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The Mai-Kai restoration work expands, sneak previews offered at The Hukilau (May 2024 update)

The Mai-Kai restoration work expands, sneak previews offered (May 2024 update)

Updated June 10

As The Mai-Kai prepares for an invasion of Hukilau villagers this week, the expansive restoration project continues to engulf the 2.7-acre historic property. Passholders treated to special tours will see several of the fully restored indoor guest areas, but the massive parking lot project remains in low gear until all the permits are in place.

Since our last update at the end of April, several projects have advanced while others await a green light to take flight. The new kitchen, bar and back-of-house areas continue to come to life while creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller and his team add their finishing touches. They also continue to restore, replicate and reimagine many other areas across the property.

A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway. At right you can see the work being done to restore the rock work. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2024)
A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway. At right you can see the work being done to restore the rock work. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2024)

The Hukilau offers guided tours of The Mai-Kai

Multi-day passholders attending the long-running Tiki weekender will get exclusive guided tours of The Mai-Kai on Friday, June 7. [See previous coverage] They will be escorted in small groups, allowing for a unique glimpse into the day-to-day operations of the renovation crew.

Upon arrival, tour attendees will receive a restoration update as they gather in The Molokai bar for a cocktail. They will then break into smaller groups for a behind-the-scenes sneak peek at some of the restored dining rooms and reimagined back-of-house areas.

There will be a strict “no photos” policy inside The Mai-Kai. The owners and staff request that guests respect their desire to be the ones to reveal their finished work. The creative director suggests the proper mindset: “Just take it in with your eyes, and know that you’ve seen something that nobody else has seen.” The tours will be given by Allsmiller, artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly, manager Kern Mattei, and yours truly. I hope to see you there!

The Hukilau 2024 preview & flashback: Inside (and outside) The Mai-Kai with Tiki carver Will Anders
The Hukilau 2024 preview & flashback: Inside (and outside) The Mai-Kai with Tiki carver Will Anders
The South Florida artist will share his experiences creating authentic Polynesian art – both large and small – during a presentation on June 8 at the annual Tiki weekender on Pompano Beach.
Audio & photos Walking tour with Will Anders, Kern Mattei, Hurricane Hayward in 2018
More on The Hukilau: Symposiums, vendors and more announced for 22nd Tiki weekender June 6-9

Latest news on the restoration

Operating under these same photo guidelines, we visited the restaurant in late May to get an update on the $15 million project that kicked off in early 2022 following the partnership between the founding Thornton family and a new ownership team led by historic preservationist Bill Fuller of Barlington Group. The sale was necessary after a catastrophic back-of-house roof collapse in October 2020 that destroyed the 1970s-era kitchen in the 67-year-old facility.

We got an update on the new kitchen and bar from Mattei, the longtime manager, plus news from Allsmiller on his projects. Photos of the outdoor area also show some slow progress on prep work for the ambitious reimagination of the entry experience and parking lot.

Recent Mai-Kai coverage
* The Mai-Kai reveals new images, plans for restoration at Orlando event, continues $15M project (April 2024 update)
* Mai-Kai kitchen and bar take shape as team heads to Tiki-a-Go-Go (March 2024)
Story archive: Full coverage of The Mai-Kai refurbishment

Lamp project nearing home stretch

At left is a finished lamp, shared on Instagram by Scott "Flounder" Scheidly on May 16. "There’s still a ton of work to do at The Mai Kai but I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel," he wrote. Fellow artist Tom Fowner shared the photo at right that shows the condition of some of the massive hanging lamps in the showroom, before and after restoration.
At left is a finished lamp, shared on Instagram by Scott “Flounder” Scheidly on May 16. “There’s still a ton of work to do at The Mai Kai but I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he wrote. Fellow artist Tom Fowner shared the photo at right that shows the condition of some of the massive hanging lamps in the showroom, before and after restoration.

Among the project updates from Mattei and Allsmiller:

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai restoration work expands, sneak previews offered at The Hukilau (May 2024 update)”

Minimalist Tiki

The Hukilau 2024 preview & flashback: Inside (and outside) The Mai-Kai with Tiki carver Will Anders

The Hukilau 2024 preview & flashback: Inside (and outside) The Mai-Kai with Tiki carver Will Anders

Updated June 10

There’s probably no better tour guide through the exotic landscape of carvings, masks and other Oceanic art contained within The Mai-Kai than Will Anders. The South Florida artist first explored the historic property as a child in the ’60s, became its exclusive cigarette vendor for decades, then transitioned into an artistic career that saw him carve the most significant large tikis added during the new millennium.
See below: Audio walking tour with Will Anders, Kern Mattei (2018)

Artist Will Anders is a self-taught expert at recreating Mai-Kai carvings in cement using molds made from the originals. (Photos by Tiki Tom-Tom for Polynesiacs: Tiki at Home)
Artist Will Anders is a self-taught expert at recreating Mai-Kai carvings in cement using molds made from the originals. (Photos by Tiki Tom-Tom for Polynesiacs: Tiki at Home)

But some of his most important contributions to the restaurant’s 2.7-acre property aren’t original creations at all. Over the past 20 years, Anders took on a unique role as a sort of “keeper of the tikis.” If you see a small or medium-sized figure or art piece in the back garden and other outdoor areas, it’s likely it was replicated by Anders in his nearby compound with his own cement mix using molds curated by the founding owners.

It’s a fascinating story that will be explored during a presentation on June 8 at The Hukilau, the annual Tiki weekender that has been joined at the hip with The Mai-Kai since 2003. Anders will share a tale or two during The Mai-Kai from the Outside In, which will reveal the artist’s back-story, his carving tips, his approach to creating cement tikis, plus lots more.

The Atomic Grog is honored to be hosting this exclusive look at Mai-Kai history with Anders. It starts early (10:30 a.m.), the perfect way to kick off The Hukilau’s Saturday schedule. We may even have a special cocktail for attendees to enjoy and start their day right. The presentation is included in all multi-day passes.

Carvings by Will Anders featured at The Mai-Kai include King Kai (left) and Hiroa Nui, shown sporting new coats of sealant in June 2023. His Hawaiian Lono (left) stands with tikis carved by fellow Florida artists Jeff Chouinard and Tom Fowner at the entrance to The Mai-Kai in September 2021. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
Carvings by Will Anders featured at The Mai-Kai include King Kai (left) and Hiroa Nui, shown sporting new coats of sealant in June 2023. His Hawaiian Lono (left) stands with tikis carved by fellow Florida artists Jeff Chouinard and Tom Fowner at the entrance to The Mai-Kai in September 2021. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

Below you’ll find more info on The Hukilau and Anders, including photos and audio of a special walking tour we conducted with manager Kern Mattei in 2018. The walk-through of much of The Mai-Kai property in suburban Fort Lauderdale was recorded for an episode of Marooned: A Texas Tiki Podcast. Now, as the restaurant nears the final stages of its multi-year, multimillion-dollar restoration project, it’s an interesting look back at the state of the property around six years ago.

The Hukilau – June 6-9 at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach. Featuring live music (Messer Chups, Surfer Joe, L’Exotighost, Slowey and the Boats, Lords of Atlantis, The Intoxicators, The Disasternauts, The Mermers, Skinny Jimmy Stingray), symposiums and classes (Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Ian “Rum Ambassador” Burrell, David Wondrich, Matt Pietrek, Daniele Dalla Pola, Spike Marble, Marie King, Lucky Munro), 20+ guest cocktail bars, pool parties, Tiki Treasures Bazaar, plus more.
* The Hukilau on social media: Instagram | Facebook page and group
NEW: The Mai-Kai restoration work expands, sneak previews offered at The Hukilau
Previous coverage: Symposiums, vendors and more announced for 22nd Tiki weekender June 6-9

Mai-Kai from the Outside In – Saturday (June 8), 10:30 a.m.
Don’t rush inside – learn about the history of the gardens and tikis outside from artist and carver Will Anders. Forty years of personal Mai-Kai stories up to and including the current restoration of the historic tikis. Will’s tales are woven with threads of passion and reverence, offering a glimpse into the soul of this sacred sanctuary. So, linger a while, and let the whispers of history caress your senses, for in these moments of reflection lies the true essence of our enchanted realm.From TheHukilau.com

Will Anders teaches a carving class during The Hukilau 2016 in the lounge at the top of the Pier 66 hotel. (Photo by Sherill Gross)
Will Anders teaches a carving class during The Hukilau 2016 in the lounge at the top of the Pier 66 hotel. (Photo by Sherill Gross)

In addition to his long history with The Mai-Kai, Anders has been associated with The Hukilau for decades. His art pieces gained a cult following after he showed them in the Tiki Treasures Bazaar. He then began sharing his knowledge as a presenter and instructor. His hands-on classes have included DIY – Carving 101 (2016) and Carve Your Own Tiki Pendant (2017- 2019).

Anders is a true old-school artist with no website and little social media presence. You can easily find him, however, on the Tiki Central message board, where his long-running “Will carve” thread is chock full of photos of his latest work. For a deeper history on The Mai-Kai’s Tiki carvings, click here.

Some wider exposure came recently when Anders was featured in Polynesiacs: Tiki at Home, the popular book on home bars and collectors from author Tiki Tom-Tom, published by Wonk Press in 2023. The peek inside Anders’ home studio tells the origin story of the veteran carver, who discovered The Mai-Kai in sleepy Oakland Park, Fla., as a bike-riding youth who had to be chased from the Tiki gardens by restaurant staff.

As Tiki Tom-Tom tells it: “Will was nine years old, living just a few blocks away with his parents. His family, like many others, were Jersey transplants. For Will, it was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with tikis at the Mai-Kai.”

Just a few of the many tikis created by artist Will Anders in his home studio. (Photos by Tiki Tom-Tom for Polynesiacs: Tiki at Home)
Just a few of the many tikis created by artist Will Anders in his home studio. (Photos by Tiki Tom-Tom for Polynesiacs: Tiki at Home)

The affair later included decades of seemingly mundane work: Filling the cigarette machine inside the historic restaurant. But this was not only a thriving business for Anders, it kept him coming back to study more than just the cocktails. He became enamored with the rich decor and artistry of The Mai-Kai, especially the large carved tikis.

Anders became a carver relatively late in life at age 40, but just in time to put his indelible stamp on The Mai-Kai. His early carvings caught the attention of management, and he eventually contributed two giant tikis to the rear garden: King Kai and Hiroa Nui. A notable third carving became part of a trio that greets guests under the porte-cochère.

Continue reading “The Hukilau 2024 preview & flashback: Inside (and outside) The Mai-Kai with Tiki carver Will Anders”

The Hukilau 2024 preview: Symposiums, vendors and more announced for 22nd Tiki weekender

The Hukilau 2024 preview: Symposiums, vendors and more announced for 22nd Tiki weekender

Updated June 6

The East Coast’s longest-running Polynesian Pop weekender features an all-star lineup of musical, mixological and scholarly talent for its annual gathering in South Florida next month. In other words, The Hukilau 2024 is a top-tier smorgasbord of Tiki delights.

The Hukilau attracts retro and modern "villagers" from near and far. (Ash and Simona at The Hukilau 2023 / Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Hukilau attracts retro and modern “villagers” from near and far. (Ash and Simona at The Hukilau 2023 / Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

With the early June dates just around the corner, organizers have been busy finalizing all the various seminars, classes and expert presentations featuring some of the top names in the spirits world. Fans of the worldwide instrumental surf scene will happy to see the schedule features some of the top bands playing on multiple nights.

Along with the plethora of guest bartenders, nightly bungalow parties, and marketplace full of artists and vendors, the challenge (as usual) will be how much fun The Hukilau’s “villagers” can pack into the four-day event. Following is a handy guide that might help.

The Hukilau – June 6-9 at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach. Featuring live music (Messer Chups, Surfer Joe, L’Exotighost, Slowey and the Boats, Lords of Atlantis, The Intoxicators, The Disasternauts, The Mermers, Skinny Jimmy Stingray), symposiums and classes (Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Ian “Rum Ambassador” Burrell, David Wondrich, Matt Pietrek, Daniele Dalla Pola, Spike Marble, Marie King, Lucky Munro), 20+ guest cocktail bars, pool parties, Tiki Treasures Bazaar, plus more.
More info below: Daily schedule and symposiums | Pre-order official mug | Tiki Treasures Bazaar lineup | Exclusive Mai-Kai tours
* The Hukilau on social media: Instagram | Facebook page and group
MORE PREVIEWS
* The Mai-Kai restoration work expands, sneak previews offered at The Hukilau NEW
* Inside (and outside) The Mai-Kai with Tiki carver Will Anders NEW
* The Hukilau 2024 attracts bands, bars and VIPs from around the globe, returns to The Mai-Kai

The Atomic Grog at The Hukilau: Follow us on Facebook and Instagram

The Mai-Kai will be the site of exclusive tours by The Hukilau passholders on June 7, 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January 2024)
The Mai-Kai will be the site of exclusive tours by The Hukilau passholders on June 7, 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January 2024)

This story will cover recently confirmed additions, including a day-by-day schedule, full lineup of classes and symposiums, the Tiki Treasures Bazaar vendors, plus the official 2024 mug. You’ll also find details on the exclusive tours of The Mai-Kai.

Our extensive preview story in March covered the announcement of the bands and presenters plus the full lineup of guest bars and news on the special events. We also detailed the host venue, and how to book a room at the Beachcomber Resort.

Rooms are still available, so if you plan on attending you should reserve now before they sell out. The Hukilau reservations are available only by phone at (954) 941-7830. Note: You must book three nights (Thursday-Saturday). If the Beachcomber sells out, or if you prefer a quieter hotel just 2 miles to the south, you can book a room at the Plunge Beach Resort via the link on The Hukilau website.

Author Jeff "Beachbum" Berry recalls a memorable past symposium during his appearance at The Hukilau in June 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry recalls a memorable past symposium during his appearance at The Hukilau in June 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

After lodging is secured, you’ll want to start your Hukilau adventure on the tickets page, where you can secure your multi-day pass that will give you access to most of the fun at no extra charge. The passes page includes a breakdown of what you get with the South Seas ($599 + fees) and Aloha (379 + fees) passes. There’s also a Saturday-only Palm Pass ($169 + fees) that will get you into that day’s pool party (featuring all of the top bands), the Tiki Treasure Bazaar, and that evening’s bungalow parties.

While most presentations are included with a multi-day pass, premium tastings and classes require a separate tickets. All are listed on the site and noted below. Cocktails during the pool and bungalow parties are included with all passes.

Here’s a day-by-day breakdown that lists everything on the agenda. Check TheHukilau.com for a full schedule with more events and exact locations, plus detailed symposiums descriptions.

Continue reading “The Hukilau 2024 preview: Symposiums, vendors and more announced for 22nd Tiki weekender”

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)”

Mai-Kai kitchen and bar take shape as team heads to Tiki-a-Go-Go event (March 2024 update)

Mai-Kai kitchen and bar take shape as team heads to Tiki-a-Go-Go event (March 2024 update)

It’s always thrilling to see and hear about the artistic restoration projects at The Mai-Kai, from the hundreds of vintage lamps to the reimagination of the porte-cochère. But just as important are many behind-the-scenes infrastructure projects that are now coming to fruition at the historic South Florida restaurant.

Jump below: The Mai-Kai at Tiki-a-Go-Go, The Hukilau
* Latest refurbishment news | Update on permits, timeline

A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway in Oakland Park on March 28. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway in Oakland Park on March 28. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

At the top of this list are the new back-of-house kitchen and bar, which both needed to be rebuilt following the October 2020 roof collapse that led to the closing and eventual sale of the 67-year-old landmark. While the design and decor are spectacular, The Mai-Kai is first and foremost a high-volume restaurant (and bar) that requires just as much TLC in areas guests may never see.

That’s why it’s exciting to report that new equipment is now being installed in both the kitchen and bar that were rebuilt in the old back-of-house areas that did not need to be gutted after the roof collapse. The footprint of the old kitchen will remain empty until Phase 2 of the $15 million restoration project, when it will be transformed into a bigger kitchen and an adjacent event center.

Manager Kern Mattei, who has overseen operations for the past three decades, was gracious enough to fill us in on the details when we spoke to him recently about progress on the site during the month of March. We also took some photos of the exterior spaces during a visit late in the month.

The wooden deck outside The Molokai lounge has been rebuilt for future guest use. More theming and enhancements are in the works. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2024)
The wooden deck outside The Molokai lounge has been rebuilt for future guest use. More theming and enhancements are in the works. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2024)

We’ll get into all the details in the updates section below, along with the contributions of creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller and his team of artists. Unlike the old 1970s era back of house, the 2024 version will include not only state-of-the-art equipment, but also a lot of traditional Ma-Kai and Polynesian theming where appropriate.

The state of the kitchen and bar gives us hope that the current timeline for a grand opening during the summer months will remain stable. The wildcard factor remains the ambitious transformation of the 2.7-acre grounds, which we detailed in our previous story.

Progress was not easily visible across the vast expanse during March as the complex project’s many moving parts still have not coalesced. Permits are pending while various crews continue to work on their specific projects, Mattei said. We did spot some more cool detail work by Allsmiller’s crew, also discussed below.

Mattei and the artists will get a much-deserved break in early April, but it won’t be all play and no work at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando. Check out the preview below for details on all their activities.

Recent coverage
* Exterior reimagination up next as $15 million Mai-Kai project plows ahead (February 2024)
* Renovations engulf entire property, reopening estimated for summer (January 2024)
Story archive: Full coverage of The Mai-Kai refurbishment

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A classic image of The Mai-Kai, captured by author Sven Kirsten in 2010. Also appearing at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando in April is Mai-Kai history book author Tim "Swanky" Glazner
A classic image of The Mai-Kai, captured by author Sven Kirsten in 2010. Also appearing at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando in April is Mai-Kai history book author Tim “Swanky” Glazner.

UPCOMING EVENTS: The Mai-Kai at Tiki-a-Go-Go and The Hukilau

While most guests eagerly await the grand opening this summer, those lucky enough to be attending two of the state’s major Tiki events will get exclusive info and access in the coming months.

First up is the sold-out Tiki-a-Go-Go, scheduled for April 5-7 in Orlando. The inaugural event leans heavily into symposiums featuring old-school Tiki, Florida and Disney topics. There will also be two days of live music and entertainment, vendors, guest Tiki bars, and more.
Previous coverage: Click here for our full preview
Follow The Atomic Grog at Tiki-a-Go-Go: Instagram | Facebook

We’re honored to be hosting two of the presentations featuring The Mai-Kai at the Caribe Royale Resort. Just announced: Mai-Kai manager Kern Mattei and public relations director Pia Dahlquist will both be attending and participating in events Friday and Saturday. Here’s the latest on how attendees can get a taste of The Mai-Kai, including some new details:

Continue reading “Mai-Kai kitchen and bar take shape as team heads to Tiki-a-Go-Go event (March 2024 update)”

Mai-Kai update (February 2024): Exterior reimagination up next as $15 million Mai-Kai project plows ahead

Mai-Kai update (February 2024): Exterior reimagination up next as $15 million Mai-Kai project plows ahead

The light at the end of the tunnel is about to become much brighter at The Mai-Kai in South Florida as the historic restaurant prepares for an ambitious transformation of its sprawling 2.7-acre grounds.

Jump below: Latest refurbishment news | Landscape reimagination imminent |outside Update on permits, timeline
* The Mai-Kai at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival
Preview: The Mai-Kai and The Atomic Grog at Tiki-a-Go-Go

A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2024)
A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2024)

Meanwhile, the artists working in and around the vintage A-frame building have turned the energy level up a notch in anticipation of the home stretch of Phase 1 of the multi-year, multimillion-dollar project. All available information points to a summer reopening, with the most optimistic estimate being June.

Excitement for the reopening was fueled in late February by an article in the Wall Street Journal that proclaims Fort Lauderdale a “cool” destination for “hip, hungry travelers.” While extolling the city’s “booming food scene and throwback architecture,” the article mentions the reopening of The Mai-Kai:

Fans of midcentury design are waiting for June, though, when the Mai-Kai will reopen after a 30-month, $15 million renovation. The Polynesian-style restaurant, built in 1956, was arguably the apotheosis of tiki culture. Partnering with distiller Maison Ferrand to resurrect the high ester rum used in classic tiki cocktails like the Jet Pilot, it hopes to retake that honor.

New owner Bill Fuller is leading the restoration efforts, including the creation of a new signature rum. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
New owner Bill Fuller is leading the restoration efforts, including the creation of a new signature rum. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

The Journal got that information directly from owner Bill Fuller, who assembled the team that purchased The Mai-Kai in September 2021 after a catastrophic roof collapse over the kitchen forced the October 2020 closure that has now stretched past three years. Fuller’s historic preservation firm, Barlington Group, spearheaded the purchase. Another company he owns, Mad Room Hospitality, will operate the restaurant along with the founding Thornton family. The new Mai-Kai Rum No. 1 is a blend of Barbados and Jamaican rums created by master distiller Don Benn at the West Indies Rum Distillery in Barbados, where it will will shipped directly to Florida to be bottled.

That $15 million figure is new, a much higher number than we’ve previously seen reported. It speaks not only to the extra time spent on the detailed restoration, but also the unwavering commitment from the ownership group. Back in June 2022 during a presentation at The Hukilau, Fuller told the faithful fans of The Mai-Kai: “If we need to spend an extra million dollars or two, we’re going to do it because we want it to be perfect.” He has obviously doubled down on that promise.

And while a June reopening date is far from certain, it’s a goal that Fuller and his team have set. Like everything else involving this restoration, it doesn’t hurt to set the bar high and reach for the stars.

The entrance to The Mai-Kai is about to receive a total transformation as crews prepare for a new driveway to be installed. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2024)
The entrance to The Mai-Kai is about to receive a total transformation as crews prepare for a new driveway to be installed. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2024)

Recent coverage
* Renovations engulf entire property, reopening estimated for summer (January 2024)
* Mai-Kai refurbishment 2023 year-end recap: Updates, photos, timeline

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FEBRUARY 2024: Restoration efforts reach new heights, expand in new directions

As detailed in our previous reports in January and February (see links above), we’re limited from showing the exquisite interior renovations during the final stages of work, but we did get a chance to chat in late February with creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller, who filled us in on what he and his crew were up to during that month. Fellow Central Florida artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly shared some images of their work on social media, which you can find below.

We also paid a visit to 3599 N. Federal Highway in Oakland Park to document the work on the exterior, briefly chatting with manager Kern Mattei and South Florida artist Tom Fowner, who recently joined the restoration team full-time. Fowner has worked with The Mai-Kai previously, most notably on one of the three Tiki carvings that greet guests near the porte-cochère.

Overall, February was very productive. “I feel that we’ve done more this month,” Allsmiller said. Following are some of his thoughts on what was accomplished, along with what’s still to come.

The addition of Fowner has helped Allsmiller, Scheidly and artist Conrad Teheiura Itchener expand the scope of their work in their central workshop in the Hawaii dining room. “We needed help, and he was free,” Allsmiller said.

Artist Tom Fowner strips all the old material off a vintage lamp that hangs high under The Mai-Kai's A-frame. After the lamp frame is shored up, he will restore the outer materials and it will receive new bulbs and wiring before it returns to its perch. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward, March 2024)
Artist Tom Fowner strips all the old material off a vintage lamp that hangs high under The Mai-Kai’s A-frame. After the lamp frame is shored up, he will restore the outer materials and it will receive new bulbs and wiring before it returns to its perch. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward, March 2024)

Fowner, who recently contributed his Tiki-carving talents to the build-out of the new Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, went right to work at The Mai-Kai refurbishing some of the massive lamps that hang high under the 40-foot A-frame. We caught him out front, stripping everything off one of the well-worn frames. He said they’re trying to restore them “in a similar fashion” to the originals.

Reaching these uppermost areas filled with vintage lamps, many created by Oceanic Arts in the 1950s and ’60s, has been the most challenging. The crew used scaffolding to reach the ceiling in the rear of the building, above the Tonga dining room. Allsmiller said they removed the large signature fish trap and cleaned it up. “It’s ready to go back up,” he said.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai update (February 2024): Exterior reimagination up next as $15 million Mai-Kai project plows ahead”

Mai-Kai update (January 2024): Renovations engulf entire property, reopening estimated for summer

Mai-Kai update (January 2024): Renovations engulf entire property, reopening estimated for summer

The multimillion-dollar reimagination of The Mai-Kai is an unprecedented project in its size and scope as a local and national historic landmark restaurant. Since worked kicked off in 2022, projects have touched nearly every corner of the 67-year-old, 2.7-acre property in South Florida.

Jump below: Latest news on the refurbishments | Timeline of current projects

The first phase of the multi-year, multimillion-dollar restoration of The Mai-Kai is expected to be completed in summer 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January 2024)
The first phase of the multi-year, multimillion-dollar restoration of The Mai-Kai is expected to be completed in summer 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January 2024)

Now, as 2024 brings us into the home stretch, interest is building not only for updates on the status of the renovations, but also for news on a potential reopening date. Closed since an October 2020 roof collapse irreparably damaged the 1970s-era kitchen, The Mai-Kai is on track to have guests return this year. The only question is exactly when?

Unfortunately, that question will probably not be answered with accuracy until it’s much closer to the finish line. Project timelines can change on a dime, and most of the final hurdles will be left in the hands of inspectors and government officials in Broward County and the city of Oakland Park.

Until then, we’ll take any news we can get. We were able to confirm the accuracy of the latest projection, shared on the restaurant’s official Instagram page: “We are now looking at this summer,” said the comment on a Jan. 23 posting in response to questions about the reopening date.

Recent coverage
* Mai-Kai refurbishment 2023 year-end recap: Updates, photos, timeline
* Beyond Bora Bora: Reimagination of Mai-Kai entry experience evokes original vision

Artist Scott "Flounder" Scheidly shared photos on Instagram of his work cleaning up one of The Mai-Kai's last remaining Oceanic Arts wooden masks
Artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly shared photos on Instagram of his work cleaning up one of The Mai-Kai’s last remaining Oceanic Arts wooden masks. “Luckily this was protected under the porte-cochère out front but will be relocated to the inside for preservation,” he wrote.

Organizers of The Hukilau, the annual Tiki weekender in nearby Pompano Beach, are making two sets of plans for their June 6-9 event. Plan A would include events at a fully reopened Mai-Kai, while Plan B would feature limited access and sneak previews, perhaps cocktails and entertainment. The general consensus among Hukilau organizers, which include Mai-Kai investor Richard Oneslager and public relations director Pia Dahlquist, is that there’s a 50-50 chance of either plan happening. In the coming weeks, we’ll have more news on The Hukilau, which has included The Mai-Kai in its festivities since its second year in 2003.

In the meantime, we made our first visit of the new year to the property that straddles the Oakland Park border with Fort Lauderdale on Federal Highway. You can find our observations and photos below, along with updates from manager Kern Mattei and creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai update (January 2024): Renovations engulf entire property, reopening estimated for summer”

Mai-Kai refurbishment 2023 year-end recap: Updates, photos, timeline

The Mai-Kai refurbishment 2023 year-end recap: Updates, photos, timeline

The artists, craftsmen and management working on the multimillion-dollar reimagination of The Mai-Kai tied a bow on a busy year in late 2023, finishing several projects and taking on ambitious new ones. As the total transformation of the grounds outside becomes a top priority, the indoor guest spaces of the historic restaurant continue to receive careful restoration with no detail left untended.

Jump below: 2023 timeline, past coverage

The Mai-Kai facade now includes traditional Polynesian designs by "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller on the trim surrounding the beam extensions. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2023)
The Mai-Kai facade now includes traditional Polynesian designs by “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller on the trim surrounding the beam extensions. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2023)

Meanwhile, manager Kern Mattei is preparing for the completion of new back-of-house facilities, including a totally rebuilt kitchen and two back bars. We caught up with Mattei for an update just before Christmas. Following are his insights on what’s happening on multiple fronts.

Creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller added new stenciled artwork to all of the fascia board trim around the front of the building, stretching from the left of the A-frame near the Tahiti Room all the way to The Molokai bar. You can clearly see the restored trim from the sidewalk along Federal Highway.

When the beam extensions were restored in September, Allsmiller said he wanted to design “something a little more traditional” for the trim. He said he tried to create something based more in Marquesan and Hawaiian art than the previous artwork and graphics, which were likely Polynesian Pop designs by George Nakashima during the 1970 renovation.

Recent coverage
* Beyond Bora Bora: Reimagination of Mai-Kai entry experience evokes original vision
* Fall 2023: Artists shine amid construction as final renovation projects take flight
* Past news, photos of The Mai-Kai refurbishment

A refurbished fence now stands outside The Molokai lounge, directly to the left of The Mai-Kai's main entrance. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2023)
A refurbished fence now stands outside The Molokai lounge, directly to the left of The Mai-Kai’s main entrance. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2023)

Walking the Federal Highway sidewalk, you can also see a lot of touch-up work being done on the rock work. After the repairs are done, they will get a textured finish to blend in so you won’t even know they were repaired.

Nearby, a new privacy fence has gone up along the northern windows of The Molokai. Totally refurbished and painted green like the original, it features a new access gate with a slightly different design. As much wood as possible was salvaged from the old fence, Mattei said.

While it’s designed to look jagged and ragged, the new fence is totally rebuilt, better looking and much stronger. Mattei said it still needs the old artifacts added, plus a new ledge along the front. The window water effects are still a work in progress, he said.

A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway includes the new designs on the fascia board trim, plus repairs in progress on the surrounding rock work. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2023)
A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway includes the new designs on the fascia board trim, plus repairs in progress on the surrounding rock work. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2023)

Mattei noted that similar repairs to the rock work are happening inside the Tiki garden, where guests enjoy the lush paths, waterfalls and vintage carvings. Crew members who specialize in stucco are adding patches. Allsmiller will then add the proper texture, and he or a painting crew will do the finishing.

For much of December, Allsmiller and fellow Florida artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly concentrated their efforts on The Mai-Kai’s showroom, home of the Polynesian Islander Revue, the oldest continually-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States (including Hawaii). Allsmiller spent two weeks refurbishing the stage, carving new decorative trim out of redwood.

The stage is now back to its original glory, Mattei said, including the parquet floor. A Polynesian show was first added almost exactly 62 years ago in early 1962. One of the original performers, Mireille Thornton, remains the show choreographer and costume designer in addition to her role as matriarch of the founding Thornton family.

A view of the upper reaches of The Mai-Kai's main A-frame over the Tonga Room in October 2023 (left). Refurbishment of the lamps began in December, along with a restoration of the showroom stage. At right, a crew can be seen installing new neo panels in November. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
A view of the upper reaches of The Mai-Kai’s main A-frame over the Tonga Room in October 2023 (left). Refurbishment of the lamps began in December, along with a restoration of the showroom stage. At right, a crew can be seen installing new neo panels in November. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

Meanwhile, renovations started on the vintage lamps high under the 40-foot A-frame. Mattei said they’re using a huge scaffolding to reach to the very top of the ceiling.

They’re fixing as many as they can in place so they don’t need to bring them all down, he said. They’re replacing bulbs and using an air brush to clean them. Some are just dusted while others are being refurbished.

Scheidly did a lot of the work on the lamps while Allsmiller worked on the stage. He later told us he spent an entire week up on the scaffolding, enjoying a view of The Mai-Kai from a vantage point very few see.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai refurbishment 2023 year-end recap: Updates, photos, timeline”

Beyond Bora Bora: Reimagination of Mai-Kai entry experience evokes original vision

Beyond Bora Bora: Reimagination of Mai-Kai entry experience evokes original vision

When guests return to The Mai-Kai in 2024, they will be treated to a detailed restoration of the interior of the historic South Florida restaurant, which celebrates its 67th anniversary today (Dec. 28). Walking into the elaborately themed dining areas and rear garden will be like stepping back in time to the early 1970s, when the last major renovation was completed at the Polynesian palace.

A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway in 1968 shows the lush landscaping around the new building that later became a gift shop and Bora Bora banquet room. The Tiki carving remains in the same spot today. (Photo courtesy of Tim Glazner, MaiKaiHistory.com)
A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway in 1968 shows the lush landscaping around the new building that later became a gift shop and Bora Bora banquet room. The Tiki carving remains in the same spot today. (Photo courtesy of Tim Glazner, MaiKaiHistory.com)

But before they even enter the building, they will be greeted with a new entryway and lushly landscaped parking lot that will completely immerse them in a South Seas fantasy world. The design will shield vehicles from the outside world, and vice versa.

While the details of these plans are new, the inspiration comes from original owners Bob and Jack Thornton, and their early vision for the property on the north side of the entrance driveway. Only now, with a new ownership team joining forces with the Thornton family and backed by a multimillion-dollar investment, can that vision be fully realized.

Recent Mai-Kai coverage
* Mai-Kai refurbishment 2023 year-end recap: Updates, photos, timeline
* Fall 2023: Artists shine amid construction as final renovation projects take flight
* Restoration Guide: Past news, refurbishment photos

The new entrance driveway to The Mai-Kai will take guests into the area north of the giant banyan trees and away from the porte-cochère. This is the former location of the Bora Bora building. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, September 2023)
The new entrance driveway to The Mai-Kai will take guests into the area north of the giant banyan trees and away from the porte-cochère. This is the former location of the Bora Bora building. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, September 2023)

There has been little visible change in the landscaping of the sprawling 2.7 acres surrounding the original 1956 building and its soaring A-frame since the removal of the Bora Bora building in April. Some projects were completed, most notably the restoration and reimagination of the porte-cochère, which will be turned into an outdoor seating area and bar after the driveway is rerouted.

The work on the parking lot began in earnest in mid-September after county and state permits were finally approved. This sweeping project is the final major piece in the restoration puzzle that kicked into high gear in early 2023 after its approval by the Oakland Park Historic Preservation Board.

Unlike the work on the interior, which is steeped in mystery, the transformation of the new entryway will be visible to passersby on Federal Highway, aka U.S. Highway 1. The rear of the property has begun to take on an air of secrecy, however, after construction crews recently completed the installation of a new 8-foot-high privacy wall.

The Mai-Kai's old 4-foot wall was replaced with a new 8-foot privacy wall, shown in views looking south from Northeast 20th Avenue. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / October and December 2023)
The Mai-Kai’s old 4-foot wall was replaced with a new 8-foot privacy wall, shown in views looking south from Northeast 20th Avenue. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / October and December 2023)

Bordering the entire west side of the property along Northeast 20th Avenue, which runs parallel to U.S. 1, the new concrete wall is twice as high as the old one and serves as a visual and noise buffer between The Mai-Kai in the abutting neighborhood of single-family homes.

From the outside, the wall shields the parking lot entirely. You can see the A-frame and the top of the main building, but not much else. Once new trees and vegetation are added and grow in, the restaurant will be totally hidden.

The wall is currently covered with an undercoat of green primer. The final color will be similar, and creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller is working on themed designs for the inside of the wall.

Inside, the lot is still a huge expanse of dirt with landscaping and hardscaping yet to begin. But that will change soon. Manager Kern Mattei reports that more crews and heavy equipment should be arriving early in 2024 to begin transforming the exterior spaces of The Mai-Kai into a truly immersive tropical paradise.

The Mai-Kai's new privacy wall hides all but the A-frame and top of the building. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / December 2023)
The Mai-Kai’s new privacy wall hides all but the A-frame and top of the building. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / December 2023)

Our next story will include an update on the renovations and restoration, plus a full recap of the work completed in 2023. Below, we’ll turn back the clock and look at the legacy of what became known as the Bora Bora Room, plus more photos and details on its removal. Then we’ll catch up with all the parking lot work over the past several months.

Continue reading “Beyond Bora Bora: Reimagination of Mai-Kai entry experience evokes original vision”

Mai-Kai update, fall 2023: Artists shine amid construction as final renovation projects take flight

Mai-Kai update, fall 2023: Artists shine amid construction as final renovation projects take flight

The multi-year, multimillion-dollar restoration of The Mai-Kai reached a turning point this fall when multiple construction projects were underway, both inside and outside the historic property in South Florida. These key elements – the rebuilding of the back-of-house kitchen and bar, plus the reimagination of the parking lot – are the last major pieces of the puzzle that need to completed before a projected early 2024 reopening can become reality.

Jump below: Porte-cochère | Showroom | Chinese ovens | Other projects

The area above the entrance doors was completely refurbished by The Mai-Kai's artistic team. The vintage fiberglass panels were restored, new artwork was created for the large beams, the wooden rail pins were replaced with sculpted hard foam, and a new LED lighting package was added. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / Oct. 20, 2023)
The area above the entrance doors was completely refurbished by The Mai-Kai’s artistic team. The vintage fiberglass panels were restored, new artwork was created for the large beams, the wooden rail pins were replaced with sculpted hard foam, and a new LED lighting package was added. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / Oct. 20, 2023)

But despite all this hubbub, the artists who are bringing the design and decor of the vintage restaurant back to life remain focused on their many highly detailed tasks. Working in and around the construction zones is merely a day at the office for creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller and his fellow craftsmen, Scott “Flounder” Scheidly and Conrad Teheiura Itchener. Meanwhile, manager Kern Mattei continues to handle the day-to-day operations with aplomb.

After a hot and grueling summer, everyone working inside the building got some welcome relief when the new air-conditioning system finally roared to life in the fall after being installed in July. Most of the building had been without AC since the roof collapse in October 2020 that triggered the closing and eventual sale of The Mai-Kai to the Barlington Group and a new ownership team that partnered with the founding Thornton family.

The rewiring of the 67-year-old building was an epic task for electricians. Power was out for months during the summer, awaiting Florida Power & Light crews scheduled to make the restaurant’s six new breaker boxes operational. Power was eventually restored in early October. Then, on Oct. 12, vents were blasting cold air into the vintage Molokai bar almost exactly three years after the closing. By early November, the showroom, Tonga Room and the gift shop were also being cooled as the electricians started bringing other parts of the building online.

NEXT: Work begins on reimagination of The Mai-Kai entry experience
* Mai-Kai refurbishment 2023 year-end recap: Updates, photos, timeline
MORE COVERAGE: News, photos of The Mai-Kai refurbishment

A major piece of decor returned from storage to The Molokai bar on Nov. 2. The signature maiden masthead is one of many nautical pieces that date back to the bar's 1970 retheming using props from the 1962 film "Mutiny on the Bounty." (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / Nov. 2, 2023)
A major piece of decor returned from storage to The Molokai bar on Nov. 2. The signature maiden masthead is one of many nautical pieces that date back to the bar’s 1970 retheming using props from the 1962 film “Mutiny on the Bounty.” (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / Nov. 2, 2023)

The air wasn’t the only cool thing happening in the refurbished bar. While it could be considered merely symbolic, the return of the “Molokai Maiden” masthead to her perch was a highlight not only for fans but also for the craftsmen working endless hours on the restoration. The alluring mermaid has been a longtime icon, immortalized with a memorable mug in 2014 by artist Crazy Al Evans, produced by The Swank Pad.
* Video: Maiden of the Molokai mug by Crazy Al (2014)

Most of the bar’s decor was finished earlier this year, but reinstalling the mermaid was a pretty big deal for the crew. “It really feels like The Mai-Kai’s coming back now that she’s up there,” Itchener said. He was joined by Allsmiller and Scheidly for the task, which they documented with a video on Instagram:

Following is a look at some of the major projects the artists were working on this fall.

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The porte-cochère: Restoration meets reimagination

A nighttime view of the recently renovated lighted panels and beams under The Mai-Kai's porte-cochère. (Photo by Kern Mattei / October 2023)
A nighttime view of the recently renovated lighted panels and beams under The Mai-Kai’s porte-cochère. (Photo by Kern Mattei / October 2023)

Racing against the clock to finish their work before construction crews arrived to excavate the driveway, Allsmiller and his team completed their work on the beams and vintage panels under the porte-cochère. When new LED lighting was installed and tested in October, the result was a sight not seen in decades.

Numerous hurricanes knocked out the accent lights, while the 65-year-old fiberglass panels and adjacent wooden rails over the front doors fell into disrepair over the years. The entire area was reimagined by Allsmiller and Scheidly. They were joined by Itchener, who helped turn the black metal support beams into faux bamboo.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai update, fall 2023: Artists shine amid construction as final renovation projects take flight”