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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
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Aug 20, 2004
Posts: 1784
From: Orlando
Posted: 2010-03-14 12:41 pm   Permalink


On 2010-03-14 11:08, GROG wrote:
So, if the Mai Kai wants to make sure their drinks taste consistently good, then they need to make sure their girls are as consistently gorgeous on a day to day basis.

I know GROG meant this to be funny (and your post was, very!), but your observation is closer to reality, or at least past reality, than you might realize. Case in point, I'm going to post something here with Swanky's permission. Okay, I don't really have your permission, but you posted it yourself before so it's in the public domain now.

This is a letter from Bob Thornton (Mai-Kai co-owner at the time) to one of his girls on the payroll. They had a "point" system on the girls' appearance! I'm sure, considering the year, they were not only scored on looks and grooming, but also how they spoke, manners, etc. I'm sure they can't get away with so overt a scoring system now, but this shows how important those girls were (and obviously still are) to the overall "show". A sub-par drink is much more easily overlooked when surrounded by all that beauty. And, honestly, who wouldn't have wanted to be in Bob Thorton's shoes in 1965!

By the way, thanks Tim for uncovering that letter. It's priceless.

And here, by the way, is Ann (from the cover of the long-defunct Mai-Kai Happy Talk newsletter, March 1964). Figure looks fine to me.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Aug 20, 2004
Posts: 1784
From: Orlando
Posted: 2010-03-14 1:23 pm   Permalink

Oh, there is one thing I wish the Mai-Kai would bring back on a regular basis. They still do it on occasion. Sometimes we get it, sometimes we don't. And that is: ice shells, ice cones, etc. I know they can't always get the glassware that these drinks used to be served in, but they can still do the sculpted ice if they want to. We know it's time consuming, but it adds so much to the presentation (which, by the way, enhances the perceived quality of the drink).

So, our dear Mai-Kai family, bring out the ice!

I count 4 ice sculptures in that picture.

Now let's line 'em up (girls AND drinks) and behold from this late 50s/early 60s shot...

(Sorry for the break in the picture, but it's a really W-I-D-E shot.) Are all those drinks pictured better than the ones you can get in the Mai-Kai today? Hard to know for sure. The rums that were available back then seem to have been generally better than what is available now. We know that courtesy of
this jaw-dropping post from a year ago over on Jeff Berry's blog. But, the situation has improved a lot in recent years with more premium rums available now than have been available in years. But those premium rums are expensive and demand a certain appreciative clientele to make it financially feasible. The Mai-Kai's drinks are already expensive to cover the enormous overhead expense of just keeping the lights on, the water flowing and the torches lit. I'm doubtful the average Mai-Kai visitor would tolerate much more in cost if that's what it took to increase the quality. (Not saying they need to, just thinking aloud.)

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 23, 2002
Posts: 1874
From: Tiki Central
Posted: 2010-03-14 2:12 pm   Permalink


Let's not derail an otherwise great thread. Let's stay on topic, and drop the drama.



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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jan 05, 2003
Posts: 1194
From: Texas Tikiland
Posted: 2010-03-14 4:30 pm   Permalink

Some great pictures, there of the Molokai Maidens!!

&, as of 2 weeks ago, the Molokai & back bar were BOTH utilizing ice cones & ice shells for the drinks in which they were appropriate. It was, indeed, great to see!!

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I dream of tiki
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jan 12, 2004
Posts: 500
From: Pittsburgh, PA
Posted: 2010-03-14 11:16 pm   Permalink

Ya know, I'll take an "off" drink at the Molokai any day. We know that at least the ingredient quality is there. Living in a land of bereft drinks of real quality and unfortunate high prices, I'll "settle."

On the side note, remember when visiting a vintage tiki establishment that survived the decimation meant a high likely hood of putting up with mediocre drinks.food & ambiance just to appreciate it still existed? For those who have pre-2001, you know what I mean.

Its a nice age to know there are a few places where quality can be delivered as well as expected. We just have to let them know when the mark is missed so they can have the opportunity to correct the error.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 11594
From: Tiki Island, above the Silverlake
Posted: 2010-03-15 12:15 am   Permalink

Very true, see my foreword in Tiki Road Trip. The Mai Kai is THE most amazing repository of Tiki culture still in existence --and that in living, breathing form. I had the good fortune of getting to photograph some of its features again, this time for Pete Moruzzi's new book on classic American dining places, "America After Dark", less than a month ago, in February.

In the course of this I had the pleasure of drinking and dining three consecutive nights in the Samoa and in the Tahiti Room, and must say that the various Mai Tais, Rum Barrels and Dark & Stormies I consumed were all delicious! This was AFTER taking the photos, of course , of which one, the exterior below, was liked so much by the Mai Kai that they will use it as a postcard.

I vote to leave this thread be now, the valid concern it brought up has been sufficiently discussed and explained, and after that the headline seems a little harsh to be made to pop up again and again. Mahalo

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Iokona Ki'i
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Nov 14, 2008
Posts: 816
From: SoCal
Posted: 2010-03-15 12:24 am   Permalink

One more thing...

Great shot Sven!

Velvets by J. Sallin

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Unga Bunga
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jun 06, 2003
Posts: 5857
From: CaliTikifornia
Posted: 2010-03-15 12:41 am   Permalink


On 2010-03-14 06:01, GentleHangman wrote:
My feeling is: the drinks should be of consistent quality regardless of which hidden bar they emanate from. Maybe a "Master" or two needs to be overseeing the drinks being made at each location to insure consistent quality. A Black Magic ordered at the Molokai bar should be identical to one ordered from one of the dining areas - Just my humble opinion.

But it just doesn't happen that way.
The only place I have found this to be true is at the Tiki Ti, BECAUSE it's under a "controlled environment" or, the owners are the bartenders.
A lot of you guys here at TC are very knowledgeable of your cocktails. that's why your gonna notice these slight changes in what drink you had last time and the drink you're having now. We (at TC) have hit a peak of mixology that where we're actually very spoiled with our drinks and taste! Nothing wrong with that, but we've set our expectations so high at other establishments, that we only "come down harder" when that drink is not a carbon copy drink of what we remember from what the last one was.
The drinks at Mai Kai are great , but you can only dissect a cocktail so far.
If you think your drink or food entree is going to be exactly the same from your last visit, then you have a head for fantasy, because it's just not gonna happen.

Let's just go to the Tiki bar and have fun!

(God Unga, who stuck a Tiki torch up your ass? )


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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 18, 2004
Posts: 1032
From: Tolland, CT
Posted: 2010-03-15 06:17 am   Permalink

Good point Unga.

the only way to perfect consistency is to adopt the Fast Food model.

A hamburger from a Burger King is EXACTLY the same in Portland, Maine as it is in Portland, Oregon.

Personally, I'll take little bumps in consistency when the QUALITY that's offered is so high.

Plus, you never know...sometimes a happy mistake in mixing makes for a GREAT new cocktail... Ray's anyone?

And if there's a mistake and for whatever reason you DONT like the drink, as long as you're not an asshole about it (anbd probably even if you are, but dont be), they'll gladly replace it for you. Its one of the few places left where "Customer Service" actually means something.

Viva La Mai Kai!!!

[ This Message was edited by: bargoyle 2010-03-15 08:20 ]

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 29, 2006
Posts: 382
From: Maryland (Land of Pleasant Tiki Living)
Posted: 2010-03-24 2:29 pm   Permalink

Tomorrow NIGHT!

Will be @ the Mai Kai tomorrow night (3rd time) right now will
go with Chip & Andy's post, plus fellow local Ohana that go there
on a regular basis. Will report back!


PS Ain't NOTHING like a Tiki drink Served by a Mai Kai MAIDEN!!!!

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jun 23, 2006
Posts: 464
From: Stuart, Florida
Posted: 2010-03-25 06:12 am   Permalink

From what I've read and experienced (I enjoyed the 60's, thank you) the "Exotic" drinks as created by Don The Beachcomber and his peers were almost 'scientific' in nature; carefully crafted and formulated to strict specifications which were treated as 'Trade Secrets' and strictly adhered to at their establishments. The food served at these establishments was good . . . but the drinks were masterpieces that kept patrons coming back again and again.
The Mai Kai is from this period and unlike many, has managed to survive. Again, in my opinion to be true to the heritage the drink 'formulas' need to be maintained and consistent. The Mai Kai operates with the back bar drink assembly rooms of yore, and in my opinion, should have no difficulty maintaining perfection and consistency in their classic drinks.
The only reason I can think of as to why this is not so today is . . . laziness. They have the formulas . . . they have additional supplies and drink materials we can only dream of . . . and their rums and liquor - we can't get much of it in our local stores. So, again I wonder, what's the excuse? Why would my "Black Magic" be different depending on which room I was in when I ordered it. It's true that most people who are not TC aficionados probably won't notice the slight imperfections but as one who remembers the early years - the 50-'s seeing the magnificant libations my parents were enjoying while I drank my "Shirley Temple" or some other non-alcoholic creation - which was also served in the same style as the 'adult' drinks - and then later when I was of 'legal age' (I celebrated my 21st. birthday in '67 at the Kowloon . . . and I still have the mug!)I remember how it was . . . and I miss that.

I bet you feel more like you do now now than you did when you came in.


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Chip and Andy
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 13, 2004
Posts: 2277
From: Corner table, Molokai Lounge, Mai-Kai.
Posted: 2010-03-25 06:41 am   Permalink


On 2010-03-25 06:12, GentleHangman wrote:
...The Mai Kai operates with the back bar drink assembly rooms of yore, and in my opinion, should have no difficulty maintaining perfection and consistency in their classic drinks.
The only reason I can think of as to why this is not so today is . . . laziness.


And No.

The issue is one of laziness on the bartenders sakes. It is also one of the 'usual customers.' It is kind of this weird negative feedback loop between patron and bartender. I'll use a specific drink as my example for this rambling thought.... the Rainbow Barrel. It is the base juice mix of the Rum Barrel and then four of five various flavors of vodka are added. Personally, blech, but it is a popular variation of the drink that more and more people are asking for.

It is innovative on the part of the Mai Kai and completely within the premise of keeping customers happy and returning. But to bastardize the Rum Barrel so horribly seems to go against the spirit of the place.

Or does it?

To us, it is the Mighty Mai Kai, 50 plus years and still going.

To everyone else it is that neat place where we have our anniversary / wedding / birthday / bar mitzvah dinner every month / year. Oh, and they have some pretty strong drinks and some of them are even on fire!

It really all does come down to one thing..... Us. Not Tiki Central Us, but the individual Us. Each of Us. Each person that goes to the Mai Kai. Once a lifetime, or once a month, it doesn't matter. We have to go, we have to enjoy it, we have to show interest in the drinks, the food, the people. "They" know if your interested, and even if they don't tell them you are. It makes a difference. When the place is packed with the local Ohana, the drinks are always better, more consistent, more yummy. If you just wander in and blend in, your drinks will do the same.

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Registered Astronaut
Tiki Centralite

Joined: Mar 05, 2006
Posts: 66
Posted: 2010-04-02 12:08 am   Permalink


On 2010-03-11 00:51, bigbrotiki wrote:
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.

When I was a fledgling punk coming up in the scene, there was a hefty amount of education/awareness related to animal rights and vegetarian diet and most participants adhered to the dogma, or ideals, depending on your point of view, that more or less represented the culture as a whole. So if you weren't vegetarian/vegan you either were someone who hadn't "figured it out yet" or you just didn't give a fuck, which was still punk, but kind of ignorant. Flash forward to the present, punk is dead, and indie rocker/hipster kids can't get enough bacon. What's my point? Get ready for the "mixology" backlash, when twenty somethings start complaining about waiting 20 minutes for a drink and paying twelve bucks a pop, eventually leading to a nostalgia for sweet and sour out of the gun and purple hooter shots.

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Registered Astronaut
Tiki Centralite

Joined: Mar 05, 2006
Posts: 66
Posted: 2010-04-02 12:23 am   Permalink


On 2010-03-12 04:46, bigbrotiki wrote:
I am sorry again, I had no intention to sideline this topic to a discussion about the term "mixology" either.

I really was just trying to point out that, as we engage in a sort of historical re-enactment, history is happening today and is constantly evolving and changing, and we have to take note of that. The brunt of my post was aimed at the idea that, while classic Mixology temples like the Tiki Ti and the Mai Kai provided the foundation of the revival and are rightfully revered for that, such places should not just rest on their laurels, but try to draw re-inspiration from the current cocktail revival, sprucing up their operations while staying authentic, and joining in the media frenzy with added information and advertising about the classic nature of their cocktails. I think Marie at Don The Beachcomber and Kelly at the Tonga Hut are great examples of working hard on that.

PS: And before I get called pretentious and arrogant again: This is simply a THOUGHT that came to me from reading the first couple of posts. I am not TELLING anyone what to do, I am contributing my observations and the resulting thoughts to an open discussion.

[ This Message was edited by: bigbrotiki 2010-03-12 05:09 ]

Not trying to highjack the thread but Sven's provided the raw material for a serious bartender rant. IMO, the Tiki-Ti sets the standard for mixology even in todays competitive, ramped-up cocktail scene. Why? They do it FAST. Not fast like cutting corners, I don't care fast, but fast like, "we're gonna get you this drink in a reasonable amount of time" fast. The varnish is a great bar, but what's the point of using a special sphere of hand-crafted ice to chill my manhattan when it takes you ten minutes to make the next two drinks and by the time the waitress brings them to my table, my manhattan is room temp? The Buhens also understand that most people drink to relax, loosen up, and maybe get drunk. It's not a trip to the Met. They've mixed me the wrong drink before, laughed at themselves, and offered me an exchange, which I decline, 'cuz all the drinks are good, and really, who cares?

Now if we can just get them to lower their prices...

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Joined: Feb 22, 2005
Posts: 3
From: Los Angeles
Posted: 2010-04-26 08:54 am   Permalink

Personally, I want to kick Sven's ass for choosing a typeface so small that I can't read the book while urinating at Purple Orchid. Then again, why would I want to read a book that bears so little semblance to the power of tiki given to me by my grandfather? He always maintained that the post-war rise of tiki was a NECESSARY response to World War 2. He, like the millions of others who served in the Pacific theater, couldn't possibly describe the boredom, carnage and horribleness that was the daily routine to his family or clueless strangers. It was far simpler to take the family to the local tiki joint as demonstration of the wonderfulness it was to stop at Don's and/or Honolulu before being shipped out. He always maintained that tiki was the Disneyfied and sanitized way for soldiers to share the experience with civilians. Strong drinks were necessary to drown the very bad memories for most veterans. He was always a decent barman with an incredible basement bar. I always admired the machetes on the wall which he derisively referred to as 'decoration toys'. One day, when I was old enough and we had several of his libations, he gave me this corroded and worn sort of machete-looking-like thing. He told me it was an all-purpose edged weapon and tool used by the Japs to both hack through the jungle, saw through barbed wire and disembowel the local Polynesians, prisoners-of-war or other malcontents. The weapon was a clear violation of the Geneva convention and any soldier in possession of a used one was assumed to be a war criminal eligible for execution. After securing it from a less than cooperative Jap soldier, he also discovered a small quantity of sake. Some of the local Polynesians working with his unit were extremely agitated to see the weapon and immediately wanted to use it on the prone and injured Jap. He wasn't sure what to do until the Polynesians offered him rum they had gotten from the Australians. He stepped aside, they gave him the rum and he mixed it in his canteen with the sake. Said it was the finest tiki drink he ever had with a killer floor show that concluded with the Jap unsuccessfully trying to keep his entrails in his body. He always respected tikis and said they were essential in keeping bad spirits at bay. He thought the demise of mainstream tiki was not something to bemoan, but to celebrate, since it signified the slow healing of his generation.

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