LEISURE LETTER 73: A DISSERTATION ON MAI TAIS

The humidity is sweetly perfumed. Gardenia, plumeria. The air stirs softly along the breezeway of the Royal Palm Hotel. A fountain trinkles somewhere out of sight. A divine orchestration of form and space. Ornate, intelligent Spanish design. A lush courtyard with trees as old as the inquisition. Checkered floors and dark native wood. We have arrived. We walk as slowly as the big hand of a grandad clock. We have arrived.

 

Something immediately intoxicates. It must be this tropical air or the way the light floods in from down the hall, the seabreeze settling into every last corner and nook. It is the utterly light totality of the moment. Our feet slip along the checkered marble floors. Where do our feet carry us? To The Mai Tai Lounge, of course. Come along!

 

Our model requires libations. Our leading man, this LA talent, is keen for some kind of strong tropical drink.The flight from LA was long, he says, too long. Yacco Monti, the eminent photographer, agrees. We have come to the right place.

 

 At the Mai Tai Lounge one is permitted to drink only Mai Tai’s. I drink nothing – this job, managing this LA talent, requires my greatest faculty for patience and prudent decision making. I resign to watch.

 

The drinks are served. A couple of $100 Mai Tai’s . . . the finest rum. Our model begins to awaken from a turmoil of jet lag. He stirs his drink, smells and sips hesitantly. He then becomes effusive, bright . . . our leading man . . . he opens up like a tropical flower. Suddenly he is thankful, so thankful, there is nowhere else he would like to be. He opens up even more, like the little rainbow stick umbrella that’s served inside the Mai Tai glass. Yacco Monti is also happy now. He knows that he will get his shot. Yacco Monti is pleased.

 

But enough about us . . .

 

Let’s talk about the Mai Tai . . .

 

The history of the Mai Tai is as murky as the cocktail itself. Some say it was dreamt up in the tropical haven of Tahiti, others claim it emerged from the foggy alleys of Hollywood's tiki culture. Legends swirl like the spirits in a shaker, but one thing is certain – the Mai Tai is a concoction with a mysterious past, a drink that embodies the spirit of adventure and the rebellion against the mundane.

 

Imagine, if you will, a time when the echoes of Don the Beachcomber's lair reverberated through the Tiki universe. Don – the Mai Tai mastermind. It was in the 1930s. Then along came a man by the name of Victor J. "Trader Vic" Bergeron, who, inspired by his travels to the Caribbean, created a libation that would go on to capture the hearts and livers of many – the Mai Tai.

 

But the story doesn't end there; it's a tale of rivalry and intrigue. Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber engaged in a bitter feud over the Mai Tai's origin, each claiming to be the true progenitor of this Tiki elixir. The Mai Tai, then, is not just a cocktail; it's a work of art, a cultural phenomenon with a mythic past, and the object of bitter contention. 

 

By now the history seems beside the point. The point is to get out there and try one for yourself, whether you’re on vacation or holed up at the local dive. A tiki bar is the most reasonable place to go. If I recall correctly there’s a decent tiki on the Sunset Strip. They’ll whip you up something nice. You could run into a celebrity, get yourself an autograph.There’s an even better tiki on Palm Canyon Drive, in the middle of the desert of all places. They’ve a whole menu of Mai Tai! Just be careful on your quest – these Mai Tai’s are no joke. One too many and you could end up like Davy Jones, lost in the cosmic soup. 

 

As for myself, I prefer to sit back and reflect. The best libation of all is the 100-proof Mai Tai of my mind. I’m posted up in a well-lit grotto. It’s covered in moss, with cheetah skins tacked up on the walls. Tangled vines of ivy hang like chandeliers and a great big python drinks from the fountain of youth. I’m kicked back on a bedrock booth, bobbing my head up and down to the booming sound of a tiki drum somewhere deep, deep in the cave. It starts to rain. So I take out the little tiki umbrella, pop it open above my head. I put on my tap shoes and do a nice dance when no one’s looking.

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