Tropical drinks, tiki bars, and rum-heavy concoctions are often the first things that come to mind when someone mentions a Hawaiian cocktail. Here you'll find a guide to finding some of the most classic Hawaiian drinks in Honolulu, along with some modern variations on the old tiki bar favorites.
Mai Tai — Royal Hawaiian's Mai Tai Bar
The original Mai Tai recipe was crafted in 1944 by Victor Bergeron (better known as "Trader Vic") and it was brought to Hawaii in 1953 as a signature drink of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel's Mai Tai Bar. The original recipe contained aged rum, fresh lime juice, orange curacao, and a French almond syrup called orgeat. Although hundreds of variations exist, the most common evolution in Hawaii today includes light and dark rum, and additions like pineapple juice, orange juice, or even a splash of grenadine. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Kawa0310)
Blue Hawaiian — Hilton Hawaiian Village
In 1957, bartender Harry Yee at the Hilton Hawaiian Village was challenged to create a drink using blue curaçao. Yee's original recipe included light rum, vodka, blue curaçao, pineapple juice, sweet and sour mix, blended and served over ice in a tall glass, garnished with a pineapple wedge and maraschino cherry. Yee is also credited with some of the most classic garnishes for Hawaiian cocktails — including using the first Vanda orchid as well as using a wooden back-scratcher for a cocktail called a Tropical Itch.
Lava Flow — La Mariana Sailing Club
One of the most popular drinks in Hawaii today is called a Lava Flow. Basically a Piña Colada (pineapple, coconut, and banana) crossed with a Strawberry Daiquiri (rum, strawberry), the key to the drink's popularity is the presentation. The strawberry-rum mixture is swirled around in a tall glass, then the Piña Colada mixture is poured inside, creating streaks of "lava" which flow down the glass.
Once you've had a few of the classics, it's time to get creative and test the waters with innovation. Honolulu today is full of talented bartenders willing to put a modern twist on the classics. Here are a few to try.
Deconstructed Mai Tai — Christian Self (Bar Manager, Waikiki Edition)
This twist on the most famous of all the Hawaiian cocktails can be found at the Waikiki Edition and will be best enjoyed at the trendy Pool Bar at sunset, where you'll have a beautiful view of the marina. Paying homage to the original 1944 recipe, this stripped down version (pictured) includes aged rum with a homemade French almond syrup, topped with a delicious lime, and curaçao foam. (Photo courtesy of Malia Yoshioka)
Honolulu #3 — Sam Treadway (Head Bartender, Lobby Bar)
Treadway loves classic cocktail culture, and he turned to the Savoy Cocktail book from the 1930's for inspiration for his modern twist. The Honolulu #1 was similar to a gin punch, including gin, angostura bitters, pineapple, orange, and lemon juice, with powdered sugar. The Honolulu #2 was a floral, sweet martini, using gin, Benedictine, and Luxardo Maraschino, served up. Treadway's Honolulu #3 takes the second version and turns it into a highball with the addition of fresh lime juice and lavender bitters, shaken and topped with soda water. It’s garnished with a fresh tropical flower, of course.
Lost Passion — Tim Rita (Head Bartender, Lewers Lounge at the Halekulani)
Step into the Lewers Lounge and you'd be forgiven for thinking you've walked into a New York piano bar. The warm, dimly lit decor creates a cozy atmosphere for serious cocktail aficionados. Head Bartender Tim Rita recommends the Lost Passion, a tropical take on a margarita, which blends reposado tequila, lilikoi (passion fruit), and fresh lime juice, served up in a martini glass with a sparkling wine float and a sugared rim.
Malia Yoshioka is your guide to all things Hawaii over at WhyGo Hawaii, part of the BootsnAll family of travel guides.