Looking for the perfect place to try one of Oahu’s best mai tais? This list details it all– but first, here’s a little bit about this special drink’s history:
Contrary to popular belief, the mai tai wasn’t even invented in Hawaii. Rather, in 1944, legendary San Francisco bartender Vic Bergeron (of Trader Vic’s fame) invented this new exotic rum drink after experimenting with infusing rum with fresh lime and mixing it with orange curacao, a dash of rock candy syrup, and French orgeat.
Then, he added shaved ice and served the first two drinks to friends from Tahiti. According to lore, one took a sip and said, “Mai tai roa ae” which means “out of this world, the best” in Tahitian.
Thus, in the spirit of the islands and friendship, the first-ever mai tai was born. Eventually, the cocktail made its way to Oahu, where it has since become a celebrated tropical drink. In fact, the mai tai is now the most revered and widely enjoyed Hawaiian drinks in the culinary world.
Today, for cocktail lovers visiting Hawai’i, drinking a Mai Tai is, therefore, a must. It’s a bucket list experience on the island (for those who enjoy cocktails, that is).
While it’s possible to find good cocktails at any of Honolulu’s Best Restaurants, the cocktail makers on this specific list have really upped the ante. Bookmark this list for easy reference before your next happy hour on the island, and you’ll see why. Mixology buffs are never disappointed.
Below, we spotlight where to get the best mai tais on Oahu– and the ones that are most unique.
This list places a special emphasis on Honolulu and Waikiki, where many of Oahu’s best craft cocktail bars are located. Save us a paper parasol, will you? 🍍
Bar Leather Apron (Trendy, Award-Winning)
Newcomers to O’ahu might not know that the “world’s best mai tai” champion is actually Bar Leather Apron owner, Justin Park. We love the dramatic, smoky presentation of his signature E Ho’o Pau Mai Tai, which is quite the cocktail experience.
This winner of the 2015 cocktail competition, moreover, is super unique. BLA’s mai tai features raisin-infused El Dorado rum 5 year, El Dorado rum 12 year, coconut water syrup, spiced orgeat, vanilla, local Ohia blossom honey, lime, absinthe, and kiawe wood smoke. (<— Kiawe is a special local tree whose flavor is a distinct Hawaiian delicacy.)
^ Moreover, the flavors here are so seasonal and special that the way they come together is a distinctly local experience. This is a very special drink on the island and easily one of O’ahu’s best mai tais.
Other than that, Bar Leather Apron offers a seasonal menu of bespoke creative cocktails. This list is always changing, but the mai tai, of course, is a staple. Otherwise, all cocktails here feature local ingredients and regional flavors inspired by Hawaii. (They also serve beer, wine, and an expansive collection of premium local spirits.)
Check out the menu of signature and classic cocktails here.
House Without a Key (A Waikiki Classic)
As we wrote in our critically-acclaimed guide to Honolulu’s 25 Coolest Restaurants, ordering a mai tai during a sunset luau at House Without A Key (the esteemed restaurant at the Halekulani Hotel, who serve a super famous version of this local drink), is a rite of passage.
This is one of the top things you MUST do when visiting Waikiki! We love that they serve this mai tai with fresh local fruit and a lovely orchid on top. They even use a real piece of sugar cane as a stirrer.
FYI, House Without a Key’s version of Hawaii’s most famous drink is quite sweet– but that’s how the original mai tai was intended to be. Make no mistake, though: these babies go down easy, but the alcohol is strong. Pace yourself!
You can also order a dry version made with only fruit juice if you don’t drink alcohol. If you’re looking for a delicious virgin mai tai in Waikiki, this is one of the best. Plus, the setting couldn’t be better.
Ultimately, House Without a Key is a lovely place to enjoy a sunset cocktail with an ocean breeze. It’s a nearly perfect vibe. Trust us.
Merriman’s (& Monkeypod Kitchen– A Foodie Favorite)
Our absolute favorite mai tai on O’ahu is sold at Merriman’s and also Monkeypod Kitchen (two of Oahu’s Best Restaurants, which have sister locations on the other islands).
Both restaurants are operated by locavore chef Peter Merriman, so they serve the same excellent mai tai recipe. It’s the best! This modern take on the classic mai tai is so fresh and foamy it’s almost ambrosia-like. An elegant slice of pineapple cradles the drink’s signature honey-infused foam. (So good!)
We also love the appetizers here. Merriman’s is a great place to get local oysters and cocktails during Happy Hour. Or, try the housemade biscuits; they’re divine!
Ultimately, you’d be hard-pressed to find a restaurant or bar in Hawaii that doesn’t serve a good mai tai. No matter where you order one, it’s bound to be good. Still, the mai tais at Merriman’s and Monkeypod Kitchen both offer a little something different. This drink is extra-special.
If you’re looking for a unique, refreshing spin on the classic mai tai, go here. Merriman’s is an innovative cocktail haven. And they’re just as creative with the food as they are with the drinks!
Bevy (Strong, Chic)
One of the island’s strongest mai tais is served at Bevy, an industrial-chic bar in the trendiest part of urban Honolulu. This place has been a Kaka’ako favorite since 2013, and they do a great happy hour.
Popular with the young, hip, local crowd, Bevy’s mai tai features Bacardi Reserva Ocho, lemongrass, and candied ginger foam. The flavors here are a bit more elevated, so it’s a perfect cocktail for seasoned cocktail lovers and mixology buffs. The aromatics on this drink are fantastic.
Go here for decadent cocktails and swing by sister restaurant Taco’ako for tacos on your way home. (This street taco joint in the Salt at our Kaka’ako complex is great for a post-happy hour meal with friends. And when the cocktails are this strong– not a complaint!– you’ll want to fuel up afterward.)
Check out the drink menu at Bevy here.
The Legendary Mai Tai Bar at The Royal Hawaiian (Historic, Old World)
John Wayne used to hang out here– enough said. Today, the elegant oceanfront Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian is just as popular with mainlanders as it’s ever been.
Located just a few steps from Waikiki Beach, this iconic bar is the original spot to grab a top-notch mai tai on Oahu. In fact, when “Trader Vic” Bergeron first brought the mai tai to Hawaii in 1953, the Royal Hawaiian was the first hotel where it was served.
Today, with its same sterling location on the beautiful shores of Waikiki, it’s a quintessential Honolulu setting in which to enjoy this quintessential Honolulu drink.
We love everything about the world-class ambiance at this iconic “pink palace of the Pacific”, and fortunately, the food and drink are delightful, as well.
The Royal Hawaiian’s original mai tai– the bar’s signature drink– features Bacardi rum, Amaretto di Saronno, Cointreau, housemade cherry vanilla puree, fresh local orange juice, and local pineapple juice. They finish it with a lovely Whaler’s Dark Rum float on top, which might be the best part. (We’re all about a good foam over here.)
Mixed in a shaker and poured over ice in a large bucket glass, they garnish it with the classic trio of cherry, pineapple, and a lime wedge. (And of course, a tiny paper parasol to hold it all together.) Not only is it one of Oahu’s most delicious mai tais, but it certainly looks the part.
Ultimately, with its magnificent views of Diamond Head and the Pacific, the Mai Tai Bar is an ideal setting to experience a delicious mai tai on O’ahu. (They call it the Mai Tai Bar for a reason, after all.)
Plus, the bar has live tropical music, local entertainment, and all-day dining– a boon to guests who want an all-in-one experience.
Stop here for a convenient respite after a lovely afternoon on the beach. Or, kick off an evening of fun in Honolulu with the Mai Tai Bar’s exotic handcrafted cocktails and appetizers. At sunset, with its location just steps from the ocean, it’s a vision of island luxury.
Get the Royal Hawaiian’s Original Mai Tai recipe here.
Want to dine where the water’s fine? Bookmark our guide to The 25 Best Restaurants in Honolulu.