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. 

Turk would never drink an appletini.
Turk would never drink an appletini.

4. Appletini

And then there's the wretched Appletini. When your drink of choice is chosen by the writers of Scrubs to represent the irritatingly hyper-feminine nature of Dr. John Dorian (played by the equally irritating Zach Braff), you know it's jumped the proverbial shark.

An Appletini has become the drink of choice for boozy woo girls the world over. Its syrupy sweet taste and consistency masks the bolt of alcohol underneath, making it the yuppie equivalent of Drank. It is not in any way, shape or form a true martini, so do not fool yourself into thinking you're a ordering a grownup's drink just because it's served in a martini glass. Order an actual martini, enjoy the nuanced flavors of the gin and sweet vermouth and save the palate-pounding sweetness for a flourless chocolate cake.

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

3. Grasshopper

Like the Mai Tai, I wouldn't mind seeing the Grasshopper make a comeback -- purely as a dessert cocktail. Sure, it's cheesy. And like the wretched appletini, it's a toxic-waste shade of green and often stupidly served in a martini glass. But it's delicious. It's the cocktail version of a Thin Mint, and if that's wrong I don't want to be right.

Also like the Mai Tai, this was one of the the drinks of the 1950s and 1960s. Made with equal parts Crème de menthe, Crème de cacao and fresh cream, shaken with ice and strained into a chilled cocktail glass, this drink was the epitome of elegance in the Mad Men era. It even spawned an equally popular pie in the South, where the cocktail was first invented in New Orleans.

"The name of this mint-chocolate pie comes from the after-dinner drink, which is made by shaking 1/2 ounce cream, 1/2 ounce white Crème de cacao, and 1 ounce Crème de methe together with ice cubes, then straining," wrote Sylvia Lovegren in Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads. This pie may have had its start in the Fifties when creme de menthe had considerable cachet, and by the Sixties it had quite a following." 


2. White Wine Spritzer

Liz Lemon makes her own version of this on 30 Rock, containing white wine, Sprite and ice. She calls it "funky juice" and keeps a sad, lonely Thermos of it by her toilet. That alone should deter you from ordering this abomination to both wine and soda. That, and the fact that ordering it is more or less like punching buttons on a non-functioning time machine in the desperate hope that you'll be transported back to 1974.

White wine spritzers bastardized the original cocktail, which was a combination of white wine (sparkling or still), sparkling water and a bitter component like Aperol or Campari. The American version is just shitty Pinot Grigio and club soda that's been sitting under a bar in the heat. There are some excellent wine cocktails out there; a white wine spritzer just isn't one of them.

Carrie Bradshaw is the only columnist in New York whose salary affords her an endless budget for Manolos and Cosmos.
Carrie Bradshaw is the only columnist in New York whose salary affords her an endless budget for Manolos and Cosmos.

1. Cosmopolitan

It took me years to realize that the Cosmo and the Cape Codder were, in fact, two different drinks. Both have cranberry juice, lime and vodka in them -- it's just that the Cosmopolitan, like the Appletini, is maddeningly served in a martini glass that makes it look fancier and therefore more expensive. And people bought into it. Throughout the 1990s, this was the cocktail of choice.

It didn't hurt that the Cosmopolitan was also the cocktail of choice on one of the most seminal pop culture touchstones of the '90s: Sex and the City. The only way the drink could have been more popular was if it had somehow been featured on Seinfeld and Friends, too. But as went Carrie Bradshaw's taste in cocktails, so went the nation, who associated the Cosmo with slick city living and revered it as the savvy single girl's cocktail. Because that's what everyone associates vodka and cranberry juice with, right?

By the 2008 debut of the Sex and the City film, even the characters meta-admitted that the Cosmo had worn out its welcome by sheer overexposure: When Miranda asks Carrie -- over a round of Cosmos -- why their group had stopped drinking them, Carrie simply replies: "Because everyone else started!"

Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >