Tiki Drink: The Big Bamboo

The Big Bamboo from the Mai Kai
Few Tiki joints in America inspire the kind of evangelical love as does the Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, FL. It is a living fossil; perhaps the only of the original independent Tiki palaces which never slipped quietly into that dark night. I’ve been there, and it is a nigh-veritable Disneyland quality execution of commercial Tiki. It has live shows, multiple bar rooms, and food that doesn’t suck. It hosts the annual Hukilau Tiki festival. And it has a long tradition of serious Tiki drinks.

During my one visit, I was pleasantly surprised at how close to old-school the drinks were. But the menu is not, fortunately, frozen in time. Still, if you update the menu, some old classics will be lost. The Big Bamboo is such a drink, now replaced by a “milder” version called the Mara-Amu.


  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • 1/2 oz orange juice
  • 1/2 oz grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 oz passionfruit syrup
  • 1/2 oz dark Jamaican rum
  • 1 oz gold rum
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine all ingrendients with 4 oz crushed ice and flash blend for five seconds. Serve in a tall glass or Tiki mug. Jungle garnish.

This is really a delicious cocktail, and surprising in many ways. Orange juice is a bitch of an ingredient in any style cocktail, as even just a little too much can take over anything. But in this recipe it behaves itself nicely, bringing what it should to the party without dropping its pants and dancing on the furniture like it usually does. Together, all the fruits meld to form one of those marvelous, “tropical” flavor gestalts that make Tiki drinks so cool. But the bitters and all that ice neatly balance out what I was expecting to be a fairly sweet drink, instead producing a tart, zesty, highly refreshing result that brings an immediate smile. The feel here is neither in the Vic school, nor the Don to my way of tasting. I like that and want to find more such drinks this year, to expand my Tiki horizons. With only an ounce and a half of alcohol in a large vessel drink, it is pretty gentle. I’m not sure how much effect specific rums will have on this drink, but I will make enough of them to find out, I assure you.

As an exit question, the characterization of the Mara-Amu as “milder” comes from the Bum, in Sippin’ Safari. I’ve never had one of those, so I’m curious, in what way is it milder? The Mara-Amu is listed in the Medium section of the Mai Kai’s menu, and the Big Bamboo is a veritable kitten compared to the Swizzles and Jet Pilots in the Strong section. Any of my South Florida readers want to lay some knowledge on us?

Update: Here are two more takes on the Big Bamboo from last year: The Atomic Grog Blog, which expands on the history of the drink, and Chemistry of the Cocktail, which concentrates on trying to improve it.

And hey! This post is part of Tiki Month 2013 here at the Pegu Blog! Be sure to look around for LOTS more Tiki stuff all February!


  1. Doug, the Big Bamboo is one of my favorites as well. And I also thought that “milder” reference was confusing. The Mara-Amu recipe is also published (it’s on The Atomic Grog and elsewhere) so they’re easy to compare. Both drinks contain 1 1/2 ounces of rum, which puts them on the lower end of The Mai-Kai’s medium drinks list. However, I believe those published numbers may have been bumped up a bit at some point. The published Mara-Amu recipe comes up short of filling the official Mara-Amu mug, so perhaps it’s really 2 ounces of rum. The Big Bamboo’s signature mug is one of those rare artifacts that hasn’t been seen in years. But from the photos I’ve seen and posted (check the link you posted above) it appears to be fairly robust. Perhaps double the size of the recipe in Sippin’ Safari. That would make it similar in size to some of The Mai-Kai’s infamous strong drinks with 3 ounces of rum. In my review, I made a double and enjoyed it immensely.

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  2. Joe G.

    10 February

    A brief dissertation on the BB and the M-A will ensue. The things I do in the name of science.

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  3. Joe G.

    10 February

    Hurricane Hayward’s pretty much nailed it. Saved me no end of typing.

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  4. DJ HawaiianShirt

    14 February

    I finally visited the Mai Kai for the first time on Christmas day 2012, just about a month ago. The drinks were mostly good, but I was disappointed that the server girls weren’t the bartenders, as I couldn’t ask any questions about the drinks and get an answer in less than 10 minutes. This was a problem because I have certain fruit/nut allergies.

    Also, my testosterone loved the way the server girls were dressed, but I couldn’t help but feel bad for them when they would huddle around the heater, because they’re not allowed to show less than a certain amount of skin.

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  5. Doug

    14 February

    Yes. Like the uniforms, don’t like the bartenders being out of sight. Not because I have any barriers to consumption, but because I like pestering them.

    I wonder how much of that is because of the narrowness behind the bar, and how much is because drinks are pre-batched in huge drums and they don’t want to ruin the fantasy.

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  6. Hurricane Hayward

    15 February

    Guys, read Sippin’ Safari about the old-school bartenders. Keeping the bar out of sight is Don the Beachcomber tradition. Back in the day, this ensured that Trader Vic or other interlopers didn’t steal the recipes.

    I definitely assure you that The Mai-Kai doesn’t pre-batch anything except juices and mixes. Take a look at my photo tour of the back bars:

    And DJ, next time you’re there check my cocktail guide. I’m pretty accurate on what ingredients are in every drink. But if you have serious allergies, just check with Kern, the manager. He has the recipes in his office and can let you know which drinks to avoid. My wife can’t have grapefruit juice, so we know which drinks she needs to avoid.

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