Classic dining establishments that date back to the middle of the 20th century and are still thriving today are a rare find. South Florida is lucky to have one of the most grand and well-preserved in our midst: The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, est. 1956. A new book, which features the Polynesian palace on its cover, takes an in-depth look at these survivors of another era with vintage and new photos, inside information and authoritative stories.
Classic Dining: Discovering America’s Finest Mid-Century Restaurants by author and historian Peter Moruzzi is a lavishly illustrated hardcover book published on Nov. 1 by Gibbs Smith. It features many photos and additional stories from Sven A. Kirsten, author of The Book of Tiki and Tiki Modern.
Mouruzzi will be at The Mai-Kai on Thursday, Dec. 13, for a special event featuring an illustrated talk about his new book. The event, presented by Tropic magazine, will be held in The Mai-Kai’s elaborately themed Tahiti dining room from 7 to 9 p.m. and will include an extended happy hour with half-priced drinks and appetizers.
* Click here or on the book cover for the Facebook event
Journey back in time with Moruzzi, author of several books on mid-century history, as he narrates a slide show, talks about the book and signs copies. To attend, you must RSVP since seating is limited. E-mail [email protected] to confirm your seat.
The cover of Classic Dining is a vintage illustration by Al Kocab, who did much artwork for The Mai-Kai in its formative years, such as this recently uncovered 1961 ad for The Molokai bar. Inside, 18 pages are dedicated to the historic restaurant, featuring new photos and text by Kirsten along with classic images and artwork. Kirsten’s additional 10-page essay on Tiki style features more new and rare photos along with his expert historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt:
We must praise Tiki, the American god of recreation, for granting the Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale such a long and prosperous existence. Built in 1956 and greatly expanded in the ’60s and ’70s, it is without a doubt the best surviving example of Tiki style in America. This last Tiki reservation in Florida’s generic urban sprawl harbors all the traditions and secrets of mid-century Polynesian pop. Not only are the decor and interior design still original, but the great Tiki supper club practices of flaming food, expert mixology, ritual drink presentations and live Polynesian floor shows can still be witnessed in their historic environs.
With the exception of a chapter on New Orleans dining by author Nathan Marsak, the rest of the book is researched and written by Moruzzi, whose previous works include Havana Before Castro: When Cuba Was a Tropical Playground, and Palm Springs Holiday: A Vintage Tour from Palm Springs to the Salton Sea, both published by Gibbs Smith. He takes us on a detailed tour of some of the most famous fine dining establishments, historic steakhouses, and lounge restaurants of the past half-century. It has received positive reviews from The New York Times, Los Angeles Magazine and LA Weekly.
The book also includes a comprehensive directory of more than 200 classic restaurants that can still be found in all 50 states. Besides The Mai-Kai, the other Florida restaurants on the list are Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami Beach, Fox’s Sherron Inn in South Miami, Bern’s Steak House in Tampa, and Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City.
A cultural historian, Moruzzi is most passionate about the mid-twentieth century, including its nightlife, dining, and architecture. He founded an architectural preservation group in his current hometown of Palm Springs, Calif. The author was born in Massachusetts, raised in Hawaii, and is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley.
The Mai-Kai will have copies of the book for sale at the event. They’re also available at bookstores and via Amazon.com.