Updated Nov. 17, 2022
There was much rejoicing after the announcement in September 2021 that after being closed for nearly a year, The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale would reopen under a new ownership team that will pump millions of dollars into an extensive refurbishment and renovations. A devastating roof collapse in the kitchen in October 2020 had shut down indoor service indefinitely.
Now, as we move toward the end of 2022 and work progresses, fans and supporters are eager to learn details. The Atomic Grog will keep you updated with the latest info on the refurbishment of the historic Polynesian restaurant. Bookmark this page and check back often.
NOV. 15 – The Mai-Kai announces potential reopening in spring 2023
Delays both expected and unexpected have pushed back the target reopening timeframe to the spring of 2023, according to an official announcement that went out to The Mai-Kai’s email list.
Here’s the full text of the announcement, titled “An official update from the Mai-Kai Team” …
First of all, we would like to thank all of our loyal Mai-Kai customers and fans for their unending support and most of all patience while we continue our restoration and repairs.
We are working very hard behind the scenes to bring The Mai-Kai back and better than ever. As we continue our updates which include interior décor renovations and repairs as well as new construction in heavily damaged areas, we are running into expected and some unexpected delays.
We are now looking at a potential reopening in the Spring of 2023.
We are very thankful for all of the outreach and support that we have been receiving from all of you and look forward to welcoming you back as soon as we can.
Check back for more detailed updates on the renovations.
UPDATED: The Mai-Kai spices up the holidays with special Christmas Barrel
The Barrel Before Christmas joins the lineup of quarts and gallons to go, available on three upcoming weekends.
>>> Info on all the dates and how to order on The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide
NOV. 7 – Interior renovations shed light on The Mai-Kai’s historic lamp designs
As sometimes happens in multimillion-dollar construction projects as large in size and scope as The Mai-Kai, there are inevitable delays beyond anyone’s control. Most of the current wait involves city permits for multiple jobs, which are complicated by the restaurant’s local and national historic status. Something as simple as installing thatch needs to be executed with historic standards in mind.
But there is a silver lining amid all the red tape: Additional time becomes an asset to the managers and craftspeople working on restoring the interior decor in The Mai-Kai’s many elaborately detailed dining rooms. Manager Kern Mattei and creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller both have their hands full with multiple projects inside the building that they continue to work on during the slowdowns on the larger projects outside.
Mattei is coordinating the ongoing development of new glassware and Tiki mugs, plus T-shirt and Aloha shirt designs for both staff and customers. He was also happy to confirm recently that a deal was signed with noted artist Mcbiff to create signature artwork and merchandise for The Mai-Kai (teased in our Sept. 19 update below).
One of the most fascinating jobs on Mattei’s plate is the refurbishment of one of The Mai-Kai’s coolest hidden gems: The nearly 200 distinctive table lamps that cast a warm and exotic glow throughout the restaurant.
To the uninitiated, these small lamps themed to the Polynesian islands are most notable for the thousands of signatures and remembrances scrawled upon the shades by guests over the past several decades. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find a lot more than meets the eye.
Mattei gave everyone a sneak preview recently in a Facebook video posted Oct. 24 that demonstrates (with a little help from former Molokai girl Claudia Marmolejo) how to serve the special Halloween cocktail, the deadly Zombie. It was hard to miss The Molokai bar’s traditional lamp next to Mattei sporting a brand new shade.
We got to check out that same prototype shade recently in the back office, where Mattei gave us the lowdown on the project. Gone are the shades covered in graffiti, a tradition Mattei believes started in the 1980s when he first started working there.
In their place, The Mai-Kai is sourcing unique tapa cloth patterns that are being installed on the refurbished lamps by local craftspeople, including one of the old Mai-Kai entertainers who’s also a talented artist and carver. “We’re keeping it in the family,” Mattei said, pointing out the new detail of rope trim added to the new shade (see photo above).
Previously, there were three different shade patterns in the restaurant, Mattei said. As of the time of our chat, he had confirmed six new patterns that met with the owners’ approval. But he said they were still searching for more. The goal is to have different tapa patterns for every room, though some may end up sharing patterns.
There are also multiple shade designs, from bell to hourglass to several other odd shapes. Mattei said the local artists are also trying to recreate a shade design that hasn’t been used in years.
“We’ll have different patterns, different shades, different colors, so each room is distinct,” he said. “This is a whole project in itself.”
Some of the tapa patterns may also show up in the restaurant as wallpaper, Mattei said. The artist who designed them is tweaking them to make them unique to The Mai-Kai.
Will guests continue to write on the shades? “Hopefully they won’t,” Mattei said with a chuckle.
The lamp bases are being cleaned up and repaired, but they will remain exactly as they have been for decades. These are one of those great “hidden in plain sight” details that makes The Mai-Kai special.
The current lineup of lamps includes nine unique designs, each corresponding to its dining area. “Every room, from Hawaii to Tahiti, will have their original Tiki-style bases,” Mattei said. Each base is distinctive to a specific South Seas island.
For example, The Molokai bar lamp features a New Caledonia design, the Samoa dining room lamps have Marquesan style artwork, and the Tonga room lamps include The Mai-Kai’s signature trio of cannibals from that part of the South Pacific.
The New Guinea base Mattei showed me is “typical of a Sepik style figure you’ll find in New Guinea,” he said. The other dining areas that have their own unique lamp bases are Moorea, the Garden (the area in front of the showroom stage), and the Lanai (the outdoor seating on the deck next to the Tiki garden). There are around 175 lamps total, ranging from seven on the Lanai to 39 in The Molokai.
Mattei also teased that several of the new Tiki mugs will be stylistically related to two of the lamp designs.
So where did the lamps come from? Most date back to The Mai-Kai’s last massive refurbishment in 1970, when two new dining rooms were added and The Molokai was totally redesigned.
According to Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant by Tim “Swanky” Glazner, the lamps were designed by artist Al Kocab, who also envisioned The Mai-Kai’s custom furniture that’s also still in use today. Kocab also designed some of the hanging lamps, several signature mugs, and was perhaps best known to the public for his distinctive advertising art.
To manufacture the lamps, The Mai-Kai turned to Oceanic Arts, the legendary California company that supplied decor and artifacts to nearly every major Polynesian bar and restaurant over the past six decades. Established in 1956 (the same year as The Mai-Kai), Oceanic Arts recently closed up shop after the retirement of founders LeRoy Schmaltz and Bob Van Oosting. One of Tiki’s most influential artists, Schmaltz passed away in June at age 87.
Many of the bases are the originals created by Oceanic Arts, Mattei confirmed. Some were damaged and replaced over the years, along with the periodic updates of the shades.
As documented in Jordan Reichek’s 2022 book Oceanic Arts: The Godfathers of Tiki, Schmaltz and Van Oosting recommended designer George Nakashima to The Mai-Kai’s founding owners, Bob and Jack Thornton. Nakashima ended up handling the interior design for the 1970 expansion.
Nakashima, who worked on dozens of other Polynesian palaces throughout the U.S., “designed everything custom, such as lighting fixtures and wall trim” that was handled by Oceanic Arts and others,” according to the book. Said Van Oosting: “The Mai-Kai is the last grand-palace of Polynesian decor. There really isn’t anything still in existence quite like it.”
Allsmiller, the man tasked with bringing all that decor back to life, is literally taking his job home with him during the breaks when work had to stop in the bar and dining rooms and await permit approvals. He has been taking some of the old hanging lamps back to his workshop to restore and, in some cases, replace them. “Some of them are unsavable so I just recreate them,” he said in a social media post.
Photos from “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller’s Central Florida workshop show his work restoring some of The Mai-Kai’s lighting fixtures, some of which date back to the early days of the 65-year-old restaurant. If they’re too far gone, he simply recreates them.
The Oceanic Arts book includes correspondence from Jack Thornton in late 1959 inquiring about several light designs by Schmaltz and Van Oosting. According to the book, some of those custom hanging lamps are still there today. “We produced some and others they ended up making locally,” Van Oosting said.
When we visited on Oct. 29, Mattei showed off some of the lamps that Allsmiller has finished (see photo above). They ranged from an almost full replacement to a simple shoring up of some broken pieces. Only Allsmiller knows for sure which is which. The restoration is so accurate it will be impossible to tell if and where any work was done.
If you ever get the opportunity to take a class or attend a Typhoon Tommy symposium, be sure to jump on it. He’s never been shy about sharing his knowledge, starting with his 2018 book with Trader Sam’s designer “Trader Brandon” Kleyla, The Field Guide to Tiki Decorating. In 2021, he documented the complete build-out of a Tiki-themed B&B in Orlando on his YouTube page. Check out his handiwork at Tahiti Gil’s Mananui for just $173 a night.
The Mai-Kai project is, understandably, a bit more secret. But we’re thrilled to be able to take a peek behind the scenes when we can. More recently, Allsmiller shared his lamp-building skills at the first of a promised series of classes near his Central Florida home.
Held Nov. 5, the sold-out class (“Build your own Tiki Lamp with Typhoon Tommy”) included dozens of eager participants who received hands-on guidance in building their own Orchids of Hawaii inspired lamps for their home bars. The $250 course included all materials and instruction by Typhoon Tommy, though the students were also welcome to bring their own custom items and shapes to include in their creations.
The event, organized and hosted by Retro Tiki Designs, appeared to be a smashing success. Couples and families were encouraged to build together, and the class also included themed music, drinks and food. Follow Retro Tiki Designs on Instagram so you don’t miss the announcements about the next class.
OCT. 31 – The Mai-Kai’s deadly Zombie resurrected for Halloween
Rising from the dead, the world’s original mysterious and deadly cocktail came back from the grave and was added to the to-go menu for Halloween. The Mai-Kai’s 1956 interpretation of the Don the Beachcomber classic lived up to the hype and perfectly complemented the Barrel O’ Rum, Black Magic and Mai Tai at festive seasonal gatherings.
The iconic cocktail was available for the first time since the October 2020 closing, and for the first time in takeout quarts and gallons. We found the drink to be just as good as ever, deserving of its No. 1 slot in our Mai-Kai cocktail rankings.
CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL STORY
VIDEO: How to pour a Mai-Kai Zombie at home
HISTORY: 5 greatest moments in Zombie lore
The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide: Latest news on upcoming dates for more cocktails to go
OCT. 12 – Déjà vu: Roof refurbishments harken back to original 1970 addition
The most visible results of The Mai-Kai’s multimillion-dollar renovation project so far can be spotted from busy Federal Highway as you pass by the historic restaurant. The dual A-frame peaks on the south end of the sprawling property have received new roofs, framing and thatch. At the time our last visit on Oct. 11, the work was about 90 percent done.
Unfortunately, we missed the spectacle in late September when The Mai-Kai staged a photo op inspired by similar roof work more than 50 years ago:
You may have seen the photo circulating on social media of a Molokai bar server assisting with the installation of thatch over the Tahiti dining room, which has been undergoing roof work for the past several months (see updates below). Dressed in her colorful sarong with a flower in her hair, former “Molokai Girl” Claudia Marmolejo was no doubt a welcome addition to the construction site.
We’re told that Claudia, who has been working at the oceanfront Beachcomber Resort & Club on Pompano Beach since The Mai-Kai closed, can’t wait to come back. Fans of The Mai Kai may have spotted her over the past two years at the Beachcomber during The Hukilau.
On a side note: It was just announced that The Hukilau will return to the Beachcomber for its 20th Tiki weekender on June 9-11, 2023. As usual, The Mai-Kai is expected to be a major part of the festivities.
* The Hukilau recaps, photos: 2021 | 2022
But what about that image of comely Claudia on the roof? It was apparently captured by creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller during a photo shoot inspired by similar shot in a November 1970 newspaper article on the construction of the new additions. [Click here to see the original photo and caption.]
The $1 million expansion also included the extensive outdoor gardens and current Molokai bar expansion, plus a massive back-of-house building featuring a new kitchen. The latter was the site of the October 2020 roof collapse caused by a storm and breach in the sprinkler system that flooded the ceiling.
An article in February 1971 touted the addition of the gardens and dining rooms to the “subtropical crossroads where the atmosphere of canal-laced Venice and palm-fringed shores blend together.”
It noted that the Tahiti and Moorea dining rooms would add 100 more seats to the restaurant’s capacity. Meanwhile, The Molokai expansion “makes the intimate little thatched hideaway into an equally intimate but more spacious pub from the sailing ship days in the South Pacific,” the article states.
The story also heralded the new “cookery showcase displaying Chinese smoke ovens.” Those same ovens will be getting a new showcase area as part of the current renovation plan, which includes a brand new kitchen. That construction, along with a new event space, is slated for the next phase of the project.
In the current phase, The Molokai and all the dining rooms are being restored to their original glory in exacting detail by Allsmiller and other craftsmen. A re-imagining of the parking lot with new landscaping and re-routed entrance is still on hold, awaiting approval from the city of Oakland Park’s historic preservation officials.
Work inside and on the roofs was forced to stop recently due to Hurricane Ian and a plethora of city inspections. Tiki King, a local firm based in Palm Beach County hired to install custom framing and thatch, is poised to finish its work on the dining rooms and porte-cochère. It will hopefully resume soon.
Patrons of the takeout cocktail program can catch a glimpse of the latest work as they pick up their quarts and gallons to go later this month. We’ll be among those taking advantage of the rare chance to indulge in classic Zombies from The Mai-Kai this Halloween.
SEPT. 21 – The Mai-Kai continues takeout cocktails through end of 2022
While we await the completion of renovations and the grand reopening, The Mai-Kai’s famous tropical cocktails are available for pick-up on multiple dates through the end of 2022. You can also pick up bottles of the restaurant’s signature rum. The drink menu includes:
* Barrel O’ Rum (gallon $95, quart $30)
* Mai Tai (gallon $142, quart $40)
* Jet Pilot (gallon $156, quart $44)
* Black Magic (gallon $95, quart $30)
* The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend ($85.60 for a 750 ML bottle)
Prices include tax. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 954-646-8975 to place your order.
Fall and winter cocktail pickup dates
* Friday, Sept. 30 (4-6 p.m.) and Saturday, Oct. 1 (10 a.m.-noon).
* Friday, Oct. 28 and Saturday, Oct. 29.
* Tuesday, Nov. 22 and Wednesday, Nov. 23.
* Friday, Dec. 9 and Saturday, Dec. 10.
* Friday, Dec. 22 and Saturday, Dec. 23.
The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide: Check out our cocktail reviews and updates
SEPT. 19 – Roofs readied for new thatch, vintage matting replaced, special guest artist drops by
There was plenty of news to report from The Mai-Kai last week on several fronts as the refurbishment project moved along at a steady pace …
The roof re-thatching project led by South Florida’s Tiki King was in the final stage of framing, both in the entrance porte-cochère and on the peaked roofs above the Tahiti dining room south of the main A-frame.
The next step will be installing new artificial thatching, as detailed in the Sept. 12 update below. The Tahiti roof will probably be done first, followed by the porte-cochère, manager Kern Mattei said. Tentative plans call for thatch to eventually be added in some form to the main A-frame, he said.
While not as visible to passersby, some important work was also going on inside The Mai-Kai. And, for the first time since work commenced on the roof and electrical system, there was electricity powering lights and work fans throughout the building. While the full job was not yet complete, I was told that the electricians had finished a great deal of their infrastructure work.
In the New Guinea dining room, creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller showed off the work he and the crew are doing on restoring the decor to its original glory. Sometimes, simply installing new materials is not enough, no matter how authentic they may be.
The seagrass matting that had to removed from the walls was in terrible shape, but it had a certain look that needed to be maintained. In order to give the dining room, one of the originals from 1956, that same vintage feel the new matting was treated to make it look decades older.
Turning on the juice also allowed Allsmiller to start working in earnest on installing new LED lighting in The Molokai bar. It will be exciting to see the lounge when it’s fully restored to its 1970s glory, the work of Mutiny on the Bounty set designers once again fully on display.
If you follow Allsmiller on Instagram, you may have seen a photo he posted last week of a crew doing some woodwork in the porte-cochère. They were putting the finishing touches on one of those Molokai lighting fixtures.
But look closely and take note of one of the crew members: California-based fine artist Mcbiff. Known for his colorful, mid-century inspired work for Disney, he’s also a popular presence in the Tiki art community. But Mcbiff was at The Mai-Kai to do more than just wield a hammer or saw.
Mcbiff (aka David McNeley) was in town to discuss a pending relationship to create a line of exclusive artwork and merchandise for The Mai-Kai. It’s not a done deal yet, but some great prototype artwork was shared, and all signs point toward some cool limited-edition, co-branded merch in time for the reopening.
Also in time for the reopening, expect a great lineup of new limited-edition Tiki mugs from Tiki Farm to be made available for purchase. The Mai-Kai has been working with Tiki Farm founder Holden Westland for months on multiple new mugs from some top artists and designers. Some already have prototypes sculpted in clay. We hope to have more info on these mugs in the coming weeks and months.
There will be around a half-dozen of these new offerings, in addition to all the distinctive mugs The Mai-Kai has used to serve some of its most iconic cocktails. Mattei said guests can expect the return of the full lineup of classics: Barrel O’ Rum, Mara-Amu, Shrunken Skull, Kona Coffee Grog, Hot Buttered Rum, and (of course) the Mystery Drink.
Click on the links above for some drink recipes to help get you ready for the reopening. Okole maluna!
SEPT. 12 – Roof work advances, new thatching added to porte-cochère
Guests stopping by The Mai-Kai before Labor Day to pick up their quarts and gallons of takeout cocktails might have noticed some work going on around the entrance to the historic building as repairs and refurbishments pick up steam.
While grabbing my holiday fortifications last Friday (Sept. 2), I got a chance to chat with public relations director Pia Dahlquist and manager Kern Mattei. While no new dates have been announced, Dahlquist promised more opportunities to order signature tropical drinks in the coming weeks.
Mattei was gracious enough to give me a tour of some of the latest updates to the property. Here’s the rundown …
With the structural portion of the roof work complete, plans have moved on to the finishing touches on some of The Mai-Kai’s most iconic features.
Most noticeable is the re-thatching of the covering over the driveway that leads to the main entrance, aka the porte-cochère. In the severe South Florida environment, this is a regular maintenance project. But the last full thatch replacement this extensive was in 2005, Mattei said.
This repair job is even more intensive than usual. The structure is being shored up to accommodate the new artificial thatching being installed by South Florida’s Tiki King. The artificial thatch is more expensive but will last three times longer, Mattei said.
The new thatching is made of a synthetic material designed to withstand South Florida’s extreme weather conditions. It’s also fire resistant.
* Click here to see examples of Tiki King’s work
While the thatch itself is artificial, the support structure is being shored up with new wood support beams and poles made of eucalyptus, a sturdy hardwood. All rotted wood is being replaced. It’s possible the entire structure will be rebuilt.
The work will take at least several more weeks to complete since much of the material is imported, according to the project manager on site, James of Tiki King. On most days, there are four to six people working on the thatching.
When Tiki King is done with the basic structure, creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller will likely add some embellishments underneath, Mattei said.
A similar thatching is also being installed on the roof over the Tahiti dining room, the back area that faces Federal Highway and the outdoor garden. You can get a view of this work from the sidewalk at the south end of the property. We also got a view from inside the back Tiki garden.
The work was in its early stages when we arrived, but James explained how Tiki King planned to add the crisscross pattern of eucalyptus poles, which would be covered with thatching.
The thatching project will be ongoing through the month of September, so be sure to check it out if you drive by. We’ll also be posting updates here was the work progresses.
One of the major planned projects – the removal of the former Bora Bora Room and creation of a new entranceway – is still on hold awaiting approval from the city of Oakland Park. The Mai-Kai’s status as a historic property, both locally and nationally, requires that such projects receive extensive due diligence. We hope to have news on this portion of the project in the near future.
Alert guests driving past the Bora Bora building to pick up their takeout cocktails may have noticed one other change last week. One of the three carved Tiki idols that have stood to the north of the driveway by the porte-cochère since 2016 was mysteriously missing in action.
There is nothing to fear, however. The creation of local artist Tom Fowner – a Tangaroa-style Tiki carved as an homage to a vintage Mai-Kai decanter – is being stored safely inside the building.
Sitting out in the stormy Fort Lauderdale weather had caused the Central Florida Cypress log to sustain a substantial amount of rot. If repair is not feasible, Fowner has said he’ll carve a sturdier replacement. The other two carvings, by fellow Florida artists Will Anders and Jeff Chouinard, show no similar signs of rot.
* Past coverage: ‘King Kai’ leads procession of new Tikis into The Mai-Kai
Meanwhile, the main A-frame, which soars above the restaurant and dates back to its 1956 opening, is receiving layers of protective sealant.
Plans are still in flux, but it’s expected that at least a portion of the structure will be covered in thatch. It will likely be a weatherproof, highly durable thatching similar to what’s currently being installed on the porte-cochère and Tahiti dining room roofs.
When The Mai-Kai opened, only the center A-frame portion of the building existed and capacity was a mere 200 people. The front of the peaked roof contained only screening, meaning the dining room was “open air.” This allowed for lush gardens to grow behind what is now the stage for the dinner show. That’s why this seating area is still referred to as the “garden.”
This also gave guests a fully immersive South Seas tropical experience. Air conditioning was featured in the adjoining dining rooms for those with more refined tastes. But eventually, glass replaced the screens and the entire showroom was climate controlled. Later, the glass was covered to give the space it’s distinctive dark and mysterious feel with the hundreds of lights dotting the ceiling.
While the roof work proceeds outside, electricians are still in the midst of extensive work modernizing the 65-year-old venue’s infrastructure. This project has kept power (and air conditioning) turned off to much of the building, making the work of designer “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller even more challenging.
But Allsmiller is moving forward full-throttle with a long list of projects he shared on Instagram. His to-do list includes work in The Molokai bar, the garden and six surrounding dining rooms, the gift shop, bathrooms, A-frame, and more. This is before work even begins on the new event space he designed. The latter will be the last piece to be added, most likely in mid-2023.
When I last heard from Allsmiller, he was taking down all the old seagrass matting and putting up fresh materials in the New Guinea dining room. Located to the left of the showroom stage, this is one of the oldest dining rooms in the restaurant and one of the most in need of TLC.
Follow Typhoon Tommy on his Instagram page for periodic updates. We’ll also be sharing some exclusive insights on his work here in future reports.
AUG. 10 – Typhoon Tommy hard at work on interior restoration
A month after starting work on the detailed restoration of The Mai-Kai’s historic bar and dining rooms, “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller is deeply immersed in this job unlike any other.
Allsmiller, who formerly worked with Disney Imagineering and for Universal Creative, is well-versed in taking materials for new builds and treating them to look worn and aged. But The Mai-Kai presents a special challenge: Restoring 50- to 60-year-old wall decor to a very specific vintage.
Fans of The Mai-Kai are fixated on these details, so he knows the responsibility he carries. When replacements are needed, he’s going to great lengths to make sure the exact materials are used. Check out this update he posted on Instagram for an example:
View this post on Instagram
We dropped in on The Mai-Kai’s creative director recently and were grateful to receive a guided tour of his current workplace. Below are some takeaways from our sneak peek at the massive job.
* With a spanking new roof completed and water leaks no longer an issue, crews of workers have turned their attention to a complete rebuild of the fire sprinkler system. At the same time, electricians are in the midst of a huge rewiring job, updating the sprawling restaurant’s outdated electrical infrastructure. When all of these key safety features are complete, The Mai-Kai will have a rock-solid foundation to move forward with the more cosmetic refurbishments. Until the electrical work is done, the AC is not yet functional. So Allsmiller has Florida’s soaring summer heat to contend with on top of the challenging job. Not that he’s complaining.
* The Molokai bar is receiving most of his recent attention. The designer is also doing assessments and beginning work on the main showroom and surrounding dining rooms: New Guinea, Hawaii, Moorea, Tahiti, and Samoa. It was shocking to see how years of roof leaks had caused water damage and extensive wood rot in many of the rooms after he pulled away the outer facades. Even when dealing with ceilings and support beams, Allsmiller is doing his best to recreate the same wood treatments that were originally used.
* While removing rotted wood in The Molokai, Allsmiller discovered some old painted panels that date back to the original bar. The current nautical theme, which includes artifacts and ship’s rigging salvaged from the MGM prop department and used in the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty, was added during the restaurant’s massive expansion in the early 1970s. The original bar was built in 1958 and is most significant because it launched two of The Mai-Kai’s most iconic features: Sarong-clad serving girls and the Mystery Drink.
* Allsmiller’s biggest challenge may be the restoration of wall after wall of brittle, broken and faded matting and tapa in all the rooms. He’s doing his best to recreate the exact same patterns. He said The Mai-Kai recently bought out all of the remaining stock of these materials from the now-closed Oceanic Arts in Whittier, Calif. The legendary decor and art studio, which was founded in 1956 (the same year The Mai-Kai opened) by partners LeRoy Schmaltz and Bob Van Oosting, provided a large chunk of the restaurant’s decor. Schmaltz, who recently passed away at age 87, carved tikis and much interior woodwork that was shipped to Fort Lauderdale over the decades.
* While the work is being done, many of the artifacts have been covered or removed. We also spotted a group of tikis from the garden stored in the Tahiti Room for safe-keeping.
* We got a peek at the outdoor lanai and gardens, where new planks and flooring have been added. The pathway has been widened so it can accommodate more guests, and it’s now wide enough for diners to take photos and not bump into others while enjoying a stroll through the garden. The walkway’s railings have also been shored up with more thick chain.
* Manager Kern Mattei joined us on the tour of the interior of the main building, plus a quick peek at the adjacent Bora Bora building, which is slated for removal to make way for a totally redesigned entrance from Federal Highway. Mattei confirmed that the city of Oakland Park has received all of the proposed plans for the outside renovations. They’re now awaiting approval from the city’s historical preservation board before work can begin. Owner Bill Fuller revealed previously that it’s possible that the plans may not be approved, but there are contingency plans if that happens.
Stay tuned for more updates!
JULY 12 – Work beings refreshing the bar and dining rooms
One of the tasks of creative director and designer “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller is refreshing the interior of The Mai-Kai that was not damaged, but still needs a bit of spiffing up. It was great to see the video he posted from Day 1 of the project …
View this post on Instagram
We hope this means that most of the roof work is complete, and the project is moving closer toward completion late this year.
JULY 11 – Beat the summer heat with takeout cocktails from The Mai-Kai
There’s no better way to stay cool in South Florida than with gallons and quarts of tropical drinks from The Mai-Kai. After re-launching in May and continuing through July Fourth, the takeout menu returns with four classic Tiki cocktails available for pick-up July 22-23.
The menu is the same as the one offered on July Fourth and detailed below, including the signature rum. Scheduled pick-up dates and times are Friday, July 22 (4-6 p.m.), and Saturday, July 23 (10 a.m.-noon). Special arrangements can be made for other times.
JUNE 23 – Takeout cocktails return for Fourth of July weekend
After re-igniting in May and continuing through June, the takeout cocktail program blasts off again on the Fourth of July weekend with a menu of four classic Tiki drinks available for pick-up June 30 and July 1.
Locals can once again pick up quarts and gallons of the Barrel O’ Rum, Black Magic, Jet Pilot, and Mai Tai. Also still available are a limited number of bottles of The Mai-Kai’s signature rum released in 2020: The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend.
The latest holiday cocktail bonanza follows previous opportunities on Mother’s Day’s (and Cinco De Mayo) weekend, Memorial Day weekend, and Father’s Day weekend. Attendees at The Hukilau also grabbed quarts and gallons to go at the conclusion of the June 9-12 event in Pompano Beach.
JUNE 29 – The Mai-Kai’s new owner reveals renovation plans during The Hukilau
In the entertainment and hospitality industry, your biggest fans can also be your toughest critics. So when the new owner of South Florida’s beloved Mai-Kai sat down with more than 100 Tiki enthusiasts during The Hukilau on June 11 for an open discussion of his plans to renovate the 65-year-old landmark, their reaction was crucial.
Judging by the many rousing ovations throughout the 50-minute presentation, veteran real estate developer and historic preservationist Bill Fuller passed the test with flying colors.
Looming thunderstorms put a kibosh on the multimedia presentation planned for the open-air beachside gathering at the Beachcomber Resort in Pompano Beach. But Fuller’s words were more than enough to win over the crowd who came from around the world to the 19th Tiki weekender.
JUNE 14 – The Mai-Kai serves cocktails, puts on a show, reveals plans at The Hukilau
Guests of The Hukilau were treated to several signature elements of The Mai-Kai experience during the 19th Tiki weekender June 9-12 at the Beachcomber resort in Pompano Beach.
Two cocktails that have not been available since the October 2020 closing were served to thirsty villagers. Thursday night’s welcome party featured the Mai-Kai Swizzle, while Friday night’s pool party included a Mai-Kai pop-up bar serving the Mutiny.
Also on Friday, members of the Polynesian Islander Revue performed on the beach before the traditional luau. On Saturday, Bill Fuller, the leader of the new ownership and management team, led an informative discussion of the upcoming renovation plans.
Check back soon for a full recap of what we learned about The Mai-Kai at The Hukilau.
The Hukilau 2022: Daily recap, photos and video UPDATED
The 19th Tiki weekender featured four days of live music, educational seminars, cocktails and rum tastings, plus lots more.
>>> FULL DAILY COVERAGE
MAY 30 – Refurbishment plans revealed as The Mai-Kai aims for fall reopening
When The Mai-Kai completes a multimillion-dollar renovation, guests of the historic restaurant will be treated to several major enhancements, including a more immersive arrival experience and a new banquet hall.
The head of the new ownership group broke the news and unveiled artist renderings during an online presentation for the city of Oakland Park and The Mai-Kai’s neighborhood residents in late April.
Also crucial to the reopening plans for the 65-year-old Polynesian palace, the refurbishment includes upgrading the aging roofs and air conditioning system, along with the ground-up construction of a new kitchen.
Fans of The Mai-Kai’s vintage look and feel should not fear these changes, however. The chief executive who leads both the land management firm that bought a controlling interest and the hospitality company that will be operating The Mai-Kai says there are no plans to alter the experience once guests walk through the doors.
This includes a planned revival of the Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii. From the nautical-themed Molokai bar to the dining rooms named for South Seas islands, a night at The Mai-Kai will remain a transportive time capsule considered to be the last grand mid-century Polynesian supper club in the world.
“There are thousands of beautiful historic properties all over the world that are sitting vacant without their proper use, said Bill Fuller, managing partner of Miami’s Barlington Group “This is just an amazing example of a historic property that is sustainable.” Fuller’s real estate development company specializes in revitalizing cultural institutions and neighborhoods across the country.
In a question-and-answer session after the April 26 meeting to share the “plans and visions” for the reopening, Fuller spoke in realistic terms about how to best preserve The Mai-Kai: “Although we are restricted based on the historic preservation, it is absolutely imperative that we are successful from a business perspective so that we can preserve all the other great attributes of The Mai-Kai,” he said. “Not just the architectural features, but the entire immersive experience including the shows, the music, the food, the drinks.”
The new ownership team, led by Fuller’s Tiki Real Estate LLC, paid $7.5 million for The Mai-Kai and took out a $6 million mortgage. The real estate purchase is valued at more than $16 million. “Over the last few months, we have been developing plans and securing permits,” Fuller said at the start of the neighborhood participation meeting. “We anticipate reopening in the fall of this coming year.”
“We care deeply about the community of Oakland Park and are grateful for the outpouring of support we’ve had,” Fuller said. After the presentation, a neighborhood resident praised the plans and said he was thrilled that The Mai-Kai will be returning as a staple destination in the area. “It will be a great day to see it open,” he added.
Roof project: Crucial work underway to shore up historic structure
Entrance experience: Flow of parking lot to be re-imagined
New event space: Banquet hall planned next to reconstructed kitchen
Behind the scenes: The Mai-Kai interior intact with exciting additions in the works
What’s next? New owner promises continued effort to restore and upgrade
APRIL 26 – The Mai-Kai takeout cocktails spice up holiday weekends
It may not have been as serious as Prohibition, but the long dry spell since September 2021 without authentic Mai-Kai cocktails was not easy to bear. Luckily, the much-appreciated “Gallons To Go” started flowing again on Easter weekend, with continued service on three more upcoming holidays. Guests can drive home with ample supplies for Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, and Father’s Day. Four of the restaurant’s most popular drinks will be available in both quarts and gallons: Barrel O’ Rum, Black Magic, Jet Pilot, and Mai Tai. Drinks will also be served during The Hukilau on June 9-12 (see March 30 update below). Sign up for the official Mai-Kai newsletter to receive updates.
The Mai-Kai’s takeout cocktails returning in May and June 2022
During the restaurant’s refurbishment, quarts and gallons of four classic tropical drinks will be available on three upcoming holiday weekends.
>>> Get the latest news on takeout cocktails
MARCH 30 – Tickets on sale for The Hukilau featuring Mai-Kai cocktails, special presentation
Fans of The Mai-Kai will not want to miss the presentation by the new owners on the future of restaurant during The Hukilau 2022 in June at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach. Event attendees will also be able to enjoy authentic Mai-Kai cocktails served throughout the weekend. Tickets are available now! The presentation and meet-and-greet with The Mai-Kai team will happen on Saturday, June 11. South Seas passholders receive guaranteed seating, while Aloha passholders can attend on a space-available basis. The pop-up cocktail bar is open to all guests of The Hukilau, celebrating its 19th live event (and 18th in South Florida in association with The Mai-Kai).
The Hukilau announces entertainment lineup as tickets go on sale for 19th Tiki weekender
The East Coast’s longest-running Polynesian Pop event will feature live music (The Surfrajettes, The Intoxicators, The Manakooras, King Kukulele), symposiums (Ian Burrell, David Wondrich), 18 guest bars, rum tastings, luau on the beach, pool parties, Tiki Treasures Bazaar, plus more on June 9-12.
MARCH 4 – The Hukilau will feature The Mai-Kai at beachside resort in June
The Mai-Kai has been involved with The Hukilau since the annual Tiki weekender moved to Fort Lauderdale in its second year in 2003. When the pandemic put a damper on the 2020 event, the restaurant hosted special virtual festivities. In 2021, the event moved to a new hotel on Pompano Beach and featured The Mai-Kai’s last outdoor cocktail party on Sept. 18, just before the announcement of the new partnership that paved the way for the $5 million restoration plans. For 2022, The Hukilau is back at the Beachcomber Resort & Club for a four-day party on June 9-12. Even though The Mai-Kai will still be closed for the massive renovations, it will still be a big part of the event. Organizer Richard Oneslager, one of the investors in the new partnership, announced that The Mai-Kai will host both a pop-up bar and a bungalow party during the event. In addition, the new ownership team will share the refurbishment plans in an exclusive presentation on Saturday, June 11. Event tickets and hotel reservations will be available soon.
The Hukilau returns to June, oceanfront resort near Fort Lauderdale
The East Coast’s longest-running Tiki weekender is back at the cozy Beachcomber Resort & Club on the ocean in Pompano Beach for its 19th live event on June 9-12.
JAN. 26 – Florida Tiki designer signs on to refurbish The Mai-Kai
“Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller teaches a class at The Hukilau 2021 in September, then relaxes at The Mai-Kai with wife Kari. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / The Atomic Grog)
Noted Tiki designer and craftsman “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller announced on social media today that he’ll be working with The Mai-Kai as creative director and designer on “some exciting new additions to the legacy of this already fantastic establishment.” The Orlando-based artist said he’s “honored and humbled” to be working with the Thornton family and their new partners “in creating unique experiences” and “rehabbing some areas in need of love and attention.” Allsmiller is known for his work at Disney World and Universal parks as well as designing the Suffering Bastard in Sanford. More recently, he built Tahiti Gil’s Mananui, a vacation home in Orlando inspired by Disney’s Polynesian Village. “I can’t begin to tell you how thrilled I am to participate in this dream project,” he said in his Mai-Kai announcement. “Some of you may know The Mai-Kai is an extraordinary place to my family and me, as well as the place Kari and I tied the knot in February of 2020. The magnitude of this opportunity is not lost on me, and I’m excited to share it with all of you. The road will be long, but the destination will be worth it – so stay tuned.” In the meantime, you can catch Allsmiller at this weekend’s Inuhele in Atlanta, where he’ll be teaching a class on how to create vintage signs for home bars. He has presented Tiki design symposiums at other events, including The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale in September. Allsmiller also shares his expertise in the book The Field Guide to Tiki Decorating with Trader Sam’s designer “Trader Brandon” Kleyla and veteran Tiki artist “Tiki Tony” Murphy.
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JAN. 19 – Potential reopening timeframe shared on social media
In response to a question about a reopening date, an answer from the official Mai-Kai page on Facebook provided some new information on the planned (or “hoped for”) timeframe:
“Hopefully the Molokai bar will reopen this summer and the restaurant later this year!”
We were also reminded to sign up for the newsletter to make sure we get all official announcements.
This is the first time we’ve seen a reference to specific time periods in comments about the refurbishment. It also reaffirms speculation that The Molokai lounge, which is located in the front of the building away from the damaged kitchen, would reopen before the remainder of the restaurant.
We’ll continue to monitor social media and official sources for more info. Stay tuned!
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