In 64 years, The Mai-Kai has never failed to celebrate the anniversary of its Dec. 28, 1956, opening with its own distinctive flair. This year will be no exception, despite a global pandemic and an unfortunate roof collapse in October that forced the restaurant’s temporary closing.
On Monday, the owners of the historic landmark in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Oakland Park will open up their vast parking lot for Under The Mai-Kai Moon, the 2020 version of the annual Customer “Mahalo” Appreciation Party. The socially distanced event sold out less than a week after going on sale.
The event is not just a bittersweet celebration. Proceeds will benefit laid-off employees as well as keeping The Mai-Kai in business until repairs are finished. Unfortunately, it could be a long process (see below).
Since 1962, the centerpiece of any celebration at The Mai-Kai has been the Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii. Under The Mai-Kai Moon will feature three performances by the acclaimed group, which includes dancers and musicians from islands in every corner of Polynesia.
Cars will be spread out across the 150-space lot behind the restaurant with gaps in between to allow a “tailgate party” atmosphere, except it won’t be BYOB. The Mai-Kai will be selling several signature cocktails as well as beer, wine and soft drinks. One or more food trucks will be on hand to provide ample options for noshing.
The event will run from 6 to 10 p.m., and vehicles can arrive as early as 5:30. Unlike the recent Hulaween Drive-In Movie party, there’s no cutoff time on arrivals. All parking spots will allow views of the performances, and guests can spread out their folding chairs in adjoining empty spaces.
You’ll want to be there by 8 p.m., however, to catch the first of three shows by the Polynesian Islander Revue. The performances will be staged on a flatbed truck, which will be moved around to different locations to allow all cars a good view, according to The Mai-Kai’s director of public relations, Pia Dahlquist. A DJ will also be spinning tunes to keep the atmosphere lively.
Two of The Mai-Kai’s signature drinks – the Barrel O’ Rum and Mai Tai – will be sold by the quart and glass. The Vodka Barrel will also be available by the glass along with beer, wine and sodas. There will also be a complimentary champagne toast for everyone at 9.30 p.m.
Food will be provided by Iron Butt BBQ, which features authentic smoked meats and gluten-free sauces. Another gourmet food truck may join the party.
The $50 per carload charge includes a goodie bag with the event poster (see above), face masks donated by the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association and a raffle ticket that could earn the winner one of many prizes. Additional tickets can be purchased for $5 each, or five for $20 (cash only).
Drawings will be held throughout the evening for prizes including a wide assortment of rums from sponsor Appleton Estate, plus a Mai-Kai Mystery bowl, a BBQ/smoker combo, and more.
The Mai-Kai is a national treasure in the Tiki community and gained mainstream renown with its addition to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. Locals and tourists alike flock to the sprawling Polynesian paradise, which is filled with South Seas treasures collected by original owners Bob and Jack Thornton.
Bob bought out his brother in the 1970s, and his family still owns and runs the restaurant in much the same way it has always been: With a never-ending emphasis on customer service and aloha spirit that leaves many customers and employees loyal for life.
During the closure, you can continue to support The Mai-Kai by visiting its online Trading Post and new eBay store, where merchandise and treasures from the vault are posted regularly.
Fundraisers, online sales aid The Mai-Kai during closure for refurbishment
The historic restaurant is closed for refurbishment, but it’s still possible to support the staff and management via the Online Trading Post and a new eBay site.
The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue
Photos by Jim Neumayer, taken during The Hukilau in June 2019
Of all the traditions that are most closely associated with (and distinctive to) The Mai-Kai, the Polynesian Islander Revue is easily at the top. It’s been running non-stop since the early 1960s under the watchful eye of owner Mireille Thornton, an original member who also serves as show choreographer and costume designer. It’s the backbone of The Mai-Kai experience and not to be missed.
In honor of The Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show’s 64th anniversary we salute owner Mireille Thornton for keeping the flame alive all these years. As the wife Bob Thornton, who opened the restaurant in 1956 with his brother Jack, she has been the creative force behind the Polynesian Islander Revue since the early ’60s.
The Mai-Kai through the years
Historic photos from the South Florida Sun Sentinel* Click here for the gallery
Extent of flooding damage, closing detailed
New information on the extensive flooding and the damage that caused The Mai-Kai to close in October was revealed in an article posted Dec. 23 by the South Florida Sun Sentinel. The story quoted manager Kern Mattei as saying it will take three to six months “once everything gets started,” but delays in getting permits have kept work from beginning.
A huge hole opened in the roof over the kitchen on Oct. 25 when a sprinkler pipe broke, compounded by a weekend deluge of rain, Mattei told the Sun Sentinel. Damage was contained to the kitchen, but it appears to be extensive. Equipment such as grills and ovens were destroyed, but the the worst damage came when the roof cave-in bent steel support beams, the story says.
“It was this perfect storm of bad luck and too much flooding,” Mattei said. “I knew right away we couldn’t open. The only silver lining was it happened when we were closed and no one was hurt.” The kitchen, which abuts the historic dining rooms, will need to be torn down and replaced.
Luckily, there was no damage in the front of house – including the showroom and other dining rooms, The Molokai bar and the Tiki gardens. None of those areas will need repairs, The Mai-Kai’s director of public relations, Pia Dahlquist, told the Sun Sentinel.
While the restaurant remains closed, most of the 150 employees are out of work. Managers and a small staff are working from home, Dahlquist said.
Unfortunately, flood insurance will not cover the full cost of repairs, Mattei said, adding that the owners are looking into alternative ideas with their lawyers.
Past coverage: Behind the magic
A backstage tour of The Mai-Kai’s mysterious bars and kitchen
The Mai-Kai celebrates Hulaween 2020 with drive-in movie party after closing for renovations
The historic Polynesian restaurant transported revelers to a socially-distanced celebration like no other, including an appearance by Appleton Rum’s Joy Spence. FULL EVENT RECAP
Following the success of the sold-out Hulaween Drive-In Movie on Oct. 30 and Under The Mai-Kai Moon, we hope to see similar events as the restaurant deals with the logistics of the renovations. A small taste of The Mai-Kai is better than none at all.
The Mai-Kai official sites and social media
* MaiKai.com | MaiKaiTradingPost.com
* Twitter | Facebook: Official page | Friends of The Mai-Kai group
* Instagram: Restaurant | The Molokai bar | Trading Post
Recent coverage of The Mai-Kai
* The Mai-Kai re-releases signature rum, plus new glassware and spirits menu
* Cocktail quarts join gallons as The Mai-Kai expands takeout menu
Okole Maluna Society: The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide
Hurricane Hayward reviews and rates the historic restaurant’s current and past tropical drinks, plus reveals a treasure trove of ancestor and exclusive tribute recipes.
More on The Atomic Grog
UPDATES: The Tiki Times: Exclusive 2020 events guide
The Tiki Times calendar features live online meet-ups, interviews and happy hours, plus benefits helping those in need.
UPDATES: Support Tiki bars now by visiting their online stores, contributing to fundraisers
We need to do our part to assist those in need: Buy merchandise, donate to crowd-sourced fundraisers.