History of Tiki Cocktails

Tiki Drinks, Zombie Cocktail. Tiki Rum Punch & Mai Tais

The first Tiki bar appeared in 1934, Don Beach (a.k.a. Don the Beachcomber, born Earnest Raymond Beaumont Gantt) opened a Polynesian themed reastraunt in Hollywood California. Don The Beachcomber, is also credited as having created the tropical drink genre singlehandedly. Donn was the first restaurateur to mix flavored syrups and fresh fruit juices with rum. These drinks were called Rhum Rhapsodies and made Don the Beachcomber’s restaurant the hot spot for Hollywood elite and stars from the 1940s well into the 1960s. Donn Beach is credited for having created some of the most memorable exotic cocktails such as the Scorpion and the Zombie.

Most of these drinks are rum-based, simply because back when the tropical drink craze started after prohibition, rum was the cheapest liquor available. It also mixed well — a little lime, a dash of pineapple, and a pinch of sugar, in combination with a few or many more flavorings, and originators like Ray could invent a slew of new potions to rival the old-school cocktail favorites of the 1930s, which were made largely with whiskey and gin.

The mai tai is considered to be the quintessential tiki cocktail. A protracted feud between Donn Beach and Trader Vic erupted when both claimed to have invented the mai tai.

Most, if not all, tiki-themed establishments served at least some of their cocktails in ceramic mugs depicting tikis; also known as tiki mugs. The styles and sizes varied widely. Today, the tiki mug is a highly prized find and is considered to be as much a symbol of the Tiki culture as a tiki itself.

There are two Tiki bars that seem to be considered the best at the craft these days, those being Forbidden Island in Alameda, California and Tiki Ti, from Hollywood (founded in 1961 by one of Don the Beachcomber’s bartenders).

Done right, these drinks seem to make the summer last just a little bit longer, which is why our summer cocktail package this year doubles as an offering to the tiki gods. Here are some recipes to get you started mixing up these classics.


Mai Tai

More Exotic Drinks

Mahalo! (Hawaiian for thanks and gratitude and is a typical salutation in Tiki circles.)

Read more:




Royal Hawaiian

Make this drink only if you’ve always wanted to drink a cocktail out of a pineapple. Not sure what else to say. Not a drink to offer if you’re having a load of people over but if you have an extra pineapple and want to invite a buddy over to watch an old Elvis Presley movie, this one’s perfect.

Here we go –

  • 2 oz Gin
  • 2 oz pineapple juice
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • ½ oz Cointreau
  • Crushed ice

Cut the top off a pineapple and hollow it out (save the fruit for pineapple daiquiris later). Make a hole for a straw in the cut off lid. Combine everything on list in a shaker and shake till cold, pour in the pineapple. Have people call you Thurston Howell.

Pina Colada

There’s a time and a place for this summer classic; when you’re back from a beach walk, after a barbeque or burgers on the grill, by the glow of tiki torches. I enjoy one after getting caught in the rain, or after making love at midnight in the dunes on the cape. May be sweet, may be kind of silly, but there’s a reason why this sipper’s so well loved. It’s damned delicious. Introduced on August 15, 1954 at the Caribe Hilton’s Beachcomber Bar in San Juan, Puerto Rico by its alleged creator, Ramon Marrero, this one just has to be mentioned.

Here we go –

  • 1 ½ oz white Rum
  • 1 ½ oz cream of coconut
  • 2 oz pineapple chunks
  • 2 oz pineapple juice
  • Splash of cream

Blend everything with 1-2 cups crushed ice in a blender ‘til smooth and creamy, pour into a chilled Collins glass or tiki mug, garnish with an orange slice & a cherry. Straw required.


Not quite certain about the age of this one, it sounds kinda old and classic so I’m including it. I found this one in a tiki drink bar bible. It calls for Malibu rum, which wasn’t bottled ‘til the 80’s. I know, I know, it’s far from old-school classic, but I believe it will have legs. Every now and then, I’ll let a newer drink sneak by … but only if I feel it has that classic appeal. This is a good one, tried and tested … a few times.

Here we go –

  • 1 ½ oz spiced Rum
  • ½ oz Malibu (coconut) Rum
  • ½ oz Drambuie
  • ½ oz cream

Fill shaker with ingredients and ice, shake ‘til cold. Pour everything into a double old-fashioned glass.

Mai Tai


I read a different recipe for this drink every freakin’ time I open a new bar bible. I honestly don’t believe I’ve ever read the same description twice although they all do seem to result in drinks that taste a lot alike. The Mai-Tai calls for orgeat syrup, an almond syrup that I’ve never been able to find…and I’ve looked, so I came up with my own substitution.  Gosh, how I love a good Mai Tai. A while back, I picked up a big ceramic tiki-hut with a spout pour. I never looked back. I just fill the hut up with Mai Tai, invite a bunch of friends over and get settled in for an interesting evening.  Like the Martini, the Mai Tai has the hidden ability to turn any partaker into a ramblin’, opinionated, life-of-the-party. One of those drinks you just have to sip, then sit back and watch life unfold in front of you.

Here we go – (multiply by a large number)

  • 2 oz Dark Rum
  • 1 oz Apricot Brandy
  • 1 oz Curacao
  • 1 oz Light Rum
  • 3 oz Limejuice
  • 3 oz pineapple juice

1 oz Almond Syrup (I find mine in the baking aisle of the supermarket.  This is the orgeat syrup substitute…Please don’t kill me mai tai purists…I tried to find your syrup, I did)

Mix everything up in a tall glass, tiki mug or bucket, pour over ice. Garnish a Mai Tai with straw, a pineapple spear and a little paper umbrella. After three, tell your guests you’ll see ‘em all again the next day and sit back down for another.


No…you don’t have to wait for an evening of Mexican food to enjoy this classic. When you actually take the time to make one proper and don’t just pour some radioactive-green sweet syrup out of a premixed bottle, this cocktail can be a real attention grabber. I love a Margarita and yes, it does go well with food. But…there’s no reason you can’t enjoy one or three on a lazy Saturday evening just sitting on a chair in your carport. The drink sips well and hey, who can’t manage to pull open a bottle of Doritos and crack a jar of salsa to go along with it. Always try and make this drink fresh and use the proper ingredients/

Here we go –

  • 2 ounces of Tequila
  • 2 ounces fresh Lime Juice
  • 1 ½ ounces Cointreau or Triple Sec
  • Rub the lip of a hi-ball glass with a wedge of lime and dip the rim into a saucer of course salt. Mix the above ingredients in a shaker with plenty of cracked ice. Shake ‘til freezing cold. Pour in glass. Garnish with a lime wedge on the rim. Make a few extra and keep to the side. Just chill them down in the shaker when needed….which should be within minutes of the first. Enjoy while listening to your kids play in the front yard or a Baseball game on the radio.

    Take it one step farther and sink two or three Spanish olives on a toothpick into the drink. A bartender made a margarita once for me with olives and I never looked back. Something about the sweet, sour and salty that was just incredible.