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Where to find excellent Mai Tai?

bsomlo Apr 19, 2009 08:46 PM

I just got back from Honolulu and had excellent Mai Tai's at Halekulani (at House without a Key and Orchids).

They were superb and now I'd like to find an equivalent in Manhattan.

I found a suggestion on Chowhound from two years back for Flatiron Lounge. Does anyone have a more current recommendation?

Thank you.

  1. w
    west34 May 26, 2010 06:06 AM

    I just tried the Mai Tai at Painkiller, the new tiki bar on Essex Street. Based on the pedigree of the owners, and the well stocked bar, I had high expectations. Instead all I got was some weird lame rum sno-cone. Huge disappointment.

    On the other hand, here's my annotated recipe for a NYC-sourced top-shelf home-made Mai Tai so that anyone can shake one up in about a minute:

    1 oz. Jamaican Rum (use Appleton 12 year from Astor Wines)
    1 oz Martinique Rum (use St. James Royal Ambre from Astor Wines)
    .5 oz Orange Curacao (no cheap stuff! - use Senior Curacao, Clement Creole Shrubb or Cointreau from Astor)
    .75 oz Orgeat Syrup (use Ferrara Orzata from Ferrara Bakery on Grand St or from Piemonte Ravioli across the street - do not use artificial almond flavored coffee syrups!)
    Juice from one fresh lime (.75 oz but any given Whole Foods lime can be extra juicy or really dry so measure -- Whole Foods also sells lime squeezers)

    Combine everything, and shake with a handfull of crushed ice (not too much ice!).
    Pour into a double old fashioned glass, put on a hawaiian shirt, and drink it with a straw. Yum.

    Piemonte Ravioli
    190 Grand St, New York, NY 10013

    2 Replies
    1. re: west34
      kathryn May 26, 2010 09:03 AM

      My home mai tai is also similar (cribbed from Beachbum Berry's books):

      1 oz. Appleton Estate 12 -- one of my current favorites and a GREAT value
      1 oz. St. James Hors D'Age
      1/2 oz orange curacao -- a friend just gave me some Sr. Curacao, I've sadly only been using Bols this whole time
      1 oz. lime juice
      1/4 oz. orgeat -- have you tried the Trader Tiki brand? It's really good -- I'm with you on avoiding coffee syrups!
      1/4 oz simple syrup
      crushed ice

      Shake and pour unstrained.

      I think the Painkiller Mai Tai needs more dilution as they do a dry shake and then pour it over ice. They also float a 151 rum which I don't think is necessary. Their recipe:

      3/8 oz. house-made orgeat
      3/8 oz. house-made curacao
      3/4oz. fresh lime juice
      3/4 oz. Appleton V/X Jamaican rum
      3/4 oz. Rhum Agricole (Rhum JM will do just fine)
      1/4 oz. Lemon Hart Demerara rum (overproof)
      Crushed ice. Dry Shake. Top with crushed. Float overproof.

      1. re: kathryn
        west34 May 26, 2010 09:53 AM

        kathryn - I havent tried the Trader Tiki orgeat but I hear it's good. I have tried Fee Brothers, Sonoma, coffee syrup (Torani) and a couple home-made ones at NYC tiki home bars. I just ordered some Routin 1883 orgeat which is supposed to be spectacular (but it's pricy unlike Ferrara which is cheap at $5/bottle, local and quite yummy).

        Painkiller was using Depaz that nite, another Martinique agricole, but you're right, that Lemon Hart float didn't seem to add much.

        Mai Tai needs that pefect balance of rum, lime, almond, hint of orange and all I got from the PK one was a mouth full of demerara flavor and ice. (Not to mention they really need to replace that salsa music with some Martin Denny!)

    2. c
      cocktailnerd Nov 4, 2009 01:39 PM

      Death and Company makes a great Mai Tai. Brian Miller opened Elettaria and began the tiki trend at elettaria.

      33 West 8th Street, New York, NY 10011

      Death & Co.
      433 E 6th St, New York, NY 10009

      1. b
        bsomlo May 30, 2009 08:10 PM

        I called the bar in Honolulu that made the Mai Tai that knocked my socks off. They kindly gave me the recipe they use:

        1.25 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
        .75 ounce bacardi select
        .75 ounce bacardi gold
        .4 ounce rock candy syrup (simple syrup with vanilla)
        .4 ounce orgeat almond syrup
        .4 ounce orange Curacao floating on top

        They serve it with crushed ice, a purple orchid floating on top and a spear of raw sugar cane in the drink.

        2 Replies
        1. re: bsomlo
          west34 Sep 9, 2009 08:29 AM

          Mai Tai update:
          Sadly, Elettaria, one of the few reliable sources for a proper mai tai in NYC, recently closed. :-( As soon as I identify where the knowledgable and talented bar staff lands, I'll post it.

          In the meanwhile, the history of the mai tai:

          Note on the above recipe posted by bsomlo -- it's the real deal. But truly great mai tais are all about the rums -- those barcardi rums are, shall we say, a bit pedestrian and blah. Something like El Dorado 15 yr adds complexity consistent with the original Trader Vics rums: http://www.tradertiki.com/on-demerara...

          1. re: west34
            panoz Oct 29, 2009 09:29 AM

            Just FYI to people looking for where the former head bartender of Elettaria went - Joseph Swifka, who came up with the Tiki Monday menu now works at Flatiron Lounge on Fridays. He can make an authentic Mai Tai, as well as Zombies, Three Dots and a Dash, Suffering Bastards, and other tiki drinks.

            Flatiron Lounge
            37 W 19th St, New York, NY 10011

            33 West 8th Street, New York, NY 10011

        2. w
          west34 Apr 23, 2009 09:17 AM

          Finding a great mai tai in NYC has been the holy grail for the local tiki-philes for some time now. For reference, a REAL classic mai tai is some close variation on :
          1 ounce Fine Jamaican Rum (15 or 8 year old)
          1 ounce Martinique Rum (St. James)
          1/2 ounce Orange Curacao
          1/2 ounce Orgeat Syrup (aka almond syrup)
          Juice from one fresh lime (about 3/4 ounce)
          (anything major deviation from above is NOT a mai tai!)

          So, here are a few options:

          Elettaria -- most if not all of the bartenders can make great mai tais, although they are not on the menu -- just ask. they use a recipe pretty close to the original Trader Vics and use proper rums and real orgeat syrup. This is a go-to spot for a proper mai tai!

          Flatiron Lounge - I ordered one a few weeks ago and it was mediocre at best. When I ordered a second and told them it should be rummier they said "sorry, we're out of orgeat". Not good! They have a rum/tiki cocktail on the menu now which is mai tai-ish, but a bit on the fruity side, and cant remember the name.

          Chinatown Brasserie -- their signature drink is a frozen mai tai! Or they'll make it the normal way. BUT, they use pineapple juice (heresy!) but it isnt bad and their duck spring rolls are wonderful -- in fact, a frozen mai tai - duck spring roll session at the CB bar is a wonderful way to kill an afternoon!

          Otto's Shrunken Head -- it's a cheapo approximation of a mai tai, I think with a single rum, and will vary from sicky sweet or weak depending upon who's mixing. Definitely wouldnt go out of my way for one, but their "Shrunken Head" cocktail is much better (has coconut flavor, i suspect from Malibu rum)

          Shun Lee West (believe it or not) -- a bit on the sweet side but they don't always have orgeat in stock.

          Peking Duck House (uptown) -- their Planters Punch isnt a mai tai but it's a pretty good tiki cocktail in its own right.

          Otherwise, on any given night the bartenders at Death and Co, PDT, Pegu Club, etc will probably make a good one if it's not too busy and they're in a tiki mood.

          Aloha, and good luck!

          3 Replies
          1. re: west34
            kathryn Apr 23, 2009 01:24 PM

            Great post, west34!

            1. re: kathryn
              west34 Apr 23, 2009 01:36 PM

              Well after lurking forever, I figured I'd wait for something I actually know about before making my first post :-)

              PS: I've been to Rusty Knot but never had the mai tai -- the pina coladas are pretty good though, especially if you like 'em with spiced rum.

              1. re: west34
                LeahBaila Apr 23, 2009 01:42 PM

                ...I'm telling you, the Mai Tai's at The Rusty Knot will NOT dissapoint. :) Glad to hear about the pina's!


          2. LeahBaila Apr 20, 2009 05:09 AM

            Best one I've had in the city was at the Rusty Knot.


            7 Replies
            1. re: LeahBaila
              bsomlo Apr 21, 2009 07:43 AM

              I am not familiar with the place. I'll have to give it a try. Thanks.

              1. re: LeahBaila
                sam1 Apr 21, 2009 08:22 AM

                depending on the bartender, you can get an awesome one at otto's shrunken head...tiki bar with country music!

                1. re: sam1
                  bsomlo Apr 22, 2009 11:23 PM

                  Thank you so much! I will have to try the place! I hope I get the bartender who makes the awesome Mai Tai ...

                  1. re: bsomlo
                    LOLTofu Jun 6, 2010 06:19 PM

                    After reading this thread on my phone, I went on a bit of a Tiki Crawl in search of a great Mai Tai in NYC. I started at The Rusty Knot on all the recommendations I saw here. It was a fun looking bar with really cool, nice, easygoing bartenders, but the crowd was annoying (sort of frat-housey) and the Mai Tais, though tasty mixed drinks, weren't actually Mai Tais. They lacked orgeat completely. HOWEVER: if you go to the Rusty Knot, which I do really recommend, the spiced colada is absolutely fantastic. They also make their own ginger juice for their dark and stormy, so try that, too.

                    Otto's Shrunken Head came next. Great punk rock tiki atmosphere with a fun crowd, but sam1 isn't kidding about getting the right bartender. I got a different bartender than my two friends, and their Mai Tais were downright passable. Mine was a completely different drink, completely undrinkable. It had grenadine and possibly pineapple rum and it was a horrendous combination of too sweet and clashy flavors. I highly recommend snagging the bartender with the shaggy bleach-blond hair if she's there. If she's not, get a beer.

                    The Rusty Knot
                    425 West St, New York, NY 10014

                    Otto's Shrunken Head
                    538 E 14th St, New York, NY 10009

                    1. re: LOLTofu
                      sam1 Jun 6, 2010 09:06 PM


                      i recently got dragged to painkiller on essex...the new tiki bar by milk and honey alums. the mai tai there was quite good and expertly prepared.

                      i felt like absolute dogsh$t the next day but enjoy the tip!

                  2. re: sam1
                    Up With Olives Apr 23, 2009 12:25 PM

                    Just so you know -- Otto's is a loud & scuzzy rock 'n' roll bar, some bartenders are incompetent, and I at least some of the tiki drinks are made from mixes. Nothing against Otto's, I just wanted you to be prepared.

                  3. re: LeahBaila
                    Lucia Apr 23, 2009 07:24 PM

                    2d this

                  4. monku Apr 19, 2009 08:54 PM

                    From the originator of the Mai Tai.....

                    Is this location no longer?
                    Trader Vics
                    59th St & 5th Ave
                    New York, NY 10022
                    (212) 355-5185‎

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: monku
                      bsomlo Apr 19, 2009 09:14 PM

                      Unfortunately, there is no longer a NYC location. And the Manhattan Roy's just closed...

                      1. re: bsomlo
                        monku Apr 19, 2009 09:19 PM

                        Sorry to hear that.
                        My first visit to TV's in NYC was high school prom night (18 was the drinking age) in the 70's.....we had to find out what a Mai Tai was all about. Tasted just like the one I had last year at the new TV's in Las Vegas.

                      2. re: monku
                        Up With Olives Apr 23, 2009 12:19 PM

                        The Plaza location's been closed what -- 20 years? http://www.nytimes.com/1989/01/25/nyr...

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