Modern Caribbean Rum

Heeeeeeere’s the rich history and lost stories of The Mai-Kai

Updated August 2018
Latest news, related features
* The Mai-Kai updates bar menu, adds classic ‘lost’ cocktail
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* The Mai-Kai turns 60 with history presentations, celebration
* New giant carved Tiki added to The Mai-Kai’s outdoor garden
* ‘King Kai’ leads procession of new Tikis into The Mai-Kai

Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant

Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant
The definitive book on the historic Fort Lauderdale Tiki temple by Tim “Swanky” Glazner was released in September 2016. Get your copy now!
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More photos, stories

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The Mai-Kai: History, Mystery & Adventure
By Hurricane Hayward and Tim “Swanky” Glazner, February 2012

The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, now in its 56th year, is widely acclaimed as perhaps the last perfectly preserved mid-century Polynesian restaurant with its incredible vintage decor, acclaimed cocktails, authentic South Seas stage show, vast Asian-inspired menu and an ambience that makes you feel like you’ve been transported back in time.

One of the oldest Mai-Kai postcards, a rendering by architect Charles McKirahan. (From SwankPad.org)
One of the oldest Mai-Kai postcards, a rendering by architect Charles McKirahan. (From SwankPad.org)

But not many are aware of The Mai-Kai’s direct links to Tiki’s forefather, from the concept to the cocktails to the decor.

In 1933, a small tropical and nautical themed bar in Hollywood, Calif., called Don the Beachcomber was one of many thousands that opened the day after Prohibition ended. Who would have imagined that former rum-runner Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt, who later changed his name to Donn Beach, had invented a new genre of mixology and a bar/restaurant concept that would be copied across the globe for decades to come.

Of course, we’re talking about the classic Tiki bar and its exotic tropical drinks. At the dawn of the cocktail era, Donn Beach was the undisputed king of tropical mixology. In an era of drinks with two or three ingredients, his secret recipes included up to a dozen, including two or three rums, resulting in drinks the world had never seen before.

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Minimalist Tiki

Mai-Kai cocktail review: The timeless appeal of this classic is no Mystery

Updated July 3, 2014
See below: Our Mystery Drink review | Ancestor recipe | Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide
Mini Mai-Kai Mystery Bowl offers scaled-down version of a classic
Symposium explores rich history and long-lost stories of The Mai-Kai

A vintage Mystery Girl and Mystery Drink photo
A vintage Mystery Girl and Mystery Drink photo. (Courtesy of SwankPad.org)

Oh Mystery Girl,
   what’s in this Mystery Drink?!
I must steal you away;
   conscience now has no say
Into this heart of darkness I sink.
And now you’re leaving me with this …
   a silken lei a single kiss?
A drink to fill this emptyness?
   Don’t leave me Mystery Girl!

Mystery Girl by The Crazed Mugs

The Mai-Kai’s Mystery Drink (and its accompanying ritual featuring the Mystery Girl) is no mere cocktail. It’s a Polynesian Pop culture icon, immortalized in song, on television and seared into the memory of countless Mai-Kai patrons over the past half-century.

When the drink is ordered, a gong is struck repeatedly as a Polynesian maiden silently delivers the huge, flaming bowl packed with at least 9 ounces of alcohol (some reports say it contains 13 ounces). The Mystery Girl dances before the lucky customer, placing a lei around the neck, then planting a kiss on the cheek before gliding away.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: The timeless appeal of this classic is no Mystery”