The Hukilau returned to the picturesque Fort Lauderdale area oceanfront for an 18th time for four days of Polynesian Pop paradise in America’s vacationland. After missing in-person festivities in 2020 due to the pandemic, many of the event’s loyal “villagers” looked forward to getting back to The Mai-Kai and checking out the new host hotel. UPDATED:See daily social media photos below: Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday
The Beachcomber on Pompano Beach is a throwback to earlier years, a smaller venue with lots of outdoor space that works perfectly in the current environment. And while The Mai-Kai has remained closed for extensive refurbishment and repairs since last October, the historic Polynesian restaurant once again hosted a Saturday evening gathering as it has since 2003, a year after The Hukilau made its debut in Atlanta.
GUEST BARS & BARTENDERS: Among the cocktail offerings were drinks from Ayme Harrison (Death or Glory, Delray Beach, Fla.), Luau Lads (Jacksonville, Fla.), Marie King and Ian Yarborough (Tonga Hut, Los Angeles and Palm Springs, Calif.), Scotty Schuder (Dirty Dick, Paris), Greg Schutt (Tropics, Cocoa Beach), and Kimberly Platt (Honu, Dunedin, Fla.).
A limited number of tickets are still available for The Hukilau 2021, scheduled for Sept. 16-19 at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach, according to an email announcement. The 19th Tiki weekender will also include a special event at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale.
Regarding concerns over safety and COVID, the email announcement noted that “all signs still point to a fun, safe, outdoor event.” It added: “In the event that The Hukilau 2021 must be cancelled, or at any point you would prefer to hang back, we are offering full refunds for all passes and tickets, including service fees.” Have questions? Check out the online FAQ at TheHukilau.com or email organizer Richard Oneslager.
Ticket options range from all-inclusive passes to à la carte events. Here are the highlights:
Beachcomber Pass ($269): Villagers buying the entry-level pass receive admission to Friday and Saturday’s Rum Island Pool Parties, Saturday’s Tiki Treasures Bazaar, plus a “Bungalow Party Pass” at the Beachcomber. The pool parties and bungalows will feature complimentary drinks from top Tiki bars and bartenders from around the country, plus live entertainment and sponsor booths. Also included is Saturday’s Save Paradise Party at The Mai-Kai, which will feature a private seating in the outdoor porte-cochère and access to buy authentic Mai-Kai cocktails along with a special announcement on the future of the historic restaurant. Entertainment will be provided by Polynesian Islander Revue performers. Passholders can also add a rum tasting pass ($25) and symposiums ($10 each) à la carte. (Symposium tickets sold on a space-available basis.)
Aloha Pass ($299): This mid-level pass includes all of the Beachcomber perks, plus admission to Thursday’s kickoff party featuring live music and cocktails. Beachcomber passholders also receive a complimentary rum tasting pass and access to all symposiums, plus free transportation to The Mai-Kai. Both Beachcomber and Aloha passholders can also buy à la carte tickets to Friday’s luau on the beach ($49 cocktails only, $129 food and drinks) and Sunday’s Tiki brunch ($49).
South Seas Pass ($599): Villagers at the top tier receive all of the same benefits that the other passholders receive, with the cost of the Friday luau (cocktails and dinner) and Sunday brunch included in the pass. They will also get early admission to the luau and bazaar, plus priority seating at symposiums. South Seas villagers will also be treated to a small custom Tiki created by Tiki Tony, plus a special reception at Saturday’s Mai-Kai party.
As The Mai-Kai works behind the scenes on a potential reopening, locals continue to enjoy a taste of the historic Polynesian restaurant with regular to-go cocktail offerings as well as occasional Tiki marketplaces in the parking lot.
An announcement on the future of the 64-year-old Tiki temple in Fort Lauderdale is expected to come during The Hukilau weekend in September, if not sooner. In social media posts, The Mai-Kai makes it clear that they do not currently have a reopening date, but “hope to announce one soon.” The owners urge fans to sign up for the newsletter at MaiKai.com to receive official word on future plans.
Guests arrive at The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace on July 18, 2021.
In the meantime, here’s a look back at the most recent Tiki Marketplace in July, which proved to be just as successful as the first one in May. All photos are from The Mai-Kai and The Atomic Grog.
At The Mai-Kai’s booth, manager Kern Mattei shows off some of the restaurant’s many items available for sale while guests enjoy the restaurant’s authentic cocktails.
Many were just happy to be on the grounds of The Mai-Kai with like-minded fans. Tropical drinks were available to take home or imbibe under the shade of the porte-cochère. The Mai-Kai Trading Post booth was a highlight, offering new glassware and apparel along with a vast collection of collectibles and branded merchandise.
The Mai-Kai’s entrance-exit area was turned into an oasis for tropical treats. Or just a cool place to relax.
Performers and musicians from The Mai-Kai’s long-running dinner show were part of the festivities.
Members of The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue were on hand to entertain attendees, providing a much-needed taste of what makes the restaurant distinctive and historic. Until closing in October after flooding and kitchen damage caused by a vicious storm, it was considered to be the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii.
Robert Korhonen shows off original artwork he created in tribute to the July 18 marketplace host.
Once again, the event was expertly organized by Pia Dahlquist, The Mai-Kai’s director of public relations, who flawlessly took care of all the logistics so everything went off without a hitch. And although the usual South Florida summer heat made itself known, skies were clear and there was a constant flow of guests all day.
Quarts of The Mai-Kai’s most popular cocktails were available at the July 18 marketplace.
It was great to see members of the Thornton family and their small staff working behind the scenes and taking care of guests at the front entrance, where an array of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks were available. The restaurant was founded in 1956 by brothers Robert and Jack Thornton, two young transplants from Chicago. Bob Thornton’s widow, Mireille Thornton, still serves as owner and choreographer of the Polynesian show while her children and other family fill other roles in the operation.
Hurricane Hayward picked up a Tiki mask from Tom Fowner (left) along with some cool artwork from the N! Satterfield booth.
The vendor marketplace opened at 11 a.m. (running until 4 p.m.), and we arrived early to get our first pick from the art booths. I was happy to snag a mask carved from palm wood by local artist Tom Fowner, a longtime contributor to The Mai-Kai perhaps best known for creating one of the three carvings in the porte-cochère that guests see when they arrive.
The Luau Lads (left) and Sandbar Sauce booths featured a tasty collection of cocktail mixers and accessories. The Atomic Grog’s booty included a selection of these goods along with Mai-Kai glassware and art by South Florida’s Nik Satterfield and Tom Fowner.
It was also a priority to pick up some craft cocktail syrups from two highly recommended purveyors: Jacksonville’s Luau Lads and Miami’s Sandbar Sauce. It was nice to finally meet Jose Salcido and taste his fresh syrups. We hope to see Michael Bloom back in Fort Lauderdale for The Hukilau in September along with his fellow Lad, Kurt Rogers.
After a 27-month hiatus, The Hukilau is returning to the picturesque sands of Fort Lauderdale beach in September with a four-day takeover of an oceanfront boutique hotel, plus a main event at The Mai-Kai that could kick off a new beginning for the historic Polynesian restaurant.
“It will be a smaller, more intimate event. Almost everything is outdoors,” said The Hukilau’s owner/organizer, Richard Oneslager. “We won’t be packed into a ballroom,” he noted, citing COVID concerns. All state and local guidelines will be followed, he added.
The Hukilau was last held in June 2019 at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina, which has since gone down for extensive renovations that could last several more years. Only the iconic tower and marina will remain when the resort reopens. The 2020 event, scheduled for the B Ocean Resort, was waylaid by the coronavirus pandemic.
Luckily, Broward County’s famous highway A1A beachfront also contains many smaller and more appropriate venues for 2021. One of these is the Beachcomber Resort & Club, located just north of the Fort Lauderdale strip in Pompano Beach. The Hukilau has reserved the entire boutique hotel for the weekend, creating a complete Tiki takeover. With pandemic protocols still fresh in everyone’s mind, most of the activities will be held in various outdoor spaces on the resort’s grounds and private beach.
Of course, The Hukilau would not be complete without its heart and soul, the historic Mai-Kai in nearby Oakland Park. The restaurant remains closed after a massive flood caused extensive back-of-house damage in October 2020. But Saturday’s traditional main event will return to The Mai-Kai, taking place in the sprawling parking lot just a 15-minute drive from the Beachcomber.
Tickets, hotel rooms available soon
Previous 2020 passholders who rolled their tickets into 2021 were given priority and early access to confirm hotel rooms. Remaining rooms can be booked now only by phone by calling (954) 941-7830.
Event tickets – from all-inclusive passes to à la carte events – are available now via TheHukilau.com website. Sign up for the email list to get future updates, which will also be posted on Facebook.
Tickets will be limited to keep the event safe and intimate. However, if space is available and the Beachcomber sells out, The Hukilau has arrangements with several nearby beachfront properties to offer special rates to spillover guests who are shut out of Beachcomber rooms. Locals can also pick up event tickets and not worry about accommodations.
In a change from past years, The Hukilau will offer all-inclusive tickets that encompass all events – including symposiums and special experiences. South Seas passes are the top-tier passes, giving Hukilau villagers access to all weekend events, including reserved seats at symposiums. Beachcomber and Aloha passes offer most of the experiences, with extra events available for an additional fee.
A new beachfront hotel near The Mai-Kai
The Beachcomber Resort & Club is a family-owned hotel with 140 rooms, suites and villas that sits right on the Atlantic Ocean in Pompano Beach, just north of Fort Lauderdale. The property also includes a cluster of apartments across A1A for event staff and participants. It’s roughly half the size of the B Ocean, so expect a more cozy event.
The resort offers “sweeping ocean views, two pools, tiki huts, full beach access, and more amenities, all reserved for our beloved villagers,” The Hukilau’s official announcement said. While many of the most popular activities will return to the schedule, organizers have made adjustments based on past feedback.
A conscious effort is being made to allow for more beach and social time with friends, a top request from villagers. The resort “is custom-made for us,” Oneslager said in a recent phone interview. He noted that the Beachcomber is blocked out for event attendees only, including the private beach.
The main event space is an open-air thatched hut where symposiums and performances will be held. The space is often used for weddings and other special events. Bands, solo musicians and DJs will be disbursed in outdoor areas around the resort. Performers will include musicians who lost their gig at The Mai-Kai when storm damage forced the restaurant’s closure in October.
Rum companies and other sponsors will host parties in a cluster of bungalows around a grassy area ideal for comfortable mingling. Pop-up cocktail bars and live performers will be spread out around the property, including poolside, Oneslager said.
On Thursday, The Hukilau’s opening day, guests “can expect welcome cocktails and cabanas filled with boozy libations from our roster of guest bars,” according to the official website. “Friday will be stacked with symposiums, pool parties, a grand luau, and guest bars.”
Catered by the Beachcomber and guest bartenders, the Friday night luau will be held in a private area just off the beach from 7 to 10 p.m. The cost of the feast is included in South Seas passes, while other ticketholders can add it for an extra fee.
In a change from years past, there will be no additional charge for symposiums (except for the lowest level passholders, who can pay $10 for tickets). There may be capacity limitations, but the top-tier South Seas passholders will receive priority seating. Most of these events will be outdoors under the large tiki hut, which can be modified to protect guests from gusty wind and rain, Oneslager said.
The Beachcomber will host the Tiki Treasures Bazaar as well as a pool party on Saturday. On Sunday, The Hukilau bids farewell with a beachside Tiki brunch and themed cocktails from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. It will be a festive sendoff with pop-up bars and live music.
While most of the weekend everts are scheduled to be outdoors, contingency plans are in place in the event of inclement weather. The Beachcomber has enough indoor restaurant and lobby space to host the luau if necessary. And the tiki hut area can shield guests during typical rainy days. Plans also call for a tent to be installed over the resort’s croquet lawn, Oneslager said.
If a severe storm hits, there are guarantees from the hotel that all reservations are 100 percent refundable. Event passes are also refundable if a named tropical storm sparks watches or warnings in the area within seven days of The Hukilau. Regardless of the weather, all rooms come with a cancellation window up to 10 days before the event. For more detailed information, check the online FAQ.
Like past years, The Hukilau will celebrate its Saturday main event at the historic Polynesian restaurant that has been part of every event since the move to Fort Lauderdale in 2003. Unfortunately, the closing for renovations has forced the owners to adapt since ceasing dinner service in October.
So what’s in store for The Hukilau? Passholders are invited to an exclusive “Save Paradise Party” on Saturday in the restaurant’s thatched outdoor porte-cochères space where guests has previously entered the restaurant. Free transportation will be provided for South Seas and Aloha passholders. The Mai-Kai’s famous cocktails will be available for purchase.
From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., guests can browse more than 20 booths containing an eclectic assortment of items while enjoying authentic Mai-Kai cocktails and three unique food options, plus live Tiki Bingo. Entertainment will be provided by musicians and performers from The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii.
The Mai-Kai has made a few adjustments following the overwhelming success of the first Tiki Marketplace on April 17. Guests should be aware that the one and only entry point will be via the main entrance porte-cochère at 3599 N. Federal Highway. Once inside the marketplace, you’ll be able to check out the vendors and relax under the shade of the thatched roof with a beverage and small bite. There is also plenty of entertainment on tap all day.
The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace schedule
* 11 a.m.-4 p.m. – Vendor marketplace, food and drinks
* Noon – Samoan Fire Knife Dance by the Polynesian Islander Revue
* 1 p.m. – Tiki Bingo hosted by the Fraternal Order of Moai
* 1:30 p.m. – Samoan Fire Knife Dance
* 2-4 p.m. – Live entertainment by Mai-Kai musicians
* 3 p.m. – Samoan Fire Knife Dance
* 4 p.m. – Tiki Bingo
The final Tiki Bingo game will be followed by a raffle featuring four signature mugs and a snifter from The Mai-Kai collection.
Bring a cooler so you can grab a quart to take home. No advance sales will be available, but fans of The Mai-Kai’s famous tropical drinks will be happy to hear that another round of take-home quarts (and gallons) will be offered on Friday-Saturday, July 23-24. Email Pia Dahlquist, The Mai-Kai’s director of public relations, for more information. You can also sign up for the email list to get news and announcements on future events, plus cocktails to go.
To beat the summer heat, a cool and refreshing item will be available Sunday: Tropical shaved ice from Kona Ice. The two local food trucks that served up tasty treats in April will return. M.C.K. Fusion from Mobile Culinary Kitchens (Colombian and Latin fusion) and Inspir-Asian (Chinese street food) will provide everything from tacos and quesadillas, to shrimp and fried rice.
We’re honored to once again be a sponsor of the event, along with the Gumbo Limbo Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Moai, the premier fraternal organization and social network for Tiki culture and Polynesian pop enthusiasts. Many vendors are also returning from the first marketplace, selling everything from Tiki and retro-inspired art and collectibles, to clothing, glassware and much more.
The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace vendors, July 2021
The Mai-Kai Trading Post has been constantly updating its offerings, so look for new as well as classic items for sale. A wide selection of clothing and glassware has been offered over the past several months. Leftover stock may be available in the online store, but popular items sell out, so don’t be late.
Many of the booths from the April event will be back, along with a selection of new artists and businesses:
NEW:ALOHA ARTS – Native South Seas artist Kealoha Pa creates tropical art on wood batik, including jewelry, gift boxes, furniture, and screens. His works have been exhibited at various venues throughout Hawaii.
There are many reasons to celebrate during July Fourth weekend, but fans in close proximity of The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale have one of the best. Take-out quarts and gallons of its most popular cocktails are back for another round of holiday parties. See below:Second outdoor Tiki Marketplace set for July 18
The historic Polynesian restaurant, which has been closed since October for repairs and renovations, is offering four of its most popular tropical drinks along with a signature rum for pick-up on Thursday, July 1 ( from 3 p.m. to 5.30 p.m.), and Friday, July 2 (from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.). The deadline to order – by calling 954-646-8975 – is Wednesday, June 30, at 5 p.m.
Similar to the recent Father’s Day promotion, a merchandise booth will be set up under the restaurant’s porte-cochère for guests to peruse when they pick up their orders. Exclusive new items can be found here first, before they’re released online in The Mai-Kai Trading Post.
When we picked up cocktails earlier this month, we were pleased to find new colors of The Mai-Kai’s signature double old-fashioned glasses. We also grabbed a second color of the “Barney West Tribute” T-shirt, featuring a design by artist Brian Potash of Devilfish Ink that pays tribute to the giant carving that was sadly lost to Hurricane Irma in 2017.
There’s no easier way to enhance any holiday gathering than showing up with pre-batched Mai-Kai cocktails, available in both 32-ounce and 128-ounce plastic jugs. These classic Tiki cocktails are made with fresh-squeezed juices, secret syrups and mixes, plus multiple rums from the Caribbean including Appleton, Hamilton and Lemon Hart.
Don’t let the serving sizes fool you. These drinks are made with the same care and precision as the classic single-serving versions available in The Molokai lounge and the many exotic dining rooms when the restaurant is open. They’re an intrinsic part of The Mai-Kai experience, considered to be just as important as the historic design and decor. Ratings, reviews, history:The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide
The signature Barrel O’ Rum (gallon $80, quart $25) and high-octane Jet Pilot (gallon $131.50, quart $35) are The Mai-Kai’s take on similar cocktails by Tiki’s founding father, Don the Beachcomber. Licudine worked at Donn Beach’s Hollywood and Chicago locations from 1939 until he joined The Mai-Kai, bringing with him the expertise (and secret recipes) to ensure these ground-breaking creations were enjoyed by guests for generations to come.
The Black Magic (gallon $80, quart $25) is a Licudine creation – a unique blend of coffee with rums, juices and spices in a refreshingly cool combination. He later added his own version of a Mai Tai (gallon $120, quart $35), more complex that the traditional version and packed with smooth rums and exotic flavors. Click on the links above for details on each drink, including guidance on glassware and garnish.
Many events have been held at The Mai-Kai during its colorful 64-year history, from star-studded Hollywood parties to multi-day conventions of Tiki culture and cocktail enthusiasts. Now, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and an unprecedented closure for repairs and refurbishment, the historic Polynesian restaurant has been forced to puts its creativity to the test.
Following a string of successful gatherings in its vast parking lot, The Mai-Kai is hosting its first-ever Tiki Marketplace this weekend, welcoming guests to a safe and fun-filled environment chock full of art and collectibles, music and fire-dancing, tasty cane spirits, and a generous spirit of ‘ohana. It’s almost as if The Mai-Kai never closed.
While marketplaces are a staple of Tiki establishments in California, they’re a new concept in stormy South Florida. But mid-April is the perfect time for such an event, a typically mild period before the rainy season and oppressive summer heat kick in. Saturday’s forecast for Fort Lauderdale calls for partly cloudy skies with highs in the upper 80s and a 20 percent chance of rain.
Fans of The Mai-Kai’s famous cocktails have even more reason to rejoice this week. As has been the custom before recent parking lot events, a window of opportunity opened for locals (or ambitious enthusiasts) to pull into the distinctive porte-cochère and take home their own ample supply of four different signature tropical drinks.
It’s now been a year since The Mai-Kai launched the ambitious “Gallons to Go” program during the height of the pandemic shutdowns in South Florida. And it remains a vital source of revenue in trying times, as well as a much appreciated treat for loyal customers, some of whom travel long distances to pick up their favorite cocktail.
And what a great deal for the price. If blended or shaken with crushed ice and served in the appropriate glassware, you can enjoy eight Rum Barrels and Black Magics, 12 Mai Tais, and 14 Jet Pilots from each 128-ounce jug. If you want to sample multiple drinks, grab some 32-ounce containers . They stay fresh in your fridge for at least a week and are impeccably mixed by manager Kern Mattei.
The second generation manager told us he’s personally batching the cocktails, closely following the classic recipes. We can confirm this, rating the Black Magic we picked up March 28 as among the best we’ve ever tasted. All four drinks (in single servings and quarts) will also be available for walk-up ordering at Saturday’s event. You can also grab a beer, wine and water. And as a special treat for the kids and teetotalers, virgin Piña Coladas will be available by the drink and quart.
There will also be plenty to nosh on and pair with your drinks. Dahlquist and The Mai-Kai have lined up three food and ice cream trucks:
* M.C.K. Fusion from Mobile Culinary Kitchens serves Colombian and Latin fusion dishes including tacos, quesadillas and more.
* Inspir-Asian features Chinese dishes done street-food style, such as tacos and shrimp fried rice.
* Good Humor Ice Cream is a throwback treat featuring classic bars, cones and cookie sandwiches.
Vendors include exotic art, Tiki-inspired gifts, clothing, glassware and more
Two dozen artists, craftspeople, collectors and small retailers have signed up to be part of The Mai-Kai’s first Tiki Marketplace.
The Mai-Kai Trading Post will also have a vast assortment of branded merchandise and other items for sale, including clothing and glassware. Look for new T-shirts and many goodies released exclusively at the event along with favorites from the restaurant’s gift shop. Help The Mai-Kai directly with your purchase. Leftover items will be available in the online store, but many sell out during the event, so don’t miss out.
For a restaurant that has been closed since October, The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale is sure a busy place these days. In advance of this Sunday’s parking lot car show, guests are picking up quarts and gallons of classic tropical drinks. Meanwhile, vendors are being sought for the historic Polynesian palace’s first-ever outdoor Tiki marketplace, scheduled for April 17.
The Mai-Kai’s DJ Mike will also be on hand spinning tunes at this socially distanced event. Unless seated with your party, guests are required to wear masks and/or practice physical distancing at all times. Feel free to bring chairs, hang out and enjoy the show.
In preparation for the cruise-in, The Mai-Kai batched up an ample supply of four cocktails for pick-up this week, along with an exclusive rum. The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend, a special Barbados rum from the Foursquare Distillery, is available only during these limited take-out opportunities right before special events. Look for the next window to open in April.
The same four cocktails will be offered on Sunday in single servings or quarts, along with beer, wine and water. Guests can pair their drinks with gourmet street food from the M.C.K. Fusion food truck. The Mobile Culinary Kitchens truck features Colombian and Latin American fusion cuisine, including burgers, tacos, quesadillas and more.
It was great to be back at The Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show on Sunday for the Cruise-In Classic Car Show. Cool…
Following the 64th anniversary party on Dec. 28, fans received a bombshell when it was announced that the Thornton family was considering selling the 2.69-acre property. Possible partnerships are also on the table, but the consistent message from The Mai-Kai has been a desire to keep as much of the original property intact as possible.
This did not quell the overwhelming outpouring of concern and support from fans, who took to social media to console each other and seek ways to help the cause. The most high-profile effort is the “Save The Mai-Kai” petition on Change.org, which at press time has topped 10,750 signatures with no signs of slowing down.
Thousands of fans unite to show support for The Mai-Kai during closing
Previous coverage: More than 10,000 have signed a petition and thousands are flooding social media channels as the historic restaurant plans events, take-home cocktails while potential partners/owners are sought.
News of the next parking lot event was revealed when The Mai-Kai put out a call for vendors for an ambitious Tiki marketplace on April 17. While similar events have become popular regular happenings at Tiki bars around the country, this is believed to be the first time The Mai-Kai has hosted an outdoor Tiki marketplace in its long history.
The Mai-Kai’s director of public relations, Pia Dahlquist, is rounding up vendors to fill the restaurant’s 150-space parking lot. She said she’s aiming for around 25 to 30 booths with a “diversified” lineup. If you’d like to participate and need more information, contact Dahlquist via email or call (954) 646-8975. The cost is just $50 per booth.
When the owners of The Mai-Kai announced in December 2020 that the historic restaurant and the several acres of land the mid-century marvel has occupied since 1956 were possibly for sale, the first reaction from most longtime customers was shock and fear.
Shock that the seemingly indestructible Tiki temple had been taken down, not by the coronavirus pandemic or hurricane-force winds, but by a vicious rainstorm that caused irrecoverable damage to the kitchen that was beyond the capacity of the family-run operation to fix. And fear that the announcement that the owners were seeking partners (or buyers) meant the end of the world’s most well-preserved example of a Polynesian supper club on the grandest of scales.
They flooded social media channels to commiserate, but those emotions did not lead to resignation or despair. Rather, it lit a fire under the legions of followers that had come to love and cherish The Mai-Kai over its many decades of operation.
UPDATE:‘Save The Mai-Kai’ petition tops 10,000 signatures
Primed by the don’t-just-sit-there ethos of the pandemic, these passionate boosters quickly turned their frustration into action. The most shining example of this united front of support can be found in a petition posted on Change.org on Jan. 23. After just two days, it topped 2,600 signatures. Three weeks later, the “Save The Historic Mai-Kai Restaurant & Polynesian Show” petition was closing in on 10,000 signees. It passed that mark on Feb. 22 and has a new goal of 15,000.
The petition is aimed at Mayor Jane Bolin of Oakland Park, the Fort Lauderdale suburb that has always been an ally of its most famous business. Also named is Broward County Commissioner Lamar Fisher, whose district includes the restaurant that faces Federal Highway (aka U.S. 1) just a few miles from the area’s famous beach.
It urges supporters to sign the online petition to let the officials “know that you don’t want to lose this iconic fixture that makes Oakland Park a global tourist destination and revenue source for so many.” On top of the signatures, more than 270 people took the time to post comments, lamenting the potential loss of a beloved part of their lives.
“The Mai Kai is an icon of authentic Americana in Fort Lauderdale, a place that visitors from across the U.S. and from abroad expect to find in this city – because there is nothing like it anywhere else,” wrote author Sven Kirsten, who featured the restaurant in The Book of Tiki, his influential treatise on Tiki culture.
For others, it was very personal. Holly Kriss wrote: “This is an important cultural landmark which must be saved at any cost! One of the reasons we moved permanently to FL was because of the MaiKai!!” Added Kathryn Pease: “My family and friends go to the Fort Lauderdale area specifically to go to the Mai-Kai.”
Julie Perkins summed up the feelings of many perfectly: “The Mai Kai is historically important architecturally and culturally. It is no hyperbole to say that there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. Other tiki restaurants exist, but very few have been in operation for over 50 years, and none with the combination of architecture, live show and gardens that attract visitors from around the world as the Mai Kai does. My family and I visit Ft. Lauderdale from Texas once or twice a year solely because of the Mai Kai.”
Fans gather on Facebook to offer support, share experiences
In addition to the petition, a new “Save the Mai-Kai” group exploded on Facebook, gathering more than 730 like-minded members in just two days and 1,400 four days after forming on Jan. 21. It’s now nearing 2,000 members and has become the site of shared emotions, from angst to despair to hope. Many take the opportunity to share family photos of their trips to The Mai-Kai, some from decades ago.
The description says the purpose of the group “is for tiki fans worldwide to band together and see what we can do to save this incredible treasure.” The group’s only rules are “Be civil” and “Be respectful.”
By all accounts, members are not just respectful but also reverential and reflective. One member shared a photo of his parents enjoying cocktails at The Mai-Kai in 1962, noting that “57 years later I finally went in 2019. Not sure why I waited so long to go.”
Undoubtedly, it was a year many would rather forget – preferably by downing a few Mai Tais. If we take “hindsight is 2020” at face value, perhaps some day there will be positive lessons to be learned from last year’s many tragedies. Despite this, not all the news was negative in the modern Tiki revival. Dispensing with the bad news first, here are The Atomic Grog’s picks for the nine most newsworthy stories of 2020. Bonus recipe below:The Urban Archaeologist (tribute to The Book of Tiki 20th anniversary and commemorative mug)
1. CORONAVIRUS SHUTDOWNS
Of all the industries that were dealt a sucker punch by the pandemic, the bar and restaurant world is the one that seems to have suffered the most long-running impact. When the mandatory closings swept across the United States (and the world) in March and April, most were ill-prepared to deal with the consequences. Heroically, the majority were able to survive by pivoting to take-out and streamlined operations. Sadly, others have remained closed with still no ETA on reopening dates. The list of businesses that closed permanently is sobering. But as we look back at the year, we’re proud of the efforts everyone put forth to keep their Tiki bars and related companies alive against all odds. We will continue to pray for their survival and encourage everyone to help as best they can.
It’s hard for a community to thrive and survive when it’s stripped of its ability to congregate en masse to celebrate and boost each other’s spirits. This hit home in the Tiki world in early March, when Inuhele: Atlanta’s Tiki Weekend held the dubious distinction of being the last pre-pandemic event to take place. The summer season’s blockbuster festivals were forced to scramble. Some postponed, some went to a virtual format, others canceled altogether. But there was still no keeping the fervent followers from seeking out their friends and favorite events, even in stripped-down and online-only form. We tip our hat to the organizers who keep the faithful happy and their brands alive, along with their supporters who kept their heads up and their communities alive throughout the year.
In any other year, the closing of The Mai-Kai would undoubtedly be news story No. 1. But 2020 was no ordinary year, full of curve balls and unexpected twists. After closing during April and May, The Mai-Kai reopened under state social-distancing guidelines and was successfully navigating the pandemic through the summer and fall. An inventive take-out program was pushing boundaries and pleasing fans, while the historic restaurant was consistently filling its available seats with guests eager to watch the acclaimed Polynesian Islander Revue. All that changed in late October, however, when massive rains flooded the kitchen and back-of-house after a roof collapsed during the storm. With no functioning kitchen, The Mai-Kai has closed until the extensive repairs can be done. The annual Halloween party became a drive-in movie event in the parking lot and online sales were stepped up. A family-run operation since 1956, The Mai-Kai faces perhaps its biggest challenge, possibly with a new partnership or ownership. Here’s hoping the grand reopening will top the list of 2021 news events. The Mai-Kai for sale:See the official statementNEW UPDATES: Owners vow to “preserve family legacy” while continuing take-out drinks and more events
In September, The Mai-Kai, its extended family and longtime fans mourned the death of Toti Terorotua, a founding member of the restaurant’s acclaimed Polynesian Islander Revue in 1962. “Toti was not only an outstanding musician and entertainer, he was a great friend and part of what made the Mai-Kai one great big family,” an official statement from the restaurant said. “Toti was a highly regarded musician in Tahiti before coming to the US, creating two classic Tahitian albums with his namesake band Toti’s Tahitians. You can still hear songs from his albums, along with his unforgettable voice, softly playing in the background on the Mai Kai’s nightly soundtrack.” Toti was discovered in the late 1950s by Donn Beach himself, who picked him to be part of his show at the Don the Beachcomber in Waikiki when it opened at the International Marketplace. Toti came to Fort Lauderdale and The Mai-Kai to be part of the original Polynesian show and never left. He retired 2000 after 38 years, but came back in 2006 to play drums at The Mai-Kai’s 50th anniversary at age 71. He continued to perform on stage for another decade-plus. In announcing his death, The Mai-Kai shared a tribute in Tahitian, translated to: “We will miss you so. But dreams will keep us near you. We know we’ll meet again. Farewell for just a while. For just a little while.”
* Buy Lure Of Tahiti by Terorotua & His Tahitians