Modern Caribbean Rum

The Mai-Kai hosts ‘Classic Dining’ author Dec. 13 with special event, extended happy hour

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

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

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Minimalist Tiki

30 great ways to celebrate 30 years of Epcot magic

“The most exciting, by far the most important part of our Florida project – in fact, the heart of everything we’ll be doing in Disney World — will be our experimental prototype city of tomorrow. We call it EPCOT.” – Walt Disney, Oct. 27, 1966

Hurricane Hayward discovers a familiar symbol at Innoventions in Epcot.
Hurricane Hayward discovers a familiar symbol at Innoventions in Epcot. (Atomic Grog photo, May 2011)

The second-oldest of Disney World’s four theme parks opened to the public on Oct. 1, 1982. The massive project, originally called EPCOT Center, took three years and $1.2 billion to build. And while it didn’t fulfill Walt Disney’s grand vision of a utopian city, Epcot was something nobody had ever seen before, and it remains one of the world’s most distinctive tourist destinations. Its mixture of attractions and shows with culture and dining – all with a heavy emphasis on education — is unique and most likely something Walt would be proud of.

With more than 10 million visitors a year, Epcot is the third most popular theme park in the United States, trailing only Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Disneyland in California. In honor of Epcot’s 30th anniversary, here are 30 of The Atomic Grog’s favorite ways to enjoy this eclectic combination of futuristic playground and food and beverage smorgasbord.

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Sweetwater Bar & Grill: A shining beacon of light in South Florida’s food and drink wasteland

Update: Sweetwater introduces new cocktails, voluminous spirits menu

Unbeknownst to most of South Florida, a craft cocktail revolution has swept the country over the past decade, elevating mixology to heights not seen since the heady days following the repeal of Prohibition. With rare exceptions, our tourism-driven marketplace has no room for this kind of creativity.

From left: The freshly made Bacon Old Fashion, Skinny Dip and Airdrop cocktails. To the right is a 22-ounce Yeti Imperial Stout. Sweetwater offers something for all tastes.
From left: The freshly made Bacon Old Fashion, Skinny Dip and Airdrop cocktails. To the right is a 22-ounce Yeti Imperial Stout. Sweetwater offers something for all tastes.

But since opening in April 2011, Sweetwater Bar & Grill has with little fanfare become the area’s preeminent hidden gem for inventive adult beverages, plus gastropub-style food that’s just as decadent and delicious. The cocktails are indeed outstanding, but Sweetwater’s true triumph may be this perfectly timed head-on collision of the craft food and drink movements.

In 2012, being under-the-radar doesn’t necessarily mean a dingy back-alley location in the wrong part of town. Sweetwater is located in plain sight on South Federal Highway in Boynton Beach, but it might as well be a secret unmarked speakeasy. While foodies flocked to Delray Beach’s Atlantic Avenue and West Palm Beach’s Clematis Street, locals in south-central Palm Beach County probably thought they had Sweetwater to themselves.

But despite no advertising and little traditional media attention, word has slowly but surely circulated about the unique dining and imbibing experience awaiting at Sweetwater. We joined the chorus, raving after our initial visits in June and July. But teasing you with just a taste is quite unfair. To truly enjoy this establishment, you have to go for the gusto and sample items from across the menu, as we had the pleasure of doing on multiple occasions this summer.

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Take 5: Rodney Mayo, guiding light of South Florida’s indie entertainment scene

To say the South Florida nightclub and restaurant scene would be a much more bland and boring place without Rodney Mayo would be a great understatement. From humble beginnings in 1987 at his Respectable Street Cafe in downtown West Palm Beach to today’s empire of 13 hip bars and eateries with more in the works, Mayo has been at the forefront of South Florida’s growth of independent, wildly creative nightspots.

Respectable Street 25th anniversary party

He’ll be celebrating his 25th year in business on Aug. 25 when Respectable Street hosts its annual block party on Clematis Street. The event will feature four stages and 25 bands, including punk legends The Misfits. The entire event is free and also will feature an open bar from 8 to 9 p.m. at participating clubs. We’ll have more updates as the event approaches, or check Respectable Street’s Facebook page.

We caught up with the reclusive Mayo recently at his latest project, the Hullabaloo gastropub, set to open this summer across from Respectable Street in the old Lounge space. Adjourning next door to his surf-themed Longboards restaurant, we posed these five questions:

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Old and new favorites take home South Florida “Best of” awards

Last week’s special “Best of 2012” issue of Broward / Palm Beach New Times recognized many of the area’s coolest places to eat, drink and hang out after dark. Among the winners are several Atomic Grog favorites worth noting:

Kapow! Noodle Bar in Boca Raton
Kapow! Noodle Bar in Boca Raton. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2011)

“Best New Restaurant” and “Best Happy Hour” in Palm Beach County both went to Kapow! Noodle Bar in Boca Raton, which we reviewed in depth back in December. We loved the craft cocktails and small bites on the inventive menu and have been eager to return ever since. The latest recognition just gives us more reason to move it up on our bucket list.

New Times says the restaurant’s Mizner Park location “is flourishing, thanks in no small part to the challenging but accessible dishes streaming out of the kitchen during a slamming dinner hour and an aesthetic that is simultaneously trendy and unpretentious.” In Kapow’s second award, the alternative weekly praised the menu’s $3 bar bites menu: “These are treats — steamed buns, shishitou peppers, roasted cauliflower — that are well worth full price, drunk or sober. Add to that the cool tunes, hip décor, and energetic crowd and you’ve got a solution to the mystery of how to build a happy hour that doesn’t compromise standards.”

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‘Mai-Kai Mixer’ shakes up South Florida with rockin’ retro cocktail party

Updated June 16, 2012
See below: See exclusive photos from the bash

Related: Cocktail flights soar at Mai-Kai Mixer, reveal revolutionary use of rums
Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide | Rums of The Mai-Kai

The Mai-Kai’s Molokai bar was jumping on Saturday night, June 9, as an eclectic mix of cocktailians, Tiki enthusiasts, retro hipsters, and surf music fans gathered for The Atomic Grog’s first Mai-Kai Mixer.

Atomic Grog Mai-Kai Mixer

Doors opened at 4:30 for Saturday’s early happy hour, and dozens of Mai-Kai faithful queued up early for exclusive flights of the Fort Lauderdale Polynesian palace’s legendary cocktails. DJ Mike “Jetsetter” Jones got the festivities in high gear with his wide-ranging playlist of retro party music, and up-and-coming surf band Skinny Jimmy & The Stingrays nearly blew the doors off the place. The party went full-throttle until the midnight hour.

The event was held to celebrate the The Atomic Grog’s 52 weeks of Mai-Kai cocktail reviews and the recent reintroduction of a classic rum to the 55-year-old restaurant’s acclaimed drink menu.

The rum cocktail flights sold out quickly as more than 30 signed up to taste sample versions of three vintage drinks featuring Lemon Hart Demerara rum. Several hundred filtered through the bar throughout the evening for happy hour – which ran until 7 p.m. – and two high-octane sets from Deerfield Beach’s Skinny Jimmy & The Stingrays.

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New downtown West Palm Beach gastropub to feature small bites, craft cocktails

UPDATES
* Hullabaloo brings inventive craft cocktails to Clematis Street
* Hullabaloo to raise a ruckus in downtown West Palm with gastropub food, craft beverages

A new dining and drinking option will soon be emerging on Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach, featuring both delicious, gourmet small plates and high-quality adult beverages.

Next to Longboards (left), the space formerly occupied by The Lounge will soon become Hullabaloo
Next to Longboards (left), the space formerly occupied by The Lounge will soon become Hullabaloo. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Hullabaloo promises “wood-fired grub,” a charcuterie, craft cocktails, and artesian beer. The “coming soon” sign at 517 Clematis beckons you to “drink, eat, raise some ruckus.” When it opens this summer, it will take over the small space adjoining Longboards, formerly occupied by The Lounge.

And there are other exciting plans for the 500 block of Clematis, as we found out last night after touring the future Hullabaloo and talking to owner Rodney Mayo. He and partner Scott Frielich have assembled an impressive portfolio of cutting-edge dining spots (Longboards, Kapow! Noodle Bar, Dada, Tryst, The Dubliner, Howley’s), and Hullabaloo looks to be yet another distinctly original concept. (Mayo’s brother, Michael, will also be on board as a part-owner and manager.)

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The Mai-Kai is going mobile: We definitely need an app for that

Updated Jan. 9, 2013
NEW: Tap into The Mai-Kai anywhere with the new smartphone app

The Mai-Kai drink app by Go11 Media

UPDATE: April 26, 2012

As not-so-subtly hinted at below, a special announcement was made on Saturday, April 21, at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau main event that indeed a new drink app has been developed by Go11 Media and will be introduced soon.

The Hukilau event program also included information for attendees to sign up to be beta testers of the app when it’s released. The Atomic Grog signed up, and we’ll pass along info and reviews once we’re able to get a look at it.

According to Go11, iPhones, iPads and iPods will begin testing soon. There are also instructions for Andriod users on the Go11 site. Apple allows only 100 users as testers, so there may or may not be any spots left. If you’re interested, you can find further instructions here.

The app will allow users to track and rate The Mai-Kai cocktails, suggest them to friends and much more. It promises to be the perfect accompaniment to The Atomic Grog’s Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide.

Check back for updates soon.

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Behind the magic: A backstage tour of The Mai-Kai’s mysterious bars and kitchen

Updated May 2018

Related news, features
* The Mai-Kai is here to stay: 10 reasons why we love the historic restaurant
* New giant carved Tiki added to The Mai-Kai’s outdoor garden
* ‘King Kai’ leads procession of new Tikis into The Mai-Kai
* Google Maps: Explore The Mai-Kai in 3-D

NEW: The Mai-Kai online store
You can now order signature mugs and other merchandise online via the Trading Post’s new e-commerce app.
* Click here to order

Backstage tour posted on Dec. 28, 2011

After outliving the original mid-century Polynesian restaurant fad by more than 30 years, you would think that Fort Lauderdale’s legendary Mai-Kai would be ready for early retirement after turning 55 today. You would be dead wrong.

The Mai-Kai

Photo tour: Jump to the gallery below

The grand old dame of Tiki is riding high as the torch-bearing icon of a new generation of Tiki-loving hipsters and cocktail lovers. Reinvigorated by this new wave of Tiki mania, a growing respect and interest in retro culture, continued support by regulars and tourists, plus a million-dollar refurbishment in 2009, The Mai-Kai is still pretty spry.

It may not be the same as the late 1950s, when The Mai-Kai was the largest independent user of rum in the United States (2,000 cases were poured in 1958), but with rum and cocktails in the midst of a renaissance there’s a growing buzz emanating from 3599 N. Federal Highway.

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The Mai-Kai thanks its customers for 55 years with party on Wednesday, Dec. 28

Behind the magic: A backstage tour of The Mai-Kai’s mysterious bars and kitchen NEW
Related sites: Facebook event | MaiKai.com | Flickr group
Recent posts: Take 5: Mai-Kai General Manager Kern Mattei | Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide

The venerable Mai-Kai Polynesian restaurant in Fort Lauderdale will give back to its local clientele next Wednesday with a special party featuring extended happy hour prices and complimentary buffet.

Mai-Kai anniversary party

In addition, DJ Mike “The Jetsetter” Jones will be playing some of eclectic “retro-active” tunes plus old Mai-Kai favorites. The bash starts at 5 p.m. in The Molokai bar and half-price food and drink prices last until 9, maybe later.

Drop by to see old friends, make new ones, and marvel at the perfectly preserved mid-century Tiki temple. Management will also bring out the old scrapbooks for those who enjoy Mai-Kai memorabilia and want to take a trip back in time.

According to Critiki.com: “The Mai-Kai is perhaps the last of the grand Polynesian palaces still operating from when Tiki was at its peak in the late ’50s and early ’60s. That The Mai-Kai not only still exists today, but is vibrant and thriving, is something we should all be very grateful for – but not take for granted.”

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