UPDATE: Cocktail quarts join gallons as The Mai-Kai expands takeout menu

Updated June 26

The Mai-Kai continues to adapt and adjust to meet guest demand after the historic Polynesian restaurant reopened less than a month ago amid Florida’s struggles with the coronavirus pandemic. Following the popularity of the cocktail “Gallons to Go,” locals can now pick up quarts of five different popular topical drinks.

The Hukilau, Mai Tai and three other classic Mai-Kai cocktails are now available for curbside pickup in 32-ounce jars in addition to gallon jugs. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Hukilau, Mai Tai and three other classic Mai-Kai cocktails are now available for curbside pickup in 32-ounce jars in addition to gallon jugs. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The 32-ounce glass mason jars were introduced during the special virtual event in honor of The Hukilau on the weekend of June 5-6. Online videos hosted at The Mai-Kai by Jupiter Jones and Retro Rekindled were streamed worldwide, but local guests had the added treat of picking up a special Beachbum Berry mug from sponsor Real Cocktail Ingredients, plus quarts and gallons of The Hukilau cocktail featuring Don Q Rum.

Since that event, the curbside pickup cocktail menu has been updated to include 32-ounce jars of the four favorites that had been available only in 128-ounce jugs, plus several variations of the classic Rum Barrel. The Hukilau has also remained on the expanded menu. The quarts are a great option, allowing smaller groups to partake, or larger groups to sample multiple cocktails. Planning a backyard Fourth of July bash? Look no further.

Here’s the takeout cocktail menu and pre-tax prices as of June 26:
* Barrel O’ Rum – $74.77 gallon, $23.37 quart
* Black Magic – $74.77 gallon, $23.37 quart
* The Hukilau – $74.77 gallon, $23.37 quart
* Jet Pilot – $122.90 gallon, $32.71 quart
* Mai Tai – $112.15 gallon, $32.71 quart
By request, if available:
* Coconut Barrel (rum) – $74.77 galllon, $23.37 quart
* Vodka Barrel – $74.77 gallon, $23.37 quart

Select Mai-Kai tropical drinks are available by the gallon
Select Mai-Kai tropical drinks are available by the gallon. (Mai-Kai photo)

Each quart contains at least four servings of the robust Barrel, Black Magic and The Hukilau, but even more of the Jet Pilot and Mai Tai, which are usually served in smaller glasses. The gallons include 15 servings at 8 1/2 ounces each, but you’ll get many more servings of the smaller drinks. All are great deals compared to the prices for single servings in the restaurant.

Of course, since May 29, guests have been able to enjoy happy hour in The Molokai Bar from opening until 7 p.m., featuing half-priced cocktails and appetizers. In addition, The Mai-Kai recently announced the return of the Wednesday night free sushi buffet. A minimum $10 bar tab comes with a complimentary buffet featuring sushi and other finger foods from 5 to 9 p.m.

As they have since the reopening, The Mai-Kai management and staff are taking extra precautions to keep guests safe. “Masks are required when approaching the buffet, there are clear lines on the floor keeping everyone 6 feet apart and guests do not serve themselves,” according to a June 24 announcement on Facebook.

The restaurant and attached bar have been operating in accordance with all state and local guidelines, going above and beyond with additional measures in sanitization, distancing, team wellness, and training. Face coverings are required for all guests when entering, according to the latest Facebook post (see below). “We appreciate everyone’s cooperation in keeping each other safe. Mahalo!”

Hurricane Hayward is greeted by manager Kern Mattei while picking up quarts of cocktails to go. (Atomic Grog photo)
Hurricane Hayward is greeted by manager Kern Mattei while picking up quarts of cocktails to go. (Atomic Grog photo)

The Mai-Kai has also announced an expanded schedule of its legendary Polynesian Islander Revue for the July Fourth weekend. Check the official website for hours and showtimes or call (954) 563-3272. Reservations are required and can be made either online or by phone. The restaurant and gift shop remain open five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday.

However, if you’re not quite ready to venture out for a meal or just want to enjoy a taste of The Mai-Kai at home, there are penty of take-out options available every day. You can place an order online or by phone and schedule your pick-up time seven days a week:
Curbside pickup hours
Monday-Tuesday: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Wednesday-Saturday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sunday: 3 to 9 p.m.

Note that if you prefer to stay in your car, the staff will bring your order to you. Also, if you live close to the restaurant, you may be able to get delivery of food and beverages on Wednesdays through Sundays.

The menu is expansive, perfect for upcoming Fourth of July family festivities. In addition to cocktails, the wine list features more than a dozen different bottles. But for a full Polynesian feast, you need to explore the distinctive food menu, which includes a delicious mix of classic Tiki bar staples and modern Pan Asian cuisine. As of late June, the menu included 23 appetizers, 36 entrees, six side dishes, and four desserts.
Official website: Check MaiKai.com for updates

The Hukilau 2020: A week of virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need
The Hukilau 2020: Virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need
Pay homage to the canceled Tiki weekender with educational symposiums, a special virtual event at The Mai-Kai, plus more.
* See video replays, all of the activities

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Expanded hot food menu joins cocktail ‘Gallons to Go’ as The Mai-Kai reopens to guests
Updated June 3

The Mai-Kai announced on May 21 that it will reopen for guests under the latest coronavirus rules for restaurants in Broward County and the state of Florida on Friday, May 29.

The Mai-Kai will reopen on May 29 after closing since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Sven Kirsten)
The Mai-Kai will reopen on May 29 after closing since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Sven Kirsten)

“Of course, our guests’ and employees’ health and safety are our first priority,” the email announcement said. “We have met and surpassed all CDC guidelines and mandatory government-issued operational requirements and we’ve taken additional measures in sanitization, distancing, team wellness, and training. Please note when entering the restaurant face coverings are required and temperatures will be taken. We appreciate everyone’s cooperation in keeping each other safe.”

Reservations for dinner only or dinner and the legendary Polynesian Islander Revue are required and can be made online at MaiKai.com or by phone at (954) 563-3272. Delivery options are also available.

The Mai-Kai's online ordering

The Molokai Bar will be open for happy hour prices on The Mai-Kai’s famous tropical drinks and appetizers from opening until 7 p.m. with socially-distanced table seating only but no reservations required. Check the website for the latest info on opening days, hours and showtimes. The Mai-Kai’s gift shop will also be reopening to guests.

The Mai-Kai also announced that the extensive menu of takeout food, wine and cocktails will still be available, even after the May 29 opening. Check out all the details below on the signature appetizers, entrees and “Gallons to Go” of tropical drinks you can order by phone for curbside pickup. To make the experience even easier, The Mai-Kai has just launched a new online ordering platform accessible directly from MaiKai.com.

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Original story:
Expanded hot food menu joins cocktail ‘Gallons to Go’ as The Mai-Kai plans reopening

Like many other bars and restaurants across Florida and the U.S., The Mai-Kai was forced to close its doors suddenly in March when the coronavirus pandemic caused a statewide shutdown. Sadly, the 63-year-old Polynesian palace had no more work for its extensive staff, from the cooks and bartenders to the sarong-clad Molokai Girls and performers in the Polynesian Islander Revue.

The Mai-Kai's Gallons to Go cocktail menu includes the Rum Barrel, Jet Pilot, Mai Tai and Black Magic
The Mai-Kai’s Gallons to Go cocktail menu includes the Rum Barrel, Jet Pilot, Mai Tai and Black Magic.

But the Fort Lauderdale landmark quickly found a unique way to give South Floridians a taste of its historic cocktails: Thirsty patrons hauled away hundreds of “Gallons to Go.” This curbside takeout program was a smash success, leading The Mai-Kai to release a limited edition rum, then later launch an ambitious menu of wines, meats and desserts for Mother’s Day.

Now, with the shutdown approaching eight weeks but with a reopening date on the horizon, The Mai-Kai has ramped up its takeout menu to include many favorites from its regular ala carte menu. You can pair your gallons of Rum Barrels and Mai Tais with hot appetizers, dinners and rice bowls.

Restaurants in Broward County will be allowed to reopen beginning Monday, May 18, but The Mai-Kai has not announced an opening date yet. “We are looking at the entire scenario and planning according to all rules for the safety of our guests and staff,” marketing director Pia Dahlquist said on Facebook. “Meanwhile, please enjoy our takeout food and favorite tropical Gallons to Go! And look for the announcement when we will re-open.”

The Mai-Kai’s takeout menu
Check the official website for the latest updates on pick-up hours plus new offerings.
Cocktails (Gallons to Go) | Food and desserts | Wines
On The Atomic Grog: The latest Mai-Kai news, plus our exclusive cocktail guide with 100+ recipes

With a 50 percent limit on capacity, among other restrictions, The Mai-Kai will certainly look to keep these curbside takeout offerings going even after the reopening. Judging by guest reaction, many hope they will remain permanently.

The Mai-Kai's new to-go menu

Said one comment in the Fans of The Mai-Kai Facebook group: “I am so impressed with what The Mai-Kai has come up with during these tough times. For a restaurant so steeped in tradition, they have surely thought outside the box to keep some revenue flowing. Their creative mindset is as stellar as ever! A lot of businesses could learn from them.”

Dahlquist said the success of the cocktails to go inspired management to increase the offerings. The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend, an exclusive new rum that was scheduled to launch at a special event in April, quickly sold out of its sneak preview allotment when it was added to the menu in April. [Check out our preview of the rum below] Then, on Mother’s Day weekend, bottles of wine (and signature glasses) joined the menu along with select meats and desserts to give Mom a proper holiday feast.

What’s even more impressive than the delicious selection of tropical fare is the fact that the entire operation has been run during the pandemic by a skeleton crew of mangers and owner Dave Levy. Like most others in the hospitality industry, The Mai-Kai faced the agonizing reality of having to let its entire staff of around 100 go. This was especially hard for the family-run establishment that prides itself on the loyalty of its employees, many of whom remain there for decades.

Now you can order Pupu Platters to pair with your Rum Barrels to go with The Mai-Kai's expanded take-out menu
Now you can order Pupu Platters to pair with your Rum Barrels to go with The Mai-Kai’s expanded take-out menu.

While we wait for news on the reopening, it’s a great time to take advantage of the extensive takeout menu and help support the owners and staff as they face another difficult task. We hope that the expanded food and cocktail offerings mean that some of the staff will be back in the kitchen and behind the bar and able to regain their salaries.

We look forward to a day in the not-too-distant future when we can once again enjoy a relaxing one-of-a-kind experience you can only get at The Mai-Kai, from the classic cocktails in The Molokai lounge to a quiet walk in the exotic Tiki garden, to dinner in one of the secluded and mysterious dining rooms, to a thrilling performance of the Polynesian Islander Revue. But in the meantime, we appreciate the ability to take a taste of The Mai-Kai home with us.

The menu of cocktails available for curbside pickup features the Barrel O’ Rum, Mai Tai, and Jet Pilot. Special requests can also be made for the Black Magic, plus the Coconut Barrel (a Barrel with coconut rum) and Vodka Barrel (with house or Absolut). The wine list features 25 different bottles (at 50 percent off regular prices).

And for the first time since closing in March, you can order appetizers and entrees direct from the kitchen. The menu features nine signature appetizers (pupu platter, crab rangoon, friend shrimp, etc.), 11 dinners (from Cantonese Shrimp to Ginger Garlic Lobster to USDA Prime Filet Mignon) and six rice bowls (with chicken, beef, shrimp and veggies). There are also four side dishes and four desserts.

The Mai-Kai's to-go menu includes 50 percent off bottles of wine, several pork tenderloin dishes, and a selection of desserts
The Mai-Kai’s to-go menu includes 50 percent off bottles of wine, several pork tenderloin dishes, and a selection of desserts.

You can also now order and pick up cocktails during an expanded window of office hours, seven days a week. Food is available for pick-up between 4 and 9 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Go to MaiKai.com for all the info.

Members of The Mai-Kai Club also get the benefit of a 25 percent discount on all take-out food orders. You can join the club now for just $20 and continue your savings (up to 50 percent off food, drinks and merchandise) when The Mai-Kai reopens by clicking here.
* The Mai-Kai gift certificates: Treat the special someone on your list

More coverage below
Photos: Gallons to Go quench South Florida’s thirst for The Mai-Kai
Review: Exclusive new Mai-Kai rum introduced
Social media: Rum Barrel Challenge on Instagram

The Mai-Kai online store
The Mai-Kai Trading Post is the historic restaurant’s online version of its vast on-site gift shop, offering custom mugs, apparel, jewelry, Tikis, artist prints, menus, and more.

The Mai-Kai on social media
Twitter | Facebook: Official page | Friends of The Mai-Kai group
Instagram: Restaurant | The Molokai bar | Trading Post

The Mia-Kai Online Tiki Bingo Benefit
Aid for Mai-Kai employees
On May 7, an online Tiki bingo benefit raised $4,400 for employees of The Mai-Kai affected by the closing due to coronavirus. Players brought $10 bingo cards and played for donated prizes, including a Mai-Kai Club membership and other items from The Mai Kai. The check was presented by the event organizers to The Mai-Kai’s Pia Dahlquist (left) and Kern Mattei (right). (Photos from Facebook)

Support Tiki bars now by visiting their online stores, contributing to fundraisers
UPDATES: Support Tiki bars by visiting their online stores, contributing to fundraisers

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Gallons To Go from The Mai-Kai

PHOTOS & RECAP: Gallons to Go quench South Florida’s thirst for The Mai-Kai

The Mai-Kai’s Gallons to Go take-out cocktail program launched on just one day – Friday, April 3 – and was an immediate success. Orders were received for more than 100 gallons during that initial three-hour pick-up window. Two weeks later, pick-ups were expanded to two days (April 17-18) and orders topped 200 gallons.

Manager Kern Mattei shows off the day's work: A full supply of Mai-Kai Rum Barrels to go. (April 15)
Manager Kern Mattei shows off the day’s work on April 15: A full supply of Mai-Kai Rum Barrels to go. (Mai-Kai photo)

The core offerings were four of the acclaimed bar’s most popular tropical cocktails: Barrel O’ Rum, Mai Tai, Jet Pilot and Piña Colada. Priced from $80 up to $131.50, the gallons are touted as serving around 15 drinks, a great value any way you slice it. A gallon yields more than 25 servings of the small but powerful Jet Pilot, so even at the top price point you’re getting a hell of a deal.

Word leaked out that the Black Magic was also available by special order, pleasing fans of that cult classic. In later weeks, guests could also order more mainstream offerings such as the Coconut Barrel, Vodka Barrel, and a virgin Pina Colada. The current menu is the same with the exception of the Piña Colada, which is temporarily not available.
Gallons to Go official menu: Click here to see that latest offerings

To meet the onslaught of orders, the bar staff had to kick into high gear in just a few days of production. By “staff” we really mean one hard-working bartender, the tireless Miles “Max” Vrahimis, who some readers may remember for his work with Lemon Hart Rum. He’s still a Lemon Hart rep, but Vrahimis has taken on his new role at The Mai-Kai with abandon, as you can see by the photos below.

ROUND THREE: Now a veteran at batching cocktails, bartender Max Vrahimis can pour multiple bottles of Lemon Hart 151 without even looking. (April 30)
Bartender Max Vrahimis pours Lemon Hart 151 into a batch of Jet Pilots on April 30. (Mai-Kai photo)

That’s not to say he didn’t have help. Owner Dave Levy and his management team were there running the show, and they also helped prep cocktails and orders. Kudos to director of sales and marketing Pia Dahlquist for personally handling all of the orders by phone and email. Manager Kern Mattei looked out-of-place without his usual dapper suit, but he and director of catering John Gelardi kept busy filling orders and helping Vrahimis in The Mai-Kai’s famous back bar.

The secret hidden lair behind the kitchen is also strategically located near the restaurant’s back door, which made production and distribution of the massive amount of cocktails just a bit smoother. After the first round of gallons, the two-week breather became necessary to secure more containers and gear up for the next round.

The reaction was immediate and overwhelming. The Mai-Kai closed its doors after service on March 25, so the ensuring weeks had built up quite a demand from its South Florida faithful. Social media posts boosted interest (see below), with envious fans from around the country inquiring hopefully if they could get gallons shipped to them.

Continue reading “UPDATE: Cocktail quarts join gallons as The Mai-Kai expands takeout menu”

New symposium at The Hukilau 2020: ‘How The Mai-Kai Perfected the Modern Tiki Cocktail’

The Hukilau 2020: A week of virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need
NEW: The Hukilau 2020: A week of virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need
You can pay homage to the canceled Tiki weekender with educational symposiums, a special virtual event at The Mai-Kai, plus more.
UPDATED: The Tiki Times
See what’s canceled, rescheduled – plus new online events

On April 20, The Hukilau announced that its 19th annual Tiki weekender scheduled for June 3-7 in Fort Laduerdale was being postponed by the coronavirus pandemic. In its place will be a series of events across the country aimed at raising money for Tiki bars devastated by shutdowns. Click the link below for more info.

The Hukilau hits the road to spread aloha, benefit closed Tiki bars
The Hukilau hits the road to benefit closed Tiki bars
The tour will include The Mai-Kai, other stops across U.S., plus The Hukilau London in October.

The original story remains below for posterity …

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Updated Feb. 25, 2020

Donn Beach, aka Don the Beachcomber, famously came up with the idea of a lavish and immersive lounge featuring South Pacific themes and Caribbean cocktails in the 1930s. But it took two upstart restaurateurs and one of Beach’s top bartenders to take the Tiki concept to a whole new level when they opened The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale in 1956.

The Mai-Kai's owners, Bob Thornton (left) and Jack Thornton (right), with master mixologist Mariano Licudine
The Mai-Kai’s owners, Bob Thornton (left) and Jack Thornton (right), with master mixologist Mariano Licudine. (Credit: Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)

At The Hukilau, set for June 3-7 in Fort Lauderdale, find out how the combination of the insightful ownership of Bob and Jack Thornton along with the mixology skills of former Don the Beachcomber bartender Mariano Licudine set a standard of tropical cocktail excellence that has stood the test of time for more than 60 years.

A vintage Mai-Kai photo of cocktails in The Molokai bar
A vintage Mai-Kai photo of cocktails in The Molokai bar. (Mai-Kai photo)

Sticking closely to Beach’s groundbreaking secret recipes, but putting their own more modern and accessible spin on them, the brothers and their head bartender envisioned a menu of some 50 elaborate libations that endure and are beloved to this day under the continued ownership of Bob Thornton’s family.

Founding co-owner Bob Thornton shows off the award-winning Derby Daiquiri
Founding co-owner Bob Thornton shows off the award-winning Derby Daiquiri. (Photos courtesy of Tim Glazner, SwankPad.org)

Learn how The Mai-Kai still follows Don the Beachcomber’s procedures and standards that were created nearly 90 years ago to maintain the mystery and allure of the modern tropical cocktail in the restaurant’s secret back bars.

Donn Beach (1930s), Mariano Licudine (1960s), and a current Mai-Kai bartender (2019)
Donn Beach (1930s), Mariano Licudine (1960s), and a current Mai-Kai bartender (2019). (Photos from newspaper archives and The Atomic Grog)

Join Hurricane Hayward of The Atomic Grog blog and some very special guests for an exploration of the passing of the torch from Donn Beach to the Thornton brothers, and the key role of Licudine in keeping these historic cocktails alive and thriving.

Continue reading “New symposium at The Hukilau 2020: ‘How The Mai-Kai Perfected the Modern Tiki Cocktail’”

The Rums of The Mai-Kai: The Atomic Grog presents new class and symposium at The Hukilau 2019

Manager Bob Van Dorpe (left) and head bartender Mariano Licudine (right) show off The Mai-Kai’s rum collection in 1962. Many of those rare and original bottles can still be found in the secluded back service bar (photo from 2017 at right), unseen by guests.

Updated July 6

NEW: Hear The Rums of The Mai-Kai symposium on the Inside the Desert Oasis Room podcast
The Rums of The Mai-Kai, presented by The Atomic Grog at The Hukilau 2019
Mahalo to Adrian Eustaquio and Inside the Desert Oasis Room for documenting the June 9 presentation featuring Hurricane Hayward and Matt Pietrek of Cocktail Wonk live on stage at The Mai-Kai during the closing festivities of The Hukilau 2019.
Click here to listen now or subscribe on iTunes and other podcast platforms

Full recap coming soon!
NEW: Get detailed reports and photos on Tiki Central
The Atomic Grog presents new class and symposium at The Hukilau
COMING SOON: Exclusive news on a new replacement for Kohala Bay rum at The Mai-Kai, plus more!
More on the rums of The Mai-Kai
NEW: See exclusive info and photos on Tiki Central

The Mai-Kai's original mixologist, Mariano Licudine (right), with his rum collection in 1962. Many of those rare and original bottles can still be found in the secluded back service bar (photo from 2017 at right), unseen by guests. At The Hukilau 2019, we'll take a peek behind the scenes
Manager Bob Van Dorpe (left) and head bartender Mariano Licudine (right) show off The Mai-Kai’s rum collection in 1962. Many of those rare and original bottles can still be found in the secluded back service bar (photo from 2017 at right), unseen by guests. At The Hukilau 2019, we’ll take a peek behind the scenes.

Event preview:

Established in 1956, The Mai-Kai is a national historic landmark with many iconic features that guests see every time they visit, from the Polynesian Islander Revue, to the distinctive design and decor, to the gracious staff.

But there’s one key element to the experience that you rarely ever see, but almost always taste: The rums of The Mai-Kai. Using tropical drink recipes that can be traced directly back to Don the Beachcomber’s 1930s-era classics, the behind-the-scenes bartenders follow generations-old methods of mixing rum cocktails.

The Rums of The Mai-Kai, presented by The Atomic Grog at The Hukilau 2019
Click here for tickets and more info on The Hukilau 2019

Hurricane Hayward of The Atomic Grog will take guests of The Hukilau 2019 on an virtual journey to the Caribbean to learn about the key rums and styles that have dominated The Mai-Kai’s acclaimed cocktails for more than 60 years. This includes an intimate class for bartenders and enthusiasts at the Pier Sixty-Six hotel, and an interactive symposium on stage at the Polynesian palace in Fort Lauderdale.

Here are the details on both events:

The Rums of The Mai-Kai: The Classic Tiki Template
Saturday, June 8, at Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina
Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class in the Commodore Room, 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Stephen Remsberg is famous for his private collection of thousands of bottles of rum. (Image by Annene Kaye)
Stephen Remsberg is famous for his private collection of thousands of bottles of rum. (Image by Annene Kaye)

Don the Beachcomber’s groundbreaking use of multiple rums in a single cocktail is crucial to the style that came to be known as Tiki. Nearly 90 years later, that exact same blending of spirits is still practiced today at The Mai-Kai. Hurricane Hayward of The Atomic Grog blog will guide hands-on lessons on how the flavors from different Caribbean islands are used in concert to create some of the world’s most famous rum rhapsodies. Put these practices to use to make your home bar sing. Special guest “professor” Stephen Remsberg, famed rum historian and collector, will share his knowledge and a few treats from his collection.

Another special treat: Students will shake up cocktails using sponsor rums and actual Mai-Kai ingredients. The restaurant will provide us with ample quantities of several classic drinks, sans rums, for our mixing pleasure. Also, there will be raffles held throughout the class with an assortment of door prizes, including signed books and barware from Cocktail Kingdom’s Beachbum Berry Collection.

All class members are also invited to The Mai-Kai on Sunday for special events that include rare “lost cocktails” from The Mai-Kai’s 1956 menu, plus reserved seats for an on-stage rum presentation by Hurricane Hayward and Matt Pietrek, aka Cocktail Wonk. Select students will participate in the symposium while a group of others will receive an exclusive, private tour of The Mai-Kai’s back bar and historic rum collection. Free shuttle will run betwen The Hukilau hotels and The Mai-Kai from 11:30 a.m. until around 5 p.m.

BUY TICKETS: Class sizes are limited, so act now before this sells out. Tickets for all Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy classes cost $49 plus fee, and include a special series of barware (rum sippers, spoons, muddlers, strainers, and a flask) created especially for students by Tiki Diablo. Participants get one item per class, plus the many rum samples, cocktails, and door prizes mentioned above.

The Mai-Kai's vintage rum collection attracts industry VIPs from around the world. Joy Spence, master blender of Appleton Rum, paid a visit in November 2018 and found some rare bottles from Jamaica. Alexandre Gabriel, owner of Maison Ferrand and Plantation Rum, tasted a few vintage bottles during a tour after his symposium at The Hukilau 2018 last June. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
The Mai-Kai’s vintage rum collection attracts industry VIPs from around the world. Joy Spence, master blender of Appleton Rum, paid a visit in November 2018 and found some rare bottles from Jamaica. Alexandre Gabriel, owner of Maison Ferrand and Plantation Rum, tasted a few vintage bottles during a tour after his symposium at The Hukilau 2018 last June. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

The Rums of The Mai-Kai: From the Back Bar to Your Glass
Sunday, June 9, at The Mai-Kai
The Mai-Kai Grand Finale, noon to 4 p.m., featuring live music in The Molokai bar by Skinny Jimmy Stingray. Symposium in the main dining room at 1:30 p.m.

Take a deep dive into the historic rum collection of the legendary Polynesian restaurant with Jim “Hurricane” Hayward of The Atomic Grog blog and special guest Matt Pietrek, rum expert and author of the award-winning Cocktail Wonk blog. Discover new information on The Mai-Kai’s connection to Tiki cocktail forefather Don the Beachcomber through the rums they have in common. Includes an interactive, multimedia presentation and rare “lost cocktails” from the archives, as we enjoy The Mai-Kai before it opens to the public.

Continue reading “The Rums of The Mai-Kai: The Atomic Grog presents new class and symposium at The Hukilau 2019”

Photos: Demerara rum flows at The Mai-Kai’s magical retro event featuring The Atomic Grog

The Atomic Grog was pleased to present a special happy-hour talk about “Demerara Rum: The Mai-Kai’s Secret Weapon” during The Mai-Kai Takeover event on Jan. 19, presented by the Magical Tiki Meet-Up and Retro Rekindled.

SEE BELOW: Event photo gallery | Previous: Atomic Grog event preview

Armed with a Zombie, Hurricane Hayward is ready to get started with his talk on Demerara rum
Armed with a Zombie, Hurricane Hayward is ready to get started with his talk on Demerara rum.

A big thanks to sponsor Lemon Hart & Son rum and brand ambassador Miles Maximillian Vrahimis for all the assistance, including the photos below plus the promo materials featured at the event as well as a special Blackpool spiced rum package that was presented to a lucky charity raffle winner. The raffle raised $275 for the Humane Society of Broward County.

The event kicked off at 4 p.m. with an extra hour of happy hour that included our talk in The Molokai bar. There was a full house of close to 100 people on hand for the 30-minute presentation, plus two sample cocktails featuring Lemon Hart’s two traditional Demerara rums.

Lemon Hart 151 is a legendary Tiki cocktail ingredient and one of the world’s most distinctive rums. The Mai-Kai features it in seven of its most flavor-packed (and strong) cocktails, including the Jet Pilot and Zombie. Guests at the Jan. 19 event were treated to a mini version of the 151 Swizzle, a classic that showcases the rich and smoky overproof rum.

Demerara Float samples make the rounds
Demerara Float samples make the rounds.

As a special treat, we also sampled the long-lost Demerara Float, perhaps the best of all the drinks from the 1956 menu that have been retired over the decades. It’s served only at special events, so it was a unique opportunity to try this Don the Beachcomber creation (originally known as the Demerara Dry Float) using Lemon Hart’s 80-proof rum, aka Original 1804.

Historically, this is the rum used by Don the Beachcomber and The Mai-Kai in their mid-century masterpieces that you can still taste at the Fort Lauderdale Tiki temple. Be sure to check out the Yeoman’s Grog (aka Navy Grog), S.O.S. (aka Three Dots and a Dash) and Bora Bora (aka Donga Punch). These days, The Mai-Kai employs the 86-proof Hamilton rum from the same distillery as Lemon Hart, the famed Demerara Distillers in Guyana.

Attendees received my handy checklist documenting all The Mai-Kai cocktails featuring Lemon Hart 151 and Hamilton 86, with the strong warning that I don’t advise trying all 13 in one sitting. Or two. Or three. Take your time and savor them.
RELATED: See all the cocktails featuring Demerara rum at The Mai-Kai

Here are some nuggets of info from the 30-minute talk:

Continue reading “Photos: Demerara rum flows at The Mai-Kai’s magical retro event featuring The Atomic Grog”

Magical Tiki Meet-Up special event: ‘Demerara Rum – The Mai-Kai’s Secret Weapon’

Demerara Rum - The Mai-Kai's Secret Weapon on Jan. 19, 2019

Updated Jan. 30, 2019

Mahalo to everyone who turned out to our talk on Lemon Hart and Demerara rum, plus all the festivities at The Mai-Kai Takeover from the Magical Tiki Meet-Up and Retro Rekindled. The rum raffle raised $275 for the Humane Society of Broward County.

Click here to check out our full event recap, including photos and highlights of our Demerara rum discussion …

Demerara Rum: The Mai-Kai's Secret Weapon on Jan. 19, 2019

EVENT PREVIEW:

The Atomic Grog is joining forces with the Magical Tiki Meet-Up and Retro Rekindled for a special talk at The Mai-Kai on Saturday, Jan. 19: “Demerara Rum – The Mai-Kai’s Secret Weapon.” This event is sold out!

The Mai-Kai Takeover on Jan. 19

Here’s the schedule:
4 p.m. – Early entry for happy hour in The Molokai bar. Meet and greet, Demerara rum discussion and cocktails.
5 p.m. – Seating for dinner.
* Advance dinner show tickets include early entry and sample cocktails. Happy hour tickets were also offered separately.
* Facebook event

Two sample cocktails featuring Lemon Hart Demerara rum, including one retired drink from the 1956 menu, will be featured at the Jan. 19 event at The Mai-Kai. (Atomic Grog photo)
Two sample cocktails featuring Lemon Hart Demerara rum, including one retired drink from the 1956 menu, will be featured at the Jan. 19 event at The Mai-Kai. (Atomic Grog photo)

Attendees will enjoy two sample cocktails featuring sponsor Lemon Hart & Son rum, there will be a raffle to win a bottle of rum, plus an assortment of free goodies.

Everyone who bought tickets or RSVP’d will have their names listed at the door. Early entry and the sample drinks are included for those who signed up for dinner. For those attending happy hour only, there will be a $15 charge for the Demerara rum drinks, which will include a “lost cocktail” from the 1956 menu that is rarely served.

Among the topics we’ll cover:
* What is Demerara Rum?
* The History of Demerara Rum and Lemon Hart.
* Tiki arrives with Don the Beachcomber.
* The Mai-Kai, Mariano Licudine and mid-century Tiki.
* Mixology magic: Demerara Rum’s greatest hits.
* Lemon Hart at The Mai-Kai: Yesterday and today. Brand ambassador Miles Maximillian Vrahimis will also be on hand to answer questions.

If you’re not attending the dinner show, feel free to hang out for the remainder of happy hour and we’ll continue to discuss the finer points of Demerara Rum and The Mai-Kai’s historic cocktails. For a little background, check out this deep dive on the history of this distinctive rum:
* Rums from Guyana star in The Mai-Kai’s classic cocktails

Continue reading “Magical Tiki Meet-Up special event: ‘Demerara Rum – The Mai-Kai’s Secret Weapon’”

Photos: The Mai-Kai updates bar menu, adds classic ‘lost’ cocktail

Updated June 2019

A new cocktail menu made its debut on May 17 in The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai, marking first update to the classic tropical drink lineup since 2014.
Related: The Okole Maluna Society: The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide | See all 100+ recipes

The 2018 cocktail menu at The Mai-Kai

The front and back covers are now blue, replacing the previous yellow. The centerspread featuring the classic tropical drinks remains the same color, and the entire menu has a matte finish (instead of the old laminated, shiny menu).

The 2018 cocktail menu at The Mai-Kai

The rum and wine lists are also updated …

The 2018 rum menu at The Mai-Kai

Continue reading “Photos: The Mai-Kai updates bar menu, adds classic ‘lost’ cocktail”

The Mai-Kai is here to stay: 10 reasons why we love the historic South Florida restaurant

There’s no doubt that The Mai-Kai restaurant has had long-lasting appeal and success. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014 and celebrated its 60th anniversary in December, when it was honored by the Broward County Commission with its own special day.

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  / <em>Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant</em>)
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.

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai is here to stay: 10 reasons why we love the historic South Florida restaurant”

The Mai-Kai turns 60 with special history presentations, celebration

RECAP: Browse photos on the 60th anniversary celebration on Facebook
Related: New giant carved Tiki added to outdoor garden in time for 60th anniversary

Updated preview:
In a special 10-minute ceremony during a Dec. 13 public hearing, the Broward County Commission declared Dec. 28th to be “Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show Day” in the county. Owners, management and performers attended the signing of the proclamation at the commission chambers in Fort Lauderdale.

The owners and staff of The Mai-Kai were honored by the Broward County Commission on Dec. 13. (Photo provided by The Mai-Kai)
The owners and staff of The Mai-Kai were honored by the Broward County Commission on Dec. 13. (Photo provided by The Mai-Kai)

The proclamation reads: “Be it proclaimed by the board of county commissioners of Broward County, Florida: That the Board hereby designates Wednesday December 28, 2016 as “MAI-KAI RESTAURANT AND POLYNESIAN SHOW DAY” in Broward County, offers its gratitude for 60 years of historical hospitality.”

The proclamation was presented by Commissioner Chip LaMarca, who was then given a lei by owner Mireille Thornton. Mireille’s son, managing owner Dave Levy, was also on hand, along with director of sales and marketing Pia Dahlquist. Two Mai-Kai performers, guitarist Kainalu and dancer Hokulani, then serenaded Mayor Barbara Sharief and the commission in what may have been the county’s first traditional Polynesian performance during a public hearing.
* See a photo of the proclamation
* Watch the video of the public hearing (fast forward to the 4:00:00 mark)

Original story:

The Mai-Kai under construction in 1956 in Fort Lauderdale. (Mai-Kai photo)
The Mai-Kai under construction in 1956 in Fort Lauderdale. (Mai-Kai photo)

It’s a testament to a restaurant’s historic status and popularity when not one, but two book authors are scheduled speak at an anniversary event produced by a longtime supporter. When The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale turns 60 on Dec. 28, the annual Customer Celebration Party will be enhanced to include two special presentations in the acclaimed Polynesian palace’s main showroom, home of the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii.

SPECIAL EVENT: The Mai-Kai’s 60th Anniversary Symposia Series & Customer Celebration Party – Wednesday, Dec. 28. Featuring presentations by authors Sven Kirsten and Tim “Swanky” Glazner brought to you by Tiki Kiliki Productions. Plus enjoy dinner shows, live music, and food and drink specials all night. Doors open at 1:30, symposia begin at 2, happy hour at 3:30, signings at 4, live music at 6, dinner shows at 7 and 9:30. Symposia tickets are sold out. For dinner reservations, call (954) 563-3272. [Facebook event]

The Mai-Kai's Mai-Kai 60th Anniversary Symposia Series

Named to the National Register of Historic Places two years ago, The Mai-Kai is the last remaining example of the classic mid-20th century Polynesian supper club. Indeed, the restaurant’s many fans consider it the Tiki mecca. Since the venerable Critiki website began compiling its user ratings into an annual list two years ago, The Mai-Kai has been honored as the No. 1 Tiki bar in the world two years straight. The Mai-Kai was also just voted the best Tiki bar by readers of SouthFlorida.com. [See video]

One of those fans, Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White, is producing a special Symposia Series for the 60th anniversary that features two authors who have written extensively about The Mai-Kai and Polynesian pop culture: Sven Kirsten and Tim “Swanky” Glazner. It’s that kind of reverence that makes The Mai-Kai a special place for many.

History symposia kick off party in legendary showroom

A recent view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway. (Photo by Sven Kirsten)
A recent view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway. (Photo by Sven Kirsten)

“The origin story of The Mai-Kai – its architecture, decor, and its influence on Polynesian pop on the American East Coast and beyond – makes it one of the greatest Tiki temples of all time,” wrote noted pop culture historian and author Kirsten in the forward to Glazner’s book, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, released in September by Schiffer.

“Before the era of theme parks, this place showed the way,” Glazner wrote in his debut work. “It weaves its magic, if you let it. It is a place out of time: ancient, mysterious, lush, and relaxing.” The California-based Kirsten and Tennessee-based Glazner will make the pilgrimage to The Mai-Kai on Dec. 28 to host symposia on the restaurant’s unique and fascinating history.

The party starts early: Doors open at 1:30 p.m. for the presentations, which will include slideshows of vintage photos and artwork, plus a raffle for special giveaways. Your ticket also gets you early entry into The Mai-Kai for an unencumbered look at all the dining rooms and Tiki garden; plus appetizers and tropical drinks, including three special “lost cocktails” from the early days of the restaurant.

Lost cocktails menu for The Mai-Kai's 60th anniversary

Lost cocktails announced
On Dec. 28 only, a special menu will feature three drinks that appeared on the original 1956 menu but were retired over the years. Guests can enjoy the spicy and deadly Last Rites, the sweet and sour Impatient Virgin and the rich and rummy Demerara Float.

Like many of the cocktails at The Mai-Kai, they can be traced back to topical drink pioneer Don the Beachcomber, who developed the faux Polynesian style in the 1930s in Hollywood, Calif. The Chicago location of the Beachcomber chain was a huge influence on The Mai-Kai, and many of its key employees came to Florida to work when the restaurant opened. The cocktail menu was spearheaded by bartender Mariano Licudine, a 17-year veteran who got his start at the flagship Hollywood location. He retired from The Mai-Kai in 1979, but his influence is still felt today.

The Mai-Kai's opening day ad. (Provided by Sven Kirsten)
The Mai-Kai’s opening day ad. (Provided by Sven Kirsten)

At 2 p.m., Kirsten will present for the first time his research into the origins and history of The Mai-Kai’s iconic Tahitian cannibal carvings, which have served as the restaurant’s logo in one form or another since opening day. Founding owners Bob and Jack Thornton “showed themselves as standard-bearers of the coming Tiki generation by adopting these figures as The Mai-Kai’s trademark,” Kirsten wrote Tiki Pop (Taschen), his 2014 magnum opus.

In “The Tahitian Cannibal Carvings: The Logo Tikis of the Mai-Kai,” Kirsten will reveal how this specific Tiki design dates back to the early days of Polynesian pop, then marked the beginning of the Tiki period. This “cannibal trio” became the logo Tikis of important Polynesian restaurants across America, reproduced in a multitude of forms and materials. This will be a rare opportunity to see the influential Kirsten, author of The Book of Tiki (2000) and Tiki Modern (2007), in South Florida. He last did a presentation at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau in 2012.

A 3 p.m., it’s Glazner’s turn to take the stage in the showroom, home of The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue and part of the original A-frame structure built in 1956. Glazner, a longtime Mai-Kai fan and Tiki enthusiast, has been collecting memorabilia and stories from longtime and current employees for more than a decade. The resulting labor of love, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, is a lavish 176-page hardcover book featuring 440 color and black-and-white images, many revealed for the first time.

Pualani Mossman Avon entertains Hawaiian surfing pioneer Duke Kahanamoku at The Mai-Kai in 1961. (Photo from Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)
Pualani Mossman Avon entertains Hawaiian surfing pioneer Duke Kahanamoku at The Mai-Kai in 1961. (Photo from Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)

He’ll treat guests with a new symposium, “The Mai-Kai: Then and Now,” a look at how the restaurant has changed since it opened in 1956. Just announced: Glazner will be joined by a special guest, former Florida state Representative Randy Avon Jr., who will share first-hand stories of growing up at The Mai-Kai. Avon’s mother, Pualani Mossman Avon, ran the The Mai-Kai’s gift shop in the 1960s after performing in her family’s pioneering cultural Lalani Village in Hawaii. The song Lovely Hula Hands was written about her. Family members included singers George Kainapau and Alfred Apaka. Randy was also Southeast manager for Rums of Puerto Rico, which had a close relationship with The Mai-Kai and the signature Derby Daiquiri cocktail.

Glazner has been doing unique presentations at events across the country, including The Hukilau in June, Tiki Oasis in August, and a book release party at The Mai-Kai in September. His talks have covered topics such as how Don the Beachcomber influenced the Thornton brothers; the mastery of mixologist Mariano Licudine; the stories behind the iconic Mystery Drink, including its appearance with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show; and the glamorous women who worked as Mystery Girls and Molokai Girls. His rare footage of Carson receiving the drink and meeting a Mystery Girl on national television is priceless.

An early photo of The Mai-Kai's facade shows the three cannibal Tikis atop the restaurant sign. (Photo from Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)
An early photo of The Mai-Kai’s facade shows the three cannibal Tikis atop the restaurant sign. (Photo from Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)

All of the above – including Pualani Mossman Avon – are the focus of chapters in the book, which Glazner will be signing after the presentation at 4 p.m. in The Mai-Kai Trading Post, as the gift shop is known. Kirsten will also sign copies of his books, or any items that attendees may want to have autographed.

Tiki Kiliki says she’s producing these special symposia as her gift to The Mai-Kai. The co-creator, co-founder, producer and organizer of The Hukilau has been one of the restaurant’s biggest supporters over the past 15 years. “I’m so excited about the 60th anniversary of my favorite place on earth,” Tiki Kiliki said. “This will be the first anniversary I’ve attended in person and although every visit is dear to me, I think this one will be a bit more special with all the Tikiphiles coming from all over the country.”

The raffle will include a special Mai-Kai item produced by Tiki Kiliki Productions: A limited-edition decanter designed as tribute to the original produced in 1961, sculpted and produced by Eekum Bookum. Also to be given away are two bottles of Appleton Estate Reserve Blend from Jamaica signed by Joy Spence, the world’s first female master blender. Appleton is a crucial rum at The Mai-Kai, featured in dozens of cocktails.

60th anniversary specials: Extended happy hour, dinner show deal

The Mai-Kai's outdoor gardens feature waterfalls, Tikis, torches and lush tropical foliage. (Photo by Kevin Upthegrove, June 2016)
The Mai-Kai’s outdoor gardens feature waterfalls, Tikis, torches and lush tropical foliage. (Photo by Kevin Upthegrove, June 2016)

At 3:30, The Molokai bar will open 90 minutes earlier than normal for an extended happy hour, which runs until 7. If you miss out on tickets, or can’t attend the early symposia, you can still come to the book-signing and early happy hour starting at 3:30 and running until 7 in The Molokai bar. The lost cocktails will be included in the happy hour, along with The Mai-Kai’s extensive cocktail and appetizer menus.

Like all Wednesdays, you can also enjoy two cocktails at 50 percent off all night: The Barrel O’ Rum and Planters Punch. Another regular feature in the bar, guitarist-vocalist Rose Marie will perform island and other classic music all night beginning at 6. Due to space limitations, however, there will be no regular Wednesday sushi buffet.

There will also be a $60 dinner-and-show special in honor of the anniversary. A special prix fixe menu will be available that includes the Polynesian Islander Revue (a $15 value), plus select appetizers and entrées. You can also see the show and order anything off the extensive menu ala carte. The dinner shows often sell out, so be sure to reserve you seat now by calling (954) 563-3272. Shows are scheduled for 7 and 9:30 p.m., with seating typically an hour beforehand.

The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai in October 2016. Much of the decor has remained the same since a 1971 refurbishment that included set pieces from the 1962 film 'Mutiny on the Bounty.' (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai in October 2016. Much of the decor has remained the same since a 1971 refurbishment that included set pieces from the 1962 film ‘Mutiny on the Bounty.’ (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Before dinner, there’s no better place to grab a cocktail than The Molokai, praised by such well-regarded Tiki bar owners and authors Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (Latitude 29 in New Orleans) and Martin Cate (Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco ). Both have written books that praise The Mai-Kai as the “mothership” of the current Tiki bar revival.

Aside from the tiny Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles, “The Mai-Kai is the last place on Earth where you can still sample a Don the Beachcomber drink more or less as it was prepared 70 years ago,” Berry wrote in Sippin’ Safari (2007). An updated 10th anniversary edition of the influential book, which includes an entire chapter on Mariano Licudine and The Mai-Kai, will be released in 2017.

In the epilogue of this year’s most celebrated Tiki cocktail book, Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki, Cate wrote: “The Mai-Kai will take you back to dining as event, experience, and escape. Today, you can still stand at the entrance, or during the show, and look at the faces of first-time visitors as their eyes widen, mouths agape at the spectacle.”

“It will come as no surprise that The Mai-Kai’s Molokai bar, with its heavy emphasis on the nautical while remaining true to Tiki tradition, was an inspiration cornerstone for me,” Cate wrote. Even without the expansive restaurant and grounds that surround it, The Molokai is one of the most distinctive Tiki bars in the world. On Dec. 28, like every day, happy hour will run until 7, featuring 50 percent off nearly all of the 50 signature tropical cocktails that have as much history as the restaurant, perhaps more.

Historic cocktails, eclectic food to match the stunning decor

“While The Mai-Kai’s food menu has adapted to changing culinary tastes, its drink menu, including the quality ingredients, has not changed since 1956,” says the official page on the National Register of Historic Places Program website. “As a result, the restaurant is renowned for its expert tropical drinks. … The Mai-Kai has a permanent place in a holy trio of old-school holdouts dedicated to the careful construction of their libations.”

A vintage Mai-Kai photo of cocktails in The Molokai bar. (Mai-Kai photo)
A vintage Mai-Kai photo of cocktails in The Molokai bar. (Mai-Kai photo)

That means you can get a world-class Zombie or 151 Swizzle or Special Planters Punch, all still made to the same standards held by Licudine, who learned his craft working for Tiki cocktail pioneer Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber).
* Reviews and recipes: The Atomic Grog’s Mai-Kai cocktail guide

The robust food offerings are also half-price during the happy hour, which is annually rated among the best in South Florida. The appetizer menu of traditional pu-pus (egg rolls, crab rangoon, soups, salads and sushi) pair perfectly with the signature cocktails. And new chef Mark Rivera has added a creative menu of signature tapas (charred octopus; fish tacos; duck, wagyu beef and pork belly sliders) that takes finger food to the next level.

While it doesn’t date back to 1956, The Molokai fits perfectly into the The Mai-Kai’s richly detailed environment and has its own fascinating back-story. With water cascading down the windows to simulate a rainstorm and elaborate nautical decor, it’s designed to make you feel like you’re in an 1800s Pacific seaport. This is not by accident. The current Molokai was designed during a 1971 remodeling using much of the actual props from the 1962 movie Mutiny on the Bounty starring Marlin Brando.

The items were acquired at auction when the MGM prop department closed in 1970. This includes not only the large set pieces on the walls and ceilings, but also other details such as model ships. MGM’s longtime prop master was even hired to personally make sure the rigging and other elements were installed as authentically as possible. Much of the bar’s decor remains exactly the same to this day.

Family, loyalty are cornerstones of The Mai-Kai culture

 The Polynesian Islander Revue performs in June 2016 during The Hukilau, the annual Tiki event centered around The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Polynesian Islander Revue performs in June 2016 during The Hukilau, the annual Tiki event centered around The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

After happy hour, don’t miss The Mai-Kai’s signature Polynesian Islander Revue. Established in 1961, it’s still designed and choreographed by owner Mireille Thornton, widow of founding owner Bob Thornton and a former dancer in the original show. Mireille takes annual trips to the Pacific islands to research and come up with costume and theming ideas for new shows each year.

On Dec. 28, you’ll be able to see one of the first performances of the 2017 show. An all new show will be rehearsed the week before and make its official debut that night, said Mireille’s son, Dave Levy, who has guided The Mai-Kai as managing owner since his stepfather’s death in 1989. It remains a true family affair, with Mireille’s daughter Kulani Gelardi serving as the third partner and CFO.

Founding co-owner Bob Thornton shows off the 25th anniversary silver Rum Barrel in 1981. (Mai-Kai photo)
Founding co-owner Bob Thornton shows off the 25th anniversary silver Rum Barrel in 1981. (Mai-Kai photo)

Key managers, such as director of sales and marketing Pia Dahlquist and general manager Kern Mattei, have been with The Mai-Kai for decades. Mattei followed in the footsteps of his father, Kern Mattei Sr., working out of the same office. One employee has been around almost as long as The Mai-Kai itself. Angel Vega was supposed to slow down after he was honored for 50 years of service at the 2013 anniversary party, but you can still often find him behind the maître d’ stand.

On any given night, the more than 100 employees work their magic amid the controlled chaos, giving guests a sense of what true hospitality means. What other Tiki bar supplies you with hot towels to clean your hands in the most civilized manner? In another tradition from Don the Beachcomber and the early Tiki temples, both The Molokai and main bar that serves the dining rooms are behind closed doors. Bartenders work in secrecy, keeping their recipes close to the vest but also providing a total escape for guests who are immersed in the Polynesian paradise. Drinks are served by sarong-clad maidens in The Molokai, well-dressed servers in the dining rooms.

Take a tour of the lavish grounds, distinctive decor

Chef Mark Rivera and some of his current creations. (Mai-Kai photo)
Chef Mark Rivera and some of his current creations. (Mai-Kai photo)

Seats for the show include the main area in front of the stage, known as the Garden, along with four other distinct dining rooms named for South Seas islands (New Guinea, Tonga, Hawaii and Moorea). There are eight total dining areas, including the secluded Tahiti and Samoa rooms, plus the outdoor Lanai and tables scattered throughout the Tiki garden. The Mai-Kai seats 500 for dinner, half of those in the showroom, plus another 150 in The Molokai. To say it’s expansive is an understatement.
* Related: Tour of The Mai-Kai’s mysterious bars and kitchen

If you’re there early or late, take the time to stroll through all the rooms and paths that wind through the waterfalls and lush foliage of the garden. The entire lighting system was recently upgraded to add LED bulbs, which provide more consistent and reliable performance. Nothing about the look was modernized, however. Look up in the main dining room to the giant A-frame and marvel at the floats and other vintage lighting. It’s one of many seamless modernizations The Mai-Kai has made over the years to stay vital and remain one of the area’s most popular destination dining experiences.

Chef Rivera has revitalized the dinner menu, modernizing the plating and adding new twists to the classics. But many traditions remain, including the Chinese ovens that you can spot on the walking path toward the back dining rooms and Lanai. Few other restaurants in the United States use these ancient high-temperate ovens to cook steak, ribs, duck and other meats.

A photo of the Tahiti Room shortly after it was added in a 1971 expansion. The outrigger canoe that Bob and Mireille Thornton used on their honeymoon in Tahiti was later moved to the Moorea dining room. (Photo from Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)
A photo of the Tahiti Room shortly after it was added in a 1971 expansion. The outrigger canoe that Bob and Mireille Thornton used on their honeymoon in Tahiti was later moved to the Moorea dining room. (Photo from Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)

There is eye candy in every room: The outrigger canoe hanging from the rafters in Moorea that Bob Thornton used to serenade Mireille on their honeymoon in her native Tahiti; the black velvet portrait of Mireille in the Tahiti room; the shrunken skulls and other vintage artifacts on display in the Samoa room; the mysterious velvet painting high on the wall in Tonga that dates back to 1956. Just like Disney World, there are intricately themed details every where you look, even the gift shop and ladies’ rest room, which both have an ornate Asian theme. (The gift shop was formerly a dining room named Bangkok.)

You can go behind the stage and see the indoor Tiki garden (featuring works of noted artists from yesterday and today). Most of the Tikis throughout the property were recast by Fort Lauderdale artist Will Anders from their original molds, though several massive vintage pieces by mid-century artist Barney West still proudly stand out front on the edge of Federal Highway on opposite ends of the property. Another tip: Don’t forget to take a walk along the sidewalk from north to south, where furniture stores have encroached on the surrounding area that was desolate when The Mai-Kai was built in 1956.

And be sure to stop at the porte-cochère to see three new Tikis carved in 2016 by contemporary Florida artists: Anders, Tom Fowner and Jeff Chouinard. Anders also contributed a 10-foot-tall Tiki dubbed King Kai to the outdoor garden, making the recent infusion of large stylized carvings the biggest since the 1960s. More evidence of today’s enthusiasts working hard to keep the traditions of The Mai-Kai alive for another 60 years.
* Related: ‘King Kai’ leads procession of new Tikis into The Mai-Kai

Authors dig deep into the The Mai-Kai’s history, mystery

Author and historian Sven Kirsten is fascinated with the three cannibals. (Photo provided by Sven Kirsten)
Author and historian Sven Kirsten is fascinated with the three cannibals. (Photo provided by Sven Kirsten)

It will be fascinating to learn more about the three cannibal icons, which have been depicted over the years in artwork on everything from menus, to coasters to advertising to the streetside sign. The three cannibal Tikis from The Mai-Kai’s original outdoor sign were brought out of storage and displayed at The Hukilau in 2008. They’re a direct link to Don the Beachcomber, which featured the Cannibal Room bar and trio of Tikis in the Chicago location in the 1940s and ’50s. This restaurant was a major inspiration for the Thornton brothers, who were Chicago natives.

Kirsten says he’s been obsessed with the cannibal carvings since his earliest findings, first writing about them in the Book of Tiki. Since then, he has “amassed a visual cornucopia of cannibal art” that he’s excited to “finally be able to share with the eager Tiki student.”
* Related: The Mai-Kai’s eighth annual Hulaween party is cursed by cannibals
* Past coverage: 10 reasons why you need Sven Kirsten’s Tiki Pop

Glazner’s symposium should be just as enlightening and entertaining. Beyond everything in his book, he has a wealth of information to share though his contacts with current and past employees, many of whom should be in attendance. It’s always great to see past performers, such as Toti Terorotua, who was part of the original revue and only recently retired. He performed in The Molokai during the book release party in September.

Tim "Swanky" Glazner gives a walking tour in The Mai-Kai's showroom during his book-release event in September 2016. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Tim “Swanky” Glazner gives a walking tour in The Mai-Kai’s showroom during his book-release event in September 2016. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Glazner’s vast research also gives us insight into the first 15 years of The Mai-Kai, before a 1971 renovation that expanded the dining areas, added The Molokai in its current form and defined what the restaurant looks like today. “In the 1950s, Bob and Jack Thornton went on a buying trip all over the islands, and they bought literally tons of Oceanic art to decorate The Mai-Kai,” Glazner said during a walking tour at the September book release event. Up until the 1970s, a great deal of that artwork was in the restaurant. But after the renovations in 1971, they had to change their insurance policy, Glazner said.

When the insurance adjusters came into The Mai-Kai, Glazner said, they couldn’t believe the million dollars worth of Oceanic art, some of it in the open-air garden getting rained on. The cost of insurance went so high, most of the authentic decor was removed in 1974 and donated to Stanford University, the alma mater of the Thornton brothers. Some of it is also housed at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale. It was last shown as a full exhibit there in 2010.

The Mai-Kai remains a priceless experience, a commodity whose value is beyond the comprehension of insurance adjusters. Glazner sums it up succinctly in his book: The Mai-Kai is “a place that opened over 60 years ago, built on an idea that started more than 80 years ago from a dream that is eternal … paradise.”

60th anniversary media coverage
* Mai-Kai celebrates 60 years with ‘lost cocktails,’ new show (SouthFlorida.com)
* Mai-Kai celebrates 60 years with secret cocktails and all-new Polynesian show (New Times)

Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant
* Official website | Facebook page
* Buy the book now on Amazon
* More coverage online: Liquor.com | Retro Renovation | SouthFlorida.com
New Times | Venice Magazine | Edible South Florida | Knoxville Mercury

The Mai-Kai online store
You can order signature mugs and other merchandise online via the Trading Post’s new e-commerce app.
* Click here to order

The Mai-Kai is at 3599 N. Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale, on the west side between Commercial and Oakland Park boulevards. Call (954) 563-3272 for more information or to make dinner reservations. Valet and paid self-parking.
* Official site | Trading Post | Twitter
* Facebook: Official page | Friends of The Mai-Kai group
* Instagram: Restaurant | The Molokai bar | Trading Post
* Google Maps: Explore The Mai-Kai in 3-D
* Recent coverage online: Tales of the Cocktail | TravelLatte | Adventures in Tiki
Tiki With Ray: Spotlight review | Field report

More on The Atomic Grog
* The Okole Maluna Society: The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide
* A hauntingly good time at historic Mai-Kai’s 8th annual Hulaween party
* ‘King Kai’ leads procession of new Tikis into The Mai-Kai
* Historic Mai-Kai celebrated, new cocktail menu unveiled at anniversary party
* Heeeeeeere’s the rich history and lost stories of The Mai-Kai
* Tour of The Mai-Kai’s mysterious bars and kitchen (with photos)
* Interview with General Manager Kern Mattei
* More Mai-Kai history | All Mai-Kai posts

Week in Tiki (April 16-30, 2016): New Beachbum Berry glassware, ‘Sippin’ Safari’ 10-year anniversary edition; plus event and Tiki bar news, more!

The Week in Tiki Topping the news is the upcoming 10-year anniversary special edition of Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari, plus new glassware just released. Upcoming event news includes Tiki by the Sea, Ohana: Luau At The Lake, Tiki Kon, Southern Surf Stomp, and the Surf Guitar 101 Convention. April’s highlights include Miami Rum Festival, The Atomic Grog’s fifth anniversary party at The Mai-Kai, the Bacardi cocktail competition, and many other events across the country. We have Tiki bar news from Chicago’s Lost Lake, San Francisco’s Smuggler’s Cove, plus a new “urban Tiki” concept in Brooklyn. Regular features spotlight San Diego artist Clee Sobieski; mysterious exotica pioneer Korla Pandit; and the influential Chicago location in the defunct Don the Beachcomber restaurant chain. The website of the week is home of the upcoming book Mai-Kai: History & Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant. Our rum of the week, Ron Diplomático Reserva, is featured in La Guildive by Martin Cate, a cocktail from his new book Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki.
* Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook page | RSS feed | See past weeks | Archive
* Weekly features below: Artist | Band/music | Bar | Website | Rum | Cocktail | Events

Classic Beachbum Berry book to be re-imagined, new glassware available

Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari, the underrated classic 2007 cocktail book that helped set the stage for today’s robust revival of Tiki bars across the country, will be re-released in the fall as a 10-year anniversary special edition, the author confirmed. Former screenwriter Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s fourth book was his first full-color, story-driven guide to the history of tropical mixology.

Beachbum Berry's Sippin' Safari

It includes not only dozens of vintage tropical drink recipes, but also the fascinating stories and exclusive photos of some of the genre’s most talented yet under-appreciated barmen from the early and mid-20th century. Berry, the owner of the acclaimed Latitude 29 restaurant and Tiki bar in New Orleans, gave us a sneak peek of what we can expect:

“This edition will feature a new afterward taking readers through the 10 years after Sippin’ first appeared: The explosive Tiki cocktail revolution that no one saw coming in 2007, which was aided and abetted by the craft cocktail renaissance that grew on parallel tracks, ending with the opening of amazing new Tiki cocktail bars.” The book will be published by Cocktail Kingdom, which released Berry’s award-winning Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them in late 2013.

“It also features a new preface talking about what led up to the writing of Sippin’, covering the years 1964 to 2006,” Berry said via e-mail. “I’ve also added footnotes to the main text, and a bunch of additional recipes, both old and unpublished, and new ones from the Tiki revival.” It’s a revival that Berry had a large hand in spurring, from his early books (Grog Log, Intoxica) to his symposiums at Tiki and cocktail events across the world.

Beachbum Berry's Sippin' Safari

Potions of the Caribbean, which won the Spirited Award for Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book at Tales of the Cocktail in 2014, was originally intended to be the final chapter in Sippin’ Safari, detailing Tiki’s links back to the Caribbean. Berry used that idea as a jumping off point for a full-blown history book as told through cocktails, following the template established in the groundbreaking Sippin’ Safari.

The book tells the story of the men who toiled behind the scenes for Don the Beachcomber, Steve Crane and other giants of the early days of Tiki. It reveals the intriguing back stories of such mixologists as Ray Buhen (Tiki-Ti), Bob Esmino (Kon-Tiki) and Mariano Licudine (The Mai-Kai). The final chapter includes a revealing peek behind the scenes at at The Mai-Kai, exploring the grand vision of original owners Bob and Jack Thornton and detailing the early years via stories from Licudine’s son, Ron. Sippin’ Safari is definitely a must-have in any Tiki cocktail book collection.

Following the June 7 release of Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki by Martin Cate (see cocktail of the week below), Sippin’ Safari is poised to make this a banner year for epic tropical drink books by the godfathers of the movement.
* More on The Atomic Grog: Beachbum Berry interview
Potions of the Caribbean released | Website of the week

Beachbum Berry Coconut Mug

Meanwhile, some cool new glassware was added to the Beachbum Berry barware collection on the Cocktail Kingdom website. In late 2015, the premium barware company released its first custom mug for Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 in New Orleans: A 15-ounce coconut mug featuring the Latitude 29 logo that serves as a vessel for the bar’s Painkiller cocktail. It later was released online, along with a similar coconut mug featuring the Beachbum Berry logo. All of the coconut mugs, which harken back to classic vessels popularized by Trader Vic’s, are just $12.95 each, with steep discounts for bulk orders. Unlike the traditional Trader Vic’s coconut, the Cocktail Kingdom mugs developed in collaboration with Berry include a special hole for a straw.

Beachbum Berry Zombie Glasses

More recently, Berry and Cocktail Kingdom scared up some new cocktailware that we’re dying to get our hands on: Beachbum Berry Zombie Glasses. These vintage-style 15-ounce glasses were uniquely designed for Don the Beachcomber’s original 1934 Zombie cocktail and the 1950 mid-century version, both unearthed after years of painstaking research by Berry. The 1934 recipe, especially, was considered one of the most significant classic recipe revelations of the modern Tiki era. First published in Sippin’ Safari., it shows off Donn Beach’s magic in creating one of the most popular and distinctive drinks in the early days of tropical mixology. The glasses come in a two-pack: One with the 1950 recipe, the other with the 1934 recipe. They’re $18.95 for the set, with discounts for larger orders.

You can also find both the mug and glasses at the restaurant just off of the French Quarter in the Bienville House Hotel, 321 N. Peters St.
* CocktailKingdom.com: Click here to order Beachbum Berry barware

Don’t miss: Beachbum Berry is returning to The Hukilau for the 11th straight year on June 8-12 in Fort Lauderdale. He’ll be mixing up cocktails (along with Latitude 29’s head bartender, Brad Smith) in the sold-out Tiki Tower Takeover along with many other top bar staffs (from Smuggler’s Cove, Tiki Mondays With Miller, Lost Lake and Fort Defiance). Berry’s “World War Tiki” symposium is also sold out, but you can get tickets for the “Raiders of the Lost Tiki Culture” panel discussion featuring the author and many other influential pioneers of the modern Tiki scene. He’ll also be signings copies of his books in the Cocktail Kingdom booth in the Tiki Treasures Bazaar, where you’ll also be able to pick up his books and merchadise.
* Buy tickets, passes | Schedule | Merchandise
* On The Atomic Grog: High Tide party, rum sponsor rundown, merchandise preview

Continue reading “Week in Tiki (April 16-30, 2016): New Beachbum Berry glassware, ‘Sippin’ Safari’ 10-year anniversary edition; plus event and Tiki bar news, more!”

The Week in Tiki (Jan. 16-31, 2016): The Mai-Kai mugs and history book, The Art of Tiki updates, Shag events and art, plus more!

The Week in Tiki Exciting news this week for fans of The Mai-Kai with the release of new Tiki mugs and pre-orders for a long-awaited history book. News on The Art of Tiki event in South Beach includes a new rum sponsor and the return of last year’s champ. We recap events from N.Y.C. to L.A., including new Doug Horne Tiki mugs. Upcoming events include a tribute to Steve Crane, South Florida’s Polynesian Cultural Festival, and a new Trader Vic’s seminar. In other news, a tree crashes the party at VenTiki, plus Bacardi and Havana Club duke it out. Regular features spotlight eclectic artist Sam Gambino; groundbreaking exotica ensemble Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica; Brooklyn bar Fort Defiance; and online group Poly Hai. The Rum of the Week, Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva 15, is featured in the Pineapple Express cocktail.
* Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook page | RSS feed | See past weeks | Archive
* Weekly features: Artist | Band/music | Bar | Website | Rum | Cocktail | Events

Note: For 2016, The Week in Tiki will remain bi-weekly, but we’ve simplified the schedule. Look for blogs recapping the first and second half of each month.

New Mai-Kai mugs released, history book coming in July

Tiki Diablo's new Mai-Kai mugs come in three glazes: Tobacco Brown, Lagoon Green, and Black Velvet.
Tiki Diablo’s new Mai-Kai mugs come in three glazes: Tobacco Brown, Lagoon Green, and Black Velvet.

As promised, the new mugs inspired by The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale have been released to the general public by California-based artist Tiki Diablo. The mug is available in three different glazes for $75 each and can be purchased online via Tiki Diablo’s store. They should also be available in the restaurant’s gift shop, The Mai-Kai Trading Post, within the next week.

In December, a limited number of artist proofs were released and quickly sold out. The mug, which comes with its own pendant, pays tribute to the historic Polynesian Palace’s iconic Tikis. Tiki Diablo, aka Danny Gallardo, has previously created mugs that pay homage to memorable Tikis at The Mai-Kai in 2014 and 2015 (see story). He’ll also be crafting the official mug for the upcoming book on The Mai-Kai by Tim “Swanky” Glazner.

Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of The Iconic Tiki Restaurant

UPDATE: The book, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, will be released Sept. 28. The 176-page hardcover book (11 inches wide by 8 1/2 inches high) is being issued by Schiffer Publishing. It’s available for pre-order online via Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Glazner will be hosting a release party and special events at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 17-18. Advance copies of the book will be available at the release party.

In the book, the longtime Mai-Kai historian reveals never-before-seen photos and stories that he’s gleaned from more than 13 years of research on the 59-year-old Tiki temple, which was recently named to the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a fascinating story of the brash young men who in 1956 created The Mai-Kai for a million dollars, making it one of the most expensive restaurants of its day. By sparing no expense and creating a one-of-a kind Tiki paradise, Bob and Jack Thornton created an acclaimed playground of celebrities and playboys during the mid-century heyday of Polynesian Pop.

The Mai-Kai's original mystery girl. Find out more in "Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant," coming July 28.
The Mai-Kai’s original mystery girl. Find out more in “Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant,” coming July 28.

Glazner also spotlights the beautiful women who worked there, many who used the experience as a jumping-off point for adventure and fame. The book includes exclusive first-hand stories on more than 400 images, documenting not only The Mai-Kai but the history, allure, and enduring legacy of the original Tiki era. Focusing on 1955 to 1971, the book traces the genesis of the restaurant and its key employees back to Tiki bar pioneer Don the Beachcomber. Many of The Mai-Kai’s original key managers and employees came from the Beachcomber outpost in Chicago, where the Thorntons called home. This includes bartender Mariano Licudine, who created the acclaimed bar menu (based on Donn Beach’s original “rum rhapsodies”) that remains intact at The Mai-Kai today.

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (Jan. 16-31, 2016): The Mai-Kai mugs and history book, The Art of Tiki updates, Shag events and art, plus more!”