Finding Waikiki’s best Mai Tai – Part 3: The Tiki Experience

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There’s always a story in Waikiki.

Sometimes you find that story at the bottom of your third Mai Tai when your face starts to tingle and you think “hey, maybe these things aren’t just pineapple juice after all.”

Sometimes you find that story on the last day of your extended vacation in Hawaii and you’re sitting at a bar wondering if you want to go back to your cubicle.

Sometimes your find that story when your Hawaiian honeymoon doesn’t go the way you expected and you realize that you might not be the hero after all.

There’s always a story in Waikiki.

But this isn’t about stories.

This is about Mai Tais.

There’s always a Mai Tai in Waikiki.

Arnold’s Beach Bar

Arnold’s Beach Bar styles itself as “Waikiki’s last tiki bar.”

A puzzling claim. What happened to the other tiki bars? Were they cannibalized by the growing beerpub scene? Was Hawaii not blue enough for them?

I couldn’t tell you, I’m just here for the drinks.

As far as tiki bars go, however, Arnold’s nails it:

  • Bamboo
  • Wooden furniture
  • Coconut leaves
  • Tiki masks
  • Surf boards
  • Cheap Mai Tais

They’ve got it all.

Keep in mind, though, Arnold’s Beach Bar is a hole in the wall. I literally walked past it on Saratoga Road before thinking “wait, that was a bar back there.”

I arrived around 8 p.m. on a Friday night, at which time the crowd was sparse.

However, by 9 p.m. the bar was much more lively, filled with both locals and travelers enjoying tropical cocktails and having rousing conversation with friends and strangers alike.

I learned later that night that Arnold’s wasn’t, in fact, Waikiki’s last tiki bar, but it’s definitely got the atmosphere and drink menu to be the one of the best.

If you want cheap Mai Tais in the casual, retro vibe of a tiki bar, you gotta visit Arnolds.

First Mai Tai

At Arnold’s, I ordered my first ever Mai Tai and drank it in precisely the way you shouldn’t drink a Mai Tai.

Upon receiving the fabled drink, I took a moment to appreciate the dark rum float on the fruity yellow elixir, then promptly took a sip.

I jotted down my initial impression thus:

Pineapple? Literally all I can taste.

Yes, I took notes when drinking. I am a professional.

By now you should be familiar with the history and composition of the Mai Tai, but we haven’t yet discussed the etiquette of drinking this tropical beverage.

The more experienced cocktail drinkers among us are probably tut-tutting about the amateur mistake I made in drinking my first Mai Tai:

I didn’t mix the damn thing.

So, predictably, my first sip of this tropical beverage consisted of almost entirely pineapple juice.

As did my second, third, and the next dozen sips until it hit me—the rum, I mean.

How to drink a Mai Tai

Consider the peanut-butter and jelly sandwich.

This delicacy consists of two spreads and two slices of bread. Disregard the heathens that add such ingredients as fruit or nuts—they have no place among us.

Imagine consuming a PBJ one ingredient at a time: taking a bite of plain bread, then alternately spooning jelly and peanut butter into your mouth.

(Some of you may now be thinking “Hey, that sounds like an amazing idea!” You may stop reading here.)

Such was the experience of drinking my first Mai Tai: each ingredient separately, mixing only in my stomach.

My second Mai Tai I approached with much more wisdom and slightly more inebriation.

Equipped with the power of Google, I was prepared to properly experience my tropical drink in two ways:

  1. Slowly pulling up the straw as I sip, gathering each ingredient into my mouth.
  2. Mixing with the provided straw and drinking it as any other cocktail.

Method #1 was interesting, as I got to taste the component flavors before mixing them in my mouth, but after three sips I decided that, while a novel experience, it was too much effort to put into drinking at a tiki bar.

And yes, it tastes much better mixed. Arnold’s Mai Tais aren’t the top-shelf beverages that you’ll see at Duke’s or the Royal Hawaiian, but it’s got a great balance between flavors—rum and juice coexist in harmony at Arnold’s.

Maybe these things aren’t just pineapple juice, after all.

And that’s when my face started to tingle.

 

This article is part of our ongoing series “Finding Waikiki’s best Mai Tai.” Also check out part one and part two.

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