To the Tiki

Put an umbrella on it at one of these Hawaiian hot spots…


Headed to Hawaii? No trip to these exotic islands would be complete without tasting a tropical tiki cocktail for Hawaii is arguably as synonymous with the Mai Tai and Blue Hawaii – invariably serve with sliced pineapples and accompanied by paper umbrellas – as it is with surfing, volcanoes and aloha.

The Blue Hawaii – a colourful fruit flavoured cocktail– came about when a sales representative of Bols, a Dutch distiller, challenged Harry Lee, Hilton Hawaiian Village’s legendary bartender, to create a drink that would showcase their blue hued Curacao liqueur back in 1957.

After much experimentation, Lee concocted a vivid ocean blue hued (that would be the Blue Curacao) mixer of vodka, pineapple juice and sweet/sour syrup topped with a pineapple wedge, maraschino cherry and multicoloured mini umbrella, which he named Blue Hawaii. This later became the title of the 1961 film starring Elvis Presley.

Meanwhile the Mai Tai – easily the most popular drink in Hawaii – was created by Victor Bergeron of Trader Vic’s restaurants back in 1944. Inspired by the success of Donn Beach and his Don the Beachcomber bar/restaurants – both in Hollywood and Honolulu -Bergeron decided to start his own Tiki themed establishment. Subsequently the first Trader Vic’s opened on Ward Streetin downtown Honolulu. Before long Trader Vic’s had – just like Don the Beachcombers – morphed into a franchise of 25 restaurants. Bergeron first served the Mad Men endorsed Mai Tai – which typically fuses two rums, fresh lime juice, orange Curacai, rock candy syrup andorgeat (almond syrup) – to his friends who, as legend has it, exclaimed in Tahitian “Maita’o roa ae” meaning “Out of this world!” And just like, the Mai Tai was born…

Feeling thirsty? Throw on your Hawaiian shirt and taste the Tropics at one of the following Oahu bars…

Tropics Bar & Grill, Hilton Hawaiian Village


“A Mai Tai is by far the no one thing that we sell, so it’s really important that we make a good Mai Tai,” says Scott Hamilton, director of food and beverage at Hilton Hawaiian Village. Tropics Bar not only makes one mean Mai Tai – it specialises in several. The Village Mai Tai sees a rich brown brew (rum) floating on top of glowing, sunset-orange liquid. Inside you’ll find Trader Vic’s rums (40 proof Gold and Dark), Orange curaçao, orgeat syrup (sugar almond with rose or orange flower water) and sweet and sour. Elsewhere the Maui Mai Tai is an upgraded version of the Village, using Old Lahaina Gold Rum from Maui, orange curaçao, pineapple, fresh pressed lime.
Tropics is also where Harry Yee – who served as Hilton Hawaiian Village’s head bartender for 30 years – created the Blue Hawaii, which he memorably garnered with paper umbrellas and orchids.

Mai Tai Bar at the The Royal Hawaiian

Victor Bergeron – creator of the Mai Tai – tweaked the recipe in 1953 when the Royal Hawaiian Hotel commissioned him to create drinks for its menu. It was while at the rose hued Royal Hawaiian Hotel – aka Hawaii’s first true luxury hotel – that Bergeron added pineapple juice to the Mai Tai. Fast forward to 2016 and this Royal Hawaiian bar still serves the Mai Tai 2.0. It’s called the Scratch Mai Tai and sees pineapple and orange juice take the place of lime juice, for a fruiter – and sweeter – flavour.
Even if you’re not a fan of Mai Tais – maybe you’re from Mars or something – this drop dead gorgeous bar in the pink palace (JAT’s favourite Hawaii hotel) is worth a visit for its panoramic views – you’ll be able to see as far as Diamond Head (Oahu’s best known landmark).

House Without a Key

The Mai Tai at this Halekulani (meaning ‘House Befitting Heaven’) hotel isn’t for the faint hearted. Make no mistake: House Without a Key’s version is seriously strong – expect two rums in its base – but sensational. As are the sunset views and nightly live music performances from local musicians. JAT says: if you only visit one bar while in Waikiki, make it this elegant open-air oceanfront venue that’s named after a 1925 Charlie Chan Honolulu based novel. If only we could drink here every day.

Banyan Court Beach Bar


If you want to taste the tropics in sophisticated surroundings, Banyan Court Beach Bar – an al fresco oceanside bar whose focal point is a beautiful old banyan tree – is where it’s at. The menu boasts a long list of tipples for the discerning drinker to choose from, but being in Hawaii and all, you’d be mad not to try their version of the Mai Tai – garnished with a generous wedge pineapple and topped with a cherry. Given Banyan Court Beach Bar’s location (it’s part of the five star Westin Hotel), prices aren’t cheapwith cocktails weighing in around the US$15 mark but the magical setting can’t fail to put a smile on your face.
Bruno Mars devotees will want to drop in for a drink on Sunday and Wednesday evenings when the Hawaiian music maestro’s Uncle (John Valentine) can be found playing a few sets.


Duke’s Waikiki

Sure this surf themed party bar – named after legendary waterman, Duke Kahanamoku (the handsome Hawaiian who broke world swimming records and captured four Olympic medals before appearing in more than 15 Hollywood films and becoming the ‘ambassador of Aloha’ ) – is touristy but its tiki drinks pack quite the punch. Top notch Mai Tais,  Blue Hawaii et al are made from scratch using the freshest of juices. One word of warning: if you’re planning on popping in at the weekend, be prepared to queue. Concerts by celebrated local musicians such as Henry Kapano and co pull in the punters, who spill out onto the sand.

Germaine’s Luau


If you’re on a mission to try not only a Mai Tai and Blue Hawaii but also the Tropical Itch (another favourite island drink), Green Lizard and more, look to a luau (big feast). Just About Travel can vouch for Germaine’s, over on O’ahu’s east side. The sounding of a conch shell signals the beginning of the evening’s festivities: expect an entertaining evening of Hawaiian history, culture, culinary delights (think kalua pua’a -roasted pig – poke – raw fish marinated in soy sauce and haupia – coconut custard) and Polynesian dancing, washed down with unlimited Hawaiian cocktails. You may arrive as a malihini (newcomer/visitor) but, after a few tiki themed drinks, you’ll leave as family… Other noteworthy O’ahu luaus include Chief’s Luau, Waikiki Starlight Luau, Royal Hawaiian Luau and Ali’i Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Centre.




The Hawaiian super bowl

Say hello to acai bowls - the Hawaiian breakfast treat that's taking over your Instagram feed

Hawaii may be best known for its beaches, but it can alsoclaim to be a culinary mecca. Make no mistake: Hawaiilocals love to eat and the islands boast a huge variety of restaurants, cuisines, experiences and produce.

My favourite discovery to date though, has arguably been the acai bowl. Forget Nigella’s avocado on toast (I never really understood the sudden frenzy back home over the smashing and smearing of avocados on toast), here in Hawaii it’s all about the acai bowl.

These rainbow hued bowls basically consist of a super thick smoothie (frozen acai pulp blended with coconut milk) that’s then topped with granola, oatmeal and fruit for a breakfast that not only looks a lot better than soggy cereal, but tastes better too!


Hawaii’s surfers, in search ofa healthy yet hearty pick me up after an early morning surfing session, were among the first to bowled over by acai bowl. Fast forward to today and acai bowls have become a staple not just for surfers but for health fiends (acai berries are packed with antioxidants that help boost our immune systems) and all Hawaiians alike.

And for good reason: I’ve been hooked ever since I tried my first bowl on Waikiki beach, and now eat one on an almost daily basis.

It’s what breakfast dreams are made of…