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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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”

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”

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”

Exclusive photos: The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers

Exclusive photos: The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers

Among the most loyal followers of The Mai-Kai are the thousands of guests who flock to Fort Lauderdale for The Hukilau, an annual celebration of Polynesian Pop culture that established a foothold in the historic restaurant in 2003 and remains inextricably linked.

During it's closure, The Mai-Kai has been hosting guests for cocktails and activities in the porte-cochère, under the thatched entrance area. (Mai-Kai photo)
During it’s closure, The Mai-Kai has been hosting guests for cocktails and activities in the porte-cochère, under the thatched entrance area. (Mai-Kai photo)

The recent announcement of The Mai-Kai’s planned refurbishment and reopening sent joyous shockwaves throughout the Tiki community, but especially among The Hukilau’s longtime “villagers,” as they’re known. The 2020 event was canceled due to the pandemic, but we were able to get a taste of The Mai-Kai at The Hukilau in September 2021 during a special event in the porte-cochère. It was comforting to sip authentic cocktails and enjoy the musicians performing outside the front entrance, but many still longed to be inside.

When it was announced during the event that a deal had been struck and The Mai-Kai would be reopening, it made the experience even sweeter. Full details were released the following week (see story below), and the rest is history.

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

While the timeline is not clear on a reopening date, hopes are running high that the 20th anniversary of The Hukilau in 2022 will indeed include at least a partial return to indoor activities. The synergy is guaranteed to continue with the news that one of the investors in the new ownership team is The Hukilau’s head honcho, Richard Oneslager.

Beyond taking in all the activities – from the dinner show featuring the Polynesian Islander Revue to live bands in The Molokai bar – a ritual for many villagers during The Hukilau includes walking the sacred grounds and taking photos of their beloved Mai-Kai.

Below you’ll find a collection of those photos, shared with The Atomic Grog over the years. Many are appearing on the blog for the first time. Let’s enjoy the eye candy and look forward to once again returning in person for the grand reopening.

Continue reading “Exclusive photos: The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers”

Photos: The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021

As The Mai-Kai works behind the scenes on a potential reopening, locals continue to enjoy a taste of the historic Polynesian restaurant with regular to-go cocktail offerings as well as occasional Tiki marketplaces in the parking lot.

An announcement on the future of the 64-year-old Tiki temple in Fort Lauderdale is expected to come during The Hukilau weekend in September, if not sooner. In social media posts, The Mai-Kai makes it clear that they do not currently have a reopening date, but “hope to announce one soon.” The owners urge fans to sign up for the newsletter at MaiKai.com to receive official word on future plans.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
Guests arrive at The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace on July 18, 2021.

In the meantime, here’s a look back at the most recent Tiki Marketplace in July, which proved to be just as successful as the first one in May. All photos are from The Mai-Kai and The Atomic Grog.

Preview story: The Mai-Kai hosts 20 vendors, serves up tasty food and drinks at second Tiki Marketplace

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
Vendors fill the parking lot at The Mai-Kai at the second Tiki Marketplace.

More than 20 booths offered an array of goods and services, from the original art of Robert Jimenez (aka Tiki Tower) to the cold-pressed coffee and juices of the Impressed Juice Co.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
At The Mai-Kai’s booth, manager Kern Mattei shows off some of the restaurant’s many items available for sale while guests enjoy the restaurant’s authentic cocktails.

Many were just happy to be on the grounds of The Mai-Kai with like-minded fans. Tropical drinks were available to take home or imbibe under the shade of the porte-cochère. The Mai-Kai Trading Post booth was a highlight, offering new glassware and apparel along with a vast collection of collectibles and branded merchandise.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
The Mai-Kai’s entrance-exit area was turned into an oasis for tropical treats. Or just a cool place to relax.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
Performers and musicians from The Mai-Kai’s long-running dinner show were part of the festivities.

Members of The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue were on hand to entertain attendees, providing a much-needed taste of what makes the restaurant distinctive and historic. Until closing in October after flooding and kitchen damage caused by a vicious storm, it was considered to be the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
Robert Korhonen shows off original artwork he created in tribute to the July 18 marketplace host.

Once again, the event was expertly organized by Pia Dahlquist, The Mai-Kai’s director of public relations, who flawlessly took care of all the logistics so everything went off without a hitch. And although the usual South Florida summer heat made itself known, skies were clear and there was a constant flow of guests all day.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
Quarts of The Mai-Kai’s most popular cocktails were available at the July 18 marketplace.

It was great to see members of the Thornton family and their small staff working behind the scenes and taking care of guests at the front entrance, where an array of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks were available. The restaurant was founded in 1956 by brothers Robert and Jack Thornton, two young transplants from Chicago. Bob Thornton’s widow, Mireille Thornton, still serves as owner and choreographer of the Polynesian show while her children and other family fill other roles in the operation.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
Hurricane Hayward picked up a Tiki mask from Tom Fowner (left) along with some cool artwork from the N! Satterfield booth.

The vendor marketplace opened at 11 a.m. (running until 4 p.m.), and we arrived early to get our first pick from the art booths. I was happy to snag a mask carved from palm wood by local artist Tom Fowner, a longtime contributor to The Mai-Kai perhaps best known for creating one of the three carvings in the porte-cochère that guests see when they arrive.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
The Luau Lads (left) and Sandbar Sauce booths featured a tasty collection of cocktail mixers and accessories. The Atomic Grog’s booty included a selection of these goods along with Mai-Kai glassware and art by South Florida’s Nik Satterfield and Tom Fowner.

It was also a priority to pick up some craft cocktail syrups from two highly recommended purveyors: Jacksonville’s Luau Lads and Miami’s Sandbar Sauce. It was nice to finally meet Jose Salcido and taste his fresh syrups. We hope to see Michael Bloom back in Fort Lauderdale for The Hukilau in September along with his fellow Lad, Kurt Rogers.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
Hurricane Hayward and Skinny Jimmy Stingray hoist a few quarts of Mai-Kai cocktails.

Many old friends were spotted in the crowd. We met up with another old favorite from The Hukilau and The Mai-Kai, surf guitarist Skinny Jimmy Stingray. We look forward to the day when his band can again perform in The Molokai bar.

Continue reading “Photos: The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021”

The Hukilau announces return in 2021 with new oceanfront hotel, event at The Mai-Kai

The Hukilau announces return in 2021 with new oceanfront hotel, event at The Mai-Kai

Updated Sept. 18

After a 27-month hiatus, The Hukilau is returning to the picturesque sands of Fort Lauderdale beach in September with a four-day takeover of an oceanfront boutique hotel, plus a main event at The Mai-Kai that could kick off a new beginning for the historic Polynesian restaurant.

The Hukilau 2021

“It will be a smaller, more intimate event. Almost everything is outdoors,” said The Hukilau’s owner/organizer, Richard Oneslager. “We won’t be packed into a ballroom,” he noted, citing COVID concerns. All state and local guidelines will be followed, he added.

The Hukilau 2021Sept. 16-19 at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Featuring live music (The Intoxicators, Aqualads, The Hilo Hi-Flyers), symposiums, rum sponsors and pop-up cocktail bars, luau on the beach, Tiki marketplace, plus more.
* Tickets on sale now

THE HUKILAU SEPTEMBER UPDATES
* Daily schedule, news and photos from social media

* Death or Glory scares up spooktacular Sunday after-party
* Tickets still available, symposiums and schedule announced

The Hukilau was last held in June 2019 at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina, which has since gone down for extensive renovations that could last several more years. Only the iconic tower and marina will remain when the resort reopens. The 2020 event, scheduled for the B Ocean Resort, was waylaid by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Intoxicators perform at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau in June 2014
The Intoxicators rock The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau in June 2014. The band will return for a 15th appearance in September 2021 to play the Tiki Treasures Bazaar in the restaurant’s parking lot as well as the oceanside Beachcomber resort. (Photo by Go11Events.com)

Luckily, Broward County’s famous highway A1A beachfront also contains many smaller and more appropriate venues for 2021. One of these is the Beachcomber Resort & Club, located just north of the Fort Lauderdale strip in Pompano Beach. The Hukilau has reserved the entire boutique hotel for the weekend, creating a complete Tiki takeover. With pandemic protocols still fresh in everyone’s mind, most of the activities will be held in various outdoor spaces on the resort’s grounds and private beach.

Of course, The Hukilau would not be complete without its heart and soul, the historic Mai-Kai in nearby Oakland Park. The restaurant remains closed after a massive flood caused extensive back-of-house damage in October 2020. But Saturday’s traditional main event will return to The Mai-Kai, taking place in the sprawling parking lot just a 15-minute drive from the Beachcomber.

Tickets, hotel rooms available soon

Previous 2020 passholders who rolled their tickets into 2021 were given priority and early access to confirm hotel rooms. Remaining rooms can be booked now only by phone by calling (954) 941-7830.

The Beachcomber Resort & Club is located on the Atlantic Ocean in Pompano Beach, featuring 140 rooms, two pools and lots of outdoor activity space for attendees of The Hukilau 2021. (Official photo)
The Beachcomber Resort & Club is located on the Atlantic Ocean in Pompano Beach, featuring 140 rooms, two pools and lots of outdoor activity space for attendees of The Hukilau 2021. (Official photo)

Event tickets – from all-inclusive passes to à la carte events – are available now via TheHukilau.com website. Sign up for the email list to get future updates, which will also be posted on Facebook.

Tickets will be limited to keep the event safe and intimate. However, if space is available and the Beachcomber sells out, The Hukilau has arrangements with several nearby beachfront properties to offer special rates to spillover guests who are shut out of Beachcomber rooms. Locals can also pick up event tickets and not worry about accommodations.

In a change from past years, The Hukilau will offer all-inclusive tickets that encompass all events – including symposiums and special experiences. South Seas passes are the top-tier passes, giving Hukilau villagers access to all weekend events, including reserved seats at symposiums. Beachcomber and Aloha passes offer most of the experiences, with extra events available for an additional fee.

A new beachfront hotel near The Mai-Kai

The Beachcomber Resort has its own private beach, site of a luau and other activities during The Hukilau in September 2021. (Official photo)
The Beachcomber Resort has its own private beach, site of a luau and other activities during The Hukilau in September 2021. (Official photo)

The Beachcomber Resort & Club is a family-owned hotel with 140 rooms, suites and villas that sits right on the Atlantic Ocean in Pompano Beach, just north of Fort Lauderdale. The property also includes a cluster of apartments across A1A for event staff and participants. It’s roughly half the size of the B Ocean, so expect a more cozy event.

The resort offers “sweeping ocean views, two pools, tiki huts, full beach access, and more amenities, all reserved for our beloved villagers,” The Hukilau’s official announcement said. While many of the most popular activities will return to the schedule, organizers have made adjustments based on past feedback.

A conscious effort is being made to allow for more beach and social time with friends, a top request from villagers. The resort “is custom-made for us,” Oneslager said in a recent phone interview. He noted that the Beachcomber is blocked out for event attendees only, including the private beach.

The main event space is an open-air thatched hut where symposiums and performances will be held. The space is often used for weddings and other special events. Bands, solo musicians and DJs will be disbursed in outdoor areas around the resort. Performers will include musicians who lost their gig at The Mai-Kai when storm damage forced the restaurant’s closure in October.

Bungalows surrounding a large outdoor space just steps from the beach that will host rum companies and other sponsors during The Hukilau 2021 at the Beachcomber Resort in Pompano Beach. (Official photo)
Bungalows surrounding a large outdoor space just steps from the beach that will host rum companies and other sponsors during The Hukilau 2021 at the Beachcomber Resort in Pompano Beach. (Official photo)

Rum companies and other sponsors will host parties in a cluster of bungalows around a grassy area ideal for comfortable mingling. Pop-up cocktail bars and live performers will be spread out around the property, including poolside, Oneslager said.

On Thursday, The Hukilau’s opening day, guests “can expect welcome cocktails and cabanas filled with boozy libations from our roster of guest bars,” according to the official website. “Friday will be stacked with symposiums, pool parties, a grand luau, and guest bars.”

Catered by the Beachcomber and guest bartenders, the Friday night luau will be held in a private area just off the beach from 7 to 10 p.m. The cost of the feast is included in South Seas passes, while other ticketholders can add it for an extra fee.

For other meals, the hotel’s Deep seafood restaurant and bar feature ocean views as well as outdoor dining. Many rooms also look out onto the picturesque Atlantic.

The Hukilau's 2021 symposiums and other entertainment will take place under cover in a large oceanfront event space at Beachcomber Resort & Club. (Official photo)
The Hukilau’s 2021 symposiums and other entertainment will take place under cover in a large oceanfront event space at Beachcomber Resort & Club. (Official photo)

In a change from years past, there will be no additional charge for symposiums (except for the lowest level passholders, who can pay $10 for tickets). There may be capacity limitations, but the top-tier South Seas passholders will receive priority seating. Most of these events will be outdoors under the large tiki hut, which can be modified to protect guests from gusty wind and rain, Oneslager said.

The Beachcomber will host the Tiki Treasures Bazaar as well as a pool party on Saturday. On Sunday, The Hukilau bids farewell with a beachside Tiki brunch and themed cocktails from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. It will be a festive sendoff with pop-up bars and live music.

While most of the weekend everts are scheduled to be outdoors, contingency plans are in place in the event of inclement weather. The Beachcomber has enough indoor restaurant and lobby space to host the luau if necessary. And the tiki hut area can shield guests during typical rainy days. Plans also call for a tent to be installed over the resort’s croquet lawn, Oneslager said.

If a severe storm hits, there are guarantees from the hotel that all reservations are 100 percent refundable. Event passes are also refundable if a named tropical storm sparks watches or warnings in the area within seven days of The Hukilau. Regardless of the weather, all rooms come with a cancellation window up to 10 days before the event. For more detailed information, check the online FAQ.

Official website: More photos of the Beachcomber| Live beach cam

UPDATED: Save Paradise Party at The Mai-Kai

Guests enjoy cocktails in a new outdoor dining area during the recent Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace on July 18. (Mai-Kai photo)
Guests enjoy cocktails in a new outdoor dining area during the recent Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace on July 18. (Mai-Kai photo)

Like past years, The Hukilau will celebrate its Saturday main event at the historic Polynesian restaurant that has been part of every event since the move to Fort Lauderdale in 2003. Unfortunately, the closing for renovations has forced the owners to adapt since ceasing dinner service in October.

The Mai-Kai has remained active, offering cocktails to go and many outdoor special events. The latest Tiki Marketplace was held July 18 on the heels of car shows and sold-out events commemorating the 64th anniversary in December and Hulaween in October.

So what’s in store for The Hukilau? Passholders are invited to an exclusive “Save Paradise Party” on Saturday in the restaurant’s thatched outdoor porte-cochères space where guests has previously entered the restaurant. Free transportation will be provided for South Seas and Aloha passholders. The Mai-Kai’s famous cocktails will be available for purchase.

Continue reading “The Hukilau announces return in 2021 with new oceanfront hotel, event at The Mai-Kai”

The Mai-Kai hosts 20 vendors, serves up tasty food and drinks at second Tiki Marketplace

The Mai-Kai hosts 20 vendors, serves up tasty food and drinks at second Tiki Marketplace

Photos: The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
NEW: Tiki Marketplace offers a taste of The Mai-Kai
The July 18 event featured vintage art and collectibles, food trucks, plus authentic Mai-Kai cocktails and entertainment.
>>> CHECK OUT THE PHOTOS AND VIDEO

Preview story:

Just in time to break up South Florida’s summer doldrums, The Mai-Kai comes to the rescue with another Tiki Marketplace in the parking lot of the historic Polynesian restaurant on Sunday, July 18.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace, July 2021
* The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace Facebook event
SEE BELOW: Check the schedule | Full list of vendors

From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., guests can browse more than 20 booths containing an eclectic assortment of items while enjoying authentic Mai-Kai cocktails and three unique food options, plus live Tiki Bingo. Entertainment will be provided by musicians and performers from The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii.

Previous coverage
* The Mai-Kai offers Fourth of July cocktails, plans next Tiki marketplace
* The Mai-Kai hosts first Tiki Marketplace featuring vendors, entertainers, cocktails, rum tasting and more

The Mai-Kai has made a few adjustments following the overwhelming success of the first Tiki Marketplace on April 17. Guests should be aware that the one and only entry point will be via the main entrance porte-cochère at 3599 N. Federal Highway. Once inside the marketplace, you’ll be able to check out the vendors and relax under the shade of the thatched roof with a beverage and small bite. There is also plenty of entertainment on tap all day.

Live Tiki Bingo at The Mai-Kai, July 2021

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace schedule
* 11 a.m.-4 p.m. – Vendor marketplace, food and drinks
* Noon – Samoan Fire Knife Dance by the Polynesian Islander Revue
* 1 p.m. – Tiki Bingo hosted by the Fraternal Order of Moai
* 1:30 p.m. – Samoan Fire Knife Dance
* 2-4 p.m. – Live entertainment by Mai-Kai musicians
* 3 p.m. – Samoan Fire Knife Dance
* 4 p.m. – Tiki Bingo

The final Tiki Bingo game will be followed by a raffle featuring four signature mugs and a snifter from The Mai-Kai collection.

Just like the April event, a stellar lineup of classic Mai-Kai cocktails will be available (by the quart): Barrel O’ Rum, Mai Tai, Jet Pilot and Black Magic. Also available: Beer, wine, water and soft drinks.

Guests can enjoy quarts of The Mai-Kai's classic cocktails at the restaurant's second Tiki Marketplace on July 18. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Guests can enjoy quarts of The Mai-Kai’s classic cocktails at the restaurant’s second Tiki Marketplace on July 18. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Bring a cooler so you can grab a quart to take home. No advance sales will be available, but fans of The Mai-Kai’s famous tropical drinks will be happy to hear that another round of take-home quarts (and gallons) will be offered on Friday-Saturday, July 23-24. Email Pia Dahlquist, The Mai-Kai’s director of public relations, for more information. You can also sign up for the email list to get news and announcements on future events, plus cocktails to go.

To beat the summer heat, a cool and refreshing item will be available Sunday: Tropical shaved ice from Kona Ice. The two local food trucks that served up tasty treats in April will return. M.C.K. Fusion from Mobile Culinary Kitchens (Colombian and Latin fusion) and Inspir-Asian (Chinese street food) will provide everything from tacos and quesadillas, to shrimp and fried rice.

We’re honored to once again be a sponsor of the event, along with the Gumbo Limbo Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Moai, the premier fraternal organization and social network for Tiki culture and Polynesian pop enthusiasts. Many vendors are also returning from the first marketplace, selling everything from Tiki and retro-inspired art and collectibles, to clothing, glassware and much more.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace vendors, July 2021

Some of the new artists and vendors appearing at The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace on July 18.
Some of the new artists and vendors appearing at The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace on July 18.

The Mai-Kai Trading Post has been constantly updating its offerings, so look for new as well as classic items for sale. A wide selection of clothing and glassware has been offered over the past several months. Leftover stock may be available in the online store, but popular items sell out, so don’t be late.

Many of the booths from the April event will be back, along with a selection of new artists and businesses:

NEW: ALOHA ARTS – Native South Seas artist Kealoha Pa creates tropical art on wood batik, including jewelry, gift boxes, furniture, and screens. His works have been exhibited at various venues throughout Hawaii.

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai hosts 20 vendors, serves up tasty food and drinks at second Tiki Marketplace”

Mai-Kai updates: Cocktails and car show, Tiki marketplace announced

Mai-Kai updates: Cocktails and car show, Tiki marketplace announced

Updated April 13

For a restaurant that has been closed since October, The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale is sure a busy place these days. In advance of this Sunday’s parking lot car show, guests are picking up quarts and gallons of classic tropical drinks. Meanwhile, vendors are being sought for the historic Polynesian palace’s first-ever outdoor Tiki marketplace, scheduled for April 17.

Cruise-In at The Mai-Kai
The Mai-Kai’s second parking lot “cruise-in” will feature classic cars, food and signature cocktails.

Sponsored by the local Five Points Motor Club, the latest Mai-Kai Cruise-In Classic Car Show on March 28 follows a similar, successful event on Feb. 28. Pre-1974 vehicles will be on display from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., including a special Dubs & Tiki’s VW section.

The Mai-Kai’s DJ Mike will also be on hand spinning tunes at this socially distanced event. Unless seated with your party, guests are required to wear masks and/or practice physical distancing at all times. Feel free to bring chairs, hang out and enjoy the show.

The Mai-Kai's signature Mai Tai is one of several cocktails available during special events and periodic rounds of to-go opportunities. (Official Mai-Kai photo)
The Mai-Kai’s signature Mai Tai is one of several cocktails available during special events and periodic rounds of to-go opportunities. (Official Mai-Kai photo)

In preparation for the cruise-in, The Mai-Kai batched up an ample supply of four cocktails for pick-up this week, along with an exclusive rum. The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend, a special Barbados rum from the Foursquare Distillery, is available only during these limited take-out opportunities right before special events. Look for the next window to open in April.

Loyal guests placed orders for quarts and gallons of the Barrel O’ Rum, Mai Tai, Jet Pilot and Black Magic, the latter returning to the menu by popular demand.

The same four cocktails will be offered on Sunday in single servings or quarts, along with beer, wine and water. Guests can pair their drinks with gourmet street food from the M.C.K. Fusion food truck. The Mobile Culinary Kitchens truck features Colombian and Latin American fusion cuisine, including burgers, tacos, quesadillas and more.

It was great to be back at The Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show on Sunday for the Cruise-In Classic Car Show. Cool…

Posted by The Atomic Grog on Monday, March 29, 2021

**********************************
The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend is available only via take-out from the restaurant.
The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend is available only via take-out from the restaurant. (Official Mai-Kai photo)

We’re now approaching five months since a catastrophic roof collapse over the kitchen shut down the 64-year-old historic landmark. But The Mai-Kai chose to turn lemons into lemonade, converting its vast parking lot into a gathering spot for fans at the Hulaween 2020 drive-in movie party on Oct. 30.

Following the 64th anniversary party on Dec. 28, fans received a bombshell when it was announced that the Thornton family was considering selling the 2.69-acre property. Possible partnerships are also on the table, but the consistent message from The Mai-Kai has been a desire to keep as much of the original property intact as possible.

This did not quell the overwhelming outpouring of concern and support from fans, who took to social media to console each other and seek ways to help the cause. The most high-profile effort is the “Save The Mai-Kai” petition on Change.org, which at press time has topped 10,750 signatures with no signs of slowing down.

Thousands of fans unite to show support for The Mai-Kai during closing
Thousands of fans unite to show support for The Mai-Kai during closing
Previous coverage: More than 10,000 have signed a petition and thousands are flooding social media channels as the historic restaurant plans events, take-home cocktails while potential partners/owners are sought.

The Mai-Kai hosts first Tiki Marketplace featuring vendors, entertainers, cocktails, rum tasting and more
NEW: The Mai-Kai hosts first Tiki Marketplace featuring vendors, entertainers, cocktails, rum tasting and more
The historic restaurant may be closed for repairs, but a new event takes advantage of the large parking lot for a safe and fun-filled day featuring the generous spirit of ‘ohana.
LATEST EVENT INFO
* Complete list of vendors | Rums available for tasting

Vendors sought for Tiki marketplace in April

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace

News of the next parking lot event was revealed when The Mai-Kai put out a call for vendors for an ambitious Tiki marketplace on April 17. While similar events have become popular regular happenings at Tiki bars around the country, this is believed to be the first time The Mai-Kai has hosted an outdoor Tiki marketplace in its long history.

The Mai-Kai’s director of public relations, Pia Dahlquist, is rounding up vendors to fill the restaurant’s 150-space parking lot. She said she’s aiming for around 25 to 30 booths with a “diversified” lineup. If you’d like to participate and need more information, contact Dahlquist via email or call (954) 646-8975. The cost is just $50 per booth.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai updates: Cocktails and car show, Tiki marketplace announced”

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

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

Updated Feb. 28, 2021

When the owners of The Mai-Kai announced in December 2020 that the historic restaurant and the several acres of land the mid-century marvel has occupied since 1956 were possibly for sale, the first reaction from most longtime customers was shock and fear.

Cruise-In with the Five Points Motor Club at The Mai-Kai
While The Mai-Kai is closed, events continue to be held in the parking lot.

Shock that the seemingly indestructible Tiki temple had been taken down, not by the coronavirus pandemic or hurricane-force winds, but by a vicious rainstorm that caused irrecoverable damage to the kitchen that was beyond the capacity of the family-run operation to fix. And fear that the announcement that the owners were seeking partners (or buyers) meant the end of the world’s most well-preserved example of a Polynesian supper club on the grandest of scales.

They flooded social media channels to commiserate, but those emotions did not lead to resignation or despair. Rather, it lit a fire under the legions of followers that had come to love and cherish The Mai-Kai over its many decades of operation.

Related: The Mai-Kai celebrates 64th anniversary as extent of flooding damage, closing detailed

UPDATE: ‘Save The Mai-Kai’ petition tops 10,000 signatures

Primed by the don’t-just-sit-there ethos of the pandemic, these passionate boosters quickly turned their frustration into action. The most shining example of this united front of support can be found in a petition posted on Change.org on Jan. 23. After just two days, it topped 2,600 signatures. Three weeks later, the “Save The Historic Mai-Kai Restaurant & Polynesian Show” petition was closing in on 10,000 signees. It passed that mark on Feb. 22 and has a new goal of 15,000.

SIGN THE PETITION NOW

Mai-Kai petition tops 10,000 signatures

The petition is aimed at Mayor Jane Bolin of Oakland Park, the Fort Lauderdale suburb that has always been an ally of its most famous business. Also named is Broward County Commissioner Lamar Fisher, whose district includes the restaurant that faces Federal Highway (aka U.S. 1) just a few miles from the area’s famous beach.

It urges supporters to sign the online petition to let the officials “know that you don’t want to lose this iconic fixture that makes Oakland Park a global tourist destination and revenue source for so many.” On top of the signatures, more than 270 people took the time to post comments, lamenting the potential loss of a beloved part of their lives.

“The Mai Kai is an icon of authentic Americana in Fort Lauderdale, a place that visitors from across the U.S. and from abroad expect to find in this city – because there is nothing like it anywhere else,” wrote author Sven Kirsten, who featured the restaurant in The Book of Tiki, his influential treatise on Tiki culture.

A vintage photo of The Mai-Kai when the main showroom was still open to the elements
A vintage photo of The Mai-Kai when the main showroom was still open to the elements. (Published in Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant; credit: Licudine family photo collection)

Author Tim “Swanky” Glazner, who wrote the definitive Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, added:
“It is important to the finances of the city. Thousands of people will never return to the city if it closes.”

For others, it was very personal. Holly Kriss wrote: “This is an important cultural landmark which must be saved at any cost! One of the reasons we moved permanently to FL was because of the MaiKai!!” Added Kathryn Pease: “My family and friends go to the Fort Lauderdale area specifically to go to the Mai-Kai.”

Julie Perkins summed up the feelings of many perfectly: “The Mai Kai is historically important architecturally and culturally. It is no hyperbole to say that there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. Other tiki restaurants exist, but very few have been in operation for over 50 years, and none with the combination of architecture, live show and gardens that attract visitors from around the world as the Mai Kai does. My family and I visit Ft. Lauderdale from Texas once or twice a year solely because of the Mai Kai.”

Fans gather on Facebook to offer support, share experiences

Save the Mai-Kai group on Facebook

In addition to the petition, a new “Save the Mai-Kai” group exploded on Facebook, gathering more than 730 like-minded members in just two days and 1,400 four days after forming on Jan. 21. It’s now nearing 2,000 members and has become the site of shared emotions, from angst to despair to hope. Many take the opportunity to share family photos of their trips to The Mai-Kai, some from decades ago.

JOIN THE GROUP NOW

The description says the purpose of the group “is for tiki fans worldwide to band together and see what we can do to save this incredible treasure.” The group’s only rules are “Be civil” and “Be respectful.”

By all accounts, members are not just respectful but also reverential and reflective. One member shared a photo of his parents enjoying cocktails at The Mai-Kai in 1962, noting that “57 years later I finally went in 2019. Not sure why I waited so long to go.”

Continue reading “Thousands of fans unite to show support for The Mai-Kai during closing”

Year in the rearview: The Top 9 Tiki stories of 2020

Year in the rearview: The Top 9 Tiki stories of 2020

Undoubtedly, it was a year many would rather forget – preferably by downing a few Mai Tais. If we take “hindsight is 2020” at face value, perhaps some day there will be positive lessons to be learned from last year’s many tragedies. Despite this, not all the news was negative in the modern Tiki revival. Dispensing with the bad news first, here are The Atomic Grog’s picks for the nine most newsworthy stories of 2020.
Bonus recipe below: The Urban Archaeologist (tribute to The Book of Tiki 20th anniversary and commemorative mug)

1. CORONAVIRUS SHUTDOWNS

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

Of all the industries that were dealt a sucker punch by the pandemic, the bar and restaurant world is the one that seems to have suffered the most long-running impact. When the mandatory closings swept across the United States (and the world) in March and April, most were ill-prepared to deal with the consequences. Heroically, the majority were able to survive by pivoting to take-out and streamlined operations. Sadly, others have remained closed with still no ETA on reopening dates. The list of businesses that closed permanently is sobering. But as we look back at the year, we’re proud of the efforts everyone put forth to keep their Tiki bars and related companies alive against all odds. We will continue to pray for their survival and encourage everyone to help as best they can.

Support Tiki bars now by visiting their online stores, contributing to fundraisers
UPDATES: Support Tiki bars now by visiting their online stores
Get updates on closings and openings, plus the latest on mugs and merchandise, plus more resources.

2. EVENTS CANCELED, POSTPONED

It’s hard for a community to thrive and survive when it’s stripped of its ability to congregate en masse to celebrate and boost each other’s spirits. This hit home in the Tiki world in early March, when Inuhele: Atlanta’s Tiki Weekend held the dubious distinction of being the last pre-pandemic event to take place. The summer season’s blockbuster festivals were forced to scramble. Some postponed, some went to a virtual format, others canceled altogether. But there was still no keeping the fervent followers from seeking out their friends and favorite events, even in stripped-down and online-only form. We tip our hat to the organizers who keep the faithful happy and their brands alive, along with their supporters who kept their heads up and their communities alive throughout the year.

The Year in Tiki 2020: Recap the top virtual and in-person events
The Year in Tiki 2020: Top virtual and in-person events
Take a look back at the major happenings, featuring artwork and links plus photos and video.

3. FLOODING AT THE MAI-KAI

In any other year, the closing of The Mai-Kai would undoubtedly be news story No. 1. But 2020 was no ordinary year, full of curve balls and unexpected twists. After closing during April and May, The Mai-Kai reopened under state social-distancing guidelines and was successfully navigating the pandemic through the summer and fall. An inventive take-out program was pushing boundaries and pleasing fans, while the historic restaurant was consistently filling its available seats with guests eager to watch the acclaimed Polynesian Islander Revue. All that changed in late October, however, when massive rains flooded the kitchen and back-of-house after a roof collapsed during the storm. With no functioning kitchen, The Mai-Kai has closed until the extensive repairs can be done. The annual Halloween party became a drive-in movie event in the parking lot and online sales were stepped up. A family-run operation since 1956, The Mai-Kai faces perhaps its biggest challenge, possibly with a new partnership or ownership. Here’s hoping the grand reopening will top the list of 2021 news events.
The Mai-Kai for sale: See the official statement NEW
UPDATES: Owners vow to “preserve family legacy” while continuing take-out drinks and more events

The Mai-Kai celebrates 64th anniversary under the moon as challenges loom
The Mai-Kai celebrates 64th anniversary under the moon as challenges loom
Check out all the details
on The Mai-Kai’s sold-out 64th anniversary party on Dec. 28.
Photos: The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue
News: Extent of flooding damage, closing detailed

4. THE PASSING OF TOTI

Toti Terorotua of The Mai-Kai's Polynesian Islander Revue

In September, The Mai-Kai, its extended family and longtime fans mourned the death of Toti Terorotua, a founding member of the restaurant’s acclaimed Polynesian Islander Revue in 1962. “Toti was not only an outstanding musician and entertainer, he was a great friend and part of what made the Mai-Kai one great big family,” an official statement from the restaurant said. “Toti was a highly regarded musician in Tahiti before coming to the US, creating two classic Tahitian albums with his namesake band Toti’s Tahitians. You can still hear songs from his albums, along with his unforgettable voice, softly playing in the background on the Mai Kai’s nightly soundtrack.” Toti was discovered in the late 1950s by Donn Beach himself, who picked him to be part of his show at the Don the Beachcomber in Waikiki when it opened at the International Marketplace. Toti came to Fort Lauderdale and The Mai-Kai to be part of the original Polynesian show and never left. He retired 2000 after 38 years, but came back in 2006 to play drums at The Mai-Kai’s 50th anniversary at age 71. He continued to perform on stage for another decade-plus. In announcing his death, The Mai-Kai shared a tribute in Tahitian, translated to: “We will miss you so. But dreams will keep us near you. We know we’ll meet again. Farewell for just a while. For just a little while.”
Listen: Buy or stream Lure Of Tahiti by Terorotua & His Tahitians

Continue reading “Year in the rearview: The Top 9 Tiki stories of 2020”