Forget your assumptions about this tiki bars classic: Well-made versions of mai tais in NYC are complex, imminently drinkable, and have nary a paper umbrella in sight (well, most of the time). It’s also one of the ultimate summer drinks, owing to its traditional pairing of rum and curaçao with enigmatic almond-based orgeat syrup. Head to rooftop bars and even a speakeasy to find New York’s tastiest versions.
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Best mai tais in NYC
The Rusty Knot is what happens when Spotted Pig owner Ken Friedman designs a faux-dive bar. The curated-kitsch theme extends to the drinks, which follow traditional recipes but win raves from tiki purists (they do exist). For those searching for the platonic ideal of a mai tai, look no further.
The speakeasy-style interior of Fort Greene restaurant Walter’s, this Japanese spot has a cocktail program designed by Major Food Group (Carbone, Parm) head bartender Thomas Waugh. The Nettai is its Japanese take on the mai tai and incorporates the lush flavors of yuzu juice and mirabelle plum eau de vie.
At this East Village bar, every cocktail comes in a signature, delightfully kitschy mug. Even better: For $5 extra, you can keep it. As the menu boasts, the Mai Tai is the “king” of all tiki drinks, and Otto’s version features three different rums, fresh lime juice and a plastic monkey, of course.
Held the last Thursday of every month, this pop-up tiki bar at Red Hook’s Fort Defiance is home to quite the kooky cocktail. While the menu changes frequently, look out for drinks like the Mos Eisley, which blends aquavit with rum, orgeat and the mysterious “angostura sand.”
No craft cocktails here. This Carroll Gardens institution keeps its Mai Tai simple: pineapple, rum and amaretto. But for only $7, you can easily treat yourself to two or three. There’s even an outdoor patio to get you in the Polynesian spirit.
The cocktails alone at the Williamsburg waterfront bar could coax aficionados from their habitual perches, but it’s the transporting staging that seals the deal—a fever-dream vision of Central America that owner Leif Young Huckman says takes its inspiration from Spanish-colonial cathedrals, Art Nouveau parlor rooms and the sailor’s flophouse that existed on this site in the 1800s. To be fully seduced, try the Mai Tai mixed with five different kinds of spiced rums, topped with orgeat syrup and splash of lime.
In a mystic-cool space fitting for such bartender worship—rigged with Indio candles, cathedral-pew booths and a golden tin ceiling imprinted with crosses, imbibe on the Mia Tia, a riff on a mai tai made with mescal, rum, lime, orgeat and curaçao—and head for the breezy, tree-filled, salsa-soundtracked patio out back. You’ll feel less like you’re in central Brooklyn and more like you’re in Central America.