New book recounts the rum-soaked history of the Mai-Kai

Here's the boozy history behind @TheMaiKai's tiki allure and most powerful cocktails.

Tim Glazner's new book about the cocktail haven Mai-Kai Restaurant starts with an anecdote of the worst drink he ever sipped.

The Zombie, as Glazner notes in "Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant," (Schiffer Publishing) was an umbrella drink whose recipe kicked off the tiki-bar craze in the 1930s. Ernest Gantt, known to tiki-culture admirers as Don the Beachcomber, concocted the 13-ingredient punch of rum, juices and syrups in 1934. Gantt's secret recipe went missing. But when Glazner tried to re-create the Zombie in his home in the 1990s, the result tasted like "rum strained through a gym sock."

Then, in 2003, he tried the Mai-Kai's intoxicating version of a Zombie, based on Gantt's original recipe, salvaged by cocktail author Jeff "Beachbum" Berry. Glazner's love of the Zombie and other tropical kitsch in a glass inspired the book, to be released on Sept. 28 to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Mai-Kai. On Saturday, Sept. 17, the Mai-Kai will host a book-release party, where Glazer will sign copies and give presentations on lost and exotic cocktails.

Glazner's book is also a love letter to the Mai-Kai, a time capsule of Polynesian culture, which opened on Dec. 28, 1956, in Fort Lauderdale. The restaurant hosts Polynesian shows, and its Molokai Bar boasts an exhaustive menu of rummy creations.

A tiki-holic who spent 10 years researching the 176-page book, Glazner also co-founded the Hukilau, the annual homage to Polynesian fashion, drinks and retro music. In 2006, he helped to move the Hukilau from Trader Vic's in Atlanta to the Mai-Kai. Although sensational stories about the Mai-Kai were plentiful, Glazner hardly thought the Mai-Kai deserved a book until he met Bob Van Dorpe, the restaurant's original general manager.

"Bob was Don the Beachcomber's best friend, and they worked together at his bar in Chicago," Glazner says. "And if you're into tiki culture, Don the Beachcomber is a deity, the quintessential person who invented the revolutionary cocktails people drink today at the Mai-Kai."

Gantt's recipes, Glazner details in the book, were re-created by the Mai-Kai's first bartender, Mariano Licudine, who added a twist to the drinks. During Saturday's party, patrons can order rare, off-the-menu cocktails based on Gantt's recipes, including the Hanalei Bay and Dr. Fong.

Tim Glazner will sign his book "Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant" 2-6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, at the Mai-Kai Restaurant, 3599 N. Federal Highway, in Fort Lauderdale. Admission is free. Call 954-563-3272 or go to MaiKai.com and MaiKaiHistory.com.

pvalys@southflorida.com or 954-356-4364

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