I am a person who likes a cocktail. But for more than a year, I’ve thought a lot about one in particular; one which I slurped on a steamy day last July at Alameda in Greenpoint. It was blood-orange in color, poured over ice chips, and topped with a sprig of mint. A rum-based pool of cool sweetness that was cut, like a drink who really knew herself, with Campari. It was called the Bitter Mai Tai, the tiki cocktail of my dreams–except it was not a dream. I could order it, and drink it. And I did.
I have a French friend who told me recently about a perfect experience she had, and how she didn’t want to try and recreate it, so that the moment would stay unsullied in her mind forever. I understood her intentions, and her resolve charmed me, but it was not how I felt about the Bitter Mai Tai. I wanted to drink another, maybe several, and taste the delicate balance of its cold bitter-sweetness again and again.
So imagine how my heart plummeted to the ground when I returned to Alameda last month, exactly a year later, and found it had been taken off the menu, replaced by a younger, sexier model for summer ’15–the French Mai Tai. I’m sure it was delicious, but I wanted my Tai back.
And you know what? I got it. There are bartenders on staff now who were bartenders on staff then–back when the French version wasn’t even a twinkle in their eye–and they remember how to make it.
I returned this weekend to make sure. They do, and they will. Go alone sometime, maybe a quiet evening this month when everyone else is still at the beach. Settle into a stool at their beautiful circular bar. Ask bar manager John True to make you the Bitter Mai Tai that used to be on the menu. He’ll be happy to do it and, while he’s mixing, he’ll explain that he loves tiki drinks in general because they remind him of classic Americana, drinks to have during childhood family outings for Chinese food–not that he drank them as a kid.
Best of all, the Mai Tai he serves you will taste better than your fried rice ever did. He might not share the exact recipe, but he will want you to know that the first Bitter Mai Tai seems to have come from Jeremy Oertel at Dram in Williamsburg. Alameda’s version, he will also tell you, is made from Campari, Orgeat, Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, Pierre Ferrand Curacao, and Lime Juice.
In conclusion: Go to Alameda. Go while True is still around and can bring the Bitter Mai Tai back from off-the-menu afterlife. Don’t settle for the idea of Tiki perfection; drink it. Some good things can be yours again if you know who to ask.