No, not those syrupy-sweet buckets of booze you can get from just about any beachside bar. We're talking about a real Zombie, one of the first tiki libations created by Don the Beachcomber (born Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt), who opened what is considered to be the world's first tiki bar of the same name the day after Prohibition ended in 1933.
If you've been to the Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, the bar's mixologists are serving a drink that's as close to the original Don the Beachcomber Zombie recipe as you'll can get around these parts, says Tim "Swanky" Glazner, cofounder of the annual Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale.
"Several years ago, there were only two places on earth where you could sample Don the Beachcomber’s real recipes, the same ones he created over 70 years ago. The Tiki Ti, a small bar in California, was one, and the Mai-Kai," said Glazner, who first visited the Mai-Kai in 2003 when he moved his tiki-centric Hukilau event from Trader Vic’s Atlanta to the Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale.
According to Glazner, the Mai-Kai is currently one of the only places in the world where you can taste the libations Gantt invented in the 1930s, a story he details in Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, a new book available through Schiffer Publishing September 28 that reveals the history behind the opening of the iconic restaurant.
"Through years of hosting the Hukilau, I fell in love with the Mai- Kai," said Glazner, who spent more than a decade researching the Mai-Kai. "I realized there were so many stories to tell and too much history about to be lost in time, including the history of the tiki drinks. This book is the result of all those years of hard work."
If you're a fan of anything tiki, including the drinks, Glazner will be hosting a special book release party at 2 p.m. on Saturday, September 17, at the historic Mai-Kai bar and restaurant. Part of the event will include a private screening of a rare video, meet and greets with people from the book, and — most importantly — a special cocktail tasting of several of Don the Beachcomber's lost tiki drinks that have since disappeared from the Mai-Kai menu.
During the book release, event-goers will be able to sample the Hanalei Bay (Don's original Montego Bay); the Dr. Fong (Don's original Dr. Funk); and the Demerara Float (Don's original Demerara Dry Float).
According to Glazner, each of the cocktails are almost identical interpretations of the recipes Gantt crafted at his first bar, each given a slight twist by the Mai Kai's founding mixologist, Mariano Licudine, who spent years behind the bars at Don the Beachcomber in Los Angeles and Chicago before he left to open the Mai-Kai bar in 1956.
While Licudine is long gone, the Mai-Kai is still operated by the same family – founder Bob Thornton's wife Mireille, her son Dave Levy, and her daughter Kulani Gelardi. And, like its founding family, the Mai-Kai's bible-like menu of cocktails remains very close to the original one, now a final resting place for many of Don the Beachcomber's original drink recipes.
"First and foremost, the book is great to look at, but it’s also an amazing story," said Glazner. "The fact that the Mai-Kai still exists and is not a decrepit shadow of its former glory, but rather, has remained a steadfast keeper of the flame for 60 years, is a miracle. My book, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, isn't just about tiki culture; it's an anthology of stories highlighting the amazing men and women, celebrities, models, and playboys who helped build Fort Lauderdale's legendary establishment."
The Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant book release will take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday, September 17 at the Mai-Kai. The event is free and open to the public. The book will be sold at the Mai-Kai gift shop and all Books & Books Florida locations.
Mai-Kai. 3599 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale; 954-563-3272; maikai.com.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.