Don and Chuck’s  Mai Tai Reviews

After years of running Milwaukee's only Polynesian themed cocktail bar, we decided to take a break from the bitter cold of January and see what passed for a Mai Tai in the islands these days. At Foundation Tiki Bar we serve a Mai Tai close to the old Trader Vic's recipe, but we also offer the Hawaiian version. We prefer the citrus based original to the Hawaiianized version, but certainly do enjoy a couple done island style, especially on the beach in Waikiki. Most places in Hawaii just slop rail rums and a lethal dose of fruit juice into a glass and call it a Mai Tai, a select few create a wonderful concoction. A pineapple wedge on the edge of the glass is standard, even at the dives, but only the nice places that put more care into the construction of their cocktails bother to garnish with much else, mint is scarce these days and the Hawaiian touch of a fresh flower in the drink is becoming rare too.

Here is our recipe for a great tasting Hawaiian Mai Tai.

In a double old fashioned glass full of crushed or cracked ice add:

1 oz light rum

½ oz lemon juice

½ oz orange curacao

½ oz orgeat syrup

1 oz orange juice

1 oz pineapple juice

¼ lime squeezed and thrown in


Float 1 ½  oz dark rum on top

garnish with fresh mint sprig and cherry, pineapple sword

   The weather in Hawaii was unseasonably cold (the locals had sweaters and coats on). We, however,  welcomed a temperature that was always at least sixty degrees warmer than where we had come from.

   We started by Ft. Derussy Park on the West end of Waikiki and drank our way to the statue of Duke Kahanamoku. There used to be a great little bar in the Outrigger Reef called the Aloha Lounge, but it has been removed, the Halekulani is right next door, then the Sheraton, the Royal Hawaiian, the Outrigger Waikiki and, finally, the Moana Surfrider. We also hit a few places across the street from the beach, including the Princess Kaiulani (where we stayed), Chuck's Cellar, Top of Waikiki, and two other stops outside of Waikiki, but still in Honolulu, the legendary La Mariana and Don Ho's.


Pikake Lounge at the Princess Kaiulani  ***

   This Mai Tai stood out for the simple reason that they use lemon juice, or possibly lemonade, instead of pineapple juice. The other ingredients seemed to include the usual orange curacao, light rum and a float of dark rum. We found this poolside Mai Tai very refreshing, after getting pineappled out at most other places. Although their policy is to serve drinks in plastic cups by the pool (understandably), you can get one in a glass if you sit at the bar. This place does not skimp on the garnish: pineapple wedge, cherry, umbrella and a fresh flower. Traditional Hawaiian music (Hapa Haole) is performed next to the pool nightly. We would recommend staying at this hotel and the location cannot be beat. While we had a sweeping view of the main surf break and the beach from our room, the cost is a fraction of the hotels that are right on the beach.

House Without a Key at Halekulani  ****

   This is possibly the best Mai Tai we had on the trip. No pineapple juice here. This is a very citrusy drink, with orange curacao and orgeat, served in a double old fashioned glass. Garnishes include a round lime slice, fresh flower, mint and the original addition of a stick of fresh sugar cane. The House Without a Key also has the best band (complete with hula dancer), best lighting (very dark), and hands down the best overall atmosphere of any outdoor patio. This was our favorite hangout in Waikiki (besides possibly our own lanai).

Hano Hano at Sheraton Waikiki  ****

  This Hawaiian Mai Tai was constructed with expertise and tasted like the bartender actually cared about his creation. Served in a classic double old fashioned glass and garnished with a pineapple wedge, cherry, fresh flower and a wonderful sprig of mint... Very few places bother with mint in Hawaii,   in addition, the view of Diamond Head from Hano Hano is the best in Waikiki.

Don Ho's Grill in the Aloha Tower  ***

   Like La Mariana, this place is not in Waikiki but, since it's Don Ho's, we thought we would include it. This Mai Tai had the basic taste of most, but with a very generous amount of dark rum,

when you gave it a stir, the whole glass tuned brown. It is served in a Don Ho Mai Tai glass, which you get to keep, and garnished with a pineapple wedge, cherry and an umbrella. We definitely caught a buzz at the Aloha Tower.

Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian  ***

   Although the Royal Hawaiian's newly renovated Mai Tai bar has added some new versions to their menu, (Royal Mai Tai and Garden Mai Tai), we focused on their original, after all, this is where the Hawaiian Mai Tai got it's start. Their recipe was always one of the best of it's kind and has all the components of the original Trader Vic's Mai Tai (light rum, dark rum, orange curacao, orgeat and lime juice). They simply add pineapple and orange juice to Hawaiianize the drink. It is served in the classic double old fashioned glass and garnished with the standard pineapple wedge and cherry. It seems that the new overhaul included the elimination of the mint and the fresh flower. I guess they thought this would go better with their new modern look. Personally, I preferred the old, sunken bamboo bar and Rattan chairs to the new marble top bar and modern, metal bar seats. I miss the mint and flower too. Hawaiian music is performed nightly.

Papeete Bar & Lounge at La Mariana Sailing club  ***

   Although this place is not in Waikiki, it is the last of the old tiki bars in Hawaii and, therefore, deserves to be included. The original, long time owner has passed away, but the employees have kept it going (who knows for how much longer). They serve up a standard Hawaiian Mai Tai, but a bit stronger than most. It came garnished with a pineapple wedge, cherry and umbrella, in the basic bar glass. Looking out over the marina and taking in the incredible collection of vintage tiki décor makes this Mai Tai taste really good.

Our Lanai back at the hotel  ***

   After a hard night of Mai Tai reviewing, we would sit out on our lanai, look out over the twinkling lights of Waikiki beach and have a Trader Vic's brand citrus Mai Tai from a bottle. These are available at every ABC store in Waikiki. This bottled version of Vic's classic, while made with real rum and orange liqueur, is not strong, but if you add a float of Myer's (dark rum) and mix it in, it tastes superb. So, although this was not exactly a Hawaiian Mai Tai, we did drink quite few while in Hawaii and it ranked among our favorites.

Chuck's Steakhouse in the Outrigger Waikiki  **

   Chuck's Mai Tai is the standard Hawaiian version, but it still goes down well. With a view straight off countless album covers, anything would taste good here. A pineapple wedge and lime adorn the basic bar glass.

Top Of Waikiki in the Waikiki Business Plaza  **

   This one of a kind restaurant serves up a common Hawaiian Mai Tai. The taste was good without too much pineapple juice (which can get very acidic, especially after a couple). Served in the classic double old fashioned glass, it was garnished with only a pineapple wedge. This place is unique in that, not only does the interior appear as though nothing has changed since it opened in 1965, but the whole restaurant rotates, except the area behind the bar. You notice the bar equipment and bottles slowly moving as you sit at the bar,  and if you didn't know better, you may think it was the Mai Tais. Top Of Waikiki offers a spectacular, ever changing view and is a great place to watch the sun go down.

Duke's Canoe Club in the Outrigger Waikiki  **

   This one was a bit different than most in that they use a mixture of pineapple, passion fruit, orange and guava juices. Made with light rum on the bottom, dark rum on top and a pineapple wedge, it was served in a basic bar glass. One, sometimes two guys played guitar and sang a mix of Hapa Haole, Rock, and Jawaiian (a blend of Hawaiian & Reggae).

Chuck's Cellar in the Ohana East  **

   Chuck's other place is a dark, basement with no view, but definitely has it's own kind of charm. The Mai Tai seemed the same as the one at the other Chuck's, the only difference being that the Cellar throws in an umbrella with their pineapple wedge.

There is a piano player in the corner, with other musicians joining in on the weekends, they kicked right in to any song we yelled out. This place looks like a faded, secret, Rat Pack hangout.

Hula Grill in the Outrigger Waikiki  **

   This Mai Tai came in the neatest glass of anywhere we went, a thick tiki goblet, but with no garnish(?!)  This mixture had a pink color to it, possibly caused by a  non-typical juice, such as passion fruit. Not a real strong drink, but, half price during happy hour.

Tiki's Grill in the Resort Quest Waikiki  n/a

   We did not bother to have a Mai Tai here. It is a shame that with the great view of the beach, excellent location, and all the tiki décor, they can't seem to make this place cool. Tiki's Grill is basically an Applebees or TGI Fridays with tikis and horrible music. If you are into tikis, walk through, there are some nice big ones there, but then keep on walking... if the worst live music in Waikiki doesn't scare you away first.

Banyan Court at the Moana Surfrider  ***

   Although the Moana's Mai Tai included the same ingredients as most Hawaiian Mai Tais, this one always seemed to taste better than the rest. We went back several times to recheck this, thinking maybe we just had such a good time that it influenced our decision. No, that wasn't it as each time we went back, we came to the same conclusion. Their Mai Tai is a notch above the rest, while still staying with the classic Hawaiian recipe. The Royal Hawaiian use to be my favorite pineapple Mai Tai, but now I think this one is. While the vessel is plastic, it looks just like glass, and the drink is garnished with a pineapple wedge and umbrella. There was a solo guitarist/singer performing nightly and it was tolerable at best. No Hawaiian bands played while we were there.