Outside The Mai-Kai: Artistic flourishes set stage for reimagination, early 2024 reopening (summer 2023 recap)

Outside The Mai-Kai: Artistic flourishes set stage for reimagination, early 2024 reopening (summer 2023 recap)

As summer came to a close, The Mai-Kai started the final phase of its multimillion-dollar renovation with a reimagination of the parking lot. The project will take at least three months, pushing the timeframe of the reopening into early 2024.

In preparation, the artists and craftsmen have shifted from inside to outside under the porte-cochère, where a flurry of work is being completed before the pavement is torn up to make way for a new outdoor bar, seating area and redirected driveway.

SEE BELOW: Porte-cochère photos | Parking lot project starts | Updated reopening timeframe | Beam extensions restored | New AC units installed

Historic fiberglass panels are restored and fully lit under The Mai-Kai's porte-cochère on Sept. 21 as work begins on the reimagination of the parking lot. All the trees are being preserved. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
Historic fiberglass panels are restored and fully lit under The Mai-Kai’s porte-cochère on Sept. 21 as work begins on the reimagination of the parking lot. All the trees are being preserved. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

Meanwhile work continues on the indoor guest areas, infrastructure and a new back-of-house kitchen and bar, outlined in our related story. We hope to bring you up to speed on what’s been going on at the historic South Florida restaurant over the past few weeks, followed by an extensive summer recap.
RELATED: Inside The Mai-Kai: Detailed restoration advances amid total infrastructure overhaul (summer 2023 recap)
FULL COVERAGE: Latest news, photos of The Mai-Kai refurbishment

Most of the recent activity has been out front under the porte-cochère, where we recently found manager Kern Mattei with creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller and his fellow artists hard at work restoring artwork, finishing refurbished beams, and adding creative new touches to the historic thatched A-frame structure that serves as the entryway to the restaurant.

Previous coverage
* The Mai-Kai and The Atomic Grog at Tiki Oasis
* The Mai-Kai renovations, May-June 2023: Historic restaurant’s new infrastructure begins to take shape
* Meticulous attention to detail is hallmark of The Mai-Kai restoration project (May-June 2023 update)

On Sept. 7, the first restored panels were installed above The Mai-Kai entrance with working lights for the first time in decades. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
On Sept. 7, the first restored panels were installed above The Mai-Kai entrance with working lights for the first time in decades. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

While not rushing the comprehensive restoration, Mattei said, the crew is making a concerted effort to get as much done as possible before the massive parking lot project kicks into full gear. “This is a big project out here,” Mattei said on Sept. 7, pointing out all the work. New lights were just installed that day.

Allsmiller and artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly are making the most of this time, nearing the completion of restoring the lighted upper panels above the front doors. The stylized fiberglass pieces date back to the late 1950s, when the original Molokai bar replaced what was an outdoor waiting area. The entire facade was reconfigured and new entry doors added.

Continue reading “Outside The Mai-Kai: Artistic flourishes set stage for reimagination, early 2024 reopening (summer 2023 recap)”

Inside The Mai-Kai: Detailed restoration advances amid total infrastructure overhaul (summer 2023 recap)

Inside The Mai-Kai: Detailed restoration advances amid total infrastructure overhaul (summer 2023 recap)

As the renovation of The Mai-Kai reaches a crucial point outdoors, work is progressing on the restoration of the historic South Florida restaurant’s guest areas alongside a near total rebuild of the back-of-house facilities.

SEE BELOW: Samoa Room meticulously restored | Lamps & lights get detailed revamp | Molds reshape vintage decor | Woodworkers set stage for artists | New back-of-house taking shape

Creative director "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller (right) and artist Scott "Flounder" Scheidly work in the nerve center of their lamp-rebuilding efforts in the showroom at The Mai-Kai on Aug. 11. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller (right) and artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly work in the nerve center of their lamp-rebuilding efforts in the showroom at The Mai-Kai on Aug. 11. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

It’s a two-pronged effort overseen by Kern Mattei, a second-generation employee who grew up at The Mai-Kai and is now in his 30th year as manager. An October 2020 roof collapse took out the massive kitchen and back bar. A change in ownership in September 2021 kick-started the renovation efforts, which now enter the final phases.

On the job since early 2022, creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller has brought both his passion for historic Polynesian design and his vast experiece as a theme park scenic artist to The Mai-Kai’s many restoration projects. For most of this year, he’s been joined by another central Florida artist, Scott “Flounder” Scheidly, creating a well-oiled machine that can seemingly handle any task, no matter how challenging.

They were joined this summer by another multifaceted artist who has been crucial in helping them use inventive techniques to restore some of the areas most in need of TLC. Along with the woodworking crew tasked with repairing all of The Mai-Kai’s damaged walls and ceiling, Conrad Teheiura Itchener is a key member of the team bringing the Tiki temple back to life.

Conrad Teheiura Itchener pours wet foam into a mold to re-create framing for vintage wall decor (left) and unveils a finished wall panel on Aug. 11. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Conrad Teheiura Itchener pours wet foam into a mold to re-create framing for vintage wall decor (left) and unveils a finished wall panel on Aug. 11. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

Meanwhile, the new ownership team led by historic preservationist Bill Fuller of Barlington Group is pumping all of its resources into modernizing the infrastructure, from new roofs to a revamped electrical grid and air-handling system. Helping Mattei rebuild the kitchen and back-of-house is Fuller’s sister company, Mad Room Hospitality, which oversees other historic restaurants including Miami’s Ball & Chain.

Following is an extensive recap of all the work done inside The Mai-Kai since our last stories in early July. Meanwhile, a related story contains up-to-the minute news on the reimagination of the parking lot as well as a projected reopening date.

RELATED: Outside The Mai-Kai: Artistic flourishes set stage for reimagination, early 2024 reopening (summer 2023 recap)
FULL COVERAGE: Latest news, photos of The Mai-Kai refurbishment

Manager Kern Mattei talks about the early years of The Mai-Kai during the presentation "Tiki History Reimagined: The Restoration and Reopening of The Mai-Kai" at Tiki Oasis in San Diego on Aug. 5. (Photo by Sven Kirsten)
Manager Kern Mattei talks about the early years of The Mai-Kai during the presentation “Tiki History Reimagined: The Restoration and Reopening of The Mai-Kai” at Tiki Oasis in San Diego on Aug. 5. (Photo by Sven Kirsten)

Previous coverage
* The Mai-Kai and The Atomic Grog at Tiki Oasis
* The Mai-Kai renovations, May-June 2023: Historic restaurant’s new infrastructure begins to take shape
* Meticulous attention to detail is hallmark of The Mai-Kai restoration project (May-June 2023 update)

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Some of the vintage lamps in The Mai-Kai's Samoa Room that have been completely refurbished along with the walls and ceiling. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / Aug. 18, 2023)
Some of the vintage lamps in The Mai-Kai’s Samoa Room that have been completely refurbished along with the walls and ceiling. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / Aug. 18, 2023)

SAMOA ROOM: One of the original dining areas meticulously restored

Over the past six months, creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller and artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly have methodically brought many of The Mai-Kai’s elaborately themed dining rooms back to life: New Guinea, Hawaii, Moorea, and the lower areas of Tonga. But the completion of the one of the oldest dining areas, Samoa, remained elusive.

Continue reading “Inside The Mai-Kai: Detailed restoration advances amid total infrastructure overhaul (summer 2023 recap)”

Meticulous attention to detail is hallmark of The Mai-Kai restoration project (May-June 2023 update)

Meticulous attention to detail is hallmark of The Mai-Kai restoration project (May-June 2023 update)

When The Mai-Kai reopens for guests, there will be tons of fresh features on the exterior: A lushly landscaped entryway with flowing water and rock work, a redesigned and immersive parking lot, plus a new outdoor bar and stage. But when you enter the main building, it will be like stepping into a time machine set for 1973.
RELATED: The Mai-Kai renovations, May-June 2023: Historic restaurant’s new infrastructure begins to take shape
SEE BELOW: May-June chronology | Design projects in depth

Scott "Flounder" Scheidly (left) and creative director "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller have mastered the art of restoring vintage lamps at The Mai-Kai. (Photos by Kern Mattei and Hurricane Hayward / June 2023)
Scott “Flounder” Scheidly (left) and creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller have mastered the art of restoring vintage lamps at The Mai-Kai. (Photos by Kern Mattei and Hurricane Hayward / June 2023)

Making this feat a reality is a team of artists and craftspeople under the direction of manager Kern Mattei and creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller. This over-arching job is mammoth, encompassing the restoration of the Molokai bar, eight elaborately themed dining areas, plus other guest spaces.

On top of this, Mattei is managing on-site workflow during the massive infrastructure project [see sidebar] while Allsmiller has his hand in any project that requires thematic design and an artist’s touch. In our last detailed story, we took a long look behind the scenes as Allsmiller and Scott “Flounder” Scheidly were deeply immersed in detail work throughout the sprawling 26,000-square-foot building.
PREVIOUS: Bora Bora building comes down as restoration efforts pick up steam
UPDATES: Latest news, photos of The Mai-Kai refurbishment

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The Mai-Kai at Tiki Oasis
The Mai-Kai and The Atomic Grog are headed to Tiki Oasis
Join us for two special seminars at the world’s original Tiki weekender Aug. 2-6 in San Diego

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In this update, we’ll catch up with the Orlando-area artists as they continue their mission to return The Mai-Kai to the same condition it was when the last major redesign was completed in the early 1970s. That’s when the last dining rooms were added and the building’s current footprint was solidified, some 15 years after its 1956 opening.

First, let’s walk through a chronological recap from May and June:

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MAY AND JUNE UPDATES

Restored lamps in the Hawaii dining room, early May 2023. (Photo by Kern Mattei)
Restored lamps in the Hawaii dining room, early May 2023. (Photo by Kern Mattei)

EARLY MAY: Allsmiller and Scheidly were busy refurbishing lamps in the Hawaii dining area, the 60-capacity room to the right of the showroom stage. “They touched almost all of them,” Mattei said. They also finished the ceiling in Hawaii, adding new panels.

They were assisted by longtime Mai-Kai handyman Gustavo in removing the window between Hawaii and Samoa, then adding new wood and lighting. The window was cleaned and put back in place, restoring this little-known feature to its vintage condition:

Handyman Gustavo (from left),
(Photos by Kern Mattei)

They also started on the adjacent Moorea dining area, a 40-capacity room that’s slightly elevated to offer the most distant views of the Polynesian Islander Revue to the north beyond Hawaii. The opposite southern glass wall, featuring rare yellow Chinese jade tiles, offers views of the outdoor garden. The crew immediately targeted the woodwork, matting and lamps for repair.

The lamp-builders also pivoted back to the Tonga Room, the elevated 80-capacity space in the back of the showroom. They had made great progress there in previous months, but the huge space still had many lamps that needed work.

Below at left is a restored tapa in The Mai-Kai’s Hawaii Room. A vintage turtle shell lamp will be returned to the center (note the electrical outlet). At right are some of the many restored lamps in the Tonga Room.

Restored tapas in The Mai-Kai's Hawaii Room (left) and lamps in the Tonga Room. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / May 2023)
(Photos by Hurricane Hayward / May 2023)

MID-MAY: Work wrapped up in the Hawaii dining room as Allsmiller and Scheidly put finishing touches on the lamps, walls and ceiling. “Once the turtle shells go back on the walls, it’s going to be beautiful in here,” Allsmiller said.

In their workspace in the main showroom, the lamp brigade finished all of the low-hanging lamps in the Tonga dining area, many created 50 years ago by the venerable Oceanic Arts. Those high in the A-frame will be touched later. Traditionally one of the darkest parts of restaurant, this area looks much brighter with all the lamps refurbished and featuring modern LED lighting.

In the left photo below, Allsmiller shows off a lamp project on May 18. At right, he points out work being done to restore an old framed tapa in the hallway near the Tonga Room and entrance to the kitchen. After the colors are touched up and it’s covered in Mod Podge, you won’t even notice, he said. “We’re trying to save them, bring them back.”

"Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller shows off a lamp project (left) and points out work being done to restore an old framed tapa. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / May 2023)
(Photos by Hurricane Hayward / May 2023)

Back in Moorea, Allsmiller explained how they’re trying to restore the walls even though some of the materials are no longer available. He said they’re using materials salvaged from elsewhere, then changing the design slightly so chair backs will no longer damage the matting. “We’re saving material and reusing it,” he said.

He said the typical plan of attack for each room is to work on the walls first and save the lamps for last, or whenever they’re waiting for materials. On May 18, I found them in the nerve center – the main showroom workspace – buried in new lamp projects.

Both Scheidly and Allsmiller were working on total rebuilds of old lamps from the Tonga Room, found broken and in bad shape (see photo below). “I like the challenge,” Allsmiller said of not having the blueprints. He said he can make an educated guess of what the lamps should look like. Schematics for some of the Oceanic Arts lamps were found in The Mai-Kai warehouse, but many others are mysteries.

Scott "Flounder" Scheidly (left) and "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller works on rebuilding vintage lamps at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / May 2023)
(Photo by Hurricane Hayward / May 2023)

Work was also progressing into Samoa, a secluded dining area that seats 44 in one of the oldest rooms at The Mai-Kai. The “demolition crew” had been busy tearing out all the old, damaged wall materials. This is a big help to the designers, allowing them to concentrate on restoration. Work was also advancing on the refurbishing of the ceiling and beams.

Continue reading “Meticulous attention to detail is hallmark of The Mai-Kai restoration project (May-June 2023 update)”

The Mai-Kai renovations, May-June 2023: Historic restaurant’s new infrastructure begins to take shape

The Mai-Kai renovations, May-June 2023: Historic restaurant's new infrastructure begins to take shape

Following a flurry of activity in April that included the removal of the 50-year-old Bora Bora building, the non-stop work over the past two months was less flamboyant but just as crucial in the multimillion-dollar restoration of the historic Mai-Kai restaurant in South Florida.
RELATED: Meticulous attention to detail is hallmark of The Mai-Kai restoration project (May-June 2023 update)
SEE BELOW: Chronology of work | Timeline and permits

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The Mai-Kai at Tiki Oasis
The Mai-Kai and The Atomic Grog are headed to Tiki Oasis
Join us for two special seminars at the world’s original Tiki weekender Aug. 2-6 in San Diego

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By early July, significant infrastructure work was moving at a rapid pace. A complete electrical system overhaul was underway, including the installation of new breaker boxes that will pave the way for a new air-conditioning system.

A half dozen new “fresh air units” were being lifted onto the roof by crane. This modern HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system replaces the decades-old chiller system that included the now-demolished cooling tower behind the Bora Bora building
PREVIOUS: Bora Bora building comes down as restoration efforts pick up steam
UPDATES: Latest news, photos of The Mai-Kai refurbishment

New air ducts are installed on the roof of The Mai-Kai in June 2023. (Photos by Kern Mattei)
New air ducts are installed on the roof of The Mai-Kai in June 2023. (Photos by Kern Mattei)

Once the new electrical grid is operational and they flip the switch on the new AC system, the entire building will be cooled for the first time since the October 2020 roof collapse that triggered the restaurant’s closing and eventual sale in September 2021.

The expansive refurbishments are being driven by the new ownership team led by historic preservationist Bill Fuller. His real estate investment firm, Barlington Group, has a track record of restoring vintage properties, including Miami’s iconic Ball & Chain.

The Little Havana hotspot is run by sister company Mad Room Hospitality, which will also take the operational reins at The Mai-Kai. The founding Thornton family, which remains part of the ownership group, will retain a significant role along with some of its long-standing management team.

Huge progress was made in June in the back of house area that will contain the temporary kitchen, which was an empty shell with no floor on June 1. By June 22 (right), underground plumbing and electrical lines were laid, a new concrete floor was poured and walls were beginning to go up. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Huge progress was made in June in the back of house area that will contain the temporary kitchen, which was an empty shell with no floor on June 1. By June 22 (right), underground plumbing and electrical lines were laid, a new concrete floor was poured and walls were beginning to go up. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

To make The Mai-Kai operational by a projected fall reopening, Mad Room and Mai-Kai managers are working feverishly to get a new kitchen up and running. The old kitchen was damaged beyond repair when torrential rains combined with a malfunctioning sprinkler system flooded the 1970s-era back-of-house roof, causing it to collapse.

The 7,000-square-foot space where the kitchen once stood remains an empty shell with walls but no roof, awaiting Phase 2 of the renovation project. Estimated to be completed a year or more after Phase 1, this ambitious plan includes not only a new state-of-the-art kitchen, but also a 3,500-square-foot event center with a soaring A-frame roof. It will fill a much-needed niche in servicing The Mai-Kai’s market for large groups and events.

In the meantime, the existing back of house area that escaped damage is being reconfigured to accommodate a new, temporary kitchen. It will also be upgraded to include new staff facilities and a new restroom for guests with special needs.

Sunset over The Mai-Kai: A view on May 31 from Planet Fitness across Federal Highway shows the roof refurbishments and new air-conditioning units being installed. You can also see the vents that suck the smoke out of the building after the fire shows. (Photo by Tom Wilson)
Sunset over The Mai-Kai: A view on May 31 from Planet Fitness across Federal Highway shows the roof refurbishments and new air-conditioning units being installed. You can also see the vents that suck the smoke out of the building after the fire shows. (Photo by Tom Wilson)

Last but not least, The Mai-Kai’s legendary back service bar will be reinstalled in a large space that formerly contained a locker room for staff and performers in the Polynesian Islander Revue, the oldest continually-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States (including Hawaii). Smaller locker rooms are being built next to the existing back management offices, which are undergoing minimal refurbishments.

Below is a chronological recap of all the infrastructure work that has happened since the Bora Bora Room’s removal in April.

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai renovations, May-June 2023: Historic restaurant’s new infrastructure begins to take shape”

The Mai-Kai renovations, April 2023: Bora Bora building comes down as restoration efforts pick up steam

The Mai-Kai renovations, April 2023: Bora Bora building comes down as restoration efforts ramp up

The structural footprint of The Mai-Kai changed dramatically last month with the demolition of the long-dormant Bora Bora building, which will pave the way for a reimagined entryway and fully immersive tropical-themed parking lot, outdoor seating area and porte-cochère at the historic South Florida restaurant.

Previous coverage
* Behind the scenes at The-Mai-Kai as restoration ramps up in 2023
* The Mai-Kai officially begins work on first phase of $8.5 million renovation projects

The Mai-Kai's Bora Bora building on April 14 (left), two weeks before its removal. By April 29, all that remained was an empty lot on the northeast corner of the property that will be transformed into a new entry experience. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward and Kern Mattei)
The Mai-Kai’s Bora Bora building on April 14 (left), two weeks before its removal. By April 29, all that remained was an empty lot on the northeast corner of the property that will be transformed into a new entry experience. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward and Kern Mattei)

Amid the ruckus outside, the restoration efforts inside the main building advanced quietly but deliberately. Creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller and fellow Orlando-area artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly completed the New Guinea dining room, a vintage space that dates back to The Mai-Kai’s 1956 opening. They also restored the ceiling and walls near the Tonga dining room, and by the end of the month were full immersed in the Hawaii room.

Laser-focused on The Mai-Kai’s hundreds of custom lamps, they cranked out replicas and refurbished many originals created 50 years ago. After they finish, it will be impossible to tell which lamps are rebuilt and which are vintage, an over-arching theme of the restoration efforts.

"Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller shows off a refurbished lamp at The Mai-Kai on April 25. He and fellow artist Scott "Flounder" Scheidly completed restoring all the lamps in the New Guinea dining room (right). (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
“Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller shows off a refurbished lamp at The Mai-Kai on April 25. He and fellow artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly completed restoring all the lamps in the New Guinea dining room (right). (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

Meanwhile, the back-of-house area was a total construction zone as crews prepared for the installation of a new bar and kitchen. Up on the roof, workers were busy sealing the main A-frame and working on new vents, along with the structures to hold the new air-conditioning system.

After electrical work was done, a painting crew put the finishing touches on the men’s restroom. Electricians continued an infrastructure overhaul, preparing for the upcoming installation of a new circuit breaker system.

Despite all the chaos, manager Kern Mattei managed to crank out another round of The Mai-Kai’s signature cocktail quarts and gallons to go on April 26-27. Depending on the progress on the electrical work., which may force the shutdown of the bar’s coolers, the next chance to enjoy the classic tropical drinks may take place only at The Hukilau weekender in June.

Photos provided by manager Kern Mattei show the progress of work on The Mai-Kai's soaring main A-frame. The roof was sealed to prevent leaks (left), then repainted.
Photos provided by manager Kern Mattei show the progress of work on The Mai-Kai’s soaring main A-frame. The roof was sealed to prevent leaks (left), then repainted.

Below are updates on all the work that took place in April, including video and many exclusive photos.

Jump to April news and updates below
* Bora Bora Room removed | Photo gallery
* Dining rooms return to vintage glory | Photo gallery
* Work begins on new bar and kitchen
* Former Molokai bar waitress remembered

UPDATES: Get the latest news and photos on our social media pages
* Facebook | Instagram | Twitter
Atomic Grog blog: Recent social media posts, past coverage

A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway on April 7 after the thatching of the A-frame roofs over the rear dining rooms was completed. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway on April 7 after the thatching of the A-frame roofs over the rear dining rooms was completed. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

It’s no surprise that April saw an acceleration of renovation work on multiple fronts. In March, The Mai-Kai officially began the $8.5 million project after three permits cleared the way for three major projects:
* Repair and restoration of the porte-cochère and thatched roofing.
* Removal of the Bora Bora building.
* Interior renovation, including a new bar and kitchen.

The repairs and refurbishments became necessary after the 26,000-square-foot restaurant suffered a catastrophic roof collapse over the kitchen in late October of 2020. The plans – which include both restoring the main building and upgrading and enhancing the parking lot and back of house – became clear after the founding Thornton family sold a majority interest to a new ownership team led by the Barlington Group and historic preservationist Bill Fuller.

The permit approvals restarted the roof thatching project in March. By April, thatching was completed on the porte-cochère as well as the A-frame roofs over the back dining rooms. All that remained was detailing and finishing work, which will happen later.

Outside under the porte-cochère on April 14, a crew works on spackling and smoothing the wood, getting it ready to be finished. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Outside under the porte-cochère on April 14, a crew works on spackling and smoothing the wood, getting it ready to be finished. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

As April progressed, The Mai-Kai applied for three new permits that will keep projects moving quickly. On April 25, the city of Oakland Park issued a mechanical permit that will allow for the installation of the new kitchen. It won’t expire until Oct. 23, which fits in with the timeline we’re hearing about a reopening coming in the fall.

A mechanical permit for “fire suppression” was applied for in April, then issued in May This likely covers not only a new sprinkler system, but a fine-tuning off The Mai-Kai’s elaborate rooftop exhaust system that pulls smoke from the main showroom after the fire-dancers perform in the Polynesian Islander Revue. Established in the early 1960s, it’s the oldest continually-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States (including Hawaii).

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai renovations, April 2023: Bora Bora building comes down as restoration efforts pick up steam”

Take a wild ride on the Tropical Thunder Express from Pooch and Tiki Farm

Take a wild ride on the Tropical Thunder Express from Pooch and Tiki Farm

When you gaze into the signature artwork by lowbrow king Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli, you’re immediately transported to a surrealistic land of insane roller coasters traversing impossibly twisted tracks in a dark but fantastically fun theme park. Until recently, that imaginary place was limited to canvas, tattoos, and Pooch’s vivid imagination.
Jump to more below
* Toast the Tropical Thunder Express at The Hukilau unofficial preparty on May 25
Exclusive cocktail recipes: Pooch Punch | Tropical Thunder Express

The new Tropical Thunder Express mug set from Tiki Farm, designed by South Florida artist Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli
The new Tropical Thunder Express mug set from Tiki Farm, designed by South Florida artist Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli.

Now, thanks to Tiki Farm, Pooch’s wild world has taken on three-dimensional form with the release of an ambitious four-mug set: Tropical Thunder Express. Packaged in a colorful box adorned with Pooch’s distinctive artwork, it’s almost like four roller-coaster cars from one of his paintings jumped out of two-dimensional world and came to life.

You can find the mugs in their native habitat in the 2021 digital art piece “The Rum Ride”, but the idea for the real-world mugs actually came first. Pooch reached out to Tiki Farm with his first mug design, a moai, earlier that year.

Tiki Farm owner Holden Westland, who was aware of Pooch’s reputation in the lowbrow art world, loved the “Tiki mug as ride vehicle” concept. Pooch seized the opportunity. “I said, because it’s a (roller coaster) car, maybe we should have more,” Pooch said of his conversation with the mug mogul.

In short order, they joined forces to create a distinctive coaster train featuring four colorful mugs: Grey Moai, Blue Lono, Green Marquesan, and Orange Ku. Westland needed promotional artwork to promote Tiki Farm at Tiki Oasis in August 2021, so Pooch quickly brought “The Rum Ride” to life.

The Rum Ride, a digital print by Pooch that shows the Tropical Thunder Express mugs in their native habitat.
The Rum Ride, a digital print by Pooch that shows the Tropical Thunder Express mugs in their native habitat.

Like his other classic thrill ride paintings, this new piece takes the viewer into a vibrant nether world filled with skulls, Tiki imagery, A-frame huts, a giant moai, and Tiki mugs on wheels happily riding an impossibly angled roller-coaster track.

He said he intended to paint it, but creating it digitally was essential to meet the deadline. The piece is available online as a giclee-quality matte paper print for $50.

Working off of Pooch’s two-dimensional drawings, Tiki Farm’s sculptors have perfectly captured the whimsical world of his paintings, mashing up Tiki, tattoo, and Kustom Kulture into one cool package. In keeping with the theme, the mugs are not sold separately and must be purchased as a set for $125 directly from Tiki Farm online.
* Click here to buy Tropical Thunder Express box of four mugs

Pooch added digital art to his repertoire about eight years ago, but he said he approaches the format much the same as his other art. The main benefit, he said, is speed. “It’s not that different, other than it’s faster,” he said.

Pooch's original designs for the Grey Moai that inspired the Tropical Thunder Express set
Pooch’s original designs for the Grey Moai that inspired the Tropical Thunder Express set.

He created three different views of each mug in two dimensions rather than using 3-D software. Pooch said he could have done the same thing on paper, it was just more efficient to use digital tools.

No matter the medium, Pooch has carved out his own distinctive style over the past quarter century, simultaneously building a loyal following for his colorful ink work at Altered State Tattoo in South Florida (est. 1996). A longtime fan of Tiki culture, he often includes the imagery in his work, channeled through his own unique lowbrow-inspired lens.

Turning his Tiki coaster cars into actual mugs was the next logical step. Finally, Pooch’s work has made it into the vast catalog of Southern California’s Tiki Farm, the world’s premiere mug manufacturer since 2000.

Pooch parlayed his new relationship into an opportunity to create a new custom mug for The Mai-Kai when the historic South Florida restaurant reopens later this year. He’s also working on other potential designs for Tiki Farm.

The Tropical Thunder Express box from Tiki Farm, featuring mugs designed by Pooch, arrives at The Atomic Grog in March 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Tropical Thunder Express box from Tiki Farm, featuring mugs designed by Pooch, arrives at The Atomic Grog in March 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The Tropical Thunder Express mugs are made in China like most of the Tiki Farm releases, but they feature a matte finish like many of today’s artist-driven custom mugs. The entire set is priced around the same as some single-mug releases, making it a definite deal.

Released in February, the mugs are 2 pounds each and range from 19 to 21 ounces. The tallest, the Orange Ku, stands 7.6 inches tall. According to Tiki Farm, “Tropical Thunder Express is the perfect gift for any Tiki aficionado and an even better gift for someone who needs to discover the world of Tiki!”

Continue reading “Take a wild ride on the Tropical Thunder Express from Pooch and Tiki Farm”

EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: Behind the scenes at The Mai-Kai as restoration ramps up in 2023

EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: Behind the scenes at The-Mai-Kai as restoration ramps up in 2023

With contractors and construction crews moving full-speed ahead on a massive renovation of the infrastructure and exterior of The Mai-Kai, a small team of craftsmen continues to meticulously restore the historic South Florida restaurant’s elaborately themed interior guest areas in exacting detail.

Just inside the entrance to The Mai-Kai on Federal Highway, creative director "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller is hard at work restoring the interior of the historic restaurant on March 9. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
Just inside the entrance to The Mai-Kai on Federal Highway, creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller is hard at work restoring the interior of the historic restaurant on March 9. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

The city of Oakland Park’s recent approval of permits that will allow the major pieces of the $8.5 million project to move forward has grabbed all the attention so far in 2023. But inside the beloved Polynesian palace, creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller has been busy in the new year with a wide array of restoration projects.

We’ll take an in-depth look at Allsmiller’s work below. But first, here’s a status report from manager Kern Mattei on the progress of the entire renovation project. This covers everything that has happened since his detailed walk-through of the property with us on March 9.

Workers put the finishing touches on the thatched roof of The Mai-Kai's porte-cochère on March 24, 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Workers put the finishing touches on the thatched roof of The Mai-Kai’s porte-cochère on March 24, 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Completion of porte-cochère roof kicks off many projects to come

By the end of March, the work on thatching the outdoor roofs was progressing nicely after a long pause due to permitting issues. We visited on March 16 to pick up takeout cocktails, then again on March 24 and March 31 for a peek at the progress, both inside and out.

The most noticeable change for guests passing by or picking up quarts and gallons to go this week (April 6-7) will definitely be the completion of the thatched roofs. On March 24, workers were putting the finishing touches on the porte-cochère, which has shielded arriving guests from the elements for the past six decades.

A view of the porte-cochère and entrance to The Mai-Kai after the thatching was completed. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / March 24, 2023)
A view of the porte-cochère and entrance to The Mai-Kai after the thatching was completed. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / March 24, 2023)

Installed shortly after the 1956 opening, the porte-cochère has been re-thatched and the structure periodically refurbished over the years. But the current project is the most extensive in recent history. [See past coverage]

Later, after the driveway is replaced and landscaping has begun, Allsmiller will work on restoring all the design elements beneath the roof on the center beam and trim. Automobile traffic will no longer pass beneath, allowing guests to sit outside with a cocktail and enjoy the shade and ambience.

Scott Scheidly (left), a Central Florida artist better known as Flounder, works with creative director "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller under The Mai-Kai's refurbished porte-cochère on March 15, 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Scott Scheidly (left), a Central Florida artist better known as Flounder, works with creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller under The Mai-Kai’s refurbished porte-cochère on March 15, 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Mattei said they plan to reinstall of the canoe that used to hang under the roof, and also restore all the fishnets and lighting. In the meantime, Allsmiller now has a much cooler outdoor area to work alongside his new assistant, fellow Central Florida artist Scott Scheidly (aka Flounder). The large canopy reduces the temperature in the blazing Florida sun significantly.

Next to the porte-cochère, the Bora Bora Room is being readied for demolition. The removal of the 1970s-era building, approved Jan. 11 by the city’s Historic Preservation Board, will pave the way for a reimagined entryway and new parking lot flow. A subcontractor for the job has yet to be named.

Pieces of the Bora Bora will live on, however, after the removal of all vintage decor that can be repurposed. Mattei showed us a pile of lava rock that had been removed, stashed away for use later in the entryway landscaping.

Thatch work on the A-frame roofs over the rear dining areas at The Mai-Kai nears completion on March 31, 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Thatch work on the A-frame roofs over the rear dining areas at The Mai-Kai nears completion on March 31, 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Meanwhile, electricians are busy rewiring the entire property, creating a new grid that will allow for the installation of a half-dozen new air-conditioning units on the roofs. The modern HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system will replace the old chiller system and its water cooling tower hidden behind the Bora Bora building.

With the porte-cochère job complete, the company installing the synthetic thatching moved on to finish the uncompleted work on the A-frames over the rear dining rooms. On March 31, work was progressing on the Tahiti and Moorea roofs, which were added during the early 1970s expansion. [See past coverage]

When this is done, the crew from Tiki King will take a break before returning for perhaps the biggest thatching project: Restoring the materials to The Mai-Kai’s towering main A-frame.

A view from Federal Highway of The Mai-Kai's new thatching over the Tahiti Room (left) and the massive main A-frame. Crews recently finished sealing and painting the 66-year-old structure. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / March 31, 2023)
A view from Federal Highway of The Mai-Kai’s new thatching over the Tahiti Room (left) and the massive main A-frame. Crews recently finished sealing and painting the 66-year-old structure. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / March 31, 2023)

This iconic structure, which reaches more than 40 feet at its peak, has undergone changes over the years. Originally, the rear contained thatching while the front portion featured giant screens to let in the air (and rain) to keep the indoor gardens flourishing. [See photo]

While there are no plans to bring back the open-air concept, Mattei said potential designs being debated by the ownership team should give it a more traditional look. We spotted painters on the roof March 24. By March 31, all the undercoating and sealant had been added to the exterior to defend against future leaks.

“It’s finished for now, until we figure out what’s going on,” said Mattei, explaining the process of troubleshooting for pesky leaks before the thatching and final paint job are done. The artwork on the front will be restored by the painter who did the original five decades ago.

A wide view of the southern portion of the front of The Mai-Kai shows the roofing work in progress. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / March 31, 2023)
A wide view of the southern portion of the front of The Mai-Kai shows the roofing work in progress. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / March 31, 2023)

Around the back of the building, crews were up on the refurbished flat roof, installing support beams to hold all the new air-conditioning units. The first of these half-dozen new AC boxes was sitting in the back-of-house space that used to house the kitchen, before the October 2020 roof collapse that forced its removal and shut down the restaurant.

Mattei said there’s no rush to rebuild that area until after the underground plumbing is reinstalled to modern standards. The previous kitchen dated back to the 1970 expansion.

However, there is much work ongoing inside the back of house area that survived the roof collapse. Since the permit approvals, a large portion of the existing space used by staff was gutted in preparation for its reimagination.

Continue reading “EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: Behind the scenes at The Mai-Kai as restoration ramps up in 2023”

BREAKING NEWS: The Mai-Kai officially begins work on first phase of $8.5 million renovation projects

The Mai-Kai officially begins work on first phase of $8.5 million renovation projects

There was no fancy groundbreaking or ribbon cutting, but March 6 was a significant date in the long journey toward the restoration and reimagination of The Mai-Kai, southeast Florida’s historic Polynesian restaurant. That’s when work officially began on three different projects that had been stalled for months awaiting building permits.

The Mai-Kai received final approval of three key building permits on March 3, clearing the way for major projects to begin. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / March 9, 2023)
The Mai-Kai received final approval of three key building permits on March 3, clearing the way for major projects to begin. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / March 9, 2023)

The city of Oakland Park’s Development Review Committee approved the site plan at a Jan. 26 meeting, but details remained to be ironed out as they made their way through the governmental process before permits could be issued. Committee approval was considered to be the final hurdle, so the wait to get started seemed interminable for the owners and staff, who have been planning the massive renovations for nearly a year while working on smaller restoration projects.

But even those projects became bogged down due to The Mai-Kai’s status as a local and national historic landmark. For example, work on replacing old thatched roofing, which began in late summer, had to stop in October and await multiple approvals. On Jan. 11, the city’s Historic Preservation Board unanimously approved both Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the ambitious $8.5 million project.

That left the 10-member Development Review Committee, composed of officials from various departments and disciplines across the city, to weigh in and give the project a green light. The approval, also unanimous, ended up being a flashing red light for five weeks as the general contractor and others waited at the starting line, engines idling.

Workers were busy shoring up The Mai-Kai's porte-cochère on Thursday, March 9. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Workers were busy shoring up The Mai-Kai’s porte-cochère on Thursday, March 9. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The three long-awaited permits finally came through on Friday, March 3, joining an earlier approval that will together enable The Mai-Kai to move full-steam ahead in an effort to re-open the beloved restaurant in late 2023. It has been closed since Oct. 25, 2020, when a catastrophic roof collapse over the kitchen rendered the 26,000-square-foot restaurant unable to serve diners for the first time in its 66-year history.

After more than two years of downtime, not a minute was wasted in kick-starting work on multiple fronts last week. While you may not yet notice anything new as you drive by the 2.7 acres at 3599 N. Federal Highway (aka U.S. 1) northwest of coastal Fort Lauderdale, there’s a lot going on inside and to the rear of the property. Work started on Monday, March 6, and by the time I visited on Thursday, March 9, the property was abuzz with activity. “It’s been kind of a whirlwind” since the permits were approved, said manager Kern Mattei, who deals with most of the on-site logistics. “We’ve been super busy.”

Guests picking up take-out cocktails this week should be able to get a peek at some of the action. Just be aware that construction may require the closure of some areas of the parking lot, so keep an eye out for updated directions and those ubiquitous orange cones.

The Atomic Grog’s exclusive coverage of The Mai-Kai renovations
* New details on restaurant’s reimagination, new merchandise revealed at Inuhele in Atlanta
* Oakland Park’s Historic Preservation Board OKs plans, clears way for project to move forward

A slide shown at the Oakland Park Historic Preservation Board meeting on Jan. 11, where the removal of the Bora Bora building was unanimously approved. The project is out for bid and will begin soon.
A slide shown at the Oakland Park Historic Preservation Board meeting on Jan. 11, where the removal of the Bora Bora building was unanimously approved. The project is out for bid and will begin soon.

Mattei gave me an overview of The Mai-Kai’s current state along with plans for projects relating to all three permits, graciously allowing me a peek behind the scenes on March 9. Many of the photos above and below were taken during that visit. Here’s a synopsis of the three permits issued March 3 and the projects they encompass:

* Removal of the Bora Bora building. An essential first step in the total reimagination of The Mai-Kai’s entry and parking lot experience, this will be the first project to be completed. Mattei said that the demolition job is out for bid by the general contractor. Once a firm is selected, the removal of the building will likely happen quickly, since the permit expires May 2. In the meantime, Mattei said, he and creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller are overseeing the removal of all salvageable pieces from the historic building, which dates back to the early 1970s and has been vacant since it was damaged by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Once the building is removed, the massive landscaping project can begin.

* Repair and restoration of the porte-cochère and thatched roofing. Already underway since last year but now four months behind schedule after work was halted, this project was quickly re-started last week. Workers on hydraulic lifts were busy shoring up the crossbeams of the soaring A-frame structure. Allsmiller will lead an effort to repair the stylized extension on the peak of the A-frame, restoring it back to its original design. Realistic synthetic thatch approved by the city will then cover the entire roof. The thatching project will also include The Mai-Kai’s massive main A-frame, along with the two smaller peaked roofs over the back dining rooms that are nearly complete. Wood, thatch, and other materials were already on site March 9, awaiting installation by South Florida’s Tiki King. The porte-cochère permit doesn’t expire until Aug. 30. A separate re-roofing permit is “in review,” the step before approval. The previous roofing permit expired March 2.

A view inside The Mai-Kai's former kitchen on March 9. The brown steel beams will go on the roof to support the new air-conditioning system. To the bottom right is bamboo and thatch awaiting installation on the A-frame roofs. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
A view inside The Mai-Kai’s former kitchen on March 9. The brown steel beams will go on the roof to support the new air-conditioning system. To the bottom right is bamboo and thatch awaiting installation on the A-frame roofs. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* Interior renovation, including a new bar and kitchen. Also running through Aug. 30, this over-arching permit allows The Mai-Kai to install a temporary kitchen in space that onece contained back-of-house offices. A permit that was issued last May (expiring Aug. 8) covers the installation of a new air-conditioning system on all of the completed roofs. Steel beams that will go onto the roof to support the AC units are ready and waiting, painted to blend in with the decor. The general contractor was working in the old staff locker rooms March 9, peeling off the drywall and ceiling. I did not get a look at this, since it was a hard-hat area, but we know from the plans that this will be the location of the new permanent back bar. The provisional kitchen is a stopgap measure to get the restaurant up and running as quickly as possible, albeit with a limited menu. The buildout of a full kitchen will be part of Phase 2, estimated to be a year or more down the road. The second phase will also include the event center, which will be built next to the kitchen in what was once storage space.

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BREAKING: New Don the Beachcomber locations launching in Florida, up to 15 planned across Southeast

New Don the Beachcomber locations launching in Florida, up to 15 planned across Southeast

The Feb. 22 birthday of Tiki bar pioneer Don the Beachcomber (1907-1989) is typically a red-letter day for many bartenders and home enthusiasts, who celebrate by mixing up classic tropical cocktails to toast the originator of such iconic drinks as the Zombie, Nui Nui, and Three Dots and a Dash. This custom has intensified recently with the announcement of new book and film projects that celebrate the life of times of the creator of what’s now known as Polynesian Pop, aka Tiki culture.

Don the Beachcomber

Jump to more below
Sneak peek: Renderings, video of the new location near Orlando
Bonus recipe below: Don’s Beach Planter cocktail

But the occasion gained special importance this year with the announcement that a Tampa-based hospitality company will begin rolling out a chain of new Tiki-themed restaurants featuring the Don the Beachcomber branding in 2023. According to a press release from 23 Restaurant Services, “there are currently two Don the Beachcomber restaurants and bars under development in Central Florida, with the first slated to open by the end of the year.”

The company’s president, Marc Brown, said in the release that he expects as many as 10 to 15 restaurants to be spread across the Southeast over the next several years, with plans to expand nationally. Brown’s company bought the rights to the Don the Beachcomber brand in 2021, aiming to incorporate it into its successful Tiki Docks concept in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.

Ernest Raymond Gantt, aka Don the Beachcomber, was a former bootlegger who kicked off the Tiki craze with his first bar in Hollywood, Calif., in 1933. Within a few years, imitators sprang up across the country. (Courtesy of 23 Restaurant Services)
Ernest Raymond Gantt, aka Don the Beachcomber, was a former bootlegger who kicked off the Tiki craze with his first bar in Hollywood, Calif., in 1933. Within a few years, imitators sprang up across the country. (Courtesy of 23 Restaurant Services)

The birthday of Donn Beach, who legally changed his name from Ernest Raymond Gantt after the success of his Don the Beachcomber restaurants in the 1930s, seemed like a great time to announce the ambitious plan that 23 Restaurant Services calls “an expansive growth strategy.”

“Each of the restaurants will feature the eccentric, Polynesian-inspired design and flamboyant, rum-based drinks that have become synonymous with Don the Beachcomber locations for more than 90 years,” the press release says.

“Don the Beachcomber is the most iconic brand in Tiki history, so it’s impossible to overstate how excited we are about what lies ahead,” Brown said. “We look forward to leveraging our expertise in management and operational excellence to reintroduce the world to the legend that is Don the Beachcomber.”

Searching for Don the Beachcomber by Tim "Swanky" Glazner

To accomplish this, 23 Restaurant Services will be guided by an advisory board featuring some of the top artists, writers, and bartenders from the current Tiki scene:

* Tim “Swanky” Glazner, author of the upcoming book Searching for Don the Beachcomber as well as Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant.

* Martin Cate, author of Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki and owner of the award-winning San Francisco bar of the same name.

* Sven Kirsten, author of The Book of Tiki and Tiki Pop, widely considered to be the artistic catalyst of the modern Tiki revival.

* John Mulder, a Florida-based artist and designer whose Eekum Bookum Tiki Mugs makes some of the most in-demand products on the market.

* Danny “Tiki Diablo” Gallardo, a California-based designer of carvings, mugs, and full bar interiors who has outfitted some of the world’s top Tiki establishments.

Marie King, who will lead the new Don the Beachcomber cocktail program, previously managed the venerable Tonga Hut in Los Angeles. She has been a leader and mainstay in the industry since running the bar at the Don the Beachcomber in Southern California before it closed in 2018. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward from The Hukilau 2022 in Pompano Beach)
Marie King, who will lead the new Don the Beachcomber cocktail program, previously managed the venerable Tonga Hut in Los Angeles. She has been a leader and mainstay in the industry since running the bar at the Don the Beachcomber in Southern California before it closed in 2018. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward from The Hukilau 2022 in Pompano Beach)

“Assembling this dynamic and legendary group of experts to serve as our advisory board was the first step in developing a plan to share and represent the history and life of Don the Beachcomber with the utmost authenticity,” Brown said. “We could not be more excited to share the work we are doing together to bring Don the Beachcomber back to life.”

In addition to the advisers, Brown has taken a huge first step in bringing back Don the Beachcomber’s classic cocktails by hiring Marie King, former beverage director and general manager of Tonga Hut in Los Angeles, as director of beverage for 23 Restaurant Services. King also served as beverage director of the last Don the Beachcomber restaurant in the continental U.S., located in Huntington Beach, Calif., from 2009 to 2018. Like 23 Restaurant Services, the owners of this location purchased the name and did not have any connection to the original company.

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Top 10 Tiki stories of 2022 include legends lost, hope for the future

Top 10 Tiki stories of 2022 include legends lost, hope for the future

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse than 2020 or 2021, along came 2022. The past three years have been rough, any way you slice it. But for the Tiki community, things turned tragic last year with the devastating loss of multiple legendary figures. But rather than mourn their passing, let’s take the opportunity to remember and reflect on their great impact. And while we’re at it, let’s also give thanks for the positive news that made it into our annual list of the most impactful stories of the year.
Related: The Year in Tiki 2022 – Take a trip back to the year’s top events
Bonus recipes below: Harry Yee’s Tropical Itch | Stephen Remsberg’s Planter’s Punch

1. A FAREWELL TO KINGS: OCEANIC ARTS CELEBRATION AND AUCTION

Oceanic Arts celebration and auction

The top story of 2021 – the retirement of Robert Van Oosting and LeRoy Schmaltz – continued into 2022 with the epic events that marked the true end of an era. Spread over three weekends in April, Aloha Oa! 65 years of Oceanic Arts Celebration took place at the Whittier, Calif., headquarters of the longtime purveyors of South Seas decor. Tikiphiles from around the world came to pay tribute to these two men and their legacy, which can be found in not only Tiki bars and restaurants but also in theme parks, hotels and motels, apartment complexes, and countless other venues built over the past half century. It’s heartening that both were able to be there to see the appreciation for their decades of work on behalf of an artistic style that often is overlooked. Thousands attended the events that featured live music and entertainment, presentations and history lessons, plus an array of tropical libations. And, of course, the opportunity to meet Bob and LeRoy and peruse their vast warehouse of historic Ocean Arts lamps, floats, carvings, and many more items that were cataloged for auction.

Part 2 of the extravaganza was The Oceanic Arts Vintage Tiki Collection Auction, held April 23-24 and featuring likely the most extensive collection of mid-century Polynesian inspired decor and artwork ever offered for sale at one event. Curated by Jordan Reichek, a longtime friend and owner of nearby Peekaboo Gallery, the auction drew bidders large and small seeking to take home a piece of Tiki history. A portion of the proceeds from the event were donated to humanitarian aid and relief for Tonga, which was hit by a volcanic eruption and tsunami in January.

The monthlong celebration proved to be a fitting farewell for Oceanic Arts, providing both great memories and a unique opportunity to pick up items that will never be made again. For those who couldn’t make it to Southern California, three was a gigantic 500-page book compiled by Reichek featuring artwork from the auction along with archival photos and insightful conversations with Van Oosting and Schmaltz. Oceanic Arts: The Godfathers of Tiki tells the story of not just the small studio that influenced generations of artists, but also the entire Polynesian Pop movement in America.

2. LEROY SCHMALTZ, THE PAUL BUNYAN OF TIKI, PASSES AWAY

LeRoy Schmaltz, 1935-2022

Less than two months after the Oceanic Arts celebration, the Tiki world lost a legend when carver and artist LeRoy Earl Schmaltz passed away on June 17, not long after celebrating his 87th birthday. The amount of art and woodwork created by this one man was awe inspiring. The Paul Bunyan of Tiki will loom large for generations to come. Schmaltz joined with business partner Robert Van Oosting in 1956 to create Oceanic Arts – a bar, restaurant and entertainment design firm that continued to have an over-sized impact on the industry, even after the pair retired in late 2021.

While Van Oosting ran the business and guided its creative efforts, Schmaltz did the heavy lifting with the workmanlike precision of a lumberjack but the sensibilities of a fine artist. The men had a true affinity for authentic Polynesian art, traveling there often for inspiration in their youth. They also imported and sold the work of artists from across the Pacific Rim. But it was the original works created by Schmaltz (and the many other artists Oceanic Arts employed) that drove the company forward though lean times. Eventually, new fame (and business) arrived with the Polynesian Pop revival in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Beyond Tiki-carving, Schmaltz was proficient in many other disciplines: Mosaic work, watercolor, pastels, charcoals, assemblages, sculptures, architectural design, and much more. Always a humble artist, when Schmaltz was asked what his greatest accomplishment was, he answered without hesitation: “My family.” He was a devout and church-going family man who left not only an artistic legacy but also a vast clan including six children, 10 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren.

3. COCKTAIL AND MUSIC LEGEND BROTHER CLEVE DIES

Brother Cleve made several apperances at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale in recent years as a guest mixologist (2018) and DJ (2018, 2019). Credits (left to right): The Atomic Grog, Jim Neumayer, Vincent Minervino
Brother Cleve made several appearances at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale in recent years as a guest mixologist (2018) and DJ (2018, 2019). Credits (left to right): The Atomic Grog, Jim Neumayer, Vincent Minervino.

The influence of Brother Cleve was as vast as his interests. When the craft cocktail pioneer died suddenly in September at age 67, the tributes poured in from across the entertainment world. As a testament to his importance and status as a fixture on the East Coast scene, he was eulogized by writers from the Boston Globe, New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal,.

According to The Journal, Cleve (born Robert Toomey) was in Los Angeles to appear at a Tiki-themed bartending event when he died of a heart attack. His first claim to fame was music as a keyboardist in the 1980s. He played in countless bands, including stints touring with the Del Fuegos and Combustible Edison. Then, he had a revelation. As the obituary tells it: “One day in the mid-1980s, at a diner in Cleveland, he noticed scores of cocktails listed on the menu. He began searching thrift shops for cocktail-recipe books and learned to mix and tweak classic drinks.”

Continue reading “Top 10 Tiki stories of 2022 include legends lost, hope for the future”

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