My, Oh, Mai Tai

A few Indy bars are playing the classic tiki drink fairly straight up. Others? Not so much.

Though it ranks as one of the key players in the tiki-drink canon, the mai tai—which takes its name from the Tahitian term for “very good”—struggles with an identity crisis. Traditionally presented as a simple mixture of dark and light rums shaken vigorously with orgeat syrup, triple sec, and lime juice, it is, in its most classic presentation, a brown drink poured over crushed ice and garnished with little more than a cherry, lime, or sprig of mint. Purists who abhor tooty-fruity add-ins can find original takes at places like Tini, where bartenders experimenting with high-end, barrel-aged rums have concocted a rendition with grapefruit, cinnamon, and the almond-ginger spice of falernum syrup. Versions that have rotated through the cocktail lists at Libertine and Revolucion (pictured) play fairly straight. But Sangrita Saloon’s cinnamon-topped Oaxacan Mai Tai (which subs the rums with top-shelf agaves and adds fresh-squeezed pineapple and grapefruit juices) might anger the Polynesian gods. Even so, it makes a delicious case for innovation.

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