Whatever Happened to the Mai Tai? 5 Out-of-Fashion Cocktails

Wherefore art thou, Mai Tai?
Wherefore art thou, Mai Tai?

Earlier this week, CBS News reported that -- finally -- Tiki drinks are coming back in fashion. The story delighted folks like our web editor, Brittanie Shey, who is still convinced that the fantastical, rum-based drinks should never have gone out of style in the first place. But it also had its doubters.

"Until there are as many tiki bars as shitty 'prohibition speakeasies,' I call BS on this 'Return of the Tiki Bar" trend,' wrote Philadelphia food critic Jason Sheehan on Twitter. Sheehan isn't alone; Eater's Greg Morabito pronounced the Tiki trend DOA back in July of this year, citing the fact that "New York was left with three and only three new Tiki bars, plus enough hollowed-out pineapples and cocktail umbrellas to last a lifetime" after the initial Tiki frenzy died down.

Regardless of CBS's report, it's fair to say that Mai Tais are currently fashionably out-of-fashion. Of course, they may yet make a comeback, along with Zombies and Painkillers and a whole slew of delicious Tiki drinks. Until then, however, they're on our list of 5 out-of-style cocktails (which pairs wonderfully with last week's post on five out-of-fashion foods).

Whatever Happened to the Mai Tai? 5 Out-of-Fashion Cocktails

5. Mai Tai

Like Brittanie Shey and CBS, I'm making a bid for the Mai Tai to come back. To quote our friend David Alan, who runs the blog Tipsy Texan: "The Mai Tai is a delicious and simple drink that is often misinterpreted as a tropical travesty of grenadine, pineapple juice and orange juice." Shey explains further in a post from last October:

​Say "tiki drink" to someone unfamiliar with the cocktail style, and they'll often imagine a frozen daiquiri with an umbrella served at some bar where Jimmy Buffett is on repeat and all the patrons wear Tommy Bahama.

But the truth is that long before the artisan cocktail trend ever hit Texas, a group of Polynesian Pop aficionados were searching out rums of different origins, demanding fresh-squeezed juices in every drink, and collecting mugs and schwag from long-demolished restaurants and hotel bars specializing in the escapist trend known as "tiki."

Tropical, rum-based drinks like these are heavy on the calories, but they're also heavy on flavor and history. While two men -- Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber -- both claim to have invented the Mai Tai before the Second World War, all that matters is that the drink was the most popular cocktail in America during our post-war glory years.

"​Tiki culture really took hold in the 1950s and '60s as soldiers were returning from WWII's Pacific front," wrote Shey. "Following the hardship of war, the nation was enthralled with the romantic escapism painted in portraits like James A. Michener's Tales of the South Pacific and at restaurants like Don the Beachcomber."

But by the 1980s, over-the-top Tiki drinks and their million kitschy garnishes were deemed just that -- kitschy -- and died out as the Tiki trend did, with restaurants and bars like Trader Vic's closing across the country. In their place came new drinks and shots with slicker, sexier names -- the Fuzzy Navel, the Sex on the Beach, etc. -- that reflected the chic but gritty feel of the time. After all, Mai Tais might be tropical and beachy, but you never would have seen one on Miami Vice.


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