Legend about the origins of the Mai Tai has it that Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, the founding father of America’s South Pacific-styled tiki restaurants, bars and nightclubs claimed to have created it in 1933 at his then-new bar named Don the Beachcomber (later a famous restaurant) in Hollywood.
However his rival, Victor Bergeron, also known as ‘Trader Vic’, claimed to have invented it in 1944 at his Oakland California restaurant. He used Jamaican rum, fresh lime, orange curacao, a dash of rock candy sugar, and French orgeat syrup, then garnished it with lime and mint. It’s said he tested his newly concocted drink on two Tahitian friends and upon tasting it, one of his guests exclaimed in Tahitian “Mai Tai-Roa Aé!” meaning ‘out of this world, it’s the best!’ and so the cocktail was named. Trader Vic is said to have charged 44 cents for a Mai Tai, in honour of the year it was invented.
To back up his claim, he had the friends for whom he invented the drink, sign affidavits swearing it to be true. Cocktail historians and theoreticians have battled ever since as to whose claim is more authentic.