While most of us can’t afford our rent — let alone a flight to Polynesia — we can park ourselves at the nearest tiki bar and pretend we’re toe deep in white sands. Lucky for us, Wednesday, Aug. 30 is National Mai Tai Day, and we have the privilege of celebrating at the very place where the Mai Tai made its debut.
However, there’s a debate about when National Mai Tai Day actually is. Some people celebrate it on June 30, but Trader Vic’s insists that the real Mai Tai day is in August. (There’s even a proclamation from the City of Oakland confirming the official day. Eight years ago, on Aug. 30, 2009, Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan named the Mai Tai as Oakland’s “official drink, and the day was born) National food holidays are a joke no matter how you slice it, but we’ll take any excuse to sip a festive tropical beverage.
By way of backstory, the Mai Tai was born here 70-something years ago. Legend has it that Victor J. Bergeron invented the tropical beverage in 1944 at Oakland’s very own Trader Vic’s. Supposedly, Vic fashioned the drink for a few friends visiting from Tahiti. After the first sip, they exclaimed “Mai Tai — Roa Aé!” which means “Out of this world — the best!”
Trader Vic’s original recipe was allegedly so popular in the 1940s and ’50s that it depleted the entire world’s supply of Wray & Nephew 17-Year Rum. Now you can find the funky, sweet, and tart cocktail made from a variety of rums at bars across the globe. Victor “The Trader’s” famed beverage combined Jamaican rum, curaçao, lime juice, rock candy syrup, and orgeat in an old-fashioned glass and garnished it with a sprig of mint and a citrus peel.
Bergeron’s rival, Don the Beachcomber, insisted it was his invention in Hollywood, 11 years prior, but for the sake of Bay Area pride, we’ll go with Vic’s account of the cocktail’s inception. On Wednesday starting at 4 p.m., to celebrate the bacchanalian holiday, Trader Vic’s — long since relocated to 9 Anchor Drive in Emeryville — will offer each guest their first Mai Tai at a staggeringly cheap 44 cents. They’ll also entertain guests with live music, various other drink specials, and island snacks like Crab Rangoon and BBQ ribs.
Don’t want to schlep over to the East Bay? There are tons of amazing Mai Tai’s right here, even though you’ll have to pay full price. Smuggler’s Cove is your best bet for an authentic island drink complete with a classic recipe, the tiki decor, and more than 550 different rums. Li Po Lounge, one of Anthony Bourdain’s favorite dives, will get you shit-faced with a sugary Chinese version made from three different kinds of rum. To sip on a tropical beverage in a more sophisticated atmosphere, head into Fort Mason’s The Interval, where they’re stirring up a Hawaiian Mai Tai with light rum, fresh pineapple juice, amaretto, and lime, plus a dark rum float. The Fairmont’s Tonga Room offers your beverage served in a ceramic coconut with a backdrop of a floating live band and choreographed rain showers. And over in SoMa, The Stud has created an homage to Rep. Maxine Waters called “Reclaiming Mai Tai.”
If the East Bay calls to you and you want to make a little bar crawl out of it — after getting your 44 cent buzz from Trader Vic’s — take a trip over to Alameda to sip on a classic or Hawaiian-style Mai Tai (made with pineapple juice and a splash of dark rum) on Forbidden Island’s outdoor patio. Let your tropical stay-cation begin!
National Mai Tai Day, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 4 p.m., at Trader Vic’s, 9 Anchor Drive, Emeryville, tradervicsemeryville.com