H.M.S. Bounty, Los Angeles, California

Le Continental is a big fan of nautical themed restaurants and bars. Not the contemporary type of brightly lit rooms with furnishings in light oak, blue, and white, but the rich, old nautical style of dark varnished woods, brass fixtures, and lots of flotsam. The HMS Bounty is fairly well known as a dive bar, but I think of it also as a restaurant. It has been one of my favorite places to dine at in Los Angeles for many years.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

The HMS Bounty was opened in 1962 by restauranteur Gordon Fields in the Gaylord Hotel, which opened in 1924 on rapidly growing Wilshire Boulevard. The hotel was named after land developer Henry Gaylord Wilshire, who everyone called ‘Gaylord’. The 1920s were certainly roaring along this stretch of Wilshire, with the opulent Ambassador Hotel and Coconut Grove nightclub opening in 1921 (across from where the Gaylord stands,  demolished in 2006), the first Brown Derby restaurant opening down the street in 1926 (demolished in 1980), and the spectacular art deco Bullocks Wilshire department store open for business a bit farther east in 1929 (still standing). The Gaylord was a luxury apartment building which was the first co-op (like condos, the tenant owned each apartment) apartment building in the west, however the co-op model was a failure in Los Angeles at the time so eventually most of the units were rented out.

 

image by Gaylord Apartments' facebook page

image by Gaylord Apartments’ facebook page

 

Before the space in the hotel became the HMS Bounty it was the Fountain Room, a lounge and ballroom (1924-1948), The Gay Room cocktail lounge (1948-1951), Dimsdale’s Secret Harbor (1951-?), and the Golden Anchor. When Gordon ‘Gordie’ Fields opened the HMS Bounty he already had success with his olde English Bull ‘n’ Bush steakhouse a block away on 6th and Kenmore streets, which he opened in 1956. He was a big sports fan, so he filled his first restaurant with sports memorabilia, which, along with the great steaks, attracted a clientele of sports personalities and celebrities (such as Jack Webb). The Bull ‘n’ Bush expanded down Kenmore Street and Fields (along with some partners) opened the HMS Bounty to accommodate even more diners.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

In a short time the Bounty became a power lunch spot and a popular cocktail lounge at night, where people had martinis before having dinner at the Brown Derby, the Windsor (now the Prince), or The Cove. The story goes that there was even a secret passage from the Coconut Grove across the street to the HMS Bounty. Some of the celebrities who frequented the HMS Bounty are Winston Churchill, William Randolph Hearst, Walter Winchell, Wilbur Clark, and Jack Webb (his booth was the last booth on the right after entering the bar, the one with the Bull ‘n’ Bush sign mounted above it). Gordon Fields passed away in 1998 and Ramon Castaneda, an employee at HMS Bounty since it opened, took over the restaurant.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

The bar at HMS Bounty is a great place to get a highball. It has the original red naugahyde booths and chairs, a model of the HMS Bounty behind the bar, and a jukebox stocked with 45s of pop standards and big band that only costs a quarter (they also have a CD jukebox on the wall). But I like to eat in the quiet dining room in back that has no TVs (it seems that every time I return to the bar there is another TV added, though at least they are small TVs). The same dark red vinyl booths, white linen tablecloths, simple nautical decor, and very dark (with no TVs).

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

(guess what time of year I took that pic?)

 

The menu is very reasonably priced (all entrees under $20; sandwiches under $10) and includes steaks (8 types), chops, and seafood. The food is classic and good.

Make sure you use the bathroom during your visit, which is in the basement of the Gaylord Hotel, so you can see the 1920s opulence of the lobby and display case of hotel memorabilia.

 

H.M.S. Bounty
3357 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90010
(213) 385-7275
Open Mon-Thu 11:00am-1:00am, Fri-Sat 11:00am-2:00am, Sun 12:00pm-1:00am

 

Postcard Panorama

Image

Trader Vic's Oakland“The Deck” overlooking the bar, Trader Vic’s, Oakland – from The Jab’s collection

This location, the first Trader Vic’s, closed in 1972 – more info

John’s Oyster Bar, Sparks, Nevada

Recently Le Continental reported the imminent closure of Trader Dick’s at John Ascuaga’s Nugget Hotel in Sparks. Personally, it will be hard for me to return to Reno once Trader Dick’s is gone since I have so many good memories there. But I’m sure someday I will go back because I’m quite fond of the area. And when I do you can bet I will eat at John’s Oyster Bar in the Nugget, which has been one of my favorite seafood restaurants in the country for several years. I know what you’re thinking: “seafood in Nevada?!”. I usually stick to my rule of ordering seafood in coastal areas, but this classic nautical seafood restaurant is an exception because of their fresh seafood served in classic preparations that you can only otherwise get on the east coast.

 

main dining room - image by The Jab

 

John’s Oyster Bar was opened in 1959 by Dick Graves, original owner of the Nugget, after visiting the Grand Central Oyster Bar in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. In 1960 the Nugget’s manager John Ascuaga took over ownership of the casino and hotel. I don’t know when the restaurant was named John’s, perhaps early on but possibly in 1979, when it was relocated to its present location near the casino entrance on Victorian Ave (there is a small parking lot there which is very close so you won’t have to walk by what was once Trader Dick’s). In any case, the restaurant’s wonderful rustic nautical decor in dark woods appears to date back almost to the beginning (as do some of the staff!). As noted in my post on Trader Dick’s the hotel was recently purchased from John Ascuaga by a large corporation and will undergo some remodeling. Although they have been open about their plans for the Trader Dick’s space (it’s going to become a Gilly’s chain restaurant) they have not announced any plans to remove or remodel John’s Oyster Bar (or the steakhouse). When I was there earlier this month I asked some of the staff at the oyster bar (who still wear sailor outfits!) if the company was going to change or remove the restaurant and they replied emphatically “no”. Let’s hope they are right!

 

the oyster bar - image by The Jab

the oyster bar – image by The Jab

 

What makes John’s Oyster Bar so unique (and one of my favorite seafood places) is that you can get old-fashioned east coast favorites such as pan roasts and stews, made from scratch to order from the freshest seafood. My favorite dish at John’s is the pan roast, which is a delicious stew made from your choice of oysters, shrimp, crab, or lobster (or in combinations), with white wine, clam broth, cream, butter, cocktail sauce, and lemon juice, all made from scratch in a special steam-heated pan, which swivels so the cook can pour it in a bowl when it’s done without spilling a drop. I love to sit at the bar near the pans and watch them cook my roast. As far as I have found, this is the only place in the west where they cook in these pans and I have never seen a pan roast on any west coast seafood restaurant menu. On my recent visit a couple sat near me that drove all the way up from Sacramento just to get a pan roast!

 

pan roast preparation - image by The Jab

pan roast preparation – image by The Jab

 

The restaurant’s menu also offers seafood stews with butter and cream (made in the special pans), seafood cocktails and Louie salads, fresh oysters on the half shell, steamed clams, cioppino and bouillabaisse, as well as seafood sandwiches and some fried platters, and the Seafood Extravaganza of Maine lobster, jumbo prawns, scallops, calamari, crab, clams, and mussels sautéed with tomatoes, garlic, shallots, & herbs, finished with white wine and lemon juice ($23.50). But I’ll have a pan roast, if you please.

 

pan roast - image by The Jab

pan roast – image by The Jab

 

John’s Oyster Bar
1100 Nugget Ave, Sparks, NV
(775) 356-3300
Open daily 11:00am – 9:00pm

 

Dan and Louis Oyster Bar, Portland, Oregon

On this New Years Eve for my last post of 2013 I thought I would wrap up coverage of my recent visit to Portland, Oregon, with a post on another venerable seafood restaurant in Portland, Dan & Louis Oyster Bar. Because oysters and champagne go great together! And I believe Dan & Louis is open on New Years Eve (always call first).

 

image by The Jab

image by The Jab

 

In the 19th century the first oyster farm in Oregon, at Yaquina Bay, was started by Meinert Wachsmuth from Denmark. His son, Louis Wachsmuth, opened a small seafood shop and oyster bar in Portland in 1907, expanding into the former Merchants’ Exchange Saloon in 1919. To accomodate the demand for his popular oyster stew, Louis added a wonderful nautical themed dining room complete with a mast and porthole windows in 1937 and a ‘reserve’ dining room with a boat-shaped exhibition style kitchen in 1940. Both dining rooms and the bar are still in use and are chock full of bric-à-brac, nautical artifacts, and historic photographs of Pacific Northwest fishing and boating scenes, many wonderfully displayed in backlit porthole ‘windows’.

 

main dining room - image by The Jab

main dining room – image by The Jab

 

image by The Jab

image by The Jab

On Dan & Louis’ web site the restaurant claims it is the “Oldest Family Owned Restaurant in Town”. Huber’s Cafe has been in the same family’s ownership since 1912, and claims to be Portland’s oldest restaurant, which is true according to my criteria since it dates back to 1895 as Huber’s. But Dan & Louis technically started in 1907 by Louis Wachsmuth (although not in its present location until 1919) and amazingly it is still owned by the same family. Currently it is operated by Doug Wachsmuth (grandson of Louis Sr.) and his sons Ted and Meinert Keoni Wachsmuth. So, it beats Huber’s by a mere 5 years to have the honor of being Portland’s oldest family owned restaurant. In case you’re wondering where Dan fits in their history, he was Louis and Elizabeth Wachsmuth’s second son (their first was Louis Jr.) who died tragically at only 27 years old, so his name was added to Louis’ name on the restaurant’s sign in memorial.

 

main dining room - image by The Jab

main dining room – image by The Jab

 

Their specialty, oysters, come in several varieties from the Pacific Northwest, which change daily. I ordered a half-dozen oysters on the half shell in an assortment (two of each of three different varieties). All were extremely fresh and tasty. Some of the best oysters I’ve ever had! The price varies but during happy hour (M-F from 4:00pm-6:00pm) you can get a dozen for $15.95 (bar only). I was in the mood for scallops so for my entrée I had the half portion broiled scallops platter (half portions are only on the lunch menu) with a cup of excellent smoked salmon chowder. The scallops were fresh and delicious. They are also famous for their seafood stews (oyster, crab, or bay shrimp), so they are another good choice.

 

reserve dining room - image by The Jab

reserve dining room – image by The Jab

 

Take it from Sebastian Cabot and eat at Dan and Louis Oyster Bar, Portland’s oldest family owned restaurant! Why not go tonight and start a New Years Eve tradition? Dan and Louis offers a good domestic sparkler, Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut, but at a hefty markup – $48/bottle (ouch). I would get a great local beer (also great with oysters) or wine.

 

Sebastian Cabot at Dan & Louis - image by The Jab

Sebastian Cabot at Dan & Louis – image by The Jab

 

 

Happy New Year, dear readers! I wish you many happy dining pleasures in 2014!

 

Vincent Price

Vincent Price

 

 

Dan and Louis Oyster Bar
208 SW Ankeny St, Portland, OR 97204
(503) 227-5906
Open Mon-Th 11:00am-9:00pm (bar opens at 4pm), Fri-Sat 11:00am-2:00am (???), Sun 12:00pm-9:00pm (Le Continental always recommends phoning first to confirm, as I tried to visit on the Sunday before Labor Day a few years ago and it was closed)

 

Mai-Kai, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

I mentioned the Mai-Kai briefly in a earlier post on romantic restaurants for Valentine’s Day. The Mai-Kai has been celebrated online and in books. But since I recently returned from my seventh trip to Florida to visit the Mai-Kai (and my third Hukilau tiki event in Fort Lauderdale), here I would like to offer my personal story about the Mai-Kai, and try to explain why it is my favorite restaurant in the world so that I may inspire people to visit (or revisit) the fabulous Mai-Kai.

I suggest you make a cool tropical drink before we start and come back and start this live Martin Denny track:

 

My story with the Mai-Kai starts in the year 2000, when I was a member of the Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA), an avid reader of Otto Von Stroheim’s Tiki News (defunct), Jeff ‘Beachbum’ Berry’s Grog Log, a lurker on pioneer web sites about tiki like James Teitelbaum’s Tiki Bar Review Pages (which evolved into the Tiki Road Trip book), and a fan of Trader Vic’s in Emeryville and the Tonga Room in San Francisco. I was discussing with my girlfriend Robin what would be the Holy Grail of Tiki in the U.S. We narrowed our research down to two places: The Kahiki in Columbus, Ohio, which opened in 1961 and had recently been listed on the National Register of Historic Sites (the newest restaurant to be listed at the time), and the Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, which opened in 1956. We picked the Mai-Kai as our Holy Grail for several reasons: because of the descriptions we read online by James Teitelbaum and in the Grog Log, where Jeff Berry wrote “Still going strong, the Mai Kai is the most perfectly preserved and beautifully appointed Polynesian palace left in America”, because we decided we would rather go to Florida than Ohio (duh!), because the drinks sounded better at the Mai-Kai, and because since the Kahiki was “listed” it was well protected, unlike the Mai-Kai, which could close at any time. How wrong we were about the Kahiki, which was demolished for a Walgreen’s later in 2000! But that’s a sad story that I don’t want to get into because this is a happy story about a fabulous Polynesian supper club that endures and thrives!

 

We arrived in Fort Lauderdale on a night in May of 2000, had dinner at the Caves Restaurant, which was cave themed with dinosaur sculptures in front and cave-like rooms for dining! Sadly, when I returned to Florida in 2002 the restaurant had burned down.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2000

photo by Dean Curtis, 2000

photo by Dean Curtis, 2000

photo by Dean Curtis, 2000

photo by Dean Curtis, 2000

photo by Dean Curtis, 2000

photo by Dean Curtis, 2000

photo by Dean Curtis, 2000

 

After our cave man and woman dinner of ribs, we drove along U.S. Highway 1 toward the Mai-Kai.

 

 

Before I continue my story, what follows is a not-so-brief history of the Mai-Kai (dates and numbers were gathered and double-checked on the web, mostly from Tiki Central, which often had conflicting info, so I used figures that reportedly came directly from the restaurant’s owners and staff if possible):

 

Mai-Kai, 1956. From www.fraternalorderofmoai.org.

The Mai-Kai opened on December 28th, 1956, in the rural outskirts of Fort Lauderdale on U.S. Highway 1, the main north-south highway along the eastern seaboard. It was built for $350,000 by two brothers from Chicago, Bob and Jack Thornton, who were inspired by Don the Beachcomber, the Polynesian restaurant chain started in 1933 by the father of tiki bars and tropical drinks, Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt (aka Donn Beach) with his small Hollywood bar Don the Beachcomber.

 

Founder of the Mai-Kai, Bob Thornton:

Bob Thornton

Bob Thornton. Image from the Mai-Kai’s Facebook page.

 

The Thornton’s partnered with Robert Van Dorpe, the manager of the Chicago Don the Beachcomber, and in so doing managed to obtain Donn Beach’s secret recipes for the chain’s famous tropical cocktails, along with snagging top staff from the Chicago restaurant, including bartender Mariano Licudine, chef Kenny Lee, and maître d’ Andy Tanato.

 

Mariano Licudine showing off the Mai-Kai’s rum collection. Image by AtomicGrog.com

 

The original restaurant had an open air dining pavilion in front with an a-frame (that was completely covered later), as seen in this illustration by James Russell Bingham. Originally it was covered with a bug screen; then glass with windows that opened; later it had a permanent thatched roof.

 

James Russell Bingham illustration

image by Tim “Swanky” Glasner

 

In the 1960s a stage was added for the Polynesian Islander Review dinner show, which still has performances nightly (three shows on Saturday night). One of the original dancers, Mirielle Thornton from Tahiti, became choreographer of the show in 1963, married original owner Bob Thornton, and became owner of the Mai-Kai after Bob Thornton passed away in 1989 (Jack Thornton left the Mai-Kai in 1970 after having a stroke). Mirielle is still choreographer of the show, which changes every year. Today she runs the Mai-Kai with her son Dave Levy and daughter Kulani Thornton Gelardi.

 

Islander Review 1963

Islander Review show in 1963. Front L-R: Mireille, Kauwana and Faalia, back L-R: Toti, Kalani and Lundy. Image by the Mai-Kai’s Facebook page.

 

Main Dining Hall

Main dining hall in front of the stage aka the “Garden Room”, with an atrium garden dining area behind the stage. Image by Chip and Andy, on Flickr.com.

 

In the 1960s and early 1970s the Mai-Kai was greatly expanded, adding more dining rooms, each named after a Polynesian island: New Guinea, Hawaii, Moorea (all three are on the lower level of the main showroom, along with the original garden room); Tonga (upper level of showroom), Bangkok (now the gift shop); Tahiti, Samoa, and Bora-Bora. All of these rooms are still in use except the Bora Bora room, which is a banquet room for private events. The gardens were also enlarged. The chief architect for the expansions was George Nakashima, working from plans by Bob and Jack Thornton.

 

The original 1956 Surfboard Bar seen here…

Original Surfboard Bar 1956

Image by the Mai-Kai’s Facebook page

…was converted into the upper level Tonga dining room behind the main dining (garden) room, and the magnificent Molokai Bar was opened near the entrance, which survives to this day. Being inside the bar is like being inside an old ship, with rigging, masts, and windows that seem to have rain cascading down them. Beyond the windows are gardens with tikis, tropical plants, water features, and tiki torches, and hanging all over the ceiling are old rafia-wrapped jugs, lamps of all kinds, illuminated puffer fish, and other traditional tiki bar decor. I love the polished flagstone floor (throughout the entire restaurant), which from old photos seems to date back to the opening, and must have cost a fortune. There is a long wooden bar with cigar boxes, ship models and other nautical items displayed behind it but no bartenders to be seen. Instead, the cocktails and food are brought to you by lovely waitresses wearing Hawaiian outfits. The bartenders, like chefs in a kitchen, stay behind the scenes with their secret recipes and techniques, adding to the mystery and appeal of the bar.

 

Mai-Kai-3

Molokai Bar today by Parrillada, on Flickr.com

 

Here is how the Mai-Kai looked in 1969 after a wooden entry bridge and porte-cochère were added. The small hut in front (demolished by a hurricane in 2005) and the Bora Bora room across the driveway from the entrance were also added in the 1960s.

 

front 1969

Image by the Mai-Kai’s Facebook page

 

Two Chinese wood-burning ovens for cooking meats and poultry were added in the 1970s.

 

Chinese Ovens

Image by Chip and Andy, on Flickr.com.

 

 

Now that I’ve covered the history, back to my story of my first visit to the Mai-Kai. We drove along Highway 1 after dark, and approaching the Mai-Kai we started to see a glimpse of  the huge sign and finally we arrived at the Mai-Kai and we couldn’t believe our eyes! Words could never do justice to the feeling you have when you first see the buildings surrounded by tropical plants, tikis, and flaming tiki torches, and hear the rushing waterfalls in front (I still get excited every time I approach it).

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2000

Yours truly at the Mai-Kai, 2000, photo by Dean Curtis

 

We drove our car across the wooden entry bridge to the valet stand, and entered the most wonderful Polynesian palace in the world. I immediately felt somewhat under dressed, even in an aloha shirt and slacks. This was like going back in time 40 years when people always dressed up to go out; I felt like I should have done so also to complete the time travel experience. We had drinks in the Molokai Bar that first night, and what great drinks they were! I had made the drinks in the Grog Log before but never in my life had I tasted such delicious (and strong!) tropical cocktails up to that time. These were even better than the drinks at the Tiki Ti in Los Angeles (which are pretty darn good) or my local Trader Vic’s.

 

Enjoying tropical cocktails in the Molokai bar with my buddies Jeff and Bruce on my next visit in 2002

Enjoying tropical cocktails in the Molokai bar with my buddies Jeff and Bruce on my next visit in 2002

 

The cocktail menu is extensive, with sections for mild, medium, and strong drinks. All of the juices are fresh squeezed, and the rum is high quality (some drinks mention the use of Appleton, and some use Lemon Hart Demerara). I won’t go into the cocktails in much detail here because they have been covered extensively online before (see further reading at the end of this post). Some of my favorites are the Barrel O’ Rum, Jet Pilot, Shark Bite, S.O.S., Deep-Sea Diver, Mutiny, Special Planters Punch, Yeoman’s Grog, and Cobra Kiss. As many of the cocktails came from the old Don the Beachcomber recipes their names are variations from their original names (Yeoman’s Grog is a Navy Grog, for example).

 

A couple of days later, on a Saturday night, Robin and I headed for the Mai-Kai again for dinner and the Polynesian Islander Review. What an amazing classic Polynesian supper club experience, unequaled anywhere in the continental U.S! We were seated at a table right next to the stage so we had the perfect view of the dancers’ colorful outfits as they performed dances from different Polynesian islands (in different costumes for each dance) to music by a live band.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2000

photo by Dean Curtis, 2000

photo by Dean Curtis, 2000

photo by Dean Curtis, 2000

 

The finale was the Samoan fire dance! It got pretty darn hot so close to the stage!

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2000

photo by Dean Curtis, 2000

 

After dinner a flaming drink is a must!…

 

image from 1978 Mai-Kai Calendar, by GatorRob on Tiki Central

image from 1978 Mai-Kai Calendar, by GatorRob on Tiki Central

 

…followed by a stroll through the gardens.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2000

photo by Dean Curtis, 2000

 

At this point I feel I should mention the level of service at the Mai-Kai. I have been when it was fairly slow and when it was packed with Hukilau revelers and in all visits the service was always very friendly, courteous, and attentive. When you first step in the door the captain or maître d’ always greets you graciously. The top staff all wear jackets, while the waiters in the restaurant wear special Mai-Kai aloha shirts with slacks, and the cocktail waitresses in the Molokai bar wear Hawaiian print two-piece outfits (mini-sarong and top).

 

In 2002 I returned to the Mai-Kai with three friends on a road trip through South Florida. We all wore matching Sandwich Isles jackets from the 1960s for the big night of dinner, drinks, and the show. We ordered a Mystery Bowl, which is served by the Mystery Girl in a secret ritual which I cannot divulge (so you will have to experience it yourself).

 

Mai Kai Mystery Girl

Mystery girl by Chip and Andy, on Flickr.com

 

Yours truly being presented with Mystery Bowl in ancient ritual,

Yours truly being presented with Mystery Bowl in ancient ritual, 2002

 

L to R: Bruce, me, Jeff, Brendan, 2002

L to R: Bruce, me, Jeff, Brendan, 2002

 

The Mai-Kai has many rare authentic Polynesian artifacts and artworks throughout the restaurant, even after much of the collection was donated to Stanford in the 70s because the restaurant became uninsurable. Be sure and have a stroll though the restaurant and gardens when you visit, looking into the display cases in the Samoan and Tahitian rooms. Here I am with a rare original black velvet painting by Leeteg of Tahiti:

 

Mai-Kai 13 (1)

The Jab with Leeteg, 2002

 

When you visit don’t forget to check out the gift shop. Even if you don’t find anything to buy the room is spectacular (always look up when at the Mai-Kai!). The room was the Bangkok dining room before the gift shop moved there from the Bora Bora room.

 

Mai-Kai Gift Shop

Mai-Kai Gift Shop by Parrillada, on Flickr.com

 

Speaking of looking up, check out the lamps above the main dining room in front of the stage as you walk around, or when you are waiting for the show.

 

cocktail hour

cocktail hour by JennRation Design, on Flickr.com

 

In 2005 and 2006 I returned to the Mai-Kai during the Hukilau event. In the fall of 2005 hurricane Wilma did extensive damage to the outside of the Mai-Kai, but the inside weathered the storm. It was closed for about a week for repairs. Hukilau 2006 was an especially good event because it happened during the year that the Mai-Kai turned 50. There were special photo exhibits and presentations of the Mai-Kai’s history and the turnout was great.

 

The Jab at the Molokai Bar, Hukilau 2006

The Jab at the Molokai Bar, Hukilau 2006

 

In late 2008 the Mai-Kai closed for much needed repairs and renovations since recent hurricanes had done some damage. Many new plants were added to the gardens, the porte-cochère was rebuilt and re-thatched, and the Molokai bar was repaired to fix some leaks. In January of 2009 I went with my girlfriend Carrie to celebrate my birthday, and on the same day they had replaced 600 worn rattan chairs with a truckload of new ones.

 

Carrie and yours truly in the Mai-Kai gardens, 2009

Carrie and I in the Mai-Kai gardens, 2009

 

flaming coffee grogs

Flaming Coffee Grogs and Bananas Bengali after the show, 2009

 

You may be wondering about the food by now. The menu is mostly Cantonese and classic Polynesian restaurant dishes. I find that you can’t go wrong ordering seafood most anywhere in Florida and the Mai-Kai is no exception. Try the shrimp appetizers and the local fish that is on the menu.

 

5599_10152053760871501_522102995_n

 

But my favorite dishes are the meats cooked in the Chinese oven, such as pork tenderloin, ribs, rack of lamb, or a steak, like this New York strip, which I had on my recent visit. It was tender (aged), juicy, and had a great slightly smoky flavor from the oven.

 

Mai-Kai NY steak

 

I feel like I could go on and on about the Mai-Kai but I have to end this post sometime. So, let me end by saying that personally I feel that until I went to the Mai-Kai I had not fully experienced Polynesian / Tiki escapism that was so popular in the 1950s through the 1960s. Sure, I had been to the Tonga Room, which is a great, unique place, but always somewhat lacking (in the drinks, the food, and especially the entertainment). My local Trader Vic’s had better food and drinks, and proper music, so it was the closest I came to the real thing. But neither compares to the one and only (and almost completely intact) Mai-Kai for true time-travel back to the heyday of the Polynesian Pop experience. You could make a good tropical drink in a tiki mug at home, put on a Martin Denny album, and it is quite nice. But something is missing. The atmosphere, the soft Hawaiian music, the “rain” on the windows, the best cocktail served by a friendly, smiling Molokai maiden, and you are back in time to the original Tiki era. Luckily, there are a few other places that have excellent tropical cocktails in beautiful classic tiki bar surroundings, but for the whole shebang with dinner and a show nothing beats the Mai-Kai.

 

2009

2009, with a Mutiny in the Molokai Bar

 

A suggestion: The Hukilau is a blast, but it can get pretty crowded at the Mai-Kai during the event. So, I recommend that you go your first time to the Mai-Kai on a “normal” night (even the Wednesday before the Hukilau starts) for cocktails, dinner, and the show, so you can experience it on a regular night as people have done for over 56 years. It is such a romantic place so make a date with your best gal or guy!

 

There are some deals you should take advantage of at the Mai-Kai. First, they have happy hour from opening until 7PM nightly (except Monday) with 50% off drinks (with a few exceptions) and appetizers!
Every night they are open they have two cocktails at half-price from 7PM until closing.
On Wednesday nights they have a free buffet from 5-9PM if you spend $10 on drinks in the bar.
They also have special prix fixe menus (check web site for details).
Every night except certain holidays in the non-show dining rooms (Tahiti, Samoa, gardens) you get one entree (off equal or lesser value) free when you buy one (when you make a reservation ask for the BOGO deal). Here is the view of the garden from my table in the Tahitian Room at the recent Hukilau:

 

IMG_20130608_192606

 

Finally, they have a Mai-Kai Club, which is free to join, that gets you 25% off from May-Nov on Sundays-Thursdays. If you spend $500 in the club by August 29th you get 50% off those days through November! You also get some drink and show coupons and this classy card – impress your friends!

 

Mai Kai Club Card front

 

Here’s a clip of the wonderful new Swedish band Ìxtahuele performing in the Tahiti Room during Hukilau 2013 at the Mai-Kai. Their new album is highly recommended for your next tiki party! It’s on a limited edition LP, CD, and in iTunes.

 

Further reading:

Jeff ‘Beachbum’ Berry’s book Sippin Safari has a chapter on the Mai-Kai’s original mixologist Mariano Licudine.

Tim “Swanky” Glazner is a web pioneer who had his SwankPad.org site up in the pre-commercialization-of-the-web mid-1990s. He has collected Mai-Kai items for years and researched the Mai-Kai extensively. He was co-creator of the Hukilau event in 2002 in Atlanta, which moved to Fort Lauderdale and the Mai-Kai in 2003. In 2012 he presented a complete history of the Mai-Kai at Hukilau. Check out his site’s collections of Mai-Kai postcards and calendars, as well as other eye candy.

Peter Moruzzi’s excellent new book Classic Dining: Discovering America’s Finest Mid-Century Restaurants has a chapter on the Mai-Kai with beautiful photos by Sven Kirsten (and a cover inspired by the Mai-Kai).

Tiki Central has Mai-Kai info and photos spread all over the place, but there are some especially rich topics on its history here:
Mai Kai 50th Anniv. – a look back in pictures!
Mai Kai, Fort Lauderdale

The Book of Tiki (first published in September, 2000, and currently out of print) by Sven Kirsten has a four page spread on the Mai-Kai.

The Atomic Grog site has an excellent guide to all the Mai-Kai’s cocktails.

Last but definitely not least is Humuhumu’s informative guide to tiki bars all over the world, Critiki, and its page on the Mai-Kai.

 

Mai-Kai
3599 N Federal Hwy, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33308
(954) 563-3272
Open Tues-Fri 5pm-close, Sat 4:30pm-close, Sun 4pm-close (closing varies but is about 11pm on weekdays and about 1am on Fri & Sat).
Dinner served until 8:30pm on Tue-Thu, until 10pm on Fri, until 11:30pm on Sat, and until 9pm on Sun
Showtimes (after dinner is served): Tue-Thu: 8pm., Fri: 7.30pm and 9.45pm, Sat: 6:30pm, 9:30pm and 11pm, Sun: 6pm and 8.30pm. The show charge is $10.95 per person.
Dress code (I wish more restaurants had one): No hats, t-shirts, tank tops, beach shorts or flip flops allowed.