As the renovation of The Mai-Kai reaches a crucial point outdoors, work is progressing on the restoration of the historic South Florida restaurant’s guest areas alongside a near total rebuild of the back-of-house facilities.
It’s a two-pronged effort overseen by Kern Mattei, a second-generation employee who grew up at The Mai-Kai and is now in his 30th year as manager. An October 2020 roof collapse took out the massive kitchen and back bar. A change in ownership in September 2021 kick-started the renovation efforts, which now enter the final phases.
On the job since early 2022, creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller has brought both his passion for historic Polynesian design and his vast experiece as a theme park scenic artist to The Mai-Kai’s many restoration projects. For most of this year, he’s been joined by another central Florida artist, Scott “Flounder” Scheidly, creating a well-oiled machine that can seemingly handle any task, no matter how challenging.
They were joined this summer by another multifaceted artist who has been crucial in helping them use inventive techniques to restore some of the areas most in need of TLC. Along with the woodworking crew tasked with repairing all of The Mai-Kai’s damaged walls and ceiling, Conrad Teheiura Itchener is a key member of the team bringing the Tiki temple back to life.
Meanwhile, the new ownership team led by historic preservationist Bill Fuller of Barlington Group is pumping all of its resources into modernizing the infrastructure, from new roofs to a revamped electrical grid and air-handling system. Helping Mattei rebuild the kitchen and back-of-house is Fuller’s sister company, Mad Room Hospitality, which oversees other historic restaurants including Miami’s Ball & Chain.
Following is an extensive recap of all the work done inside The Mai-Kai since our last stories in early July. Meanwhile, a related story contains up-to-the minute news on the reimagination of the parking lot as well as a projected reopening date.
SAMOA ROOM: One of the original dining areas meticulously restored
Over the past six months, creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller and artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly have methodically brought many of The Mai-Kai’s elaborately themed dining rooms back to life: New Guinea, Hawaii, Moorea, and the lower areas of Tonga. But the completion of the one of the oldest dining areas, Samoa, remained elusive.
The Mai-Kai and The Atomic Grog are headed to Tiki Oasis! We’re honored to be joined by manager Kern Mattei and creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller at the world’s original and largest Tiki weekender Aug. 2-6 in San Diego.
The 23rd annual event at the Town and Country Resort features live entertainment (Man or Astroman, The Tikiyaki Orchestra, Messer Chups, The New Les Baxter Orchestra, Shorty’s Swingin’ Coconuts, King Kukulele, Medusirena), seminars (Sven Kirsten, Charles Phoenix, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Ian Burrell), artists, vendors, and much more.
Tiki Oasis guests will enjoy five nights and four days of poolside lounging, fashion shows, room parties, live bands and DJs, a curated art exhibit, a gigantic Tiki marketplace, tropical cocktails curated by top mixologists, plus much more.
Click here for event tickets, ranging from $40 for Wednesday to $499 for a deluxe Wednesday-Sunday pass. If you have kids in tow, don’t fret. Tickets cost just $35 for ages 6 to 17. Children 5 under are free.
Click below for tickets to the seminars, which must be purchased separately.
For the first time in event history, South Florida’s historic Mai-Kai will be on hand for not one, but two official presentations. Last year, designer and artist Allsmiller taught a sold-out, two-day shelf-building class shortly after diving into his work restoring The Mai-Kai. This year, he’ll be featuring one of his restored vintage lamps from The Mai-Kai in a lamp show that runs all weekend.
On Friday, Hayward and Mattei will present a seminar on one of The Mai-Kai’s most iconic cocktails, the Derby Daiquiri. On Saturday, they will be joined by Allsmiller for a presentation jam-packed with the latest information on the restoration and reopening.
Here are are more details on the events:
The Derby Daiquiri and Beyond: How to Create Your Own Classic
Hosted by Kern Mattei and Jim “Hurricane” Hayward
2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4, $45 [BUY TICKETS]
The Mai-Kai’s Derby Daiquiri was one of the most celebrated cocktails of the mid-century, a simple riff on the Cuban classic by master mixologist Mariano Licudine. Six decades later, it remains one of the most popular drinks on the historic restaurant’s menu. It also provides a case study on how a vintage recipe can be enhanced by just a few simple tweaks, creating something new and exciting. Join The Mai-Kai’s longtime manager, Kern Mattei, and cocktail blogger Jim “Hurricane” Hayward for an examination of Licudine’s genius as they guide you toward creating your own signature classic.
About Kern and Jim
Kern Mattei was born into The Mai-Kai family and has worked there since his youth, from barback and bartender to the past three decades as manager. His father was the GM before him, and his mother performed in the stage show. His unique position makes him intimately familiar with the restaurant’s famous cocktails, their history and the secret recipes. During the current refurbishment, he runs the takeout cocktail program, providing quarts and gallons of classics like the Barrel O’ Rum and Black Magic to thirsty locals. Blogger and journalist Jim “Hurricane” Hayward has covered The Mai-Kai for more than a decade, documenting and recreating the cocktail recipes in exacting detail. As we approach a late 2023 reopening, The Atomic Grog has become a key source of information on The Mai-Kai restoration project.
Seminar sneak preview
Here’s a glimpse of what you can expect during the first-ever official Mai-Kai cocktail seminar at Tiki Oasis:
Three different Daiquiris will be served by the Tiki Oasis cocktail crew, including the Derby, as we reveal and dissect each recipe.
Rare and never-before-seen images from the archives will be shown, including Mattei family photos.
We’ll take the most detailed look yet at the creation and explosive popularity of the Derby Daiquiri, known as “the $100,000 Drink.”
The seminar will conclude with the premiere of a new recipe created especially for Tiki Oasis and San Diego.
Tiki History Reimagined: The Restoration and Reopening of The Mai-Kai
Jim “Hurricane” Hayward with “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller and Kern Mattei
2:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5, $20 [BUY TICKETS]
The Mai-Kai is a miraculous survivor. The South Florida historic landmark endured a near-catastrophic roof collapse in late 2020 but found new owners with deep pockets and an ambitious vision to preserve it for generations to come. When the restoration of the 66-year-old Polynesian palace is complete, it will be meticulously returned to its former glory and also include millions of dollars in enhancements that respect the past and charge boldly into the future. In this multimedia presentation, embedded journalist Jim “Hurricane” Hayward of The Atomic Grog blog will take you behind the scenes at The Mai-Kai. He’ll be joined by two key members of The Mai-Kai team: Creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller will offer unique insights into the painstaking restoration efforts, while longtime manager Kern Mattei will provide up-to-the-minute news on the renovation project, along with his unique perspective on Mai-Kai history.
About The Mai-Kai team
Jim “Hurricane” Hayward is a veteran journalist and blogger, best known for The Atomic Grog blog – covering Tiki events, music, art cocktails and culture since 2011. Along with its popular Mai-Kai cocktail guide, the blog has become the go-to source of information on the landmark restaurant’s closing, sale, restoration, and reopening. Typhoon Tommy is a multiple Thea Award-winning scenic artist with 13 years of experience in the theme park industry. After turning his talents full-time to creating magical escapes in the world of Tiki, he became creative director and designer for The Mai-Kai renovation project in 2022. Kern Mattei grew up at the historic restaurant during its heyday and now leads the efforts to modernize the infrastructure while maintaining as much of its original beauty as possible. He has been general manager since 1993, following in the footsteps of his father, Kern Mattei Sr. (1964-1991).
While the COVID pandemic is by no means a thing of the past, the Tiki events circuit was back to almost full capacity in 2022. This also includes many rum and surf music events around the world that we also documented on The Tiki Times, The Atomic Grog’s ongoing event guide. It was great to see many old standby events back in full force, while new happenings also made their mark. Check below for artwork and links to official sites, plus images and videos from social media. THE TIKI TIMES 2023: Latest upcoming live and virtual events Social media:Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest
We remain thankful for every bit of good news. While a few of the stories below are frustrating (No. 4) or bittersweet (No. 1), they’re far out-numbered by the explosions of creativity and collective talent that drove most of the year’s activity. For that, we toast the entire Tiki community with a new cocktail and The Atomic Grog’s picks for the 10 most newsworthy stories of 2021. Bonus recipe below:The Tiki Lover
1. ALOHA AND FAREWELL, OCEANIC ARTS
As sure as the sun rose in the east and set in the west, there was one enduring creative force over the past six decades of Polynesian Pop style. In November 2021, there was a total eclipse and extended period of mourning when it was announced that Oceanic Arts would be closing its doors as its 80-something-year-old founders embark on a well-deserved retirement. Established in 1956 in Southern California by Robert Van Oosting and LeRoy Schmaltz, the company was always the go-to provider of original and imported pieces of South Seas art and decor for everyone from home enthusiasts to theme park giants including Disney (the doors to Trader Sam’s in Disneyland are Schmaltz’ handiwork). Art and woodwork originating from Oceanic Arts has been featured in nearly every legendary Polynesian palace, from Don the Beachcomber to Trader Vic’s to The Mai-Kai. The company put together movie set pieces and provided the distinctive style of many of the mid 20th century’s Tiki-themed hotels and motels, bowling alleys, and countless other establishments. Buoyed by the Tiki revival, the small shop in Whittier became a mecca for Tikiphiles from around the world and inspired a new generation of carvers and artists in the 21st century.
While the closing seemed to have come out of the blue, Van Oosting and Schmaltz had been planning their retirement for some time. They joined forces with longtime friend Jordan Reichek, owner of Peekaboo Gallery in nearby Montrose, for an epic career-spanning retrospective coming in 2022. In the spring, look for what’s being called an “experiential Tiki exhibition” featuring art and artifacts from Oceanic Arts paired with special events that include live music and performances, panel discussions, an “epic Tiki bar,” and more. The events will culminate with the “ultimate Tiki auction” art show and sale. In the meantime, the gallery is taking pre-orders for a mammoth Oceanic Arts history book compiled and written by Reichek, who worked closely with Van Oosting and Schmaltz. Oceanic Arts: The Godfathers of Tiki is a 500-page opus that documents the rich history of Oceanic Arts via thousands of photos, original artwork and historical documents from the archives. After 65 years, Oceanic Arts leaves an indelible mark on pop culture that is likely to last for many more decades to come.
The entire Tiki community heaved a sigh of relief in September when the announcement came that The Mai-Kai – the historic, 65-year-old restaurant in Fort Lauderdale that has been closed due to storm damage since October 2020 – was saved from extinction by a new ownership team that will pump millions of dollars into a restoration and refurbishment. The year started with much concern after press reports emerged about the roof damage that destroyed the kitchen. A “Save The Mai-Kai” petition gathered more than 10,000 signatures in less than a month as devoted fans united online to share their support and concerns. The skeleton crew of owners and staff continued to offer regular takeout cocktails and began a series of events in the expansive parking lot. The highlights were The Mai-Kai’s first-ever Tiki Marketplace in April featuring vendors, entertainers, cocktails, rum tasting and more. A follow-up event in July kept the momentum going while behind-the-scene negotiations were likely starting to ramp up.
The big announcement came in September, just after hundreds of Tikiphiles from around the country finally returned to Fort Lauderdale for the 19th edition of The Hukilau. Then, a week later, the long-awaited news dropped. The founding Thornton family released details on social media on Sept. 28, outlining the joint venture with a South Florida-based real estate investment and development company known for working with legacy businesses. Its sister hospitality company already operates several vintage venues in Miami’s Little Havana. “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!” Check out links to our in-depth report above and latest updates below.
The crushing blow of the pandemic was not easy to overcome for event organizers, but we slowly came out of our homes in 2021 and began to gather again in safe and physically-distanced environments. Longtime online meet-ups – most notably Tiki Trail Live and Spike’s Breezeway Cocktail Hour – continued to thrive. But many longed for live human interaction, and a handful of key (mainly outdoor) events delivered that experience in the year’s early months. Then, when vaccines became widely available, we saw the return of several major Tiki events starting with Arizona Tiki Oasis on April 22-25. Carefully organized by Baby Doe and Otto von Stroheim, the event paved the way for an active summer, including the couple’s flagship Tiki Oasis on July 28 -Aug. 1 in San Diego. Momentum slowed in the late summer and fall as the first of several coronavirus variants emerged, but Tikiphiles still flocked to scaled-down events including Ohana: Luau At The Lake in upstate New York, The Hukilau and Tiki Fever in Florida, and Tiki Caliente in Palm Springs, Calif. Rum aficionados around the world also were able to get back into the swing of tasting events, from the Jamaica Rum Festival in March to the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival in November. See the full list of major 2021 events below.
NEW: Check out The Atomic Grog’s annual calendar for all the major events across the world of Tiki culture. The Tiki Times also includes rum events, plus modernism, surf and rockabilly music, Disney and other happenings of interest to the Tiki community. It will be continually updated throughout the year, so check the link below for main calendar page frequently: UPDATES: FULL 2022 EVENTS CALENDAR
A proper modern Tiki weekender requires human interaction – from the tastes and smells of rum and craft cocktails, to the tactile hands-on experiences with artists and vendors, to the exciting dynamics of group participation in educational symposiums and enjoyment of unique entertainment. All of this came to a crashing halt – or was altered radically – one year ago by the coronavirus pandemic.
Virtual events continue to be enriching and enjoyable, and quite a few smaller gatherings have returned over the months as society slowly crawls ahead with safe, socially-distanced protocols. We’ve documented many of them on The Tiki Times, our constantly updated guide to online and real-life happenings.
One thing missing, however, was the glue that holds the scene together. The quintessential Tiki experience can happen only at multi-day weekend conventions that have become annual highlights for thousands of followers. They plan their annual calendars around them, sometimes traveling halfway around the world to attend. But most of the major events either scaled back drastically (Tiki Oasis), went totally virtual (The Hukilau), or were canceled altogether (Tiki Kon). Past coverage:Recap of 2020 events
Now, with vaccinations becoming widespread in the United States and some light visible at the end of the tunnel, it’s time to get back to basics with a good old fashioned Tiki bash. And who better to kick off the return to “normal” than Baby Doe and Otto von Stroheim, the power couple responsible for inventing the format two decades ago amid the burgeoning Tiki revival in Southern California.
While their flagship Tiki Oasis won’t return until the summer, this spring provided the perfect platform to re-launch in-person events on a large scale with last weekend’s Arizona Tiki Oasis at Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale. By all accounts, the second edition of the full festival went off without a hitch April 22-25 and was a rousing success.
It was exciting to watch, even from afar via social media, as Tiki’s movers and shakers once again gathered in appreciation of not just the thriving subculture, but also in celebration of coming out of our cocoons for real social interaction. The pent-up demand for such an event was clear and immediate: Attendees filled every room in the resort.
For the first time in more than a year, we saw author Sven Kirsten back behind the lectern for a sold-out seminar on Tiki culture (From Don to Steve to The Mai-Kai: The Enigma of the Tahitian Cannibal Carvings). Other seminar speakers included historian Mike Skinner, collector Jason T. Smith, and author CJ Cook.
There were rum and spirits tastings with local tropical oasis Hula’s Modern Tiki, plus tours of Scottsdale’s mid-century architecture and culture. Mixologist Tiki Lindy provided pro tips for home enthusiasts. Ukulele lessons, pool parties and Saturday night’s Tiki Tiki Ho-Ho Luau were other highlights. Many events were held outdoors under Arizona’s flawless spring skies, allowing maximal fun with minimal risk. The website says guests could enjoy “a wide range of resort activities while sipping tropical cocktails, wearing your festive aloha wear and snazzy masks.” It also provided a full page of health and safety protocols.
This past year was unlike any other. As the deadly coronavirus pandemic swept the world, events were postponed and canceled while the hospitality and entertainment industries suffered economic disaster. New and rescheduled events became fundraisers and calls to action to help struggling businesses. As social gatherings moved online to a virtual format, so did many events and a new lineup of symposiums and learning experiences. The Atomic Grog documented many of these happenings and participated in a few over the past tumultuous 12 months. The Tiki Times continues to follow the top events of interest to retro-minded enthusiasts of Tiki, mid-century modern, surf and rockabilly music, rum and spirits, plus more. Below you’ll find the cream of the crop of 2020 events, along with artwork and links to official sites. Under many events, you’ll also find images and videos from social media plus links to news articles. We hope everyone remains healthy and safe as we find out what 2021 has to offer. UPDATES:Support Tiki bars online – Buy merch, contribute to fundraisers Social media:Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest
NEW: Check out The Atomic Grog’s annual calendar for all the major events across the world of Tiki culture. This list also includes rum events, plus modernism, surf and rockabilly music, Disney and other happenings of interest to the Tiki community. It will be continually updated throughout the year, so check the link below for The Tiki Times main page frequently: UPDATES: FULL 2020 EVENTS CALENDAR
Once again, The Atomic Grog documented an entire 12 months of events in 2019, following the top Tiki and rum events, plus mid-century modern, surf and rockabilly music, Disney and other happenings of interest to the Tiki community. Check below for official artwork and links to the official sites along with our own unique coverage. Under many events, you’ll also find images and videos from social media plus links to news sites. NEW EVENTS: UPDATED 2020 CALENDAR Social media:Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest
Jan. 19 – The Mai-Kai Takeover in Fort Lauderdale. Special event: ‘Demerara Rum – The Mai-Kai’s Secret Weapon’ The Atomic Grog was pleased to present a special happy-hour talk during The Mai-Kai Takeover event on Jan. 19, presented by the Magical Tiki Meet-Up and Retro Rekindled. Click here to check out our full event recap, including photos and highlights of our Demerara rum discussion.
April 12-14 – Arizona Tiki Oasis in Scottsdale. An island lifestyle party in the middle of the desert at the historic Hotel Valley Ho resort. Featuring a marketplace with more than 60 curated artisans, more than 20 educational seminars, mid-century architectural tours, live mermaid performance, art show, luau featuring Polynesian dancers, plus more. * Facebook event | Event app | Official program The Tiki Times: See all the upcoming events