There’s an unspoken rule in the world of cocktails, but I’m going to share it here because, well, because I don’t care what anyone thinks. That rule is simple: Never get the famous drink at the place that made it famous. Sure, there are some exceptions to the rule, notably the Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista in San Francisco. But everyone knows to stay away from the Vieux Carré at the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans. Ordering a Daiquiri at La Floridita in Havana isn’t going to make you super happy. Neither will a Seelbach from the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville. But the biggest crime being committed today is perpetrated by Trader Vic’s against their very own Mai Tai.

What began life in 1944 as quite possibly the greatest Tiki drink ever made, the Mai Tai was reportedly created by “Trader Vic” Bergeron at the original Trader Vic’s location in Emeryville, Calif. The sweet, sour, and strong mixture of aged rum, fresh lime, orgeat (almond syrup), and curaçao eventually found its way, in some form or another, behind every tropical or tropical-themed bar in the country.

And it wasn’t long before the drink became a pale imitation of its former self. Lazy bartenders would make it with canned orange and pineapple juices. Grenadine started appearing on top. Candied maraschino cherries and pineapple wedges were being added. Even at Trader Vic’s, they were making the drink with their very own “Mai Tai Mix.” You can still buy a liter of the crap for less than twenty bucks on their website. But you really shouldn’t.

Despite the timesaving measures used by, well, by pretty much everyone for quite some time, the drink is easy to make and only requires a few basic ingredients. Don’t waste your time looking for Wray and Nephew 17 Year Jamaican rum as Trader Vic originally used; you won’t find any. Instead, use the hack listed below for delicious results.

Mai Tai

• 1 oz. aged Jamaican rum (such as Appleton Estate 12 Year)
• 1 oz. Martinique rum (such as Rhum Clement VSOP)
• 1 ¼ oz. lime juice (reserve one of the spent lime hulls for garnish)
• ½ oz. orgeat
• ½ oz. orange curaçao (such as Grand Marnier)
• ½ oz. 2:1 simple syrup

Combine ingredients and shake with ice cubes until chilled. Strain over fresh, crushed ice in a double rocks glass. Garnish with spent lime hull and fresh mint sprigs.


Jeffrey Morgenthaler is the bar manager at Pépé le Moko and Clyde Common, the acclaimed gastropub at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon. He is also author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.