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Exclusive: The Mai-Kai reveals new images, plans for restoration at Orlando event, continues $15M project (April 2024 update)

The Mai-Kai reveals new images, plans for restoration at Orlando event, continues $15M project (April 2024 update)

Key members of The Mai-Kai team traveled to Orlando in early April to share updates and plans for the $15 million restoration project that is entering its final stages in South Florida. The beloved restaurant has been closed since late 2020, but new interest in its history and rejuvenation has never been higher.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
Tiki-a-Go-Go: Panel discussion overview | New kitchen, bar details | Artists showcase their work | Landscape architect’s plans | Pop-up cocktails
Latest news: April refurbishment updates

Hurricane Hayward kicks off the panel discussion on The Mai-Kai on the first day of the inaugural Tiki-a-Go-Go at the Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando on April 5. (Atomic Grog photo)
Hurricane Hayward kicks off the panel discussion on The Mai-Kai on the first day of the inaugural Tiki-a-Go-Go at the Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando on April 5. (Atomic Grog photo)

An audience of several hundred attended the panel discussion Return to Paradise: The Mai-Kai Rises Again, moderated by The Atomic Grog at the first annual Tiki-a-Go-Go. It was an honor to interview and get insights from manager Kern Mattei, creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller, artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly, public relations director Pia Dahlquist, author Tim “Swanky” Glazner, The Hukilau organizer Richard Oneslager, plus Jesse Muller from landscape architecture firm Perry-Becker Design.

The sold-out event at the at the Caribe Royale Resort ran from April 5-7 and also included a pop-up bar featuring Mai-Kai cocktails, served by Mattei and his son Cheyne. [See photos below] The veteran manager also joined us for the presentation Mai-Kai Cocktails: Tiki History in a Glass. Mahalo to everyone who attended the packed symposium.

The Mai-Kai's iconic sign, as seen from Federal Highway in Oakland Park. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, April 2024)
The Mai-Kai’s iconic sign, as seen from Federal Highway in Oakland Park. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, April 2024)

Following is a full recap of the panel discussion, including exclusive new images from the presentation. At the end of the month, we caught up with Mattei and Allsmiller for an update on all the work going on at The Mai-Kai, also detailed below.

The next major Mai-Kai event is planned for June, when The Hukilau will offer attendees holding Aloha and South Seas passes exclusive tours of the restored interior and a sneak peek at what’s still to come. The 22nd Tiki weekender is scheduled for June 6-9 at the Beachcomber Resort on Pompano Beach. Click here for our exclusive preview and click here to buy tickets.

Recent coverage
* Mai-Kai kitchen and bar take shape as team heads to Tiki-a-Go-Go (March 2024)
* Exterior reimagination up next as $15 million Mai-Kai project plows ahead (February 2024)
Story archive: Full coverage of The Mai-Kai refurbishment

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Tiki-a-Go-Go welcomes The Mai-Kai for presentations, cocktails

It was fitting that the first presentation at the first Tiki-a-Go-Go was focused on Florida’s beloved Polynesian palace, established in 1956. This new Tiki weekender puts a heavy focus on vintage Tiki and Florida attractions in its programming. Click here for a photo recap of the event, which featured two days of live music and entertainment, vendors, guest Tiki bars, and more.

Return to Paradise: The Mai-Kai Rises Again at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando, April 5, 2024

Return to Paradise: The Mai-Kai Rises Again kicked off the event on Friday, April 5 at 11 a.m. in the Caribe Royale Resort’s massive Caribbean Ballroom. The enthusiastic attendees applauded throughout the presentation as the panel of experts talked about the history and future of the historic restaurant.

The first to speak was Glazner, author of Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant and the upcoming Searching for Don the Beachcomber. He admitted that he was “very skeptical” of a possible restoration after hearing about the scope of the damage caused by a roof collapse over the kitchen in October 2020.

Continue reading “Exclusive: The Mai-Kai reveals new images, plans for restoration at Orlando event, continues $15M project (April 2024 update)”

Minimalist Tiki

BREAKING NEWS: Don the Beachcomber announces new bar concept, three upcoming locations in Florida

BREAKING NEWS: Don the Beachcomber announces new bar concept, three upcoming locations in Florida

Riding a wave of success following the February opening of the first of many new Don the Beachcomber restaurants, the team behind the ambitious brand re-launch took the stage at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando earlier this month to offer a sneak preview of new locations planned for Florida.

The presentation before hundreds of faithful fans gathered in an expansive ballroom at the Caribe Royale Resort did not disappoint, revealing new details about the flagship restaurant that will be built just a stone’s throw from Walt Disney World. Parent company 23 Restaurant Services also broke the news of a new “brand within a brand” dubbed the Gantt Reserve Collection from Don the Beachcomber.

The new Don the Beachcomber bar concept was unveiled at Tiki-a-Go-Go in April 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The new Don the Beachcomber bar concept was unveiled at Tiki-a-Go-Go in April 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Jump to more below:
* Full coverage of Tiki-a-Go-Go presentation
NEW: Renderings, plans for Orlando restaurant revealed
* Gantt Reserve Collection bars introduced
NEW: Upcoming South Florida location uncovered
* The Donn of Tiki makes a splash at Florida Film Festival
* Donn Beach biography expected next spring

This smaller, more bar-centric concept will be rolled out much faster than the 300-seat restaurant in Madeira Beach or the even larger one planned for the Orlando area. If the build-out goes according to plan, guests will be enjoying elevated Don the Beachcomber cocktails at Gantt Reserve Collection bars in Tampa this summer, then Plantation in southeast Florida in the fall.

We also learned that the Don the Beachcomber in Hamlin (opening in summer 2025) will feature not only views of the nightly fireworks at the Magic Kingdom, but also another Gantt Reserve Collection bar tucked inside, speakeasy style. Our full recap below will include details on these projects, new custom mugs, plus more information gathered after Tiki-a-Go-Go.

Justin Peterson (right) introduces the participants in the 'Don the Beachcomber Returns!" panel at Tiki-a-Go-Go in April 2024. From left: John Mulder, Sven Kirsten, Marc Brown, Marie King, and Tim Glazner. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Justin Peterson (right) introduces the participants in the ‘Don the Beachcomber Returns!” panel at Tiki-a-Go-Go in April 2024. From left: John Mulder, Sven Kirsten, Marc Brown, Marie King, and Tim Glazner. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Don the Beachcomber presentation caps first annual Tiki event in Orlando

The juxtaposition was intentional. The inaugural Tiki-a-Go-Go kicked off April 5 with a panel discussion on the restoration and reopening of The Mai-Kai, Florida’s historic Tiki temple that will soon return from a nearly four-year slumber. The daily programming wrapped up 30 hours later with a presentation on another legendary brand that recently re-launched in the Sunshine State with bold expansion plans.

The April 6 panel Don the Beachcomber Returns! was hosted by 23 Restaurant Services creative director Justin Peterson and featured company President Marc Brown, beverage director Marie King, author Tim “Swanky” Glazner, historian Sven Kirsten, and Eekum Bookum mug master John Mulder.

Before unveiling the news on planned openings, the group discussed the flawless debut of the first new restaurant and bar based on the legacy of Donn Beach, who kick-started the Tiki bar craze in 1932 with his groundbreaking speakeasy in Hollywood, Calif. His influence is still felt today with a new wave of tropical cocktail bars around the world paying him respect, inspiring a new film and upcoming book.

Bartenders set up for the grand opening of the Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach on Feb. 23, 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Bartenders set up for the grand opening of the Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach on Feb. 23, 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

After acquiring the rights to the Don the Beachcomber name, Tampa-based 23 Restaurant Services opened the first location in Madeira Beach on Feb. 23. The company’s other brands include Ford’s Garage, Yeoman’s Top Golf Swing Suite, and Tiki Docks.
Review & photos: Don the Beachcomber grand opening in Florida is a smashing success

Peterson praised King and Jennifer Paci, director of new restaurant openings, for the smooth debut. “The food and drinks are just immaculate,” he said. He also gave a shout-out to the the artists who built the interior, notably Daniel “Tiki Diablo” Gallardo, Patrick Vassar, Tom Fowner, and Dave “Basement Kahuna” Wolfe.

King said she designed the cocktail menu based on historic Don the Beachcomber recipes, adding her own spin where appropriate: “I had the daunting privilege of re-creating a Don the Beachcomber menu with the mindset of ‘What would Donn do today?’ ” King is a veteran manager and bartender with decades of experience in the California scene, including a stint at the last Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach as well as 11 years at the venerable Tonga Hut in Los Angeles and Palm Springs.

The challenge in Florida, she explained, is introducing a beach/tourist crowd to a style of cocktails they may not be familiar with. So she tries to ease them in with lighter offerings, such as a Frosé featuring rum and rosé. “Donn didn’t have tequila drinks on his menu, but I think that today he would have reinvented his philosophy and brought in some tequila drinks,” King said. “So we do that as well.”

Marie King talks about her experience as beverage director for the new Don the Beachcomber restaurants during Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando on April 6. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Marie King talks about her experience as beverage director for the new Don the Beachcomber restaurants during Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando on April 6. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Another hurdle that took King out of her comfort zone was training the large, mostly inexperienced, staff on the nuances of Don the Beachcomber and Tiki culture. “We taught them who Donn was, who Sunny (Sund) was, what the business was, Hawaii, L.A., Chicago, the Mob, everything,” King said.

The training included everyone “from dishwasher to host,” utilizing the systems that Paci and 23 Restaurant Services employ to ensure a well-versed staff. “Everyone you come into contact with has a little bit of knowledge about what the legacy means,” King said. “You as the guests should feel like you’ve just walked into a Don the Beachcomber under their tutelage.”

But King’s most intense training was saved for her young bartenders, who she lovingly calls her “kittens.” She said she spent three days of boot camp “before any other soul walked in the building” with just the bartenders. “We did drills, we did mock service.” The end result speaks for itself, as many have corroborated.

Sven Kirsten speaks during the Don the Beachcomber presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go about his experience at the new Madeira Beach location. Seated on the panel are Marc Brown (left), Marie King, and Tim Glazner. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / April 6, 2024)
Sven Kirsten speaks during the Don the Beachcomber presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go about his experience at the new Madeira Beach location. Seated on the panel are Marc Brown (left), Marie King, and Tim Glazner. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / April 6, 2024)

“I was blown away,” said Kirsten, who visited the Madeira Beach restaurant for the first time just three days earlier. “It’s in a very nondescript building, and in that way it really fulfills the purpose of being an escape. You step from a mundane world into this incredible escapist space.” Kirsten literally wrote the book on this topic. His influential contributions to the culture include The Book of Tiki and Tiki Pop.

Kirsten was also impressed with the packed house and the eclectic crowd, which he said was comprised of many families with “little tykes having a great time.” He added with a laugh: “It wasn’t just you Tiki nerds.”

“That’s what Tiki needs,” he continued. “It needs everybody to get into the act. It was wonderful to see that in Madeira Beach.”

Mulder added to that topic, talking about a recent visit with his granddaughter. She loved the non-alcoholic drinks and the desserts, while he was also enamored by the environment. “The decor is perfect,” said the creator of the signature Legend Returns mug. “It’s really immersive. You really feel like you’re in a Tiki bar. I was really, really impressed.”

An image shared at Tiki-a-Go-Go in April 2024 shows new Rum Barrel mugs from Don the Beachcomber and Tiki Farm. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
An image shared at Tiki-a-Go-Go in April 2024 shows new Rum Barrel mugs from Don the Beachcomber and Tiki Farm. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Peterson took the opportunity to reveal some new mug designs expected to roll out in Madeira Beach and elsewhere in the coming months. You can also expect to find them in the online store, Shop.DonBeachcomber.com.

By popular demand, the first to arrive will be a classic Rum Barrel mug, currently in production by Tiki Farm. Peterson said they hope to have them in hand by July, just in time for Tiki Oasis.

The creative director also showed off his first Don the Beachcomber mug design, based on his new signature logo of Donn Beach’s profile. He said he wanted it to be different than the other mugs created over the years inspired by Beach’s likeness.

Attendees at the 'Don the Beachcomber Returns!' presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go on April 6 got a peek at Justin Peterson's concept art for a new mug, along with the sculpt by Tiki Farm. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
Attendees at the ‘Don the Beachcomber Returns!’ presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go on April 6 got a peek at Justin Peterson’s concept art for a new mug, along with the sculpt by Tiki Farm. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

The audience saw slides featuring Peterson’s conceptual artwork as well as photos of the sculpt created by Tiki Farm. The final glaze will have a matte finish that looks like wood, he said. The lei and flower will be pink and yellow, respectively, and the logo will be white.

Peterson called it “a dream come true to have a mug with my name slapped on the bottom of it,” adding that he’s hoping for a late summer release.

Also touted were several mug collaborations with noted Tiki artists. Big Toe is designing a bowl that Peterson said is as intricate as Mulder’s Legend Returns mug. Mitchell Spain Ceramics, which has perfected a method of creating what looks like rust on ceramics, is making “vintage style tumblers” that may be ready in time for The Hukilau in June. Also in the pipeline is a mug from Taboo Relics, due later this year or early next year.

Renderings, plans for Orlando restaurant revealed

The highlight of the Don the Beachcomber Returns! presentation April 6 at Tiki-a-Go-Go was the discussion and details on the new locations expected to open over the next several years. The excitement level was high, not just because of the historic nature of the news. Many attendees live not far from ground zero of the expansion in Florida.

An updated rendering of the new Don the Beachcomber restaurant planned for the Orlando area, revealed April 6 during a presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
An updated rendering of the new Don the Beachcomber restaurant planned for the Orlando area, revealed April 6 during a presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

First on the agenda was the previously announced build-out planned for Hamlin Town Center, just north of Disney World, which has moved up on the schedule slightly to summer 2025. “We plan to break ground relatively soon,” said Peterson, the creative director. “When that opens, it will be the crown jewel in our collection.”

Continue reading “BREAKING NEWS: Don the Beachcomber announces new bar concept, three upcoming locations in Florida”

Event preview: Tiki-a-Go-Go looks to the past for a fresh take on the modern weekender

Event preview: Tiki-a-Go-Go looks to the past for a fresh take on the modern weekender

Updated May 9

More than a quarter century into the modern revival, the appetite for Tiki weekenders has never been more voracious. But if you’re creating a new event, how do you stand out on an ever-more-crowded calendar?

Tiki-a-Go-Go 2024 in Orlando

PHOTOS, VIDEO: The first Tiki-a-Go-Go is a retro roadtrip through mid-century culture, appreciation
More event recaps
* The Mai-Kai reveals new images, plans for restoration at Orlando event, continues $15M project
* Don the Beachcomber announces new bar concept, three upcoming locations in Florida

For the organizers of the inaugural Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando, it was simple: Go back to the roots of the revival with an emphasis on what inspired the fascination with retro culture in the first place.

Their location in Central Florida in the shadow of the theme parks also makes the perfect setting to focus on Florida’s role in 20th century kitsch in addition to the over-arching Tiki craze. The icing on the cake is a partnership with the annual Magical Tiki Meet Up that folds that Disney World gathering into the weekend.

The result is a distinctive new event that adds even more depth and nuance to the annual Tiki event calendar. Event passes sold out in late March, with only a few tickets remaining for additional activities for passholders.

Tiki-a-Go-Go will host Tiki revival veterans including author Sven Kirsten, beverage director Marie King of Don the Beachcomber, and clothing designer Margo "Rocket Betty" Scott. (Tiki-a-Go-go / Facebook)
Tiki-a-Go-Go will host Tiki revival veterans including author Sven Kirsten, beverage director Marie King of Don the Beachcomber, and clothing designer Margo “Rocket Betty” Scott. (Tiki-a-Go-go / Facebook)

April 5-7 – Tiki-a-Go-Go at the Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando (Friday-Saturday). Featuring symposiums and classes (Sven Kirsten, Tim “Swanky” Glazner, Ed Hamilton, Spike Marble, “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller, Tiki Tom-Tom, Rocket Betty, David “Dr. Skipper” Marley, et al.), guest cocktail bars, live music (The Hula Girls, The Intoxicators, The Disasternauts, The Kreepy Tikis, Hot Rod Hornets, more), supper club and burlesque, artists and vendors, plus more. Magical Tiki Meet Up (Sunday) at the Magic Kingdom and Polynesian Village Resort at Walt Disney World.
More below: Personalize your experience | Q&A with the organizers
* Tiki-a-Go-Go on social media: Instagram | Facebook page and group

The venue is the Caribe Royale Resort, which will host all the Friday and Saturday events. The property was recently completely reimagined with the perfect tropical atmosphere and amenities for Tiki-a-Go-Go guests. All the rooms are suites with the standard one-bedroom including a living room with a sleeper sofa. Maximum occupancy is five in a suite and six in a villa.

The Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando. (Official photo)
The Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando. (Official photo)

There’s a giant pool with a 75-foot waterslide, a spa and hot tubs, multiple fitness and sports activities, plus eight restaurants and bars (including the Rum Bar). Most important for the purposes of Tiki-a-Go-Go, the resort features more than 240,000-square feet of meeting space.

Continue reading “Event preview: Tiki-a-Go-Go looks to the past for a fresh take on the modern weekender”