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Frequently asked questions at The Merchant Hotel Cocktail Bar

Q. What is the cocktail that you’re famous for – the one with the special ingredient in it? How much is it again? Why is it so expensive?

The Mai Tai

Sixty years ago, cocktail history was made in Oakland, with the creation of the Mai Tai; a fruity and powerful concoction that has been associated with breezy relaxation ever since.

The Mai Tai soon became the signature drink of Trader Vic's, a South Seas styled bar and restaurant that expanded beyond its roots in Oakland to become an international chain. The drink itself with its thick, rich texture and citrus and cherry undertones softening the meaty punch of aged rum has gone forth into the world beyond Trader Vic's, becoming a standard at tiki and lounge bars and even appearing on airlines flights.

Perhaps it's no surprise that the Mai Tai has grown and prospered, because it was created from the very beginning with a lofty goal in mind: to be a world-class drink to fit Trader Vic's world-class reputation, according to Trader Vic's founder, San Francisco native Victor Jules Bergeron Jr.

"We talked about creating a drink that would be the finest drink we could make, using the finest ingredients we could find," Bergeron writes in his book, "Frankly Speaking: Trader Vic's Own Story" (Doubleday, 1973).

According to Bergeron, he sat down with his bartender one evening in 1944 to create the world-class drink he envisioned. What they came up with was this: 2 ounces 17-year-old J. Wray & Nephew Jamaican rum, 1/2 ounce French Garnier Orgeat, 1/2 ounce Holland DeKuyper Orange Curacao, 1/4 ounce rock candy syrup and the juice of one fresh lime.

"We poured the ingredients over shaved ice in a double old-fashioned glass," Bergeron writes, "shook it well, added one spent lime shell and garnished it with a sprig of fresh mint."

Out of this world

Just as he was about to taste it, a waiter told Bergeron that his friends Eastham and Carrie Guild from Tahiti were at the restaurant. Ever the congenial host, Bergeron went to greet them.
"I told them I had just made a new drink that I hadn't even tasted yet," he wrote. "Carrie and Ham tasted theirs and Carrie asked Ham, 'What do you think of it?' "

"'It’s Mai Tai,' he said, 'Mai Tai roa ae.' "

"I asked what in the hell that meant and Ham said, 'In Tahitian it means 'out of this world,' 'the best.' "

"That's the name of this drink, then," Bergeron wrote. "It's Mai Tai. It's out of this world."

The Mai Tai's popularity soon resulted in a shortage of the very limited production 17-year-old rum, so Bergeron switched to J. Wray & Nephew's 15-year- old version. When that dwindled, he stretched his remaining stock by changing the formula to 1 ounce of 15-year-old J. Wray & Nephew and 1 ounce of Red Heart or Coruba Jamaican rum.

The Merchant Hotel in Belfast managed to source a bottle of the ultra-rare 17-year-old J Wray & Nephew Jamaican Rum in 2007. Since then it was used as the base spirit of The Original Trader Vic’s Mai Tai that was on offer at the hotel, which at a cost of £750 per glass, was officially declared the World’s Most Expensive Cocktail by The Guinness Book of Records in 2008.

The Merchant Hotel was the only bar in the world that had the capacity to make the authentic article, for no other establishment had a bottle of the rum. The cocktail was a massive success; 10 were sold to customers over a two year period (6 were made for PR purposes) and the hotel gained worldwide publicity and recognition as a result. None of the precious liquid remains….



Q. Can I reserve a table in the bar?

From day one we have always operated on a first-come/first-serve basis. We offer table service only in our bar and due to high demand we cannot reserve tables.


Q. Can I purchase things such as ingredients, glassware, bar accessories, menus that I see being used in the bar?

The bar staff will be more than happy to help you to recreate any of our cocktails at home: offering recipes and advice on where to purchase certain ingredients and spirits.  The Bar Books Volumes 2 and 3 are available to purchase from the bar and these are the perfect way to get the creative juices flowing and impress guests at your next party.

Q. Your staff must receive a lot of training - can you tell me more about it? Also, do you offer training to the public?

All of the bar and floor staff are fully trained on cocktails. The training that takes place before a new list goes on the table is very thorough: regular training sessions on how to make, serve and recommend the drinks is essential. The hotel offer a training session for the public called Bar Magic. This is a fun interactive workshop that allows the customer to learn how to make their favorite cocktails. All enquiries should be made through the events manager at the hotel:

Q. Who is the most famous person you have served?

The bar has certainly seen its fair share of celebrities over the last few years and if you ask one of our bartenders nicely they might share a secret or two with you!

Q. Why is there a service-charge added to all drinks bills?

The bar at the Merchant is a world class bar in a sumptuous five star surroundings. The bar prides itself in offering the highest quality of drinks with a personal service. All of our customers are offered complimentary water and nibbles which is regularly replenished; this is now a hallmark of the bar.  Please note that service-charge is discretionary.

Q. How long is the bar/hotel opened?  

The building previously began its life as the Ulster Bank Head Office which opened its doors in 1860. The current owner – Bill Wolsey - acquired the building in March 2004 and it then opened as a hotel on 13th April 2006.

Q. Do you serve food in the bar?

Yes we offer a full bar snack menu from 12pm until 9pm daily.

Q. Can I get served afternoon tea in the bar?

Yes we can serve afternoon tea in the bar, lobby and restaurant areas.

Q. Is there a dress code for the bar?

Casual dress is required in the bar.



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