Mai-Kai Restaurant

Mai-Kai Restaurant

The Mai-Kai is a tiki-themed restaurant located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It opened on December 28, 1956 and is one of the few "Grand Polynesian Palaces of Tiki" still in operation today.


The Mai Kai was created by Bob and Jack Thornton in a time when many attractions of this sort were spreading throughout Florida. Their original design cost a million dollars to build in 1956 one of the most expensive to build restaurants of the day. In its first year, it earned a million dollars becoming one of the most successful restaurants. It was built in an open field on the very outskirts of Fort Lauderdale on what was then only a two-lane highway. Fort Lauderdale was a seasonal place and was originally only open during the Winter Tourist season. For many years it sold more rum than any location in the United States.

Several signature creations of the Mai Kai are: the Mystery Drink which features a silent dancer giving a lei and a kiss along with a huge flaming cocktail accompanied by gong; the Derby Daiquiri which was invented by Don the Beachcomber trained head bartender Mariano Licudine.

The Mai Kai became rather expansive in time; it includes eight dining rooms, a bar, tropical gardens with walking paths and waterfalls, a stage in the center to showcase the Polynesian Islander Revue floor show, and a gift shop.

Today, the Mai Kai is much like it was in the 1960s. (One of the few differences is that in its early years the restaurant was surrounded by a larger area of tropical gardens with pathways for guests to stroll.) A wooden slat bridge is crossed to reach the porte cochere and valets. A maître d' greets visitors, and in the beautiful restrooms there is an attendant, which the restaurant says is "a luxury missing from too many places today".

The restaurant is now run by Bob's stepson Dave Levy. He has undertaken a massive renovation of the building as of 2008.

Mireille Thornton was in charge of the Mai Kai's Polynesian Islander Revue until recently. As new dances are added to the show, Mirielle first visited the island where the dance originates to ensure it will be performed properly. One large dining room overlooks the show.

The waitresses at the Mai Kai's Molokai Bar are attired in bikini tops and wraparound sarongs. For many years, a Mai Kai calendar was offered featuring the women of the Mai Kai. This worship reaches its zenith with the Mystery Drink, delivered by the Mystery Girl, which is supposedly "an experience that must be witnessed to be fully appreciated".

The Mai-Kai Gardens

Since the very beginning, the Mai-Kai has taken advantage of the nearly year-around growing season and sub-tropical climate to its fullest advantage. Some of the palms and orchids are over fifty years old.

Polynesian Artifacts

The Mai-Kai contains many genuine Polynesian artifacts, some that are over 100 years old.

See also

Further reading

  • Jeff Berry: Sippin Safari. SLG Publishing (June 2007), ISBN 1-59362-067-7.
  • James Teitelbaum: Tiki Road Trip. Santa Monica Press (May 1, 2003), ISBN 1-891661-30-2; 2nd edition released June 1, 2007.

External links

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