This Tiki classic is the signature drink of a famous San Diego restaurant
The days are long and hot in this part of the world right now. So you need a refreshing cocktail, no?
Preferably a slow slipper with lots of fruit juice and a healthy jolt of rum.
So may we introduce you to our friend, Mr. Bali Hai? We think you’ll get along.
Recipe: The Mr. Bali Hai Cocktail
The 1950s marked the high point for Tiki-themed restaurants in the US. You might say it was peak Polynesian.
It was during this time that the Bali Hai restaurant, located on Shelter Island in San Diego, was founded. Someone at the restaurant created the Mr. Bali Hai Cocktail as its house drink.
As is the case with many Tiki cocktails, the recipe for the Mr. Bali Hai has changed over the years. We like Jeff Berry’s recipe, which can be found in his book Beachbum Berry Remixed. His recipe recreates the drink as it was made at the restaurant in the 1970s. More history in the Notes.
This drink takes about 5 minutes to prepare and serves 1.
- 1 ounce light rum, preferably Puerto Rican
- 1½ ounces dark Jamaican rum
- ¾ ounce coffee-flavored brandy or liqueur (we use Kahlúa; see Notes)
- 1½ ounces unsweetened pineapple juice
- 1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ½ ounce simple syrup (we consider this optional; see Notes)
- Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker that’s half filled with ice. Shake vigorously until the contents are well chilled.
- Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass (or a Mr. Bali Hai mug if you’re lucky enough to have one; see Notes). Dress up the drink with a cocktail umbrella, if you wish (it’s optional, but we like it).
- Don’t want to strain the drink? You could just shake the ingredients with crushed ice (Step 1), then pour it all into a glass.
- When served at the Bali Hai restaurant, this drink sports its own special mug (with a representation of Mr. Bali Hai’s face on it). We have some Tiki mugs (see the picture immediately above for an example), but we don’t have a Mr. Bali Hai mug. So we generally just serve this drink in a rocks or tall glass.
- The Mr. Bali Hai is traditionally served without garnish. But we often add an umbrella, just because.
- The recipe calls for simple syrup, but we find the drink plenty sweet without it (probably because we use Kahlúa liqueur, which is on the sweet side). We suggest you make this cocktail without simple syrup and then taste it. It’s easy enough to add simple syrup if you find the drink isn’t sweet enough for your taste.
- The most popular recipe for this drink calls for coffee brandy, which is less sweet (and more strongly flavored) than coffee liqueurs like Kahlúa or Tia Maria. We always have Kahlúa on hand (but rarely have coffee brandy), so we just substitute Kahlúa. Not authentic, perhaps, but practical.
- Any white rum works in this drink. We generally use Bacardi because its light flavor works well with the other ingredients.
- A dark rum with some heft works best in this cocktail – and dark Jamaican rum definitely fits the bill. The best-known brand is probably Myers’s, which is what we often use.
- Our usual disclaimer: We’re non-commercial and don’t get compensated for mentioning brands. We buy our booze with our own money, and suggest only what we use and like.
- At the Bali Hai restaurant today, this drink is made with a light rum from St. Croix, blackberry (instead of coffee) brandy, sour mix instead of lemon juice, and a float of 151 proof Demerara rum. So it’s rather different from the original drink.
- The Bali Hai restaurant dates back to 1954. It’s one of the older Tiki-themed restaurants still in business.
- The name of the restaurant was probably inspired by the song “Bali Ha’i,” from the 1949 hit musical, South Pacific. In the musical, Bali Ha’i was an island that was distant (but still visible) from the one where most of the action occurs. Bali Ha’i was portrayed as an exotic paradise – highly desirable, but mostly unobtainable.
“Wax down the surfboards,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “This drink makes me want to hit the beach.”
“Reminds me of visiting Tahiti,” I said. “Those were the days.”
“Yeah, we won’t be jetting off to the South Pacific again any time soon,” said Mrs K R. “So we’ll just have to conjure it up at home.”
“Ahh . . . coconut palms swaying in the breeze,” I said. “Just take a sip and bali-ve.”
“Uh oh, pun-derclouds on the horizon,” said Mrs K R.
Guess I better be careful. There could be trouble in paradise.
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