The Mai-Kai’s deadly Halloween quarts and gallons, plus more great moments in Zombie cocktail history

The Mai-Kai's deadly Halloween quarts and gallons, plus more great moments in Zombie cocktail history

We’re sorely missing The Mai-Kai’s beloved Hulaween party for the second year in a row, but luckily fans of potent Tiki cocktails will be able to drown their sorrows with a distinctive drink that hasn’t been served since the historic restaurant closed for refurbishments in October 2020.

See below: How to pour a Mai-Kai Zombie at home (VIDEO)
* 5 greatest moments in Zombie history

Halloween 2022 cocktails from The Mai-Kai

The Zombie, which traces its roots all the way back to tropical drink pioneer Don the Beachcomber, is available for a limited time as part of The Mai-Kai’s periodic takeout cocktail program. You can order the deadly classic by the quart and gallon, the perfect addition to weekend Halloween gatherings.

Pickup dates are Friday, Oct. 28 (4-6 p.m.) and Saturday, Oct. 29 (10 a.m.-noon). Call public relations director Pia Dahlquist 954-646-8975 to place your order.

Consume with caution, however, since this is one of the strongest cocktails ever created. Donn Beach’s original 1934 recipe included 4 ounces of three different rums, including overproof, and he famously limited guests to two drinks per visit.

Halloween 2022 cocktail menu from The Mai-Kai

The Mai-Kai’s version, created by former Beachcomber bartender Mariano Licudine for the restaurant’s 1956 opening, is more balanced and accessible yet still packs a potent punch (and a healthy dose of 151 rum). It replaced the equally strong Jet Pilot on the “Gallons To Go” menu for Halloween and is priced accordingly (gallon $156, quart $44).

Also on the menu are three other popular standbys: Barrel O’ Rum (gallon $95, quart $30), Black Magic (gallon $95, quart $30), and Mai Tai (gallon $142, quart $40). Click on the links for our comprehensive reviews and recipes for all the cocktails.

All are among the most acclaimed libations in our Mai-Kai cocktail guide, but the top-rated Zombie is a rare treat. It’s complex and a little difficult to execute in large batches, so it hasn’t been offered as part of the popular to-go initiative, which launched early in the pandemic and has continued during the closing.

The Mai-Kai's Zombie back from the dead for Halloween

It also requires some care for guests to pull off the perfect Zombie at home. Luckily, manager Kern Mattei and former Molokai bar server Claudia Marmolejo showed us how to mix up the perfect Halloween treat in a recent Facebook video:

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai’s deadly Halloween quarts and gallons, plus more great moments in Zombie cocktail history”

The Mai-Kai’s new owner reveals renovation plans during The Hukilau 2022

The Mai-Kai's new owner reveals renovation plans during The Hukilau 2022

In the entertainment and hospitality industry, your biggest fans can also be your toughest critics. So when the new owner of South Florida’s beloved Mai-Kai sat down with more than 100 Tiki enthusiasts during The Hukilau on June 11 for an open discussion of his plans to renovate the 65-year-old landmark, their reaction was crucial.

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* The Hukilau 2022: Daily recap, photos and video
* Beat the summer heat with takeout cocktails from The Mai-Kai

Bill Fuller, leader of the new ownership team that purchased The Mai-Kai in late 2021, speaks to attendees of The Hukilau 2022 at the Beachcomber Resort in Pompano Beach on June 11. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Bill Fuller, leader of the new ownership team that purchased The Mai-Kai in late 2021, speaks to attendees of The Hukilau 2022 at the Beachcomber Resort in Pompano Beach on June 11. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Judging by the many rousing ovations throughout the 50-minute presentation, veteran real estate developer and historic preservationist Bill Fuller passed the test with flying colors. The only murmurs of dissent came when the organizer of The Hukilau, Richard Oneslager, jokingly asked if it was true Fuller planned to replace the restaurant’s signature Chinese ovens with microwaves, and if The Molokai bar was being re-themed to Miami Vice.

Looming thunderstorms put a kibosh on the multimedia presentation planned for the open-air beachside gathering at the Beachcomber Resort in Pompano Beach. But Fuller’s words were more than enough to win over the crowd who came from around the world to the 19th Tiki weekender that traditionally culminates with a climactic evening at The Mai-Kai.

Closed since October 2020 due to massive flooding that damaged the kitchen beyond repair, the historic property is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar refurbishment. Plans spearheaded by Fuller’s ownership group, which partnered with The Mai-Kai’s founding Thornton family, became public in April after a presentation to the city of Oakland Park, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale.

The Mai-Kai's renovation plans include reimagined entryway, new event space
EXCLUSIVE: The Mai-Kai’s renovation plans include reimagined entryway, new event space

Fuller elaborated on those plans during his talk at The Hukilau, divulging some new details. He was joined by two members of The Mai-Kai family, Kulani Thornton Gelardi and Kern Mattei, who also revealed some interesting new projects in the works.

After a spirited intro by event emcee King Kululele, Oneslager sat down with Fuller and led a question-and-answer session under the large thatched hut between the pool and beach at the quaint boutique hotel. The burning questions on everyone’s mind, Oneslager said to Fuller, were: “What’s going to stay? What’s going to change? And are you going to screw things up?”

Mireille Thornton on stage at The Mai-Kai in the early 1970s. (Mai-Kai photo)
Mireille Thornton on stage at The Mai-Kai in the early 1970s. (Mai-Kai photo)

Fuller said he was “lucky to be at the right place at the right time to be able to join forces with the family” in September 2021. The reason The Mai-Kai is being preserved is mainly due to the will of the Thornton family, he said. Gelardi’s mother, Mireille Thornton, inherited the ownership mantle from her late husband, Robert Thornton, in 1989.

The 85-year-old family matriarch will continue to choreograph and produce the restaurant’s authentic Polynesian show, which she joined as a dancer from Tahiti in the early 1960s. “She has her own nuances, which is what makes special experiences like this tick,” Fuller said. “You can’t just replicate it, you need to have that body of knowledge, that creativity and heritage. That’s what’s so rich within the walls of The Mai-Kai.”

The first question for Fuller from the audience echoed a common refrain on social media: Exactly when can we expect to be back within those walls?

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai’s new owner reveals renovation plans during The Hukilau 2022”

EXCLUSIVE: The Mai-Kai’s renovation plans include reimagined entryway, new event space

EXCLUSIVE: The Mai-Kai's renovation plans include reimagined entryway, new event space

When The Mai-Kai completes a multimillion-dollar renovation, guests of the historic restaurant will be treated to several major enhancements, including a more immersive arrival experience and a new banquet hall.

The Mai-Kai

The head of the new ownership group broke the news and unveiled artist renderings during an online presentation for the city of Oakland Park and The Mai-Kai’s neighborhood residents in late April.

Also crucial to the reopening plans for the 65-year-old Polynesian palace, the refurbishment includes upgrading the aging roofs and air conditioning system, along with the ground-up construction of a new kitchen.

The Mai-Kai's new owner reveals renovation plans during The Hukilau 2022
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NEW: The Mai-Kai’s new owner reveals renovation plans during The Hukilau
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Renderings of refurbishment plans for The Mai-Kai, presented to residents of Oakland Park on April 26.
Renderings of refurbishment plans for The Mai-Kai, presented to residents of Oakland Park on April 26.

Fans of The Mai-Kai’s vintage look and feel should not fear these changes, however. The chief executive who leads both the land management firm that bought a controlling interest and the hospitality company that will be operating The Mai-Kai says there are no plans to alter the experience once guests walk through the doors.

This includes a planned revival of the Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii. From the nautical-themed Molokai bar to the dining rooms named for South Seas islands, a night at The Mai-Kai will remain a transportive time capsule considered to be the last grand mid-century Polynesian supper club in the world.

“There are thousands of beautiful historic properties all over the world that are sitting vacant without their proper use, said Bill Fuller, managing partner of Miami’s Barlington Group “This is just an amazing example of a historic property that is sustainable.” Fuller’s real estate development company specializes in revitalizing cultural institutions and neighborhoods across the country.

A rendering of a new event space proposed for the rear of The Mai-Kai under plans being proposed to the city of Oakland Park. (Design by Typhoon Tommy)
A rendering of a new event space proposed for the rear of The Mai-Kai under plans being proposed to the city of Oakland Park. (Design by Typhoon Tommy)

In a question-and-answer session after the April 26 meeting to share the “plans and visions” for the reopening, Fuller spoke in realistic terms about how to best preserve The Mai-Kai: “Although we are restricted based on the historic preservation, it is absolutely imperative that we are successful from a business perspective so that we can preserve all the other great attributes of The Mai-Kai,” he said. “Not just the architectural features, but the entire immersive experience including the shows, the music, the food, the drinks.”

The new ownership team, led by Fuller’s Tiki Real Estate LLC, paid $7.5 million for The Mai-Kai and took out a $6 million mortgage. The real estate purchase is valued at more than $16 million. “Over the last few months, we have been developing plans and securing permits,” Fuller said at the start of the neighborhood participation meeting. “We anticipate reopening in the fall of this coming year.”

“We care deeply about the community of Oakland Park and are grateful for the outpouring of support we’ve had,” Fuller said. After the presentation, a neighborhood resident praised the plans and said he was thrilled that The Mai-Kai will be returning as a staple destination in the area. “It will be a great day to see it open,” he added.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
Roof project: Crucial work underway to shore up historic structure
Entrance experience: Flow of parking lot to be reimagined
New event space: Banquet hall planned next to reconstructed kitchen
Behind the scenes: The Mai-Kai interior intact with exciting additions in the works
What’s next? New owner promises continued effort to restore and upgrade

A blessing in disguise? Roof collapse leads to ownership change, renovations

The Mai-Kai is a local and national historic landmark, a beloved Polynesian restaurant that opened on Dec. 28, 1956. For more than six decades, it resolutely withstood the tests of time and gained a loyal worldwide following among of generations of guests.

Mireille Thornton, The Mai-Kai's longtime owner and producer of its authentic Polynesian shows. (Mai-Kai photo)
Mireille Thornton, The Mai-Kai’s longtime owner and producer of its authentic Polynesian shows. (Mai-Kai photo)

But all that changed suddenly and dramatically in October 2020, when a blast of intense tropical weather led to the collapse of the aging roof over the kitchen. The damage rendered a large swath of the back-of-house beyond repair. This rear addition, which featured a flat roof and was not part of the original A-frame, was built during an expansion in the early 1970s.

Facing the biggest crisis in the restaurant’s history, The Mai-Kai owners signed a deal late last year that ensures both the future of the enduring brand and the family legacy started by brothers Robert and Jack Thornton. The family matriarch and widow of Bob Thornton, former Polynesian Islander Revue performer Mireille Thornton, will remain the show’s creative director as well as The Mai-Kai’s heart and soul.

Key family and management will continue to steer the ship, but the future of The Mai-Kai is now in the very capable hands of Fuller and his companies. Several Barlington Group properties – including Ball and Chain and Taquerias El Mexicano in Little Havana’s historic Calle Ocho – are also managed by Mad Room Hospitality.

Past coverage
* The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening

Bill Fuller, who heads The Mai-Kai's new ownership group, shows plans and renderings and describes proposed renovations to the historic restaurant during an online meeting with Oakland Park residents on April 26.
Bill Fuller, who heads The Mai-Kai’s new ownership group, shows plans and renderings and describes proposed renovations to the historic restaurant during an online meeting with Oakland Park residents on April 26.

“We’re looking forward to working closely with the Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality to sustain The Mai-Kai the world has come to know and love,” the family said in the announcement of the sale in September.

Fans and followers of The Mai-Kai have been on the edge of their seats ever since, wondering what was going to happen to their beloved Tiki temple. Now, finally, we’re about to find out what Fuller and his team have in store for us.

“For over 60 years, The Mai-Kai has hosted millions who enjoy an immersive Polynesian experience,” Fuller said at the top of his Oakland Park presentation. “My companies formed a partnership with the Thornton family and we are collectively investing heavily to restore The Mai-Kai so that we can all enjoy it for the next 60 years.”

Continue reading “EXCLUSIVE: The Mai-Kai’s renovation plans include reimagined entryway, new event space”

UPDATE: Cool off this summer with takeout cocktails from The Mai-Kai

The Mai-Kai's takeout cocktails returning in May and June 2022

Updated Sept. 21, 2022

UPDATED: The Mai-Kai continues takeout cocktails through end of 2022
The Mai-Kai cocktails to go

While we await the completion of renovations and the grand reopening, The Mai-Kai’s famous tropical drinks are available for pick-up on multiple dates through the end of 2022.
>>> Info on all the dates and how to order

Latest news on The Mai-Kai renovations and reopening in 2022
UPDATES: Latest news on The Mai-Kai renovations and reopening in 2022
A special guest dropped by to see the renovations as roofs were readied for new thatching and work continued on restoring the vintage interior.

Aug. 21 update

There’s no better way to beat the South Florida heat during the dog days of summer than with gallons and quarts of tropical drinks from the historic Mai-Kai restaurant. After relaunching in May and continuing through August, the takeout menu returns again for Labor Day weekend with four classic Tiki cocktails available for pick-up on Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 1-3.

Cool off this summer with takeout cocktails from The Mai-Kai

You can’t go wrong with any of these longtime favorites: Barrel O’ Rum (gallon $95, quart $30), Black Magic (gallon $95, quart $30), Jet Pilot (gallon $156, quart $44), and Mai Tai (gallon $142, quart $40).

Also still available is The Mai-Kai’s signature 12-year-old Barbados rum from The Real McCoy. The Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend (46% ABV) was released during the pandemic and thought to be sold out. But a secret stash was recently discovered, so don’t miss your chance to grab a bottle of this rare rum ($85.60) before it’s gone.

Quantities of the cocktails are also limited, so get your order in ASAP by calling The Mai-Kai’s Pia Dahlquist at (954) 646-8975. Scheduled pick-up dates and times are Sept. 1 (4-6 p.m.), Sept. 2 (4-6 p.m.), and Sept. 3 (10 a.m.-noon). Special arrangements can be made for other times.

Check out the previous updates below for more info on the drinks, the “Gallons To Go” program and The Mai-Kai.

Continue reading “UPDATE: Cool off this summer with takeout cocktails from The Mai-Kai”

UPDATES: Latest news on The Mai-Kai renovations and reopening

Interior renovations shed light on The Mai-Kai's historic lamp designs

Updated Nov. 17, 2022

There was much rejoicing after the announcement in September 2021 that after being closed for nearly a year, The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale would reopen under a new ownership team that will pump millions of dollars into an extensive refurbishment and renovations. A devastating roof collapse in the kitchen in October 2020 had shut down indoor service indefinitely.

Now, as we move toward the end of 2022 and work progresses, fans and supporters are eager to learn details. The Atomic Grog will keep you updated with the latest info on the refurbishment of the historic Polynesian restaurant. Bookmark this page and check back often.

The Mai-Kai official sites and social media
MaiKai.com | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

LATEST UPDATES

NOV. 15 – The Mai-Kai announces potential reopening in spring 2023

Delays both expected and unexpected have pushed back the target reopening timeframe to the spring of 2023, according to an official announcement that went out to The Mai-Kai’s email list.

Here’s the full text of the announcement, titled “An official update from the Mai-Kai Team” …

First of all, we would like to thank all of our loyal Mai-Kai customers and fans for their unending support and most of all patience while we continue our restoration and repairs.

We are working very hard behind the scenes to bring The Mai-Kai back and better than ever. As we continue our updates which include interior décor renovations and repairs as well as new construction in heavily damaged areas, we are running into expected and some unexpected delays.

We are now looking at a potential reopening in the Spring of 2023.

We are very thankful for all of the outreach and support that we have been receiving from all of you and look forward to welcoming you back as soon as we can.

Check back for more detailed updates on the renovations.

The Mai-Kai holiday cocktails to go
UPDATED: The Mai-Kai spices up the holidays with special Christmas Barrel
The Barrel Before Christmas joins the lineup of quarts and gallons to go, available on three upcoming weekends.
>>> Info on all the dates and how to order on The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide

*********************

NOV. 7 – Interior renovations shed light on The Mai-Kai’s historic lamp designs

As sometimes happens in multimillion-dollar construction projects as large in size and scope as The Mai-Kai, there are inevitable delays beyond anyone’s control. Most of the current wait involves city permits for multiple jobs, which are complicated by the restaurant’s local and national historic status. Something as simple as installing thatch needs to be executed with historic standards in mind.

The lighting is an integral part of The Mai-Kai's interior design. In the Garden area of the main dining room, guests are enveloped by traditional hanging lanterns above and distinctive table lamps at eye level. (Photo by Jochen Hirschfeld, from the book Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)
The lighting is an integral part of The Mai-Kai’s interior design. In the Garden area of the main dining room, guests are enveloped by traditional hanging lanterns above and distinctive table lamps at eye level. (Photo by Jochen Hirschfeld, from the book Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)

But there is a silver lining amid all the red tape: Additional time becomes an asset to the managers and craftspeople working on restoring the interior decor in The Mai-Kai’s many elaborately detailed dining rooms. Manager Kern Mattei and creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller both have their hands full with multiple projects inside the building that they continue to work on during the slowdowns on the larger projects outside.

Mattei is coordinating the ongoing development of new glassware and Tiki mugs, plus T-shirt and Aloha shirt designs for both staff and customers. He was also happy to confirm recently that a deal was signed with noted artist Mcbiff to create signature artwork and merchandise for The Mai-Kai (teased in our Sept. 19 update below).

One of the most fascinating jobs on Mattei’s plate is the refurbishment of one of The Mai-Kai’s coolest hidden gems: The nearly 200 distinctive table lamps that cast a warm and exotic glow throughout the restaurant.

To the uninitiated, these small lamps themed to the Polynesian islands are most notable for the thousands of signatures and remembrances scrawled upon the shades by guests over the past several decades. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find a lot more than meets the eye.

A prototype of a new design for The Mai-Kai's table lamp shades is on display in the back office. Note the new rope trim. The base is a Sepik design from the New Guinea dining room. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, October 2022)
A prototype of a new design for The Mai-Kai’s table lamp shades is on display in the back office. Note the new rope trim. The base is a Sepik design from the New Guinea dining room. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, October 2022)

Mattei gave everyone a sneak preview recently in a Facebook video posted Oct. 24 that demonstrates (with a little help from former Molokai girl Claudia Marmolejo) how to serve the special Halloween cocktail, the deadly Zombie. It was hard to miss The Molokai bar’s traditional lamp next to Mattei sporting a brand new shade.

We got to check out that same prototype shade recently in the back office, where Mattei gave us the lowdown on the project. Gone are the shades covered in graffiti, a tradition Mattei believes started in the 1980s when he first started working there.

In their place, The Mai-Kai is sourcing unique tapa cloth patterns that are being installed on the refurbished lamps by local craftspeople, including one of the old Mai-Kai entertainers who’s also a talented artist and carver. “We’re keeping it in the family,” Mattei said, pointing out the new detail of rope trim added to the new shade (see photo above).

Previously, there were three different shade patterns in the restaurant, Mattei said. As of the time of our chat, he had confirmed six new patterns that met with the owners’ approval. But he said they were still searching for more. The goal is to have different tapa patterns for every room, though some may end up sharing patterns.

A lamp in The Molokai bar, designed in the New Caledonia style. Over the past several decades it became a tradition for guests to add their names and messages to the shades, especially in the lounge. (Photo by Sven Kirsten, December 2016)
A lamp in The Molokai bar, designed in the New Caledonia style. Over the past several decades it became a tradition for guests to add their names and messages to the shades, especially in the lounge. (Photo by Sven Kirsten, December 2016)

There are also multiple shade designs, from bell to hourglass to several other odd shapes. Mattei said the local artists are also trying to recreate a shade design that hasn’t been used in years.

“We’ll have different patterns, different shades, different colors, so each room is distinct,” he said. “This is a whole project in itself.”

Some of the tapa patterns may also show up in the restaurant as wallpaper, Mattei said. The artist who designed them is tweaking them to make them unique to The Mai-Kai.

Will guests continue to write on the shades? “Hopefully they won’t,” Mattei said with a chuckle.

The lamp bases are being cleaned up and repaired, but they will remain exactly as they have been for decades. These are one of those great “hidden in plain sight” details that makes The Mai-Kai special.

The current lineup of lamps includes nine unique designs, each corresponding to its dining area. “Every room, from Hawaii to Tahiti, will have their original Tiki-style bases,” Mattei said. Each base is distinctive to a specific South Seas island.

Photos of the cannibal style lamps in the Bora Bora dining room, taken by Tim Glazer at The Hukilau 2009
Photos of the “cannibal style” lamps in the Bora Bora dining room, taken by Tim “Swanky” Glazer at The Hukilau 2009.

For example, The Molokai bar lamp features a New Caledonia design, the Samoa dining room lamps have Marquesan style artwork, and the Tonga room lamps include The Mai-Kai’s signature trio of cannibals from that part of the South Pacific.

The New Guinea base Mattei showed me is “typical of a Sepik style figure you’ll find in New Guinea,” he said. The other dining areas that have their own unique lamp bases are Moorea, the Garden (the area in front of the showroom stage), and the Lanai (the outdoor seating on the deck next to the Tiki garden). There are around 175 lamps total, ranging from seven on the Lanai to 39 in The Molokai.

Images of vintage art and lamps created for The Mai-Kai in the 1950s and '60s, plus original correspondence, are featured in the new book Oceanic Arts: The Godfathers of Tiki.
Images of vintage art and lamps created for The Mai-Kai in the 1950s and ’60s, plus original correspondence, are featured in the new book Oceanic Arts: The Godfathers of Tiki.

Mattei also teased that several of the new Tiki mugs will be stylistically related to two of the lamp designs.

So where did the lamps come from? Most date back to The Mai-Kai’s last massive refurbishment in 1970, when two new dining rooms were added and The Molokai was totally redesigned.

According to Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant by Tim “Swanky” Glazner, the lamps were designed by artist Al Kocab, who also envisioned The Mai-Kai’s custom furniture that’s also still in use today. Kocab also designed some of the hanging lamps, several signature mugs, and was perhaps best known to the public for his distinctive advertising art.

To manufacture the lamps, The Mai-Kai turned to Oceanic Arts, the legendary California company that supplied decor and artifacts to nearly every major Polynesian bar and restaurant over the past six decades. Established in 1956 (the same year as The Mai-Kai), Oceanic Arts recently closed up shop after the retirement of founders LeRoy Schmaltz and Bob Van Oosting. One of Tiki’s most influential artists, Schmaltz passed away in June at age 87.

Vintage hanging lamps that have been restored by Typhoon Tommy Allsmiller can be seen in The Mai-Kai back office. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, October 2022)
Vintage hanging lamps that have been restored by “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller can be seen in The Mai-Kai’s back office. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, October 2022)

Many of the bases are the originals created by Oceanic Arts, Mattei confirmed. Some were damaged and replaced over the years, along with the periodic updates of the shades.

As documented in Jordan Reichek’s 2022 book Oceanic Arts: The Godfathers of Tiki, Schmaltz and Van Oosting recommended designer George Nakashima to The Mai-Kai’s founding owners, Bob and Jack Thornton. Nakashima ended up handling the interior design for the 1970 expansion.

Nakashima, who worked on dozens of other Polynesian palaces throughout the U.S., “designed everything custom, such as lighting fixtures and wall trim” that was handled by Oceanic Arts and others,” according to the book. Said Van Oosting: “The Mai-Kai is the last grand-palace of Polynesian decor. There really isn’t anything still in existence quite like it.”

Allsmiller, the man tasked with bringing all that decor back to life, is literally taking his job home with him during the breaks when work had to stop in the bar and dining rooms and await permit approvals. He has been taking some of the old hanging lamps back to his workshop to restore and, in some cases, replace them. “Some of them are unsavable so I just recreate them,” he said in a social media post.

Photos from Typhoon Tommy Allsmiller's Central Florida workshop show his work restoring some of The Mai-Kai's lighting fixtures
Photos from Typhoon Tommy Allsmiller's Central Florida workshop show his work restoring some of The Mai-Kai's lighting fixtures
Photos from “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller’s Central Florida workshop show his work restoring some of The Mai-Kai’s lighting fixtures, some of which date back to the early days of the 65-year-old restaurant. If they’re too far gone, he simply recreates them.

The Oceanic Arts book includes correspondence from Jack Thornton in late 1959 inquiring about several light designs by Schmaltz and Van Oosting. According to the book, some of those custom hanging lamps are still there today. “We produced some and others they ended up making locally,” Van Oosting said.

When we visited on Oct. 29, Mattei showed off some of the lamps that Allsmiller has finished (see photo above). They ranged from an almost full replacement to a simple shoring up of some broken pieces. Only Allsmiller knows for sure which is which. The restoration is so accurate it will be impossible to tell if and where any work was done.

Continue reading “UPDATES: Latest news on The Mai-Kai renovations and reopening”

Hulaween on hiatus: Relive 12 years of madness at The Mai-Kai

Hulaween hiatus: Relive 12 years of madness at The Mai-Kai

The Halloween season is usually a special time at The Mai-Kai. The 62-year-old Polynesian restaurant in Fort Lauderdale has seen its fair share of wild and crazy parties over the years, but not many can come close to the annual Hulaween bash.

Following flooding and roof damage right before Hulaween 2020, last year’s party moved to the parking lot for the first Hulaween Drive-In Movie. The historic Tiki temple remains closed for renovations, and there will sadly be now Hulaween in 2021 after 12 straight years of hijinks.

Despite this apparent doom and gloom, spirits are high among the staff and longtime fans of the family-run operation after last month’s announcement of a new partnership that will not only pave the way for the reopening, but also pump money and energy into making The Mai-Kai better than ever.

Another parking lot party is just not in the cards this year, but we eagerly await the day in 2022 when those doors will swing open and we’ll be back in The Molokai bar for happy hour, followed by dinner and the Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii.

It won’t be long after that before we’re ready for the lucky 13th Hulaween, featuring crazy costumes, live music, and those delicious Mai-Kai cocktails. In the meantime, here’s a look back at the past 12 years of Hulaween madness in The Molokai. Click on the links for full coverage and photos.

2020

Safe and scary fun: Hulaween Drive-In Movie at The Mai-Kai on Oct. 30
The Mai-Kai celebrates Hulaween 2020 with drive-in movie party after closing for renovations

The historic Polynesian restaurant transported revelers to a socially-distanced celebration like no other, including an appearance by Appleton Rum’s Joy Spence.

2019

Hulaween 2019: Luau of the Living Dead
The living dead came to party at The Mai-Kai’s Hulaween 2019 luau

After 10 years, we know what to expect from The Mai-Kai’s infamous Hulaween party: Kooky costumes, rockin’ tunes and many cocktails consumed in The Molokai bar. The 2019 bash lived up to those standards.

2018

Back from the Dead: Hulaween turns 10 with another ghoulish gathering
Back from the Dead: Hulaween turns 10 with another ghoulish gathering

The Molokai bar and The Mai-Kai came alive with the living dead as another full house of more than 100 costume-clad revelers celebrated the 10th annual Hulaween.

2017

Monstrous mayhem at the ninth annual Hulaween party
Monstrous mayhem at the ninth annual Hulaween party

Living up to the theme “Monster Tiki Party,” Slip and the Spinouts rocked The Molokai bar for more than six hours at the ninth annual Hulaween party.

2016

A hauntingly good time at The Mai-Kai’s 8th annual Hulaween party
A hauntingly good time at The Mai-Kai’s 8th annual Hulaween party

More than 100 costumed revelers packed The Molokai lounge for an evening of deadly tropical drinks, live music from Slip and the Spinouts and creative costume contest.

Continue reading “Hulaween on hiatus: Relive 12 years of madness at The Mai-Kai”

The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening

Fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening of The Mai-Kai

After 11 months of uncertainty, loyal patrons of The Mai-Kai finally have a reason to raise a Barrel O’ Rum and celebrate. The founding owners have announced a joint ownership agreement that will not only infuse at least $5 million into the refurbishment of the 64-year-old Fort Lauderdale landmark, but also allow it to reopen in all its historic glory.

The Mai-Kai's official announcement on the sale and new partnership

It’s been a rough year since a vicious October 2020 storm collapsed part of the roof and debilitated the kitchen and back-of-house operations. But the family that has operated the iconic Polynesian restaurant since 1956 has charted a new course with the help of a South Florida real estate investment and development company that specializes in restoring historic properties.

The bombshell was dropped Sept. 28 in an email and social media announcement titled “The Mai-Kai update you have all been waiting for.” The owners made public their joint venture with Miami’s Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality. No strangers to reviving beloved cultural institutions, the companies have been instrumental in revitalizing Ball and Chain and Taquerias El Mexicano in Little Havana’s famed Calle Ocho.

“We really understand what it’s like to be stewards of an older brand, where authenticity and heritage is very, very important,” Bill Fuller, a founder of both companies, told TV news station CBS 4 in Miami. “It’s outstanding to see the outpouring of folks and feedback from all over the world about how meaningful and how important The Mai-Kai has been in their life.”

The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers
EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers

The Mai-Kai began looking for partners in late 2020, when the scope of the damage and extent of the needed repairs became clear. After “considering numerous interested parties,” the announcement said, the search ended with the Miami group “when we met their team and recognized the passion they share for honoring and preserving the legacy of The Mai-Kai.”

That’s sure to please the restaurant’s passionate followers, who continue to show their support by ordering takeout cocktails and attending special outdoor events at 3599 N. Federal Highway in the suburb of Oakland Park. Until Sept. 28, they had been sharing their fears and frustrations online almost daily. A “Save The Mai-Kai” petition has nearly 12,000 signatures.

2022 UPDATES
* Latest news on the reopening plans
* The Mai-Kai’s new owner reveals renovation plans during The Hukilau
* The Mai-Kai’s renovation plans include reimagined entryway, new event space

Past coverage: Thousands of fans unite to show support for The Mai-Kai during closing

Guests of The Hukilau gathered at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18 for the "Save Paradise Party." (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
Guests of The Hukilau gathered at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18 for the “Save Paradise Party.” (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

The Mai-Kai thanks ‘devoted fans and guests,’ promises restoration to ‘former splendor and beyond’

While the news on the ownership change was the top headline, the founding Thornton family made sure to show its appreciation to its customers first and foremost: “Most importantly, we want to thank you, our devoted fans and guests, for your continued support even while our doors have been closed,” the acknowledgement said. “You are a part of The Mai-Kai story, and we’re humbled by the outpouring of love and concern we’ve received. Rest assured, we are doing all we can to restore this beloved local institution — our family’s three-generation legacy — to its former splendor and beyond.”

The news resoundingly dashed all fears of a corporate takeover – or worse, the fate of a bulldozer. To the contrary, it appears that The Mai-Kai will return fully intact. “We’re looking forward to working closely with the Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality to sustain The Mai-Kai the world has come to know and love,” the announcement said. “We’re excited to bring back The Mai-Kai better than ever before — and for you to be a special part of it!”

We won’t receive a reopening date until the restoration and repairs are nearing completion, but a member of the Thornton ownership team said during The Hukilau a week before the announcement that we could be back inside the historic doors in eight to 12 months. Kulani Thornton Gelardi also foreshadowed the big news by saying that the guest areas of the restaurant will remain “85 to 90 percent the way it is now.” Gelardi, daughter of family matriarch Mireille Thornton, said they “want to make sure the building can exist for another 64 years.”

Kulani Thornton Gelardi serves appreciative guests at a special event at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18 during The Hukilau. She later assured the crowd that the restaurant will reopen soon. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Kulani Thornton Gelardi serves appreciative guests at a special event at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18 during The Hukilau. She later assured the crowd that the restaurant will reopen soon. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Speaking to the crowd at the “Save Paradise Party” outside the entrance to The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18, Gelardi promised that “we will reopen,” adding that guests won’t notice much changed “when you walk in that door.” She also spoke of her family, and how much it means to pass along the business to her children and grandchildren.

The news on the ownership change was supposed to take place during the annual Tiki weekender that draws devotees to Fort Lauderdale and The Mai-Kai from around the world. But the ink wasn’t dry on the million-dollar deal until the following week, so the official announcement was delayed.

More details were unveiled Sept. 29 in an official announcement on The Mai-Kai’s official website: “This strategic joint venture will resurrect the renowned Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show, the most unique dining and entertainment experience in South Florida since opening its doors over 6 decades ago.”

>>> The official press release on MaiKai.com

New owners ‘humbled’ and ‘honored’ to be able ‘preserve the legacy” of The Mai-Kai

Mai-Kai musicians perform for guests of The Hukilau on Sept. 18. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Mai-Kai musicians perform for guests of The Hukilau on Sept. 18. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The announcement introduces the new owners, led by Fuller – a Miami real estate and hospitality executive. “We are humbled to have been selected and honored to have the opportunity to restore this iconic landmark,” Fuller is quoted as saying. “We are committed to working with the family to preserve the legacy and expand upon its rich history for generations to come.”

Fuller co-founded Barlington Group in 2004 and Mad Room Hospitality in 2014. “We look forward to working with the Thornton family and Mad Room Hospitality, in doing the same with The Mai-Kai so that many more generations can enjoy this one-of-a-kind, beloved South Florida institution,” he said.

Similar to Ball and Chain, The Mai-kai is “truly is an iconic venue, not just for South Florida but for the United States and the world,” Fuller told Miami TV news outlet NBC 6. “It’s an opportunity to really preserve that legacy and that heritage.”

The Barlington and Mad Room Hospitality team, backed by investors, will assume majority ownership and management responsibilities. Their main focus will be on modernizing and streamlining the kitchen and back-of-house operations, not changing the style or look of the restaurant that remains chock full of vintage art and design flourishes, along with many South Seas artifacts collected by original owner Bob Thornton.

The Mai-Kai in 1956 and today
The Mai-Kai in 1956 and today.

The decision to sell a controlling interest in The Mai-Kai to the Miami group did not come lightly. “We received interest from several investors wanting to partner with us in reopening The Mai-Kai,” Gelardi said in the website announcement. “We ultimately decided to select Bill Fuller and his companies because of their passion and commitment to maintain the authenticity and legacy of The Mai-Kai.”

Gelardi added: “We are very excited for this partnership and eagerly anticipate reopening our doors and welcoming back our loyal fan base to enjoy our delicious food, tropical drinks, thrilling entertainment, and unique ambiance that transports visitors to the South Seas.”

The website does not offer a firm timetable, however, stating that the “pending reopening date is scheduled to be announced after the restoration and repairs are complete.” One look at the state of the world today gives us a clue as to why the timeline will likely remain fluid. News reports are filled with stories documenting supply-chain disruptions, labor shortages, inflated costs and various other woes.

The repairs and renovations are challenging, but they should be manageable considering the team that has been assembled. The new joint venture gives The Mai-Kai a solid foundation and very capable partners with which to build a new future.

Mai-Kai cocktails: Authentic and tribute recipes, news on quarts and gallons to go

The Mai-Kai cost new partners $7.5M with renovations expected to boost value to $16M

A 1979 photo of original Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine in The Molokai bar with his signature tropical drinks
A 1979 photo of original Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine in The Molokai bar with his signature tropical drinks.

The deal was backed by American National Bank, a Broward County community bank that provided debt financing. It includes a complete real estate transfer to the new ownership group, a transaction “in excess of $16 million, including artwork, intellectual property and future improvements to the business,” the website announcement says.

This is far more than public records indicated The Mai-Kai was valued at, which speaks volumes for the historical significance that isn’t always reflected in simplistic property appraisals. Property records show the building valued at a minimum of $3.97 million and the property valued at $570,000. The 2.69 acres fronting Federal Highway, north of Oakland Park Boulevard and south of Commercial Boulevard, includes a 150-space parking lot abutted by a bank and several furniture showrooms.

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening”

Safe and scary fun: Hulaween Drive-In Movie at The Mai-Kai on Oct. 30

Safe and scary fun: Hulaween Drive-In Movie at The Mai-Kai on Oct. 30

Updated Nov. 14

Safe and scary fun: Hulaween Drive-In Movie at The Mai-Kai on Oct. 30
NEW: The Mai-Kai celebrates Hulaween 2020 with drive-in movie party after closing for renovations
The historic Polynesian restaurant transported revelers to a socially-distanced celebration like no other, including an appearance by Appleton Rum’s Joy Spence. FULL EVENT RECAP
News: Latest on the temporary closing
Photos: Hulaweeen Drive-In Movie scene, costumes
Tribute recipe: Blood Island Green Potion #2

PREVIOUS UPDATE:

The Hulaween Drive-In Movie will proceed as scheduled Friday despite the announcement of a temporary closing of the restaurant after extensive flooding. Details on the shutdown and possible reopening date will be covered in a future story. See the official statement below.

Blood Island Green Potion #2

The Mai-Kai is still offering a menu of signature cocktails and other beverages for attendees of Friday’s event. The beverage options include:
* 32-ounce servings of the Hulaween special Blood Island Green Potion #2 (see details below), plus three other longtime favorites: Barrel O’ Rum, Jet Pilot and Mai Tai. All of these can be pre-ordered by guests for pick-up when they arrive, along with a bottle of The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend, an exclusive new rum. Ticket-holders were sent an email with a link to pre-order. Clicking the “Hulaween Take Out Menu” option reveals Friday’s offerings.
* There will also be a cash bar featuring beer, wine, soft drinks and water.

Also just announced to guests via email: A food truck will be on hand providing authentic smoked BBQ with a special menu for Hulaween guests. Iron Butt BBQ features 100 percent all-natural USDA meats smoked over oak and hickory, plus gluten-free sauces.

Any pre-ordered merchandise will also be available for pick-up. Signed posters are still available, but the mugs are sold out. Check-in time remains 6:30 through 7:45 p.m. The special pre-movie video starts at 6:30, featuring past Hulaween photos and video, plus classic film and music clips. The main attraction, Beast of Blood, starts at 8 p.m. The costume contest immediately follows the movie. Though the indoor facilities are closed, restrooms will be available.

The Mai-Kai’s official statement, issued Oct. 28:
“With gratitude for many happy and successful years, the management team of Mai Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show is regretful to announce the temporary closure after a weekend flood. Our lovely family run business has such a passionate, loyal fan base and we are excited to begin this first phase of enhancing both the structure and design of one of the historic and unique dining and entertainment venues in all of South Florida. Mai-Kai is in the process of finalizing its renovation plan and remains committed to providing exceptional guest service, exceptional comfort and amenities and a memorable experience.”

ORIGINAL STORY:

Since the coronavirus pandemic descended upon the world like a horror movie come to life, bars and restaurants have been forced to adapt in new and creative ways. Rather than cancel its traditional Halloween party, The Mai-Kai in Fort Laudedale reached back into the past for inspiration.

True to its roots as a mid-century icon, the historic Polynesian restaurant will reanimate its parking lot as a drive-in monster movie theater, complete with a big screen showing an infamous 1960s-era horror film. The 12th annual Hulaween promises to be one of most devilishly distinctive holiday events to grace the South Florida calendar.

Hulaween Drive-In Movie 2020 - artwork by Pooch Artwork by Mike Pucciarelli (aka Pooch)

*** Friday, Oct. 30 – Hulaween Drive-In Movie at The Mai-Kai featuring a screening of Beast of Blood, costume contest and prizes, food and drink specials, plus more. Times: Event starts at 6:30, movie at 8 p.m. Cost: $30 per vehicle. Sponsored by Appleton Rum and Drive-In-Sanity Films.
UPDATE: This event is sold out! | Facebook event

The 63-year-old restaurant and its Molokai lounge have been open with limited capacity and social distancing since early June, following an extended closure due to the pandemic. And while business is slowly returning to normal, management decided that the only way Hulaween could reawaken in 2020 was to think outside the box.

Slip Mahoney leads Spinouts Noah Hall (left) and Tony Tomei through a rousing set in The Molokai bar at Hulaween 2019. (Atomic Grog photo)
Slip Mahoney leads Spinouts Noah Hall (left) and Tony Tomei through a rousing set in The Molokai bar at Hulaween 2019. (Atomic Grog photo)

A relationship with Drive-in Sanity Films owner David Sehring and the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival led The Mai-Kai’s longtime events guru, Pia Dahlquist, to propose something new and exciting.

This socially-distanced drive-in theater event, complete with a kitschy B-movie, is sure to please anyone seeking a safe but scary thrill for Halloween. Vehicles will fill most of The Mai-Kai’s expansive back lot, but parking will be staggered and spaced out to allow a comfortable viewing experience. The film festival will provide a 33-foot screen along with staffing and technical assistance that will include streaming the movie soundtrack (along with a special pre-movie block of music videos) to the FM radio airwaves.

An extensive menu of food and adult beverages will be available from The Mai-Kai’s takeout menu for Hulaween guests. Pre-ordering is suggested to avoid a wait. Your order will be delivered to your car window when you arrive. There will also be a small outside bar with special offerings. The Molokai bar and restaurant will be open as usual, so popping into The Molokai is always an option, especially during happy hour (5-7 p.m.).
Mai-Kai takeout menus: Food | Tropical drinks | Wine

Hulaween Drive-In Movie 2020 featuring Beast of Blood

Continue reading “Safe and scary fun: Hulaween Drive-In Movie at The Mai-Kai on Oct. 30”

VIDEO & PHOTOS: Skinny Jimmy Stingray talks classic surf, performs at The Mai-Kai

Updated March 14, 2020

South Florida’s Skinny Jimmy Stingray and his band rocked The Molokai bar during a special Retro Rekindled monthly community gathering at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale on Dec. 15. The live set followed a presentation with The Atomic Grog’s Hurricane Hayward about the guitarist’s musical journey from punk to instrumental surf.

Skinny Jimmy Stingray performs in The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai during the Retro Rekindled event on Dec. 15, 2019
Atomic Grog photo

UPDATE: Below you’ll find a video of the entire presenation, followed by four multi-camera videos of songs performed by Jimmy and his band. Mahalo to Sergio Figuera of Prime Photo & Video for the great job with the videography.

During the 34-minute talk, Skinny Jimmy spoke about his early days in Michigan playing in rock ‘n’ roll cover bands, his introduction to punk rock, and his eventual move to Florida. After many years in punk bands, he reinvented himself as a surf guitarist.

Jimmy recalls this transformation, along with meeting his idol and legend Dick Dale. He talks about other surf icons he’s shared the stage with, including The Surfaris and Los Straitjackets. We learn about his influences, his introduction to The Hukilau and the global surf scene, plus many fun anecdotes.

Check out the video below and on the new Skinny Jimmy Stingray YouTube channel

Following the interview, Skinny Jimmy and his band – Frenchy on bass and Kevin on drums – played a full set for an appreciative Retro Rekindled audience. Four of the songs have been released on YouTube, the first proper videos featuring the current band lineup.

The first song released was an original that has been part of Skinny Jimmy’s repertoire for years …

Espionage by Skinny Jimmy Stingray

Next up was a cover of a Link Wray classic …

The Black Widow by Skinny Jimmy Stingray

Continue reading “VIDEO & PHOTOS: Skinny Jimmy Stingray talks classic surf, performs at The Mai-Kai”

Tiki zombies will feast at The Mai-Kai’s Hulaween 2019: Luau of the Living Dead

Hulaween 2018 at The Mai-Kai

The Mai-Kai’s Hulaween, one of the highlights of South Florida’s Halloween party season, will feature a festive feast for the living and dead on Friday, Oct. 25. The 11th annual bash is titled “Luau of the Living Dead,” a theme befitting the historic Polynesian restaurant that will celebrate its 63rd anniversary at year’s end.

NEW: Hulaween 2019 recap & photos
The living dead came to party at The Mai-Kai’s Hulaween 2019 luau

Hulaween 2019: Luau of the Living Dead - artwork by Pooch Artwork by Mike Pucciarelli (aka Pooch)

*** Friday, Oct. 25 – Hulaween 2019: Luau of the Living Dead featuring Slip and the Spinouts at The Mai-Kai. Sponsored by Appleton Rum. Free admission. Happy hour 5 to 7 p.m., plus drink specials all night. Live music and costume contest in The Molokai bar, 7 p.m.-midnight.
The Atomic Grog: Past Hulaween coverage | The Tiki Times events calendar
Hulaween 2018: See recap and photo gallery below

The baroque bacchanal begins with a full two hours of happy hour prices on food and drinks, plus retro Halloween tunes in The Molokai lounge. Once the spirits are satiated, roots rockers Slip and the Spinouts take the stage, turn up the volume and put the party into overdrive.

Slip and the Spinouts get into a groove as Hulaween 2018 kicks into high gear.
Slip and the Spinouts get into a groove as Hulaween 2018 kicks into high gear.

The band – led by guitarist/vocalist Slip Mahoney – will unearth its deadly mix of rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly classics, with lethal original tunes liberally sprinkled throughout three sets. The Atomic Grog will also provide special Halloween music during happy hour and between sets. Doors open at 5, so get there early to get a good seat for the musical mayhem and one of the most creative costume contests in the area.

Participants always come up with wild and wacky costumes, often themed to Tiki and The Mai-Kai but also paying tribute to classic movie characters and Halloween archetypes. The contest takes place around 10 p.m. This year’s prizes are:
* First: $300 in cash, a bottle of Appleton Estate 21 rum signed by master blender Joy Spence, and a Hulaween 2019 poster signed by artist Mike Pucciarelli.
* Second: $200 in cash, Appleton merchandise, signed Hulaween poster.
* Third: $100 in cash, Appleton merchandise, signed Hulaween poster.

Appleton Rum is a perennial sponsor, providing not only prizes but also cocktail samples during the party. Spence, a legend in the rum world, signed a bottle of her 21-year-old rum that will be one of the first-place prizes during her August tasting and Appleton Estate presentation at The Mai-Kai. Click here to see full coverage and photos from this special event.

The Molokai Maidens welcome Hulaween 2018 guests.
The Molokai Maidens welcome Hulaween 2018 guests.

Appleton, a venerable brand from Jamaica, is a key rum in many of the acclaimed cocktails at The Mai-Kai. You can find it in more than a dozen drinks, including the classic Mai Tai and deliciously deadly Shark Bite. The latter (plus the high-octane Jet Pilot) will be available at half price all night long as part of the bar’s nightly drink specials.

The Molokai, which was designed as a turn-of-the-century seaport saloon featuring actual set pieces from the classic 1962 movie Mutiny on the Bounty, boasts 51 specialty drinks and extensive menu of small and large plates. Pair your potent rum drink with a pupu platter and other vintage apps, sushi and sashimi, elaborate salads, and modern tapas including beef sliders and fish tacos. If you so desire, you can also adjourn to The Mai-Kai’s secluded dining rooms or take in the acclaimed Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii.

Continue reading “Tiki zombies will feast at The Mai-Kai’s Hulaween 2019: Luau of the Living Dead”