Minimalist Tiki

The Mai-Kai celebrates its 56th birthday, rings in 2013 with special events

On Dec. 28, 1956, the venerable Mai-Kai restaurant opened its doors on a desolate stretch of Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale. In the ensuing half-century, the rest of the world has changed radically but you can still be guaranteed a totally immersive South Seas experience in this one-of-a-kind slice of Polynesian paradise.

Ty (left) and Andrew with fellow Mai-Kai Islander Hokulani
Ty (left) and Andrew with fellow Mai-Kai Islander Hokulani at a recent catered event. The duo will be performing at the 56th anniversary party on Dec. 28. (Photo courtesy of The Mai-Kai)

This mid-century marvel will celebrate its 56th anniversary next Friday (Dec. 28) with its annual Customer Celebration Party in The Molokai bar starting at 5 p.m. Live music will be provided all night by Ty and Andrew, The Mai-Kai’s house band, playing a mix of island and holiday music on ukuleles, bongos and guitar.

There will also be an extended happy hour all night in The Molokai. After 7 p.m., just tell your waitress that you’re there for the celebration party in order to receive half-priced drinks and appetizers. This includes most of The Mai-Kai’s legendary tropical cocktails, many of which date back to the early days of Tiki mixology in the 1930s. Taste history in a glass all night while you munch on decadent small bites such as Shanghai Chicken and Crab Rangoon. Click here to see the menu.
* Click here for the Facebook event

Also make sure to get your ticket to be entered in a raffle that will feature hourly drawings from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Among the prizes is a signed copy of Classic Dining: Discovering America’s Finest Mid-Century Restaurants by Peter Moruzzi. This newly-released coffee-table book features classic cover artwork of The Mai-Kai by Al Kocab, who did many designs for the restaurant in its early years.

Modern Caribbean Rum
A December 1962 ad for The Mai-Kai's Molokai bar designed by artist Al Kocab
A December 1962 ad for The Mai-Kai’s Molokai bar designed by artist Al Kocab.

The book, a photo tour of great vintage restaurants across the country, also features 18 pages dedicated to The Mai-Kai, including archival photos and artwork plus new images and text by Sven A. Kirsten, author of The Book of Tiki and Tiki Modern. You can also pick up a copy of the book in The Mai-Kai gift shop along with a vast assortment of Tiki collectibles and Mai-Kai paraphernalia.

Moruzzi presented a slideshow of images and talked about his favorite classic restaurants at a book-signing at The Mai-Kai on Dec. 13. The restaurant’s Tahiti and Samoa rooms were packed with fans, including the mayor of Oakland Park. The book sums up The Mai-Kai’s legacy and enduring appeal:

    The Mai-Kai survived the abolition of Tiki in the 1970s and ’80s in a bubble of its own splendor. While generational wars waged outside and tastes changed, The Mai-Kai denizens lived on their own island without a care in the world. … As The Mai-Kai has carried the genre of the American theme restaurant to its highest level, its existence will undoubtedly continue to delight generations to come.

Guests at the Dec. 28 party will also have the opportunity to take a trip back through the years via The Mai-Kai’s vast archive of scrapbooks that will be on display.

Ring in 2013 Polynesian style

Mireille Thornton in the early 1960s
Mireille Thornton in the early 1960s. (Photo courtesy of The Mai-Kai)

Three days later, on Dec. 31, guests can turn from celebrating the past to embracing the future at The Mai-Kai’s annual New Years Eve festivities.

There will be two special dinner shows (at 7:30 p.m. and 11:15 p.m.) featuring The Mai-Kai’s legendary Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest running (since 1961) authentic South Seas restaurant stage show in the continental United States. It is still choreographed by Mireille Thornton, a former dancer and widow of late Mai-Kai co-founder Robert Thornton.

Dinner is served prior to the show. The cost is $21 per person for the early show and $40 for the late show (minimum party of four), which also includes the New Year’s Eve countdown and special celebration with The Mai-Kai staff. These shows have been known to sell out, so reservations are strongly suggested. Call The Mai-Kai at (954) 563-3272, ext. 1.

The Molokai today is not much different than it was a half-century ago. Pictured: The Molokai girls with the Mutiny and the Mai-Kai Swizzle
The Molokai today is not much different than it was a half-century ago. Pictured: The Molokai girls with the Mutiny and the Mai-Kai Swizzle. (Photo courtesy of The Mai-Kai)

Seating is also available without the show in The Mai-Kai’s more secluded Samoa and Tahiti dining rooms, or outside on the Lanai overlooking the lush outdoor gardens. Click here for the dinner menu and more information.

In addition, The Molokai bar will be open from 5 p.m. until well into 2013, with its usual happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m. and no cover charge all night. If you’re on a budget and are looking for a quieter alternative to the usual New Year’s Eve rabble-rousing, the bar is great option and tends to be relatively uncrowded. It does get festive at midnight, when The Mai-Kai passes out hats, horns and party favors. But as usual, it’s done with class and style, The Mai-Kai way.

The Mai-Kai is easy to find at 3599 N. Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale, on the west side between Commercial and Oakland Park boulevards. Valet and paid self-parking. For more information, call (954) 563-3272.

The Mai-Kai
Official site | Facebook page | Flickr group

More on The Atomic Grog
* Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide | Tropical drink family tree
* Heeeeeeere’s the rich history and lost stories of The Mai-Kai
* Tour of The Mai-Kai’s mysterious bars and kitchen (with photos)
* Interview with General Manager Kern Mattei
* More on Mai-Kai history

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