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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minimalist Tiki

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)”

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

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

Updated May 9

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

Tiki-a-Go-Go 2024 in Orlando

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Don the Beachcomber locations launching in Florida, up to 15 planned across Southeast

New Don the Beachcomber locations launching in Florida, up to 15 planned across Southeast

LATEST UPDATES
* Don the Beachcomber grand opening in Florida is a smashing success (February 2024)
* Revived Don the Beachcomber brand opens first location in southwest Florida (February 2024)
* First new Don the Beachcomber location on track to open in early 2024 (December 2023)
* Florida is ground zero for revival of iconic brand (October 2023)

The Feb. 22 birthday of Tiki bar pioneer Don the Beachcomber (1907-1989) is typically a red-letter day for many bartenders and home enthusiasts, who celebrate by mixing up classic tropical cocktails to toast the originator of such iconic drinks as the Zombie, Nui Nui, and Three Dots and a Dash. This custom has intensified recently with the announcement of new book and film projects that celebrate the life of times of the creator of what’s now known as Polynesian Pop, aka Tiki culture.

Don the Beachcomber

Jump to more below
Sneak peek: Renderings, video of the new location near Orlando
Bonus recipe below: Don’s Beach Planter cocktail

But the occasion gained special importance this year with the announcement that a Tampa-based hospitality company will begin rolling out a chain of new Tiki-themed restaurants featuring the Don the Beachcomber branding in 2023. According to a press release from 23 Restaurant Services, “there are currently two Don the Beachcomber restaurants and bars under development in Central Florida, with the first slated to open by the end of the year.”

The company’s president, Marc Brown, said in the release that he expects as many as 10 to 15 restaurants to be spread across the Southeast over the next several years, with plans to expand nationally. Brown’s company bought the rights to the Don the Beachcomber brand in 2021, aiming to incorporate it into its successful Tiki Docks concept in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.

Ernest Raymond Gantt, aka Don the Beachcomber, was a former bootlegger who kicked off the Tiki craze with his first bar in Hollywood, Calif., in 1933. Within a few years, imitators sprang up across the country. (Courtesy of 23 Restaurant Services)
Ernest Raymond Gantt, aka Don the Beachcomber, was a former bootlegger who kicked off the Tiki craze with his first bar in Hollywood, Calif., in 1933. Within a few years, imitators sprang up across the country. (Courtesy of 23 Restaurant Services)

The birthday of Donn Beach, who legally changed his name from Ernest Raymond Gantt after the success of his Don the Beachcomber restaurants in the 1930s, seemed like a great time to announce the ambitious plan that 23 Restaurant Services calls “an expansive growth strategy.”

“Each of the restaurants will feature the eccentric, Polynesian-inspired design and flamboyant, rum-based drinks that have become synonymous with Don the Beachcomber locations for more than 90 years,” the press release says.

“Don the Beachcomber is the most iconic brand in Tiki history, so it’s impossible to overstate how excited we are about what lies ahead,” Brown said. “We look forward to leveraging our expertise in management and operational excellence to reintroduce the world to the legend that is Don the Beachcomber.”

Searching for Don the Beachcomber by Tim "Swanky" Glazner

To accomplish this, 23 Restaurant Services will be guided by an advisory board featuring some of the top artists, writers, and bartenders from the current Tiki scene:

Marie King, who will lead the new Don the Beachcomber cocktail program, previously managed the venerable Tonga Hut in Los Angeles. She has been a leader and mainstay in the industry since running the bar at the Don the Beachcomber in Southern California before it closed in 2018. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward from The Hukilau 2022 in Pompano Beach)
Marie King, who will lead the new Don the Beachcomber cocktail program, previously managed the venerable Tonga Hut in Los Angeles. She has been a leader and mainstay in the industry since running the bar at the Don the Beachcomber in Southern California before it closed in 2018. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward from The Hukilau 2022 in Pompano Beach)

“Assembling this dynamic and legendary group of experts to serve as our advisory board was the first step in developing a plan to share and represent the history and life of Don the Beachcomber with the utmost authenticity,” Brown said. “We could not be more excited to share the work we are doing together to bring Don the Beachcomber back to life.”

In addition to the advisers, Brown has taken a huge first step in bringing back Don the Beachcomber’s classic cocktails by , former beverage director and general manager of Tonga Hut in Los Angeles, as director of beverage for 23 Restaurant Services. King also served as beverage director of the last Don the Beachcomber restaurant in the continental U.S., located in Huntington Beach, Calif., from 2009 to 2018. Like 23 Restaurant Services, the owners of this location purchased the name and did not have any connection to the original company.

Continue reading “New Don the Beachcomber locations launching in Florida, up to 15 planned across Southeast”