know our limes vary by season, sometimes they're just more tart and produce less juice than others.


 
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