EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: Behind the scenes at The Mai-Kai as restoration ramps up in 2023

EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: Behind the scenes at The-Mai-Kai as restoration ramps up in 2023

With contractors and construction crews moving full-speed ahead on a massive renovation of the infrastructure and exterior of The Mai-Kai, a small team of craftsmen continues to meticulously restore the historic South Florida restaurant’s elaborately themed interior guest areas in exacting detail.

Just inside the entrance to The Mai-Kai on Federal Highway, creative director "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller is hard at work restoring the interior of the historic restaurant on March 9. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
Just inside the entrance to The Mai-Kai on Federal Highway, creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller is hard at work restoring the interior of the historic restaurant on March 9. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

The city of Oakland Park’s recent approval of permits that will allow the major pieces of the $8.5 million project to move forward has grabbed all the attention so far in 2023. But inside the beloved Polynesian palace, creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller has been busy in the new year with a wide array of restoration projects.

We’ll take an in-depth look at Allsmiller’s work below. But first, here’s a status report from manager Kern Mattei on the progress of the entire renovation project. This covers everything that has happened since his detailed walk-through of the property with us on March 9.

Workers put the finishing touches on the thatched roof of The Mai-Kai's porte-cochère on March 24, 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Workers put the finishing touches on the thatched roof of The Mai-Kai’s porte-cochère on March 24, 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Completion of porte-cochère roof kicks off many projects to come

By the end of March, the work on thatching the outdoor roofs was progressing nicely after a long pause due to permitting issues. We visited on March 16 to pick up takeout cocktails, then again on March 24 and March 31 for a peek at the progress, both inside and out.

The most noticeable change for guests passing by or picking up quarts and gallons to go this week (April 6-7) will definitely be the completion of the thatched roofs. On March 24, workers were putting the finishing touches on the porte-cochère, which has shielded arriving guests from the elements for the past six decades.

A view of the porte-cochère and entrance to The Mai-Kai after the thatching was completed. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / March 24, 2023)
A view of the porte-cochère and entrance to The Mai-Kai after the thatching was completed. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / March 24, 2023)

Installed shortly after the 1956 opening, the porte-cochère has been re-thatched and the structure periodically refurbished over the years. But the current project is the most extensive in recent history. [See past coverage]

Later, after the driveway is replaced and landscaping has begun, Allsmiller will work on restoring all the design elements beneath the roof on the center beam and trim. Automobile traffic will no longer pass beneath, allowing guests to sit outside with a cocktail and enjoy the shade and ambience.

Scott Scheidly (left), a Central Florida artist better known as Flounder, works with creative director "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller under The Mai-Kai's refurbished porte-cochère on March 15, 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Scott Scheidly (left), a Central Florida artist better known as Flounder, works with creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller under The Mai-Kai’s refurbished porte-cochère on March 15, 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Mattei said they plan to reinstall of the canoe that used to hang under the roof, and also restore all the fishnets and lighting. In the meantime, Allsmiller now has a much cooler outdoor area to work alongside his new assistant, fellow Central Florida artist Scott Scheidly (aka Flounder). The large canopy reduces the temperature in the blazing Florida sun significantly.

Next to the porte-cochère, the Bora Bora Room is being readied for demolition. The removal of the 1970s-era building, approved Jan. 11 by the city’s Historic Preservation Board, will pave the way for a reimagined entryway and new parking lot flow. A subcontractor for the job has yet to be named.

Pieces of the Bora Bora will live on, however, after the removal of all vintage decor that can be repurposed. Mattei showed us a pile of lava rock that had been removed, stashed away for use later in the entryway landscaping.

Thatch work on the A-frame roofs over the rear dining areas at The Mai-Kai nears completion on March 31, 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Thatch work on the A-frame roofs over the rear dining areas at The Mai-Kai nears completion on March 31, 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Meanwhile, electricians are busy rewiring the entire property, creating a new grid that will allow for the installation of a half-dozen new air-conditioning units on the roofs. The modern HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system will replace the old chiller system and its water cooling tower hidden behind the Bora Bora building.

With the porte-cochère job complete, the company installing the synthetic thatching moved on to finish the uncompleted work on the A-frames over the rear dining rooms. On March 31, work was progressing on the Tahiti and Moorea roofs, which were added during the early 1970s expansion. [See past coverage]

When this is done, the crew from Tiki King will take a break before returning for perhaps the biggest thatching project: Restoring the materials to The Mai-Kai’s towering main A-frame.

A view from Federal Highway of The Mai-Kai's new thatching over the Tahiti Room (left) and the massive main A-frame. Crews recently finished sealing and painting the 66-year-old structure. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / March 31, 2023)
A view from Federal Highway of The Mai-Kai’s new thatching over the Tahiti Room (left) and the massive main A-frame. Crews recently finished sealing and painting the 66-year-old structure. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / March 31, 2023)

This iconic structure, which reaches more than 40 feet at its peak, has undergone changes over the years. Originally, the rear contained thatching while the front portion featured giant screens to let in the air (and rain) to keep the indoor gardens flourishing. [See photo]

While there are no plans to bring back the open-air concept, Mattei said potential designs being debated by the ownership team should give it a more traditional look. We spotted painters on the roof March 24. By March 31, all the undercoating and sealant had been added to the exterior to defend against future leaks.

“It’s finished for now, until we figure out what’s going on,” said Mattei, explaining the process of troubleshooting for pesky leaks before the thatching and final paint job are done. The artwork on the front will be restored by the painter who did the original five decades ago.

A wide view of the southern portion of the front of The Mai-Kai shows the roofing work in progress. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / March 31, 2023)
A wide view of the southern portion of the front of The Mai-Kai shows the roofing work in progress. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / March 31, 2023)

Around the back of the building, crews were up on the refurbished flat roof, installing support beams to hold all the new air-conditioning units. The first of these half-dozen new AC boxes was sitting in the back-of-house space that used to house the kitchen, before the October 2020 roof collapse that forced its removal and shut down the restaurant.

Mattei said there’s no rush to rebuild that area until after the underground plumbing is reinstalled to modern standards. The previous kitchen dated back to the 1970 expansion.

However, there is much work ongoing inside the back of house area that survived the roof collapse. Since the permit approvals, a large portion of the existing space used by staff was gutted in preparation for its reimagination.

Continue reading “EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: Behind the scenes at The Mai-Kai as restoration ramps up in 2023”

The Week in Tiki (Feb. 16-29, 2016): Rum and Tiki event roundup, new Tiki bars in D.C., S.F., photos and event recaps

The Week in Tiki We have lots of news from February on upcoming spring and summer events: Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, Tiki Caliente, Tiki Kon, and Hot Rod Hula Hop. Tiki bars continue to open across the country – from Washington, D.C., (Archipelago) to San Francisco (Pagan Idol) – with more in the works. Event recaps include The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, Naked Tiki’s grand opening in South Beach, and another Modernism Week party with Shag. Quick sips include a James Beard nomination for Chicago’s Lost Lake, the death of Trader Vic’s son, a new study on Easter Islanders, and a new Tiki cartoon. Regular features spotlight South Florida artist Tom Fowner; exotica legend Arthur Lyman; Houston Tiki bar Lei Low; and the Surf Guitar 101 website. The Rum of the Week, Flor de Caña Grand Reserve 7, is featured in a storied cocktail, the Hotel Nacional Special.
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EVENT PREVIEWS: Rare rums at Miami fest, Tiki Caliente and Tiki Kon news, Hot Rod Hula Hop announced

Miami Rum Festival adds VIP tasting bar, announces cruise

If sampling more than a hundred of the world’s best rums on a festive 50,000-square-foot convention floor isn’t enough, the organizers of the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival have something special just for you at this year’s event. One of the world’s largest gatherings of rum consumers, experts, and industry professionals will offer a luxury VIP Tasting Bar featuring a special selection of rare, vintage and limited edition rums you can’t find anywhere else at the festival.

Miami Rum Renaissance Festival VIP Tasting Bar

Miami Rum Festival and International Trade Expo host Robert A. Burr is opening up his extensive private collecion to special guests partaking in the tasting bar during the April 15-17 event at the DoubleTree Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. “We want to share with rum fest participants some of the most interesting and exquisite rums that we’ve collected from our travels around the world,” Burr announced. The Burr family home’s Rum Wreck Dive Bar, which is featured in the new Rum Minute online video series, is stocked with more than 2,000 different rums. Burr and his son, Rob V. Burr, will share hosting duties in the VIP Tasting Bar, passing along their knowledge and passion for the select spirits.

“In the course of publishing Rob’s Rum Guide and reporting for the National Rum Examiner, we are privileged to visit most of the great rum distilleries in the world,” Robert V. Burr said. “Along the way, we’re collecting some very special bottles that represent the incredible range of high quality rums from Barbados and Jamaica to Guatemala and Panama; from Nicaragua and Haiti to Martinique and Guadeloupe; from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico to Venezuela and Guyana – and beyond.” Rum is a family affair for the Burrs, with Robin V. Burr joining her husband and son as hosts of the festival and organizer of many of the associated events.

Fort Lauderdale's fledgling Fwaygo Rum made a splash at last year's Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, winning the Best in Class award for premium white rum. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Fort Lauderdale’s fledgling Fwaygo Rum made a splash at last year’s Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, winning the Best in Class award for premium white rum. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The tasting bar will be open all three days of the festival from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., the same hours as general admission. Two $5 sample tickets for use in the tasting bar come with a $125 three-day VIP pass to the festival. Additional tickets may be purchased at the event. A one-day pass is $75 but doesn’t include the complimentary tasting bar tickets. All Grand Tasting rum and cocktail samples are complimentary. Members of the spirits and beverage trade will receive steeply discounted tickets and will also have access to a special section of the festival featuring exclusive rums for industry and press representatives only. Advance tickets are available online now and will not be sold at the door.

All guests will have access to the full Grand Tasting floor, which includes dozens of booths from both established and up-and-coming rum brands: Cartavio, Diplomatico, Don Q, Fwaygo, Koloa, Mezan, Plantation, Pusser’s, Santeria, Siesta Key, Wicked Dolphin, Yolo, and many more. The festival also hosts the annual International Rum Expert Panel (RumXP) Tasting Competition and awards. [See past winners]
* More info: VIP Tasting Bar | Grand Tastings | Sample rums

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (Feb. 16-29, 2016): Rum and Tiki event roundup, new Tiki bars in D.C., S.F., photos and event recaps”

The Week in Tiki (Sept. 21-Oct. 4, 2015): The Hukilau passes going on sale, Hulaween is back at The Mai-Kai, Ohana flock to the sea

The Week in Tiki Get ready to book your trip to The Hukilau 2016: Tickets and rooms could be available as early as this week. The latest news also includes details on Hulaween, The Mai-Kai’s annual Halloween party. Also in South Florida, Ohana: Luau by the Sea just wrapped up its first annual gathering. Event previews include Mod-Palm Springs, Mahaloween at Trader Sam’s, and the UK RumFest. We also look back at a memorial for The Pizz, the Tonga Room’s 70th anniversary, Thee Hot Rod Luau in Huntington Beach, Dapper Day and Tiki Day at Disneyland, and Rome Rumfest. Regular features honor the artist of the week, Eekum Bookum; Northeast surf band 9th Wave; Kreepy Tiki Lounge in Fort Lauderdale; and the Cocktail Kingdom website. Cockspur Fine Rum is featured in The Mai-Kai’s Moonkist Coconut.
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Passes, special event tickets and rooms available soon for The Hukilau 2016

It’s time to gear up and make your plans for The Hukilau’s 15th anniversary event, coming June 8-12 to the historic Hyatt Regency Pier 66 hotel and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Weekend passes and several special event tickets may go on sale as early as this week, along with special room rates, organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White told The Atomic Grog.

The Hukilau 2016 artwork by Shag
The Hukilau 2016 artwork by Shag.

Keep an eye on The Hukilau’s official website and Facebook page for updates.

In August, White announced the dates and some details on the East Coast’s oldest and largest Tiki weekender, including special guest Shag. The acclaimed artist will be creating a special 15th anniversary print and designing the event mug, White said, along with hosting several signings of his books and art.

But the most anticipated Shag-related activity may be “Shag’s SkyLounge,” an exclusive cocktail party in the 17th floor rotating Pier Top Ballroom at Pier 66. Built in 1965, the space-age tower has already been depicted by Shag in promotional artwork for the 2016 event. “The Pier Top Ballroom will be transformed into a mid-century modern sky lounge,” White said. “Guests will have the opportunity to actually be a part of a live Shag painting.” Shag will also be presenting a separate symposium, his first ever at a Tiki event, White said. He plans to talk about his life and times and art, she said.

Steve Yamada (left) and Jeff
Steve Yamada (left) and Jeff “Beachbum” Berry from Latitutde 29 serve up their signature T.O.T.C. Swizzle at the Tiki Tower Takeover in June 2015. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The other signature event in the Pier Top Ballroom will be a reprise of last year’s Tiki Tower Takeover, which brought together four of the country’s top Tiki barmen for an exclusive happy hour event featuring their signature cocktails. While enjoying spectacular views of Fort Lauderdale, guests were treated to full-sized and fully garnished drinks personally mixed by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (Latitude 29), Martin Cate (Smuggler’s Cove), Paul McGee (Lost Lake), and Brian Miller (“Tiki Mondays With Miller”.

For 2016, Berry is confirmed to return, White said, and he’ll be joined by five more top Tiki cocktail bars from around the world. That expands the lineup of bars (and selection of drinks) from four to six. White said the Tiki Tower Takeover and Shag’s SkyLounge will both take place on Thursday, June 9.
* Atomic Grog recap: Photos, recipes, full report on the 2015 Tiki Tower Takeover

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (Sept. 21-Oct. 4, 2015): The Hukilau passes going on sale, Hulaween is back at The Mai-Kai, Ohana flock to the sea”

The Week in Tiki (Sept. 7-20, 2015): Ohana: Luau by the Sea and Mod Palm Springs, plus more event previews

The Week in TikiThe summer may be ending soon, but there’s no shortage of Tiki events, including Ohana: Luau by the Sea in Fort Lauderdale and Mod Palm Springs in California coming in early October. Check out previews of both, plus this month’s Tonga Room 70th anniversary in San Francisco, a Tiki cocktail history seminar in D.C., Tiki Day at Disneyland, and Thee Hot Rod Luau in Southern California. We also have recaps of the recent Fong Fest in Chicago, and Don the Beachcomber’s International Tiki Market Place. Plus news from the Chicago Area Tiki Tour and a possible Tiki bowling establishment coming to Atlanta. Regular features honor the late Florida artist Wayne Coombs; South Florida’s Cutback Surfband; the Bootlegger Tiki bar in Palm Springs; and the Ministry of Rum website. The rum of the week, Coruba Original, is featured in a vintage Planter’s Punch.
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Last chance for Ohana: Luau by the Sea tickets

Don’t miss out on the very first Ohana: Luau by the Sea, set for Oct. 1-3 in Fort Lauderdale. Online ticket sales will end at 8 p.m. Eastern time on Monday, Sept. 21, so the organizers can get an accurate head count and prepare for their Saturday night luau at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Airport hotel, headquarters of the event. There will be no same-day ticket sales.

Ohana: Luau by the Sea

Brought to you by the Fraternal Order Of Moai – the same friendly, fez-wearing folks who earlier this year presented the sister event Ohana: Luau at the Lake in upstate New York – this inaugural event is being hosted by the charity organization’s Gumbo Limbo chapter in South Florida.

Attendees can enjoy live music, DJs, seminars, contests, a rum tasting, vendors, auctions, prizes, food and the legendary dinner show at The Mai-Kai restaurant. Tickets are $85, or $135 if you pair it with a limited edition event mug by PopTiki of Colorado.

Your ticket gives you access to three days of Tiki-themed festivities:

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (Sept. 7-20, 2015): Ohana: Luau by the Sea and Mod Palm Springs, plus more event previews”

The Week in Tiki (March 30, 2015): Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto soft opening, Miami Cocktail Week schedule

The Week in TikiThis week’s big news is the opening of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. There are also updates on Miami Cocktail Week, Tales of the Cocktail tickets, and a new mug from Kevin Kidney. Plus: Montreal loses a classic Tiki venue, while Milwaukee may be gaining one. Weekly features spotlight artist Tiki Tony, Robert Burr’s Rum Guide, Japanese band Kenny Sasaki & The Tiki Boys, and San Francisco’s historic Tonga Room. The rum of the week, Smith & Cross, is featured in the Captain’s Blood cocktail.
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* Weekly features: Artist | Website | Band/music | Tiki bar | Rum | Cocktail | Events

LAST WEEK IN REVIEW (March 23-29, 2015)

Crowds flock to Trader Sam’s soft opening at Polynesian Village Resort

The Disney and Tiki universes collided on Saturday, March 28, to create the perfect storm of excitement at Disney World’s Polynesian Village Resort. Fans and devotees lined up five hours in advance and some waited for more than six for the chance to be among the first to experience Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto.

Trader Sam's Grog Grotto is filled with Tiki and Disney memorabilia, plus many special effects triggered when patrons order specific drinks
Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto is filled with Tiki and Disney memorabilia, plus many special effects triggered when patrons order specific drinks. (Disney Parks Blog photo)

The elaborate bar created by Disney’s famed Imagineers finally held its soft opening Saturday after a week of VIP and cast member previews. The announcement Friday on the Disney Parks Blog ignited the fan frenzy, with many showing up before noon for the 4 p.m. opening.

Hundreds were lined up around the resort’s Papatee Bay marina all afternoon. When they reached the front of the line, they were given pagers to alert them when there was space for them in the bar. Some reported waiting three hours to get a pager, then another three to get in the door. Once inside, many enthusiasts who have been waiting for months as news trickled out about Trader Sam’s coming to Disney World just didn’t want to leave.

The Grog Grotto seats just 50, and no extra guests are allowed, making the experience as immersive and enjoyable as possible. Another 82 can enjoy the outdoor Tiki Terrace, where the same food and drink menu is available (including all the souvenir mugs). Both stay open until midnight, with the Grog Grotto limited to ages 21 and older after 8 p.m. Also note that hours could be limited during the soft opening as the bar and restaurant are fine-tuned.

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (March 30, 2015): Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto soft opening, Miami Cocktail Week schedule”