Despite what you may have read in a local business journal, South Florida’s Polynesian palace is not going anywhere. Owner Dave Levy assures us not to worry and that everything will be fine. There has been no change in the daily operations of this classic establishment that promises to entertain, fascinate and satisfy us for years to come. In a tribute to its widespread appeal, Levy was recently interviewed for a feature story in The New York Times.
As a reminder of what makes this Fort Lauderdale landmark special, here are 10 reasons (in no particular order) why we love The Mai-Kai:
A view from Federal Highway of The Mai-Kai in 1969 and today. (Photos from Tim “Swanky” Glazner / Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)
1. The architecture and design. This was a big one that helped it gain historic status but may go unappreciated by many. It was state-of-the art Tiki in 1956 and remains so today. Designed by noted South Florida architect Charles McKirahan, it was “a futuristic Polynesian A-frame 40 feet tall with wings on either side for dining rooms and inside and outside transitioning together via waterways and an open room,” wrote Tim “Swanky” Glazner in the book Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, released in September. Following several expansions over the years, the size and scope of the restaurant today is jaw-dropping, seating more than 600 in the bar and eight dining areas both indoors and outdoors amid lush gardens and waterfalls.
The year’s two major East Coast events, The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale and Ohana: Luau At The Lake in upstate New York, dominate June’s news. We also have an update on the ill-fated Rapa Nui Reef in Deerfield Beach, plus news on October’s Ohana: Luau by the Sea. Also announced for October: Mod-PalmSprings and The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown in the Big Apple. Regular features spotlight the artist Squid, exotica ensemble Waitiki, the venerable Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles, and the Fraternal Order Of Moai website. The rum of the week, Rhum Barbancourt 5 Star, is featured in the 1862 Rhum Punch. Note: Updates are now being published twice a month, but don’t worry. We won’t miss any of the latest news.
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The Hukilau soars at mid-century marvel Pier 66 hotel
Close to a thousand fans of Tiki and mid-century culture from around the world gathered in Fort Lauderdale for The Hukilau on June 10-14, with events centered around the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 and The Mai-Kai restaurant. The 14th annual event seemed fresher than ever thanks to the vintage charm and modern amenities of Pier 66. Here’s a day-by-day recap:
* Wednesday, June 10: Registration opened at Pier 66 and Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid (Medusirena) performed her first exclusive swim show only for guests of The Hukilau at The Wreck Bar at the nearby B Ocean Resort, the former Yankee Clipper on Fort Lauderdale Beach. The reserved-seat, ticketed event was a hit with guests, who all had clear views of Marina and her pod of aquaticats as they performed their “Aquacade Swimshow” featuring special guests Crazy Al Evans, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and more. The evening party moved to The Molokai lounge at The Mai-Kai, featuring live surf music from Miami’s Gold Dust Lounge. Emcee King Kukulele kept thing lively, and the bar was filled with guests and VIPs, including the crew from the upcoming Tiki Tower Takeover and food TV celeb Jim Stacy (Offbeat Eats with Jim Stacy).
* The Atomic Grog’s photo recap: See more images from Wednesday
* Thursday, June 11: Registration at Pier 66 got a little more interesting thanks to The Real McCoy rum, who provided tastings and cocktails from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. One of this year’s signature events, the Tiki Tower Takeover, was held from 4 to 6 in the 17th floor revolving Pier Top Ballroom. Four of the country’s most recognized Tiki cocktail barmen set up shop for a very special happy hour: Martin Cate (Smuggler’s Cove, San Francisco), Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (Latitude 29, New Orleans), Paul McGee (Lost Lake, Chicago) and Brian Miller (“Tiki Mondays With Miller”, New York City). The lively party lived up to expectations, providing guests a one-of-a-kind opportunity to enjoy full-sized, fully-garnished signature cocktails personally made by these acclaimed mixologists all at one event. Pablus, King Kukulele and Crazy Al Evans provided the entertainment, and the drinks were all outstanding: The rummy Formidable Dragon from Martin Cate, the mysterious and exotic T.O.T.C. Swizzle from Beachbum Berry, the complex yet perfectly balanced Lost Lake from Paul McGee, and the creative yet accessible Pandanarama Daiquiri from Brian Miller. You know you’re tasting some of the best drinks in the business when just before the event three of the four were nominated for Spirited Awards by Tales of the Cocktail: Smuggler’s Cove (Best American Cocktail Bar) and both Latitude 29 and Lost Lake (Best New American Cocktail Bar). After The Hukilau, it was announced that both Smuggler’s Cove and Latitude 29 had survived the cut and made the final four. The winners will be announced at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans on July 18.
Cocktail Kingdom has joined forces with Jeff “Beachbum” Berry for the release this week of some cool vintage Tiki cocktail gear. The Hukilau’s official mug and pendant are now on sale as the June 10-14 event announces a new rum sponsor and updated entertainment schedule. Other news includes a special cocktail event at The Mai-Kai, the reopening of the Tiki-Ti, a historic unveiling at the Caliente Tropics hotel during Tiki Caliente, plus new Shag artwork at a Palm Springs party and New York City exhibit. Weekly features spotlight artist Mookie Sato, the Southern Surf Stomp! blog, instro icons Los Straitjackets, and Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge in Minneapolis. The rum of the week, Wicked Dolphin Silver, is featured in the Piña Colada.
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Cocktail Kingdom launches new line of Beachbum Berry Tiki barware
Just in time to jazz up your summer cocktail creations, premium barware company Cocktail Kingdom has teamed up with Tiki’s leading tropical drink historian, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, for a new collection of vintage barware. The Swizzle Cup, Pearl Diver Glass, and Skull Bar Spoon join the Navy Grog Cone Kit (released in 2013) as worthy additions to any bar, Tiki or otherwise.
As with all of Cocktail Kingdom’s retro-inspired items, much care was taken to recreate the original, classic items. The combination of Berry’s meticulous research and the dedication of Cocktail Kingdom, which is owned by cocktail history enthusiast Greg Boehm, results in the best possible products. The publishing arm of Cocktail Kingdom also released Berry’s sixth book, Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them, in late 2013. In November 2014, the author became a Tiki bar proprietor with the opening of his first exotic lounge and restaurant, Latitude 29 in New Orleans.
The skull-topped barspoon is not based on any particular vintage item, but rather was inspired by pirate history and headhunter lore. You could put it to good use mixing a floater of 151 rum into a Shrunken Skull [See recipes] or other ominous concoction. It joins Cocktail Kingdom’s extensive selection of premium barspoons.
The arrival of the new glassware will likely be toasted at home and commercial Tiki bars across the land, where these rare items have been sought-after for years. The Swizzle Cup is made of lightweight stainless steel to the same specifications of the heavier metal versions that were popularized in the 1940s and 1950s. Newer versions of the sleek and stylish cups are used in a select number of the world’s top Tiki bars, such as The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, but the more common variety found on eBay just don’t measure up to the original. The new cup should allow for many more cocktail enthusiasts to enjoy a perfect 151 Swizzle, the deadly drink most commonly featured in the steel vessel to keep its contents ice cold. [See classic, Mai-Kai recipes]
The Deep Sea Diver, one of the oldest and most distinctive tropical drinks at Fort Lauderdale’s Mai-Kai, can be traced back to the 1930s and tropical drink pioneer Don the Beachcomber’s original cocktail menu. It also features an unusual, rarely used ingredient that remains somewhat of a mystery more than 75 years later.
Tiki drink historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s excellent 2007 book, Sippin’ Safari, includes a recipe for the Peal Diver’s Punch that you’ll find below as well as an entire chapter on The Mai-Kai’s founding mixologist, Mariano Licudine (1907-1980). Licudine worked behind the bar at Don the Beachcomber restaurants from 1939 until 1956, when he was lured to Fort Lauderdale by The Mai-Kai’s fledgling owners, Jack and Bob Thornton.
Sippin’ Safari remains my favorite of the Bum’s books and perhaps the most influential in fostering appreciation of both the roots of tropical mixology and the history of The Mai-Kai. It details how Licudine took the Don the Beachcomber classics he had been making for years in Chicago and adapted them to The Mai-Kai’s new menu. With the help of Bob Thornton, Licudine tweaked the secret recipes, often elevating them to even greater heights.