After its summer somnolence, let’s re-activate Oakland’s Mai-Tai campaign and support the cocktail as the official drink of Oakland. After all, the drink was literally born in our city.
A month ago, it looked like the City Council might put this all-important declaration on their agenda. The pro-tiki, grassroots movement had made headway, as reported by Diablo Magazine and the SF Chronicle. We even heard that one of the council reps was supportive as well.
While plans to get this formal recognition were lining up, other Council priorities like the budget pushed everything else aside. It’s time to make sure the mai-tai matter appears on the city agenda, when the Council reconvenes in September.
We believe Oaklanders would unite behind something like the mai-tai, even though Hawaiians and chain restauranteurs have co-opted it as their own. It turns out the drink was actually invented here, and a declaration could go a long way towards staking our claim.
Mai-tai cocktails were first served by Trader Vic, at his place on San Pablo Avenue. Victor J. “Trader Vic” Bergeron set the record straight many years ago, explaining that he created the drink in 1944. Here are the salient facts from Vic:
I was at the service bar in my Oakland restaurant. I took down a bottle of 17-year-old rum. It was J. Wray Nephew from Jamaica; surprisingly golden in color, medium bodied, but with the rich pungent flavor particular to the Jamaican blends. The flavor of this great rum wasn’t meant to be overpowered with heavy additions of fruit juices and flavorings.
I took a fresh lime, added some orange curacao from Holland, a dash of Rock Candy Syrup, and a dollop of French Orgeat, for its subtle almond flavor. A generous amount of shaved ice and vigorous shaking by hand produced the marriage I was after. Half the lime shell went in for color.
I stuck in a branch of fresh mint and gave two of them to Ham and Carrie Guild, friends from Tahiti, who were there that night. Carrie took one sip and said, “Mai Tai – Roa Ae.” In Tahitian this means “Out of This World – The Best.” Well, that was that. I named the drink “Mai Tai.”
Your local tiki bars serve up the legacy cocktail today, including Oakland spots on College Ave, Piedmont Ave, 29th Ave, one place in nearby Alameda, and the Trader Vic’s in Emeryville.
Our opinion? The sweet mai-tai would provide a boost for Oakland natives and visitors. We are only asking for a positive push by the halls of city government. Let’s make sure that our representatives are listening – and perhaps we’ll get this lovely concoction some long-deserved recognition.