Menu Filter

Mai Tais at the Mai Kai – Ft. Lauderdale FL Historic Tiki Destination – Oh My!

Posted on: March 6, 2010

The Mai Kai has been on my “To Do” Retro Roadmap list for ages, and I’m proud to say “We DID”! This east coast tiki temple has been wowing visitors to Fort Lauderdale Florida since 1956, and it certainly wowed us. Definitely on our top list of Retro Roadmap Recommendations!

Mai Kai SignI am quoting that great tiki resource Critiki when I let you know that “The Mai Kai is perhaps the last of the grand Polynesian palaces still operating from when tiki was at its peak in the late 50s and early 60s. That the Mai Kai not only still exists today, but is vibrant and thriving, is something we should all be very grateful for–but not take for granted.” – I could not say it any better!

Mai Kai Entrance

The Mai Kai is a sprawling Polynesian paradise on a busy commercial strip in Fort Lauderdale, and takes on a look of mystery once the sun sets. Included in this time warp of wonderfulness are 8 dining rooms,  a fabulous sunken ship inspired bar, waterfalls, bridges, tropical foliage, and more tikis and idols than I could count.

This tribute to tiki is currently owned by Mirielle (the wife of one of the original owners) who also runs the Polynesian review dinner show- and was once a dancer in it, herself! She also makes sure all new dances added to the dinner show are performed properly according to the people who live on the island on which the dance originates.

We pulled the rented Retro Roadmapmobile over the bridge, left it in the trusty hands of the valet,  made our way into the darkened interior of the Molokai bar, and into another world.

Mai Kai Bar

Our waitresses were a bit goosebumply in their sarongs on this unseasonably chilly day- too bad they couldn’t have a Rum Barrel to warm themselves up, as I did!


The bar is a wonderful recreation of a sunken ship and turn of the century seaport saloon, replete with tiki music and underwater effects:

No matter what window you look out of, you would never be able to tell that the busy street is just outside, as each porthole and ship window reveals a lovely tropical scene:
Mai Kai Waterfall IdolsWanting to get a good seat for the floor show, we left the bar promptly at our reservation time and proceeded into the inner sanctum of the restaurant.

Mai Kai Gardens

We got seated at a nice table for two just to the side with a perfect view of the stage. As Retro Roadhusband waited for our next round of drinks and our dinner (which ended up being quite tasty BTW) I did some “sploring” and took way too many photos. As the Critiki folks commented, you’d be hard pressed to take a bad picture at the Mai Kai!

Sneeky Tiki

Bridge To Paradise

If you’ve never been to the Mai Kai you own it to yourself to spend the affordable $10.95/pp to see the Polynesian Islander Review show- it’s the longest running Polynesian dance show in the continental United States! If you’ve been to the Mai Kai before don’t worry, they create a new show every year, with dances inspired by the islands that make up Polynesia: Tahiti, Aotearoa, New Zealand, Samoa, and Hawaii.

Mai Kai Show 2

The Mai Kai is also a place to celebrate a memorable event and there were many anniversaries, engagements and birthdays the night we were there. Just to our left a wonderful old gentleman was enjoying his 88th birthday at the Mai Kai, and they made sure it was a memorable one, with a sparkler bedecked piece of cake to brighten the festive evening! Just think, he was 34 years old when the Mai Kai first opened. Oh the Retro Roadmap worthy places he must have visited!
88th Birthday!

I reckon my only disappointment of the whole night was that there wasn’t enough tiki stuff in the gift shop to splurge on- so you might want to scope it out beforehand and plan accordingly. If no tiki mugs are available in the gift shop consider ordering a drink that comes with the “take the mug with you when you go” option.

Gift Shop Assortment

We did buy a Beach Bum Berry‘s Sippin’ Safari book for our dear neighbor who was coordinating the snow removal at the Hacienda while we lived it up tropical style. And while it was hard to resist the cheery colors of the vintage tiki dresses and tropical apparel from Vintage Diversity, I did. Though after all the eating and drinking we did on this wonderful day on the East Coast of Florida, I needed a muumuu!
Vintage Tiki Wear

We had a marvelous time at the Mai Kai and would go again in a heartbeat, not only to enjoy ourselves but to help keep this gem of mid century tiki culture going strong. If you want to get the full tiki experience yourself, consider attending the 9th Annual Hukilau in June, which will be featured on an upcoming post on Retro Roadmap!

Mai-Kai Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Share This!
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone
  • Next time your in town let us know…. we’ll send up smoke signals and call out all the locals and join you at the Mai Kai. The place is fantastic by itself and even more so when full of local color.

    • Chip and Andy – thanks so much for the offer! I’m always up for a trip to FLA. If there are any additional Retro Roadmap worthy places in your neck of the woods, send ’em over, and thanks for swinging by!

  • So glad the interior water features are working again- back in December they were not.

  • Betty,

    So glad you finally got a chance to visit the Mai-Kai. I am still discovering new things about it after over eight years of exploring and I still have not made it through the whole yummy drink menu. I regularly make the three hour drive from Sarasota to visit and I will be watching for C&A’s signal. Maybe we should create a batman like symbol in the shape of a Rum Barrel.

    • Bill- we too made the 3hr drive, from Venice, and it was worth it. Though it will take us longer to get there now from PA we’ll send up the Rum Barrel flare when we’re heading down next time. It would be nice to meet some Retro Roadmap type folks! Thanks for swinging by 🙂

  • Looks like you are having a fun time, and you look great in your retro frock!

    It’s a shame more of these places could not have hung in there through the lean times, because in today’s retro-craving atmosphere, they’d all be going strong.

    I stopped at a 50s BBQ place last night to pick up some food for the road, and the place was hopping!

  • Gary

    I use to valet park cars there back in 85/86. I could actually write a book of what all took place. The place is more of a tourist attraction than anything. Half the customers were tourists; the rest were regulars that would want a spot up front. Seen a couple of celebs there. Most people pretending to being something they were not, though. Saw many a face-plants on the asphalt of people walking out. Food was good, but overrated for what it co$t. The drinks are still world-class famous and their saving grace. The lot manager’s name was Jim, and he ran a pool cleaning business on the side. Some of the more interesting things I found in cars: sex toys, joints, roachclips, loaded 357 magnum. Crazy times, but that went with the 80s.

  • Pingback: The Hukilau Tiki Fest at the Mai-Kai Ft. Lauderdale FL – Celebrating 10 years of Polynesian Pop June 9-11, 2011! «

  • WOW!

  • There are so many stories around the Mai-Kai! It is truly a time portal in a way no place else can ever be. If you ever wanted to go back in time to Don the Beachcomber’s, the Mai-Kai is your chance! If you make it to Tiki Oasis this year, come see my presentation on the Mai-Kai’s history!

    • Swanky- thanks for swinging by Retro Roadmap, and if the walls of the Mai Kai could talk I can only imagine the tales they’d tell 🙂
      Alas we won’t be able to make it to Tiki Oasis this year (crossing our Retro Roadfingers that we’ll get there someday) but best of luck with your Mai-Kai presentation!

  • Pingback: The Hukilau Tiki Fest at the Mai-Kai Ft. Lauderdale FL – Celebrating 10 years of Polynesian Pop June 9-11, 2011! | Retro Roadmap()

  • Pingback: Hukilau 2012 Ft. Lauderdale FL Tiki Event | | Retro Roadmap()