When we decided to do Mai Tais for our Take Three Tuesday, I was ready to sip on those pineapple-y, grenadine, rum-filled concoctions. That’s not what we got, and I couldn’t have been happier. First, some history…
The Mai Tai was created in 1944 by Vic Bergeron, owner of the famous Trader Vic’s. Vic mixed dark rum, fresh lime juice, orange curaçao, a dash of rock candy syrup (think simple syrup, but thicker) and a splash of orgeat (a sweet almond syrup with a hint of orange and rose flower water). This was shaken with crushed iced. A lime and sprig of mint were added for garnish. That’s it – no pineapple or orange juice, no grenadine. Not overly sweet, no neon colors. This drink is about the taste of the rum. Mixing it takes time because it’s a ritual. And if you head to a true, traditional tiki bar, that’s what you should get.
Knowing that, let’s rank the places we visited…
#3 Rendezvous Tiki Lounge – 1700 52nd Avenue, Kenosha ($8)
This place is pretty legit. Even more impressive – a place like this exists in the Kenosha/Racine area! Using Trader Vic’s recipe, it was pretty difficult to find things I didn’t like/weren’t “authentic”, but I did…
First, they used plastic skewers for the cherry garnish (an orange slice and pineapple were included as well). Is that being nit-picky? Yes, but to be super authentic, things should be the way they were in the original tiki bars; and in original tiki bars, they did not use plastic skewers. Second, my Mai Tai was pretty strong alcohol-wise (possible dark rum float on top) whereas my friend’s Mai Tai (made by a different bartender) was way more sweet. The inconsistency is a problem for me. I did love the funky treasures they put in their drinks – glow sticks and plastic rings.
#2 Lucky Joe’s Tiki Room – 196 2nd Street, Milwaukee ($7)
I may get some slack for this because numbers 1 and 2 could very easily be swapped. It depends on personal preference. Do you dig a slightly sweeter Mai Tai? Then Lucky Joe’s is for you! The interior is very polynesian, dimly light and laid back. Surfer movie-type music is played over the speakers. And, most importantly, the Mai Tais are GOOD. Garnished with a pineapple chunk and cherry served on a WOODEN skewer, as well as a spring of mint – just the way it was done at Trader Vic’s.
#1 Foundation Tiki Bar – 2718 N. Bremen Street, Milwaukee ($8)
If you like your Mai Tai a little less sweet, Foundation is for you. The interior is retro-polynesian, the music is swing/surfer/fun and our bartender was awesome. When you add a DELICIOUS Mai Tai to that, you are bound to have a great time. Mai Tais at Foundation are served the Trader Vic way – cherry and pineapple garnish on a WOODEN skewer and a sprig of mint – I was able to taste all of the subtle almond and orange flavors.
As I said earlier, Foundation Tiki and Lucky Joe’s could very easily swap positions depending on your preference, but I know I’ll definitely be back for more Mai Tais at both places.