I went through an intense cocktail phase in my early 20’s. Speakeasies were de rigeuer then, and no bar cart was complete without obscure, single purpose liqueurs and a supply of egg whites at the ready. But I never made it far enough through my catalog of vintage recipes to reach the Tiki explosion – when GIs returning from the Pacific came home with a lust for sweet rum and a taste of the tropics. Trader Vic’s and cocktails like the Zombie soon populated every mid-century housewife’s repertoire. Seriously, every cookbook I have from the 50’s is punctuated by Americanized luau recipes – maraschino cherry studded pineapple slices decorating hams, spare ribs marinated in sweet teriyaki sauces, fluffy coconut desserts.

But recently, I’ve become sort of obsessed by 1950s kitsch. Yes, some of the food is a slow motion car crash, but some of the recipes are festive, fun, and silly in the best way. So for this mai tai, I borrowed the period’s love of pineapple and cherries, but with a much fresher spin. Fresh cherries soaked in syrup and muddled with pineapple and lime juice add brightness and punch to this tiki classic. Cheers!


[Note] For 1 cocktail

2 ounces aged rum

1 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce orange curacao

1/4 ounce orgeat

2 ounces pineapple juice

1/2 ounce cherry syrup (plus cherries)

Mint sprig, for garnish


Combine all ingredients except the mint sprig in a cocktail shaker, shake vigorously, and pour the entire contents into a double Old Fashioned glass.


1/2 cup cherries, pitted

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup water


Combine everything in a small pot over medium heat, cooking until sugar is melted. Set aside to cool fully.