This is the second in The Atomic Grog’s series of short interviews with noted personalities involved in events, music, art, cocktails and Tiki/retro culture.
Kern Mattei was destined to be general manager of The Mai-Kai. His father, Kern Sr., held the same position at the legendary Polynesian palace from 1964 to 1991. His mother was a Mai-Kai dancer, and he literally grew up in the restaurant. He was born in 1966, 10 years after it opened, and now works in the same office that his father did.
He worked a variety of jobs at The Mai-Kai while in school, then began as a manager in 1993 after earning a bachelor’s degree in hospitality from Florida International University. Kern lives in Fort Lauderdale with his wife, Elke, and two children: Cheyne and Nicholas. I conducted this interview with the always dapper Kern on July 30.
Boca Raton’s trendy Mizner Park may never be the same. Restaurant/nightclub impresarios Rodney Mayo and Scott Frielich have joined forces with Pizza Fusion founder Vaughan Lazar for a fresh concept that combines tasty Asian street food with hand-crafted drinks and a social conscience.
Kapow! is inspired by New York City noodle bars featuring communal Asian comfort food with a gastro-style influence.
The menu will feature “fresh and sustainable” pan-Asian noodles and dim sum items plus craft cocktails in a edgy atmosphere. Much of that edge has been provided by South Florida artist Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli, who painted an incredible mural that spans one entire wall.
Forget New Year’s Eve. For many, the Halloween season is the biggest party time of the year. And the upcoming event calendar at the usually mellow Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale is a prime example.
This mid-century Tiki temple has been known in the past for barely acknowledging holidays. This is a good thing. It’s the perfect place to get away from the annoying mob scene at other establishments during rowdy holidays. But Halloween is quickly turing into The Mai-Kai’s best time of year to let loose, next to The Hukilau of course.
This month’s festivities feature three major parties in the classic Polynesian restaurant’s Molokai lounge, where you’ll still feel like you’ve been taken away to an island paradise despite the surrounding creepy costumes. Just sip a few Zombies, and you’ll be fine.
The Malayan Mist is sometimes lost amid the many selections on the vast menu of nearly 50 tropical drinks at Tiki’s crown jewel, The Mai-Kai. It may be one of the most notable, however, with origins that date back to the very beginnings of the modern Tiki bar.
For a tropical drink that’s been around for at least 55 years, there is precious little information to be found about the mysterious Malayan Mist. Fittingly, it also features a unique sweet flavor profile that’s just as esoteric. Like many of The Mai-Kai’s drinks that have survived a half century of menu updates, the classic artwork remains unchanged (see 1959 menu at right).
That artwork helped us solve the mystery. More than half of the drinks at The Mai-Kai are retooled versions of classic Don the Beachcomber cocktails. Mixologist Mariano Licudine worked for Donn Beach in Los Angeles and Chicago before he was hired away by Mai-Kai owners Bob and Jack Thornton, brothers from Chicago who sought to create the ultimate Polynesian palace in what was then a desolate area west of Fort Lauderdale.
Along with Licudine, they snagged the restaurant’s top chef plus manager Robert Van Dorpe, who provided them with invaluable information. This included the sources for all the glassware and artwork to go with the secret ingredients to make those world famous cocktails. Click here for more on the story of the Don the Beachcomber connection to The Mai-Kai as unearthed by historian Tim “Swanky” Glazner.
One of our favorite lowbrow artists, Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli, will be hosting a showing of his recent prints next Tuesday (July 26) at one of our favorite retro restaurants – Howley’s diner in West Palm Beach.
The show, titled “View the Pooch,” will run from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. and will also feature live music from South Florida blues guitarist J.P. Soars. Howley’s has a full bar featuring beer, wine and cocktails plus an extensive menu of diner classics.
Pooch is well-established as one of the most talented artists in South Florida and continues to branch out and establish himself throughout the greater art world. As owner/operator and chief artist at Altered State Tattoo in Lake Worth since 1996, he’s long been the go-to guy in South Florida if you’re looking for one-of-a-kind, eye-popping ink. Pooch’s award-winning tattoo work is known for its rich color and incredible detail. His work has been featured in many tattoo publications, such as Tattoo Society and International Tattoo Art.
Even on-and-off rains throughout the night couldn’t douse the good vibrations permeating the 500 block of Clematis Street on Saturday night during the grand opening party for the surf-themed Longboards restaurant and raw bar.
Longboards was packed to the gills all night as the free food and drinks flowed from this cool raw bar and restaurant that took over the dormant space formerly occupied by Ray’s Downtown. The surf theme was carried through with great effect, from the dozens of surfboards gracing the walls and ceilings, to the surf videos on TVs and a big screen, to the “beach” area on the back patio shared with the neighboring Lounge (we can’t wait to see what’s to become of the “VIP” trailer).
The 500 block of Clematis Street gets a long-awaited injection of that good old Rodney Mayo magic this weekend with the grand opening of the South Florida nightlife mogul’s newest venture, the surf-themed restaurant and bar Longboards.
As owner or part owner of 13 other establishments from West Palm Beach to South Beach, he knows a thing or two about the hospitality industry. But rather than open cookie-cutter, tourist-friendly nightspots, Mayo has a creative flair for the funky and offbeat. And a clever eye for retro cool.
Perhaps we’re just getting tired of smoky bars and dance clubs, but we find his restaurant ventures (Dada and Tryst in Delray Beach, Howley’s in West Palm Beach) the coolest in his portfolio.
It looks like we may want to add Longboards to the list. We stopped by for a sneak peak last night and were blown away by the transformation that has taken place in the space formerly occupied by Ray’s Downtown at 519 Clematis St. Next door to The Lounge and across the street from Respectable Street (two other Mayo properties), Longboards is poised to become a welcome addition to the western reaches of the downtown strip. It’s a full-blown restaurant and bar with great theming, modern yet retro at the same time.
The evening consisted of three components. First, Tiki drink expert and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s seminar on the history of the Zombie cocktail, then the best contemporary mixologists competing in the “Zombie Jam,” followed by The Mai-Kai’s show and dinner.
When I first heard about this event, I had to pinch myself. Had I died and gone to Tiki heaven? My favorite Mai-Kai drink was being celebrated with a seminar by my mixology guru and a contest that was just beckoning for me to enter. So enter I did.