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The History of The Mai Tai

One of the most popular drinks at House Without A Key is Halekulani’s Mai Tai. Our signature recipe dates back to the reopening of the hotel more than 30 years ago and has become a drink that guests anticipate with every visit. But the history of the mai tai itself reaches back more than 70 years.

Two people claim to have invented the mai tai. Don the Beachcomber, the founding father of Tiki Restaurants, said he invented the drink in 1933 at his tropically themed Hollywood restaurant. His version of the mai tai is different than the classic cocktail we know today, so most people believe that the true mai tai was created by Victor J. Bergeron. When he opened his version of a tiki restaurant in the Bay Area in the late 1930s, he called it Trader Vic’s. Bergeron says that he created the drink one afternoon in 1944 for some friends who were visiting from Tahiti. He had a bottle of 17-year old rum and was looking for a blend of flavors that didn’t overpower it. He took a fresh lime, added some orange curacao from Holland, a dash of rock candy syrup, and a dollop of French orgeat to give the drink its subtle, almond flavor. He added shaved ice and shook it by hand. When he gave the new drink to one of his visitors, she took a sip and proclaimed, “Mai tai roa ae,” which, in Tahitian means, “the best.” And thus the drink got its name.

House Without A Key, a favorite destination for live entertainment and Hawaiian music, is renowned for its mai tais. the Halekulani Mai Tai uses three types of rum, Bacardi Gold Rum, Bacardi 151 Rum and Bacardi Select. “People like our mai tais because we always use fresh juice,” says Oswaldo Rabago, Assistant Director of Food & Beverage. “We blend fresh lime juice and simple syrup, which allows for a perfect balance of tartness and sweetness.” 

To watch our Halekulani Mai Tai being created, view our short film. Then be sure to try our classic drink next time you’re enjoying the sunset over the Pacific at House Without A Key.