Outside The Mai-Kai: Artistic flourishes set stage for reimagination, early 2024 reopening (summer 2023 recap)

Outside The Mai-Kai: Artistic flourishes set stage for reimagination, early 2024 reopening (summer 2023 recap)

As summer came to a close, The Mai-Kai started the final phase of its multimillion-dollar renovation with a reimagination of the parking lot. The project will take at least three months, pushing the timeframe of the reopening into early 2024.

In preparation, the artists and craftsmen have shifted from inside to outside under the porte-cochère, where a flurry of work is being completed before the pavement is torn up to make way for a new outdoor bar, seating area and redirected driveway.

SEE BELOW: Porte-cochère photos | Parking lot project starts | Updated reopening timeframe | Beam extensions restored | New AC units installed

Historic fiberglass panels are restored and fully lit under The Mai-Kai's porte-cochère on Sept. 21 as work begins on the reimagination of the parking lot. All the trees are being preserved. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
Historic fiberglass panels are restored and fully lit under The Mai-Kai’s porte-cochère on Sept. 21 as work begins on the reimagination of the parking lot. All the trees are being preserved. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

Meanwhile work continues on the indoor guest areas, infrastructure and a new back-of-house kitchen and bar, outlined in our related story. We hope to bring you up to speed on what’s been going on at the historic South Florida restaurant over the past few weeks, followed by an extensive summer recap.
RELATED: Inside The Mai-Kai: Detailed restoration advances amid total infrastructure overhaul (summer 2023 recap)
MORE COVERAGE: News, photos of The Mai-Kai refurbishment

Most of the recent activity has been out front under the porte-cochère, where we recently found manager Kern Mattei with creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller and his fellow artists hard at work restoring artwork, finishing refurbished beams, and adding creative new touches to the historic thatched A-frame structure that serves as the entryway to the restaurant.

Previous coverage
* The Mai-Kai and The Atomic Grog at Tiki Oasis
* The Mai-Kai renovations, May-June 2023: Historic restaurant’s new infrastructure begins to take shape
* Meticulous attention to detail is hallmark of The Mai-Kai restoration project (May-June 2023 update)

On Sept. 7, the first restored panels were installed above The Mai-Kai entrance with working lights for the first time in decades. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
On Sept. 7, the first restored panels were installed above The Mai-Kai entrance with working lights for the first time in decades. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

While not rushing the comprehensive restoration, Mattei said, the crew is making a concerted effort to get as much done as possible before the massive parking lot project kicks into full gear. “This is a big project out here,” Mattei said on Sept. 7, pointing out all the work. New lights were just installed that day.

Allsmiller and artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly are making the most of this time, nearing the completion of restoring the lighted upper panels above the front doors. The stylized fiberglass pieces date back to the late 1950s, when the original Molokai bar replaced what was an outdoor waiting area. The entire facade was reconfigured and new entry doors added.

Continue reading “Outside The Mai-Kai: Artistic flourishes set stage for reimagination, early 2024 reopening (summer 2023 recap)”

Minimalist Tiki

Inside The Mai-Kai: Detailed restoration advances amid total infrastructure overhaul (summer 2023 recap)

Inside The Mai-Kai: Detailed restoration advances amid total infrastructure overhaul (summer 2023 recap)

As the renovation of The Mai-Kai reaches a crucial point outdoors, work is progressing on the restoration of the historic South Florida restaurant’s guest areas alongside a near total rebuild of the back-of-house facilities.

SEE BELOW: Samoa Room meticulously restored | Lamps & lights get detailed revamp | Molds reshape vintage decor | Woodworkers set stage for artists | New back-of-house taking shape

Creative director "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller (right) and artist Scott "Flounder" Scheidly work in the nerve center of their lamp-rebuilding efforts in the showroom at The Mai-Kai on Aug. 11. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller (right) and artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly work in the nerve center of their lamp-rebuilding efforts in the showroom at The Mai-Kai on Aug. 11. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

It’s a two-pronged effort overseen by Kern Mattei, a second-generation employee who grew up at The Mai-Kai and is now in his 30th year as manager. An October 2020 roof collapse took out the massive kitchen and back bar. A change in ownership in September 2021 kick-started the renovation efforts, which now enter the final phases.

On the job since early 2022, creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller has brought both his passion for historic Polynesian design and his vast experiece as a theme park scenic artist to The Mai-Kai’s many restoration projects. For most of this year, he’s been joined by another central Florida artist, Scott “Flounder” Scheidly, creating a well-oiled machine that can seemingly handle any task, no matter how challenging.

They were joined this summer by another multifaceted artist who has been crucial in helping them use inventive techniques to restore some of the areas most in need of TLC. Along with the woodworking crew tasked with repairing all of The Mai-Kai’s damaged walls and ceiling, Conrad Teheiura Itchener is a key member of the team bringing the Tiki temple back to life.

Conrad Teheiura Itchener pours wet foam into a mold to re-create framing for vintage wall decor (left) and unveils a finished wall panel on Aug. 11. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Conrad Teheiura Itchener pours wet foam into a mold to re-create framing for vintage wall decor (left) and unveils a finished wall panel on Aug. 11. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

Meanwhile, the new ownership team led by historic preservationist Bill Fuller of Barlington Group is pumping all of its resources into modernizing the infrastructure, from new roofs to a revamped electrical grid and air-handling system. Helping Mattei rebuild the kitchen and back-of-house is Fuller’s sister company, Mad Room Hospitality, which oversees other historic restaurants including Miami’s Ball & Chain.

Following is an extensive recap of all the work done inside The Mai-Kai since our last stories in early July. Meanwhile, a related story contains up-to-the minute news on the reimagination of the parking lot as well as a projected reopening date.

RELATED: Outside The Mai-Kai: Artistic flourishes set stage for reimagination, early 2024 reopening (summer 2023 recap)
FULL COVERAGE: Latest news, photos of The Mai-Kai refurbishment

Manager Kern Mattei talks about the early years of The Mai-Kai during the presentation "Tiki History Reimagined: The Restoration and Reopening of The Mai-Kai" at Tiki Oasis in San Diego on Aug. 5. (Photo by Sven Kirsten)
Manager Kern Mattei talks about the early years of The Mai-Kai during the presentation “Tiki History Reimagined: The Restoration and Reopening of The Mai-Kai” at Tiki Oasis in San Diego on Aug. 5. (Photo by Sven Kirsten)

Previous coverage
* The Mai-Kai and The Atomic Grog at Tiki Oasis
* The Mai-Kai renovations, May-June 2023: Historic restaurant’s new infrastructure begins to take shape
* Meticulous attention to detail is hallmark of The Mai-Kai restoration project (May-June 2023 update)

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Some of the vintage lamps in The Mai-Kai's Samoa Room that have been completely refurbished along with the walls and ceiling. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / Aug. 18, 2023)
Some of the vintage lamps in The Mai-Kai’s Samoa Room that have been completely refurbished along with the walls and ceiling. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / Aug. 18, 2023)

SAMOA ROOM: One of the original dining areas meticulously restored

Over the past six months, creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller and artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly have methodically brought many of The Mai-Kai’s elaborately themed dining rooms back to life: New Guinea, Hawaii, Moorea, and the lower areas of Tonga. But the completion of the one of the oldest dining areas, Samoa, remained elusive.

Continue reading “Inside The Mai-Kai: Detailed restoration advances amid total infrastructure overhaul (summer 2023 recap)”

The Mai-Kai team joins The Atomic Grog for two special presentations at Tiki Oasis

The Mai-Kai at Tiki Oasis

The Mai-Kai and The Atomic Grog are headed to Tiki Oasis! We’re honored to be joined by manager Kern Mattei and creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller at the world’s original and largest Tiki weekender Aug. 2-6 in San Diego.

Follow us at Tiki Oasis: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Tiki Oasis

JUMP BELOW
NEW: Social media coverage, photos
* Sneak preview of The Mai-Kai seminars
* Full event preview and daily highlights

The 23rd annual event at the Town and Country Resort features live entertainment (Man or Astroman, The Tikiyaki Orchestra, Messer Chups, The New Les Baxter Orchestra, Shorty’s Swingin’ Coconuts, King Kukulele, Medusirena), seminars (Sven Kirsten, Charles Phoenix, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Ian Burrell), artists, vendors, and much more.

Tiki Oasis guests will enjoy five nights and four days of poolside lounging, fashion shows, room parties, live bands and DJs, a curated art exhibit, a gigantic Tiki marketplace, tropical cocktails curated by top mixologists, plus much more.

Click here for event tickets, ranging from $40 for Wednesday to $499 for a deluxe Wednesday-Sunday pass. If you have kids in tow, don’t fret. Tickets cost just $35 for ages 6 to 17. Children 5 under are free.

Click below for tickets to the seminars, which must be purchased separately.

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THE MAI-KAI AT TIKI OASIS

Jim "Hurricane" Hayward (left) is participating in Tiki Oasis 2023 with two key members of The Mai-Kai team: manager Kern Mattei and creative director "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller. (Mai-Kai photo)
Jim “Hurricane” Hayward (left) is participating in Tiki Oasis 2023 with two key members of The Mai-Kai team: manager Kern Mattei and creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller. (Mai-Kai photo)

For the first time in event history, South Florida’s historic Mai-Kai will be on hand for not one, but two official presentations. Last year, designer and artist Allsmiller taught a sold-out, two-day shelf-building class shortly after diving into his work restoring The Mai-Kai. This year, he’ll be featuring one of his restored vintage lamps from The Mai-Kai in a lamp show that runs all weekend.

On Friday, Hayward and Mattei will present a seminar on one of The Mai-Kai’s most iconic cocktails, the Derby Daiquiri. On Saturday, they will be joined by Allsmiller for a presentation jam-packed with the latest information on the restoration and reopening.

Here are are more details on the events:

The Derby Daiquiri and Beyond: How to Create Your Own Classic
Hosted by Kern Mattei and Jim “Hurricane” Hayward
2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4, $45 [BUY TICKETS]

In 1958, Mariano Licudine created the Derby Daiquiri, one of the most celebrated drinks of the mid-century tropical cocktail boom.
In 1958, Mariano Licudine created the Derby Daiquiri, one of the most celebrated drinks of the mid-century tropical cocktail boom.

The Mai-Kai’s Derby Daiquiri was one of the most celebrated cocktails of the mid-century, a simple riff on the Cuban classic by master mixologist Mariano Licudine. Six decades later, it remains one of the most popular drinks on the historic restaurant’s menu. It also provides a case study on how a vintage recipe can be enhanced by just a few simple tweaks, creating something new and exciting. Join The Mai-Kai’s longtime manager, Kern Mattei, and cocktail blogger Jim “Hurricane” Hayward for an examination of Licudine’s genius as they guide you toward creating your own signature classic.

About Kern and Jim

Kern Mattei was born into The Mai-Kai family and has worked there since his youth, from barback and bartender to the past three decades as manager. His father was the GM before him, and his mother performed in the stage show. His unique position makes him intimately familiar with the restaurant’s famous cocktails, their history and the secret recipes. During the current refurbishment, he runs the takeout cocktail program, providing quarts and gallons of classics like the Barrel O’ Rum and Black Magic to thirsty locals. Blogger and journalist Jim “Hurricane” Hayward has covered The Mai-Kai for more than a decade, documenting and recreating the cocktail recipes in exacting detail. As we approach a late 2023 reopening, The Atomic Grog has become a key source of information on The Mai-Kai restoration project.

Mariano Licudine serves the Derby Daiquiri in Puerto Rico in 1959. The seminar will reveal The Mai-Kai's relationship with the Rums of Puerto Rico trade group. (From Potions of the Caribbean, courtesy of The Mai-Kai)
Mariano Licudine serves the Derby Daiquiri in Puerto Rico in 1959. The seminar will reveal The Mai-Kai’s relationship with the Rums of Puerto Rico trade group. (From Potions of the Caribbean, courtesy of The Mai-Kai)

Seminar sneak preview

Here’s a glimpse of what you can expect during the first-ever official Mai-Kai cocktail seminar at Tiki Oasis:

  • Three different Daiquiris will be served by the Tiki Oasis cocktail crew, including the Derby, as we reveal and dissect each recipe.
  • Rare and never-before-seen images from the archives will be shown, including Mattei family photos.

  • We’ll take the most detailed look yet at the creation and explosive popularity of the Derby Daiquiri, known as “the $100,000 Drink.”

  • The seminar will conclude with the premiere of a new recipe created especially for Tiki Oasis and San Diego.

The Derby Daiquiri: The Mai-Kai’s ‘$100,000 drink’ is worth its weight in gold
The Derby Daiquiri: The Mai-Kai’s ‘$100,000 drink’ is worth its weight in gold UPDATED
A deep dive into the fascinating history of the cocktail that made The Mai-Kai and its head mixologist famous.
>>> UPDATED HISTORY, REVIEW AND MORE
NEW: Tribute recipe | The Derby Daiquiri on Spike’s Breezeway Cocktail Hour

Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Classic Daiquiri lost favor when Cuba fell, but influence endures
Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Classic Daiquiri lost favor when Cuba fell, but influence endures UPDATED
Revisit The Mai-Kai’s version of a classic, including a recently unveiled recipe that links back to Don the Beachcomber.
>>> UPDATED HISTORY & REVIEW | NEW: AUTHENTIC RECIPE

More on The Atomic Grog
* Okole Maluna Society: The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide
* More on the Daiquiri, plus 18 other recipes in the A-Z cocktail guide

The Mai-Kai is in the midst of a multi-year, multimillion-dollar restoration and renovation project. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / July 2023)
The Mai-Kai is in the midst of a multi-year, multimillion-dollar restoration and renovation project. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / July 2023)

Tiki History Reimagined: The Restoration and Reopening of The Mai-Kai
Jim “Hurricane” Hayward with “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller and Kern Mattei
2:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5, $20 [BUY TICKETS]

The Mai-Kai is a miraculous survivor. The South Florida historic landmark endured a near-catastrophic roof collapse in late 2020 but found new owners with deep pockets and an ambitious vision to preserve it for generations to come. When the restoration of the 66-year-old Polynesian palace is complete, it will be meticulously returned to its former glory and also include millions of dollars in enhancements that respect the past and charge boldly into the future. In this multimedia presentation, embedded journalist Jim “Hurricane” Hayward of The Atomic Grog blog will take you behind the scenes at The Mai-Kai. He’ll be joined by two key members of The Mai-Kai team: Creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller will offer unique insights into the painstaking restoration efforts, while longtime manager Kern Mattei will provide up-to-the-minute news on the renovation project, along with his unique perspective on Mai-Kai history.

Creative director "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller (right) has been joined by fellow Florida artist and craftsman Scott "Flounder" Scheidly for the ambitious job of restoring the interior of The Mai-Kai, including more than 100 vintage lamps. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / July 2023)
Creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller (right) has been joined by fellow Florida artist and craftsman Scott “Flounder” Scheidly for the ambitious job of restoring the interior of The Mai-Kai, including more than 100 vintage lamps. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / July 2023)

About The Mai-Kai team

Jim “Hurricane” Hayward is a veteran journalist and blogger, best known for The Atomic Grog blog – covering Tiki events, music, art cocktails and culture since 2011. Along with its popular Mai-Kai cocktail guide, the blog has become the go-to source of information on the landmark restaurant’s closing, sale, restoration, and reopening. Typhoon Tommy is a multiple Thea Award-winning scenic artist with 13 years of experience in the theme park industry. After turning his talents full-time to creating magical escapes in the world of Tiki, he became creative director and designer for The Mai-Kai renovation project in 2022. Kern Mattei grew up at the historic restaurant during its heyday and now leads the efforts to modernize the infrastructure while maintaining as much of its original beauty as possible. He has been general manager since 1993, following in the footsteps of his father, Kern Mattei Sr. (1964-1991).

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai team joins The Atomic Grog for two special presentations at Tiki Oasis”

Meticulous attention to detail is hallmark of The Mai-Kai restoration project (May-June 2023 update)

Meticulous attention to detail is hallmark of The Mai-Kai restoration project (May-June 2023 update)

When The Mai-Kai reopens for guests, there will be tons of fresh features on the exterior: A lushly landscaped entryway with flowing water and rock work, a redesigned and immersive parking lot, plus a new outdoor bar and stage. But when you enter the main building, it will be like stepping into a time machine set for 1973.
RELATED: The Mai-Kai renovations, May-June 2023: Historic restaurant’s new infrastructure begins to take shape
SEE BELOW: May-June chronology | Design projects in depth

Scott "Flounder" Scheidly (left) and creative director "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller have mastered the art of restoring vintage lamps at The Mai-Kai. (Photos by Kern Mattei and Hurricane Hayward / June 2023)
Scott “Flounder” Scheidly (left) and creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller have mastered the art of restoring vintage lamps at The Mai-Kai. (Photos by Kern Mattei and Hurricane Hayward / June 2023)

Making this feat a reality is a team of artists and craftspeople under the direction of manager Kern Mattei and creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller. This over-arching job is mammoth, encompassing the restoration of the Molokai bar, eight elaborately themed dining areas, plus other guest spaces.

On top of this, Mattei is managing on-site workflow during the massive infrastructure project [see sidebar] while Allsmiller has his hand in any project that requires thematic design and an artist’s touch. In our last detailed story, we took a long look behind the scenes as Allsmiller and Scott “Flounder” Scheidly were deeply immersed in detail work throughout the sprawling 26,000-square-foot building.
PREVIOUS: Bora Bora building comes down as restoration efforts pick up steam
UPDATES: Latest news, photos of The Mai-Kai refurbishment

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The Mai-Kai at Tiki Oasis
The Mai-Kai and The Atomic Grog are headed to Tiki Oasis
Join us for two special seminars at the world’s original Tiki weekender Aug. 2-6 in San Diego

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In this update, we’ll catch up with the Orlando-area artists as they continue their mission to return The Mai-Kai to the same condition it was when the last major redesign was completed in the early 1970s. That’s when the last dining rooms were added and the building’s current footprint was solidified, some 15 years after its 1956 opening.

First, let’s walk through a chronological recap from May and June:

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MAY AND JUNE UPDATES

Restored lamps in the Hawaii dining room, early May 2023. (Photo by Kern Mattei)
Restored lamps in the Hawaii dining room, early May 2023. (Photo by Kern Mattei)

EARLY MAY: Allsmiller and Scheidly were busy refurbishing lamps in the Hawaii dining area, the 60-capacity room to the right of the showroom stage. “They touched almost all of them,” Mattei said. They also finished the ceiling in Hawaii, adding new panels.

They were assisted by longtime Mai-Kai handyman Gustavo in removing the window between Hawaii and Samoa, then adding new wood and lighting. The window was cleaned and put back in place, restoring this little-known feature to its vintage condition:

Handyman Gustavo (from left),
(Photos by Kern Mattei)

They also started on the adjacent Moorea dining area, a 40-capacity room that’s slightly elevated to offer the most distant views of the Polynesian Islander Revue to the north beyond Hawaii. The opposite southern glass wall, featuring rare yellow Chinese jade tiles, offers views of the outdoor garden. The crew immediately targeted the woodwork, matting and lamps for repair.

The lamp-builders also pivoted back to the Tonga Room, the elevated 80-capacity space in the back of the showroom. They had made great progress there in previous months, but the huge space still had many lamps that needed work.

Below at left is a restored tapa in The Mai-Kai’s Hawaii Room. A vintage turtle shell lamp will be returned to the center (note the electrical outlet). At right are some of the many restored lamps in the Tonga Room.

Restored tapas in The Mai-Kai's Hawaii Room (left) and lamps in the Tonga Room. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / May 2023)
(Photos by Hurricane Hayward / May 2023)

MID-MAY: Work wrapped up in the Hawaii dining room as Allsmiller and Scheidly put finishing touches on the lamps, walls and ceiling. “Once the turtle shells go back on the walls, it’s going to be beautiful in here,” Allsmiller said.

In their workspace in the main showroom, the lamp brigade finished all of the low-hanging lamps in the Tonga dining area, many created 50 years ago by the venerable Oceanic Arts. Those high in the A-frame will be touched later. Traditionally one of the darkest parts of restaurant, this area looks much brighter with all the lamps refurbished and featuring modern LED lighting.

In the left photo below, Allsmiller shows off a lamp project on May 18. At right, he points out work being done to restore an old framed tapa in the hallway near the Tonga Room and entrance to the kitchen. After the colors are touched up and it’s covered in Mod Podge, you won’t even notice, he said. “We’re trying to save them, bring them back.”

"Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller shows off a lamp project (left) and points out work being done to restore an old framed tapa. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / May 2023)
(Photos by Hurricane Hayward / May 2023)

Back in Moorea, Allsmiller explained how they’re trying to restore the walls even though some of the materials are no longer available. He said they’re using materials salvaged from elsewhere, then changing the design slightly so chair backs will no longer damage the matting. “We’re saving material and reusing it,” he said.

He said the typical plan of attack for each room is to work on the walls first and save the lamps for last, or whenever they’re waiting for materials. On May 18, I found them in the nerve center – the main showroom workspace – buried in new lamp projects.

Both Scheidly and Allsmiller were working on total rebuilds of old lamps from the Tonga Room, found broken and in bad shape (see photo below). “I like the challenge,” Allsmiller said of not having the blueprints. He said he can make an educated guess of what the lamps should look like. Schematics for some of the Oceanic Arts lamps were found in The Mai-Kai warehouse, but many others are mysteries.

Scott "Flounder" Scheidly (left) and "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller works on rebuilding vintage lamps at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / May 2023)
(Photo by Hurricane Hayward / May 2023)

Work was also progressing into Samoa, a secluded dining area that seats 44 in one of the oldest rooms at The Mai-Kai. The “demolition crew” had been busy tearing out all the old, damaged wall materials. This is a big help to the designers, allowing them to concentrate on restoration. Work was also advancing on the refurbishing of the ceiling and beams.

Continue reading “Meticulous attention to detail is hallmark of The Mai-Kai restoration project (May-June 2023 update)”

The Mai-Kai renovations, May-June 2023: Historic restaurant’s new infrastructure begins to take shape

The Mai-Kai renovations, May-June 2023: Historic restaurant's new infrastructure begins to take shape

Following a flurry of activity in April that included the removal of the 50-year-old Bora Bora building, the non-stop work over the past two months was less flamboyant but just as crucial in the multimillion-dollar restoration of the historic Mai-Kai restaurant in South Florida.
RELATED: Meticulous attention to detail is hallmark of The Mai-Kai restoration project (May-June 2023 update)
SEE BELOW: Chronology of work | Timeline and permits

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The Mai-Kai at Tiki Oasis
The Mai-Kai and The Atomic Grog are headed to Tiki Oasis
Join us for two special seminars at the world’s original Tiki weekender Aug. 2-6 in San Diego

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By early July, significant infrastructure work was moving at a rapid pace. A complete electrical system overhaul was underway, including the installation of new breaker boxes that will pave the way for a new air-conditioning system.

A half dozen new “fresh air units” were being lifted onto the roof by crane. This modern HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system replaces the decades-old chiller system that included the now-demolished cooling tower behind the Bora Bora building
PREVIOUS: Bora Bora building comes down as restoration efforts pick up steam
UPDATES: Latest news, photos of The Mai-Kai refurbishment

New air ducts are installed on the roof of The Mai-Kai in June 2023. (Photos by Kern Mattei)
New air ducts are installed on the roof of The Mai-Kai in June 2023. (Photos by Kern Mattei)

Once the new electrical grid is operational and they flip the switch on the new AC system, the entire building will be cooled for the first time since the October 2020 roof collapse that triggered the restaurant’s closing and eventual sale in September 2021.

The expansive refurbishments are being driven by the new ownership team led by historic preservationist Bill Fuller. His real estate investment firm, Barlington Group, has a track record of restoring vintage properties, including Miami’s iconic Ball & Chain.

The Little Havana hotspot is run by sister company Mad Room Hospitality, which will also take the operational reins at The Mai-Kai. The founding Thornton family, which remains part of the ownership group, will retain a significant role along with some of its long-standing management team.

Huge progress was made in June in the back of house area that will contain the temporary kitchen, which was an empty shell with no floor on June 1. By June 22 (right), underground plumbing and electrical lines were laid, a new concrete floor was poured and walls were beginning to go up. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Huge progress was made in June in the back of house area that will contain the temporary kitchen, which was an empty shell with no floor on June 1. By June 22 (right), underground plumbing and electrical lines were laid, a new concrete floor was poured and walls were beginning to go up. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

To make The Mai-Kai operational by a projected fall reopening, Mad Room and Mai-Kai managers are working feverishly to get a new kitchen up and running. The old kitchen was damaged beyond repair when torrential rains combined with a malfunctioning sprinkler system flooded the 1970s-era back-of-house roof, causing it to collapse.

The 7,000-square-foot space where the kitchen once stood remains an empty shell with walls but no roof, awaiting Phase 2 of the renovation project. Estimated to be completed a year or more after Phase 1, this ambitious plan includes not only a new state-of-the-art kitchen, but also a 3,500-square-foot event center with a soaring A-frame roof. It will fill a much-needed niche in servicing The Mai-Kai’s market for large groups and events.

In the meantime, the existing back of house area that escaped damage is being reconfigured to accommodate a new, temporary kitchen. It will also be upgraded to include new staff facilities and a new restroom for guests with special needs.

Sunset over The Mai-Kai: A view on May 31 from Planet Fitness across Federal Highway shows the roof refurbishments and new air-conditioning units being installed. You can also see the vents that suck the smoke out of the building after the fire shows. (Photo by Tom Wilson)
Sunset over The Mai-Kai: A view on May 31 from Planet Fitness across Federal Highway shows the roof refurbishments and new air-conditioning units being installed. You can also see the vents that suck the smoke out of the building after the fire shows. (Photo by Tom Wilson)

Last but not least, The Mai-Kai’s legendary back service bar will be reinstalled in a large space that formerly contained a locker room for staff and performers in the Polynesian Islander Revue, the oldest continually-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States (including Hawaii). Smaller locker rooms are being built next to the existing back management offices, which are undergoing minimal refurbishments.

Below is a chronological recap of all the infrastructure work that has happened since the Bora Bora Room’s removal in April.

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai renovations, May-June 2023: Historic restaurant’s new infrastructure begins to take shape”

The Hukilau highlights: Photos and memories from 2023 Tiki weekender in South Florida

The Hukilau highlights: Photos and memories from 2023 Tiki weekender in South Florida

The Hukilau made its 21st live appearance in South Florida last week at the scenic Beachcomber Resort on the Pompano Beach oceanfront. The idyllic setting was perfect for a Tiki weekender featuring four days of nonstop music, cocktails and education on modern and historic Polynesian Pop.
RELATED: The Hukilau 2023 live coverage, photos and video from social media

The Hukilau 2023 – June 8-11 at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach. Featuring live music (The Hula Girls, The Intoxicators, The Disasternauts, Shorty’s Swingin’ Coconuts, The Swingin’ Palms, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, Dan Cunningham, The Ohana Hawaiian Jazz Trio), symposiums and classes (Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, David Wondrich, Matt Pietrek, Garret Richard, Spike Marble, Tiki Tom-Tom, Doc Parks), guest bars and industry professionals, pop-up cocktail bars, pool parties, Tiki Treasures Bazaar, plus more.
* TheHukilau.com | Instagram | Facebook page and group

The Atomic Grog’s photos and memories from June 8-11 at the Beachcomber Resort

Continue reading “The Hukilau highlights: Photos and memories from 2023 Tiki weekender in South Florida”

The Hukilau 2023 countdown: Full schedule and updates as 21st Tiki weekender approaches

The Hukilau 2023 countdown: Full schedule and updates as 21st Tiki weekender approaches

Forget the hurricane season. For the better part of two decades, early June has become The Hukilau season in South Florida.

The Hukilau highlights: Photos and memories from 2023 Tiki weekender in South Florida NEW

The Hukilau

This year’s forecast calls for four days of Category 5 revelry at the oceanfront Beachcomber Resort in Pompano Beach, plus extracurricular activities that span nearly a full week.

It’s far too early in the year for any significant storms, so why not kick off the summer early with an epic Polynesian Pop party on the beachfront? The 21st live version of the East Coast’s largest Tiki weekender blows ashore June 8-11, featuring some top names in the tropical cocktail world, noted live surf and exotica bands, a marketplace featuring more than 30 vendors, educational symposiums, plus more.

The Hukilau 2023 – June 8-11 at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach. Featuring live music (The Hula Girls, The Intoxicators, The Disasternauts, Shorty’s Swingin’ Coconuts, The Swingin’ Palms, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, Dan Cunningham, The Ohana Hawaiian Jazz Trio), symposiums and classes (Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, David Wondrich, Matt Pietrek, Garret Richard, Spike Marble, Tiki Tom-Tom, Doc Parks), guest bars and industry professionals, pop-up cocktail bars, pool parties, Tiki Treasures Bazaar, plus more.
* TheHukilau.com | Instagram | Facebook page and group

JUMP BELOW: SEE THE FULL SCHEDULE
MORE: Before and after parties | Official mug revealed | A taste of The Mai-Kai | Berry & Wondrich symposiums
Bonus cocktail recipe: Special Daiquiri No. 1 from Tropical Standard

Jeff "Beachbum" Berry serves up a signature Latitude 29 cocktail during the Tiki Tower Takeover event at Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale during The Hukilau in June 2016. (Photo by Kevin Upthegrove)
Jeff “Beachbum” Berry serves up a signature Latitude 29 cocktail during the Tiki Tower Takeover event at Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale during The Hukilau in June 2016. (Photo by Kevin Upthegrove)

Following is the latest news and updates as we count down to the event. Check out our previous blog posts for a detailed preview:
* The Hukilau announces 17 guest Tiki bar teams
* The Hukilau 2023 preview: 21st Tiki weekender in June is nirvana for cocktail fanatics

In our first story, we cover the big news of Tiki cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry returning to The Hukilau for the first time since 2016. He’ll join four other notable writers with new books on the shelves: David Wondrich (The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails), Matt Pietrek (Modern Caribbean Rum), Garret Richard (Tropical Standard: Cocktail Techniques & Reinvented Recipes), and Tiki Tom-Tom (Polynesiacs – Tiki at Home).

The Intoxicators from Tallahassee are making their 17th appearance at The Hukilau in 2023.
The Intoxicators from Tallahassee are making their 17th appearance at The Hukilau in 2023.

We also outline what’s new for 2023, including Wednesday’s pre-party at Esotico Miami. And we spotlight all of the musical performers, from those traveling long distances (California’s The Hula Girls and Shorty’s Swingin’ Coconuts; New York’s The Swingin’ Palms) to those from around the Sunshine State (The Intoxicators, The Disasternauts, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, Dan Cunningham).

The story also previews the symposiums and classes. There’s a complete rundown on tickets, plus a detailed description (and photos) of the Beachcomber Resort plus the overflow hotel, the nearby Plunge Beach Resort.

The Luau Lads (Kurt Rogers and Michael Bloom) man their booth in the Tiki Treasures Bazaar at The Hukilau 2022. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Luau Lads (Kurt Rogers and Michael Bloom) man their booth in the Tiki Treasures Bazaar at The Hukilau 2022. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Finally, there’s a section on The Hukilau’s history, from its beginning in 2002 in Atlanta to its many years at Fort Lauderdale Beach hotels and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Oakland Park. The name refers to the traditional Hawaiian gathering of family and friends to cast a giant net into the sea to catch fish. It’s fitting that The Hukilau lures Tikiphiles from around the globe to it’s beachfront locale in our own tropical paradise.

The second story, posted in May, runs down the full list of 17 guest bars and bartenders who will be slinging delicious drinks all weekend. This includes legendary names (The Mai-Kai, Don the Beachcomber, Tonga Hut), many returning favorites (Dirty Dick, Hidden Harbor, The Inferno Room, Tiki Underground), plus some notable newcomers.

The story also lists all 32 booths confirmed for the Tiki Treasures Bazaar, including 16 participants who didn’t attend last year. The roster includes artists, craftspeople, collectors, and a variety of other vendors.

BEFORE AND AFTER: Parties extend The Hukilau revelry to six days

Wednesday’s rum dinner at Esotico Miami, sponsored by Plantation, is sold out. But that doesn’t mean you should skip the pre-party if you won’t have a ticket.

Gold Dust Lounge at Kaona Room on June 7

The tropical cocktail hotspot owned by flamboyant mixologist Daniele Dalla Pola has plenty of space for guests to meet and mingle all night. The event is also sponsored by Hi-Tide Recordings, which likely means we’ll also enjoy some vintage tunes by label owners and DJs Vincent Minervino and Magdalena O’Connell.

You can partake in the exotic fare in the main restaurant, then move into the mysterious speakeasy next door for the late-night party. Dalla Pola’s new Kaona Room will host Miami favorites Gold Dust Lounge performing its unique melding of surf, spy and experimental rock.

Continue reading “The Hukilau 2023 countdown: Full schedule and updates as 21st Tiki weekender approaches”

The Mai-Kai renovations, April 2023: Bora Bora building comes down as restoration efforts pick up steam

The Mai-Kai renovations, April 2023: Bora Bora building comes down as restoration efforts ramp up

The structural footprint of The Mai-Kai changed dramatically last month with the demolition of the long-dormant Bora Bora building, which will pave the way for a reimagined entryway and fully immersive tropical-themed parking lot, outdoor seating area and porte-cochère at the historic South Florida restaurant.

Previous coverage
* Behind the scenes at The-Mai-Kai as restoration ramps up in 2023
* The Mai-Kai officially begins work on first phase of $8.5 million renovation projects

The Mai-Kai's Bora Bora building on April 14 (left), two weeks before its removal. By April 29, all that remained was an empty lot on the northeast corner of the property that will be transformed into a new entry experience. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward and Kern Mattei)
The Mai-Kai’s Bora Bora building on April 14 (left), two weeks before its removal. By April 29, all that remained was an empty lot on the northeast corner of the property that will be transformed into a new entry experience. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward and Kern Mattei)

Amid the ruckus outside, the restoration efforts inside the main building advanced quietly but deliberately. Creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller and fellow Orlando-area artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly completed the New Guinea dining room, a vintage space that dates back to The Mai-Kai’s 1956 opening. They also restored the ceiling and walls near the Tonga dining room, and by the end of the month were full immersed in the Hawaii room.

Laser-focused on The Mai-Kai’s hundreds of custom lamps, they cranked out replicas and refurbished many originals created 50 years ago. After they finish, it will be impossible to tell which lamps are rebuilt and which are vintage, an over-arching theme of the restoration efforts.

"Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller shows off a refurbished lamp at The Mai-Kai on April 25. He and fellow artist Scott "Flounder" Scheidly completed restoring all the lamps in the New Guinea dining room (right). (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
“Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller shows off a refurbished lamp at The Mai-Kai on April 25. He and fellow artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly completed restoring all the lamps in the New Guinea dining room (right). (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

Meanwhile, the back-of-house area was a total construction zone as crews prepared for the installation of a new bar and kitchen. Up on the roof, workers were busy sealing the main A-frame and working on new vents, along with the structures to hold the new air-conditioning system.

After electrical work was done, a painting crew put the finishing touches on the men’s restroom. Electricians continued an infrastructure overhaul, preparing for the upcoming installation of a new circuit breaker system.

Despite all the chaos, manager Kern Mattei managed to crank out another round of The Mai-Kai’s signature cocktail quarts and gallons to go on April 26-27. Depending on the progress on the electrical work., which may force the shutdown of the bar’s coolers, the next chance to enjoy the classic tropical drinks may take place only at The Hukilau weekender in June.

Photos provided by manager Kern Mattei show the progress of work on The Mai-Kai's soaring main A-frame. The roof was sealed to prevent leaks (left), then repainted.
Photos provided by manager Kern Mattei show the progress of work on The Mai-Kai’s soaring main A-frame. The roof was sealed to prevent leaks (left), then repainted.

Below are updates on all the work that took place in April, including video and many exclusive photos.

Jump to April news and updates below
* Bora Bora Room removed | Photo gallery
* Dining rooms return to vintage glory | Photo gallery
* Work begins on new bar and kitchen
* Former Molokai bar waitress remembered

UPDATES: Get the latest news and photos on our social media pages
* Facebook | Instagram | Twitter
Atomic Grog blog: Recent social media posts, past coverage

A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway on April 7 after the thatching of the A-frame roofs over the rear dining rooms was completed. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway on April 7 after the thatching of the A-frame roofs over the rear dining rooms was completed. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

It’s no surprise that April saw an acceleration of renovation work on multiple fronts. In March, The Mai-Kai officially began the $8.5 million project after three permits cleared the way for three major projects:
* Repair and restoration of the porte-cochère and thatched roofing.
* Removal of the Bora Bora building.
* Interior renovation, including a new bar and kitchen.

The repairs and refurbishments became necessary after the 26,000-square-foot restaurant suffered a catastrophic roof collapse over the kitchen in late October of 2020. The plans – which include both restoring the main building and upgrading and enhancing the parking lot and back of house – became clear after the founding Thornton family sold a majority interest to a new ownership team led by the Barlington Group and historic preservationist Bill Fuller.

The permit approvals restarted the roof thatching project in March. By April, thatching was completed on the porte-cochère as well as the A-frame roofs over the back dining rooms. All that remained was detailing and finishing work, which will happen later.

Outside under the porte-cochère on April 14, a crew works on spackling and smoothing the wood, getting it ready to be finished. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Outside under the porte-cochère on April 14, a crew works on spackling and smoothing the wood, getting it ready to be finished. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

As April progressed, The Mai-Kai applied for three new permits that will keep projects moving quickly. On April 25, the city of Oakland Park issued a mechanical permit that will allow for the installation of the new kitchen. It won’t expire until Oct. 23, which fits in with the timeline we’re hearing about a reopening coming in the fall.

A mechanical permit for “fire suppression” was applied for in April, then issued in May This likely covers not only a new sprinkler system, but a fine-tuning off The Mai-Kai’s elaborate rooftop exhaust system that pulls smoke from the main showroom after the fire-dancers perform in the Polynesian Islander Revue. Established in the early 1960s, it’s the oldest continually-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States (including Hawaii).

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai renovations, April 2023: Bora Bora building comes down as restoration efforts pick up steam”

The Hukilau announces lineup of 17 guest Tiki bar teams at June 2023 event

The Hukilau announces lineup of 15 guest Tiki bar teams at June 2023 event

As if symposiums and cocktails from luminaries including Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and David Wondrich weren’t enough, The Hukilau has added a flamboyant garnish to its 21st Tiki weekend: An all-star lineup of 17 guest bars that will serve tasty tropical drinks throughout the June 8-11 event on the South Florida oceanfront.
NEW: The Hukilau 2023 countdown: Full schedule and updates as 21st Tiki weekender approaches

The Hukilau

The list includes some historic names (The Mai-Kai, Don the Beachcomber, Tonga Hut), key bars in the modern Tiki revival (Dirty Dick, Hidden Harbor, Inferno Room), plus many returning favorites (Esotico Miami, Tiki Tatsu-ya, Tiki Underground). All will be crafting drinks throughout the four days of pool and beach parties, symposiums, nightly bungalow parties, plus more.
Pop-up bars and bartenders: See the full lineup of participants
Bonus cocktail recipe below: Passport to Martinique from VenTiki

Also confirmed this week is a list of more than 30 artists and vendors who will be selling their wares in the Tiki Treasures Bazaar. They range from noted artists (Kymm! Bang, Robert Jimenez, Tom Fowner), to longtime Tiki merchants (Aloha Art and Alligators, The Modern Historic), to event newcomers (Bamboo Betty Wear, Trader Van’s).
Tiki Treasures Bazaar: See the full lineup of participants

The Hukilau 2023 – June 8-11 at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach. Featuring live music (The Hula Girls, The Intoxicators, The Disasternauts, Shorty’s Swingin’ Coconuts, The Swingin’ Palms, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, Dan Cunningham), symposiums (Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, David Wondrich, Matt Pietrek, Garret Richard, Spike Marble, Tiki Tom-Tom), guest bars, rum tastings, pool parties, beach parties, Tiki Treasures Bazaar, plus more.
* TheHukilau.com | Instagram | Facebook page and group
Previous coverage: The Hukilau 2023 preview: 21st Tiki weekender in June is nirvana for cocktail fanatics

Among the Tiki cocktail authors scheduled to appear at The Hukilau 2023 are (from left) Jeff "Beachbum" Berry, Garret Richard, and Matt Pietrek.
Among the Tiki cocktail authors scheduled to appear at The Hukilau 2023 are (from left) Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Garret Richard, and Matt Pietrek.

Beachbum Berry (an influential Tiki drink historian, author and owner of Latitude 29 in New Orleans) and Wondrich (award-winning author and cocktail historian) are the marquee names, but the other symposium presenters also bring a great depth and breadth of expertise on Tiki bars and cocktails.

Garret Richard, who leads the cocktail program at Brooklyn’s Sunken Harbor Club, has a new book coming out May 16 (co-written with Ben Schaffer). Tropical Standard: Cocktail Techniques & Reinvented Recipes is eagerly anticipated by both home and professional bartenders for its innovative yet reverential approach to modern mixology.

Matt Pietrek (author of Minimalist Tiki and Modern Caribbean Rum) will discuss classic tropical drink recipes, past and present. He’ll take today’s “authentic” golden era recipes and demonstrate how things changed without us realizing it. Author and photographer Tiki Tom-Tom will talk about his first book, The Polynesiacs: Tiki at Home, scheduled for release this month through Pietrek’s self-publishing company.

Matt "Spike" Marble is the host of Spike's Breezeway Cocktail Hour on YouTube.
Matt “Spike” Marble is the host of Spike’s Breezeway Cocktail Hour on YouTube.

Last but not least, YouTube video host Matt “Spike” Marble will be on hand to record a live episode of Spike’s Breezeway Cocktail Hour and also peform with his band, The Hula Girls.

Previous coverage: Symposiums | Bands and music

Joining Southern California’s The Hula Girls are two other bands from the New Jersey-based Hi-Tide Recordings label. Shorty’s Swingin’ Coconuts (Long Beach, Calif.) will be promoting a new vinyl LP, Surf Shack Shindig, scheduled to be released this summer. The Swingin’ Palms (Albany, N.Y.) will perform their signature lei’d back Hawaiian instrumentals, while Hi-Tide owners Vincent Minervino and Magdalena O’Connell will join the party with their distinctive DJ sets.

Rounding out the musical lineup are four Florida-based acts. The Intoxicators (Tallahassee), The Disasternauts (parts unknown), and Skinny Jimmy Stingray (Deerfield Beach) all perform hard-driving instrumental rock, liberally mixing original tunes with surf classics. South Florida’s Dan Cunningham, on the other hand, is a classic crooner and one of the area’s top Elvis tribute performers.

The Beachcomber Resort & Club is located on the Atlantic Ocean in Pompano Beach. (Official photo)
The Beachcomber Resort & Club is located on the Atlantic Ocean in Pompano Beach. (Official photo)

The Hukilau is centered around pool parties featuring live music and cocktails at the scenic Beachcomber Resort on the Atlantic Ocean in Pompano Beach, just north of Fort Lauderdale. There will also be two beach parties and nightly bungalow parties. The Tiki Treasures Bazaar and the symposiums are held under tents and thatched huts around the resort property. The overall vibe and festive atmosphere creates a legitimate South Seas paradise in the tropics.

All 140 rooms at the Beachcomber are sold out, but The Hukilau’s villagers can get a special rate at the Plunge Beach Resort, about 2 miles south in Lauderdale By the Sea. Reserve a room via the link on The Hukilau website or call 407-536-2763. Use group code “HUKI” to get the discount.

Event tickets range from $149 (plus service fee) for the Saturday-only Palm Pass, to $599 (plus fee) for the four-day South Seas Pass. The top-tier pass includes many perks, including a VIP lounge, reserved seating at symposiums, and early access to the bazaar. The South Seas and Aloha pass ($359) include all presentations and parties, plus unlimited cocktails.

Previous coverage: Hotels | Tickets | Schedule

Among those returning to The Hukilau in 2023 are the Inferno Room (left), Scotty Schuder of Dirty Dick, and Daniele Dalla Pola of Esotico Miami. Photos from The Hukilau 2022 (left) and 2018 (right) by Hurricane Hayward; center photo by Chris Kridler, 2018)
Among those returning to The Hukilau in 2023 are the Inferno Room (left), Scotty Schuder of Dirty Dick, and Daniele Dalla Pola of Esotico Miami. Photos from The Hukilau 2022 (left) and 2018 (right) by Hurricane Hayward; center photo by Chris Kridler, 2018)

GUEST BARS: 17 top bar teams serve up signature drinks

A staple of The Hukilau, cocktails crafted by some of the world’s top Tiki bartenders are available throughout the event at no extra charge. Indulge freely (and responsibly) as you enjoy the music, symposiums and many other happenings around the Beachcomber resort. Here’s the lineup of bars for 2023, which includes many returning favorites:

Continue reading “The Hukilau announces lineup of 17 guest Tiki bar teams at June 2023 event”

EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: Behind the scenes at The Mai-Kai as restoration ramps up in 2023

EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: Behind the scenes at The-Mai-Kai as restoration ramps up in 2023

With contractors and construction crews moving full-speed ahead on a massive renovation of the infrastructure and exterior of The Mai-Kai, a small team of craftsmen continues to meticulously restore the historic South Florida restaurant’s elaborately themed interior guest areas in exacting detail.

Just inside the entrance to The Mai-Kai on Federal Highway, creative director "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller is hard at work restoring the interior of the historic restaurant on March 9. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
Just inside the entrance to The Mai-Kai on Federal Highway, creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller is hard at work restoring the interior of the historic restaurant on March 9. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

The city of Oakland Park’s recent approval of permits that will allow the major pieces of the $8.5 million project to move forward has grabbed all the attention so far in 2023. But inside the beloved Polynesian palace, creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller has been busy in the new year with a wide array of restoration projects.

We’ll take an in-depth look at Allsmiller’s work below. But first, here’s a status report from manager Kern Mattei on the progress of the entire renovation project. This covers everything that has happened since his detailed walk-through of the property with us on March 9.

Workers put the finishing touches on the thatched roof of The Mai-Kai's porte-cochère on March 24, 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Workers put the finishing touches on the thatched roof of The Mai-Kai’s porte-cochère on March 24, 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Completion of porte-cochère roof kicks off many projects to come

By the end of March, the work on thatching the outdoor roofs was progressing nicely after a long pause due to permitting issues. We visited on March 16 to pick up takeout cocktails, then again on March 24 and March 31 for a peek at the progress, both inside and out.

The most noticeable change for guests passing by or picking up quarts and gallons to go this week (April 6-7) will definitely be the completion of the thatched roofs. On March 24, workers were putting the finishing touches on the porte-cochère, which has shielded arriving guests from the elements for the past six decades.

A view of the porte-cochère and entrance to The Mai-Kai after the thatching was completed. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / March 24, 2023)
A view of the porte-cochère and entrance to The Mai-Kai after the thatching was completed. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / March 24, 2023)

Installed shortly after the 1956 opening, the porte-cochère has been re-thatched and the structure periodically refurbished over the years. But the current project is the most extensive in recent history. [See past coverage]

Later, after the driveway is replaced and landscaping has begun, Allsmiller will work on restoring all the design elements beneath the roof on the center beam and trim. Automobile traffic will no longer pass beneath, allowing guests to sit outside with a cocktail and enjoy the shade and ambience.

Scott Scheidly (left), a Central Florida artist better known as Flounder, works with creative director "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller under The Mai-Kai's refurbished porte-cochère on March 15, 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Scott Scheidly (left), a Central Florida artist better known as Flounder, works with creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller under The Mai-Kai’s refurbished porte-cochère on March 15, 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Mattei said they plan to reinstall of the canoe that used to hang under the roof, and also restore all the fishnets and lighting. In the meantime, Allsmiller now has a much cooler outdoor area to work alongside his new assistant, fellow Central Florida artist Scott Scheidly (aka Flounder). The large canopy reduces the temperature in the blazing Florida sun significantly.

Next to the porte-cochère, the Bora Bora Room is being readied for demolition. The removal of the 1960s-era building, approved Jan. 11 by the city’s Historic Preservation Board, will pave the way for a reimagined entryway and new parking lot flow. A subcontractor for the job has yet to be named.

Pieces of the Bora Bora will live on, however, after the removal of all vintage decor that can be repurposed. Mattei showed us a pile of lava rock that had been removed, stashed away for use later in the entryway landscaping.

Thatch work on the A-frame roofs over the rear dining areas at The Mai-Kai nears completion on March 31, 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Thatch work on the A-frame roofs over the rear dining areas at The Mai-Kai nears completion on March 31, 2023. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Meanwhile, electricians are busy rewiring the entire property, creating a new grid that will allow for the installation of a half-dozen new air-conditioning units on the roofs. The modern HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system will replace the old chiller system and its water cooling tower hidden behind the Bora Bora building.

With the porte-cochère job complete, the company installing the synthetic thatching moved on to finish the uncompleted work on the A-frames over the rear dining rooms. On March 31, work was progressing on the Tahiti and Moorea roofs, which were added during the early 1970s expansion. [See past coverage]

When this is done, the crew from Tiki King will take a break before returning for perhaps the biggest thatching project: Restoring the materials to The Mai-Kai’s towering main A-frame.

A view from Federal Highway of The Mai-Kai's new thatching over the Tahiti Room (left) and the massive main A-frame. Crews recently finished sealing and painting the 66-year-old structure. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / March 31, 2023)
A view from Federal Highway of The Mai-Kai’s new thatching over the Tahiti Room (left) and the massive main A-frame. Crews recently finished sealing and painting the 66-year-old structure. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / March 31, 2023)

This iconic structure, which reaches more than 40 feet at its peak, has undergone changes over the years. Originally, the rear contained thatching while the front portion featured giant screens to let in the air (and rain) to keep the indoor gardens flourishing. [See photo]

While there are no plans to bring back the open-air concept, Mattei said potential designs being debated by the ownership team should give it a more traditional look. We spotted painters on the roof March 24. By March 31, all the undercoating and sealant had been added to the exterior to defend against future leaks.

“It’s finished for now, until we figure out what’s going on,” said Mattei, explaining the process of troubleshooting for pesky leaks before the thatching and final paint job are done. The artwork on the front will be restored by the painter who did the original five decades ago.

A wide view of the southern portion of the front of The Mai-Kai shows the roofing work in progress. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / March 31, 2023)
A wide view of the southern portion of the front of The Mai-Kai shows the roofing work in progress. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / March 31, 2023)

Around the back of the building, crews were up on the refurbished flat roof, installing support beams to hold all the new air-conditioning units. The first of these half-dozen new AC boxes was sitting in the back-of-house space that used to house the kitchen, before the October 2020 roof collapse that forced its removal and shut down the restaurant.

Mattei said there’s no rush to rebuild that area until after the underground plumbing is reinstalled to modern standards. The previous kitchen dated back to the 1970 expansion.

However, there is much work ongoing inside the back of house area that survived the roof collapse. Since the permit approvals, a large portion of the existing space used by staff was gutted in preparation for its reimagination.

Continue reading “EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: Behind the scenes at The Mai-Kai as restoration ramps up in 2023”