Updated Jan 13, 2023
Historic preservation board approves The Mai-Kai’s renovation plans, clearing way for project to move forward
Landmark Polynesian restaurant allowed to remove old building, make other enhancements in sweping plan to reimagine 66-year-old, 2.7-acre property. Final approval could come on Jan. 26.
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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 close out 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. Check out all of the updates over the past year below, and keep an eye out for lots more as work ramps up in 2023.
DEC. 30 – The Mai-Kai turns 66 as work progresses on multiple renovation projects
The Mai-Kai’s 66th birthday passed quietly on Dec. 28, but there are many reasons to be hopeful that the 67th anniversary in 2023 will be the first since 2019 when we’ll once again be able to gather inside the historic Fort Lauderdale restaurant to appreciate its grandeur and beauty.
The multimillion-dollar renovation that kicked off earlier this year is turning out to be a slow and meticulous process. But rest assured that no expenses are being spared, nor any corners being cut, as the owners and management aim for a possible spring reopening.
Luckily, locals were still able to toast the anniversary – and celebrate the year-end holidays in style – with takeout cocktails prepared by manager Kern Mattei and organized by public relations director Pia Dahlquist. Both stayed busy filling orders for Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the latest opportunity to pick up quarts and gallons to go. Look for new dates to be announced soon for 2023.
Following is a detailed recap from our final peek inside the hallowed halls as work was winding down before the holiday break …
Typhoon Tommy: The one-man master restoration machine
I arrived at the main entrance of The Mai-Kai on Wednesday, Dec. 21, to find creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller up on a ladder just inside the main foyer, hard at work restoring the woodwork high above my head. The young craftsman – whose past work can be seen at both Universal and Disney parks, along with several notable Tiki establishments – began working on the interior restoration in July.
Allsmiller has spent the past six months bringing The Molokai bar back to its vintage glory. He gave us a tour while also discussing one of his most painstaking projects: Refurbishing many of the hundreds of lamps hanging throughout the restaurant. Many of these date back to the early years of The Mai-Kai and were created by the venerable Oceanic Arts. [See past coverage below]
It was the designer’s last day of the year working inside the building, but as usual he planned to take his work home with him to central Florida to continue to rebuild lamps in workshop over the holiday break. He said that when he returns in January, he plans to have a partner helping him kickstart work on his long list of projects.
The Molokai is nearly done, Allsmiller said, pointing out all of the woodwork that has been completed. Painters will arrive next to do the finishing touches on the nautical-themed bar that dates back to The Mai-Kai’s early 1970s expansion. Much of the stylized decor – such as the ship’s rigging and props on display – were featured in the classic Marlin Brando film Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) and purchased from the MGM prop department.
Allsmiller showed off an Easter egg he left hidden high in the rafters of The Molokai: Part of a decorative wood panel that pre-dates the 1970 redressing of the bar. These painted panels were originally used outside the front door and throughout The Molokai. [See our original post below]
Later, in the back office, we spotted several large panels that Allsmiller was able to remove nearly intact after being covered for more than 50 years. He said he found the painted wood pieces, which can be seen in vintage Mai-Kai photos, when he redid the beam above the front door.
“They’re in great shape, so I thought I’d save them, not cover them up,” Allsmiller said. Could they be destined for use elsewhere in the refurbishment?
A table set up near the entrance to The Molokai was overflowing with lamps in various stages of restoration. The restaurant is filled to the brim with these incredibly detailed works of functional art, but Allsmiller said he’s making progress.
He pointed out one of the lamps that required a full rebuild of its insides. He said he plans to put a new top on it before returning it to its spot hanging from the ceiling.
A great example of the length Allsmiller will go to in restoring these lamps was a weathered, hourglass-shaped fixture that he totally rebuilt. He’s still working on the trim work on the vintage lamp, which he found with a badly ripped panel.
To ensure that the repair looks exactly like the original, he used old fiberglass paper that was removed elsewhere. “It fits the timeline,” he said. He then hand-painted it to mimic the original. The entire internal structure is all brand new, but his work using a pinstriping brush on the restored panels will be undetectable when its returned to its perch.