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Rare color image the Mai-Kai “hut” sign designed and built by Dave Stevens. Chicagoans Dave and his brother made a wide variety of custom items for the Mai-Kai, from spotlight covers that looked like rocks for the exterior to fake turtle shells for the interior. The Moai stone carving was stolen one quiet night by crane from the front lawn.
The sign was destroyed a few years later by hurricane Betsy.
A peak at the forthcoming book Mai-Kai: History, Mystery, and Adventure.
This goes back to when the Tiki scene was young. At the request of the Florida Ohana who came to Hukilau 2002 in Atlanta, and with the huge efforts of our event partners Tristan and Bre-Elle Ishtar, we moved to the Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale Florida. So many friends in this video. So many people who have become true friends.
This was also my first visit to the Mai-Kai and I had no idea it would become an obsession. Collecting the postcards and calendars at first, and now the stories for a book about this remarkable place.
We have promoted the Mai-Kai via Hukilau now for over a decade. I have given lectures on its history around the country and written about it in magazines and talked about it on NPR. It continues to dominate my life and it all started on this magical weekend 11 years ago.
Sure, it’s a great Asian themed mid-century home, but, it is also over the top! The dimensions are huge. The flag stone walls, the huge open rooms with those amazing ceilings. It is so over the top! I am saving the images here for posterity. The buyer may rip all this crap out and renovate the shit out of this amazing classic at 1228 17th St., West Des Moines, IA 50265.
Pulling up to the house gives you a good clue. The trim, the stones, and garage door.
The Japanese garden style yard with stones for the yard and mini-pagoda. And a turret on top?
Great details that show an attention to detail and to a guiding hand in the build.
Okay, we’re inside and starting to grasp the depth of this house décor. Those doors! The carpet, mirrored wall and of course the rock wall and statue are classic.
Sectional sofa, Phsssh! Ours has like 7 sections! The bar to the left is greta and it looks like matting on the ceiling, and well, it’s freaking curved in those recesses!
And they did a flagstone wall on the other side! And that giant art piece back there is crazy great. This whole room with the vaulted ceiling and exposed beams…
Of course there is a fireplace built into that wall! I’ll have a Dr. Funk please!
I can’t quite tell what the bar top is, but I am sure it is fantastic.
A red sink? Yes.
Not sure about this bedroom, or the red wagon…
And the other living room. I guess this one it the fancy one. And it is fancy!
So, let’s add a mirrored section to the ceiling. And make it curved…
And I want the theme in the kitchen with a red sink there too! And a red microwave.
How did this bathroom get in here?
Yes, and I want a black toilet on a dias… Great sconces.
Nice use of sea grass matting… Okay, we’re done here. Fantastic.
When I was at the Mod Weekend event last weekend in Fort Lauderdale, I was talking with other fans of vintage modern and thought it would be great to document these places on a map so other people can find them easily. I have taken out of town guests on tours myself a few times. The map would allow people to guide themselves.
I came home and have explored the idea. The first effort is HERE. Vintage Knoxville. I started it tying it into my website pages, but am expanding to add various cool spots.
If you’d like to help with the project, drop me a line. Do this for your own city! It is not hard, just takes time.
Now if there was a mobile app for this to drop a pin on the map as we drive, that would be super!
Just a bump so you know I finally added images of this fantastic Lustron home here in Knoxville.
In 1933, Don Beach’s place was one of many thousands of bars that opened the day after Prohibition ended. No one knew then that his bar would invent a whole new genre and be copied across the globe for the next 30+ years. “Don the Beachcombers” set the bar by which not just restaurants were judged, but cocktails especially. It was the dawn of the cocktail era, and Don Beach was the undisputed king of tropical mixology. In an era of cocktails of 2 or 3 ingredients, his secret recipes were mixed with 2 or 3 rums and 8 more ingredients to create drinks like the world had never seen before or since.
In 1956, the brothers Bob and Jack Thornton of Chicago set out to open their own Polynesian restaurant. These brash young men were well versed in the ways and tastes of “Don the Beachcombers” as well as his imitators Trader Vic and Steve Crane’s “Kon Tiki” restaurants. Their ideas would far surpass those from whom they drew inspiration. When they teamed up with Robert Van Dorpe, the inside man at Don’s place in Chicago, they got an ally that went beyond their imagination. With his help, they not only hired away a top chef and bartender from Don’s, but also got the source for all the glassware, artwork, kitchen equipment and most importantly, secret ingredients to make those world famous cocktails. When the Mai-Kai opened in late 1956, at a cost $350,000, it was the most perfect copy of Don’s plan imaginable, but taken to new heights.
The Mai-Kai quickly outshined its predecessor. The Mai-Kai earned all the prestigious awards like Don the Beachcomber, but also became the biggest seller of rum in the nation. It was the haunt of celebrities such as Johnny Carson and Jackie Gleason. The Mystery Girl – a Mai-Kai invention – made her way onto Johnny’s “Tonight Show,” twice!
In 1989, both Don Beach and Robert Thornton, who bought his brother Jack’s portion in 1970, passed away. In Don’s case, the last of his restaurant empire closed soon afterward. The Polynesian Pop era was all but gone. In the next 2 decades, almost nothing survived except the Mai-Kai. By the year 2000, there were only two places on earth to get Don’s “Rum Rhapsodies” made the way he created them, and only the Mai-Kai still had the grandeur of Don’s golden days.
Today, the craft cocktail is coming back. Those in search of great concoctions are returning to the master Don Beach and finding nothing to compare. They are in awe of his ability to make deep, balanced, incredible masterpieces of rum and flavorings. And they are returning to the cocktail Mecca that is Mai-Kai. There they can taste the drinks as they should be, and served in the specialty glasses with ice shells or fresh pineapples and seasonal coconuts. In the Mai-Kai, it is as if Don and the Thorntons never left. Carefully made, complex drinks are served with wonderful food and the utmost gracious service. All this is done in the most reverie inducing environment on earth.
It is time travel.
On Saturday March 16th, Mai-Kai historian Tim “Swanky” Glazner will give a presentation on the people and stories of this great place. The very people of the Mai-Kai who witnessed and made 55 years of its history will be on hand for a Mai-Kai Family Reunion.
The Molokai will open at 2PM for the event with Happy Hour and my presentation will be at 3PM.
It will also be a reunion of the Mai-Kai veterans, the living history of the greatest Tiki Temple on earth. Last year we had Molokai girls, perfomers, Maitre d’s and others who had worked there as long ago as the 50s.
Please join us for a greater understanding of the Mai-Kai’s place in Polynesian Pop history and an appreciation of the 80 year legacy they represent. This is your chance to hear the stories first hand.
Also check out Mod Weekend occuring that weekend as well. I will be giving a guided tour of the Mai-Kai Sunday moring as part of that event.
The event will be March 15 – 17th and is centered around the Modern design of the Fort Lauderdale area. One of the architects celebrated will be Charles McKirahan. Besides designing several Modern buildings in the area of the event near A1A, he also worked with Bob and Jack Thornton to design the modern primitive Mai-Kai in 1956.
As part of the activities there will be a double-decker bus tour of buildings and the first stop is the Mai-Kai. I will act as docent and lead a tour, highlighting the design elements and designers who left their imprint upon the place and the genre.
I hope you can join us!
In 2002 when we were planning the first Hukilau and thinking about a second, Dante’s was a location we greatly wanted to include. It is a really unimaginable themed restaurant in Atlanta’s Buckhead area. An 19th century ship is inside and you can dine on various levels in it, and around it is an entire port village. It was a yearly pilgramage we made, just to have a cocktail at the bar to start the evening or end it.
It appears the development of Buckhead, a very treandy area, has meant a huge increase in their property taxes. Started in 1970, this is about to be their end.
Find a way to go see this place while you can. There is no set closing date yet. And when you are there, wander around outside as well, including the garages under and behind the building. Even the bathrooms are interesting.
HERE is the news.
HERE is their website
This icon on Kingston Pike, which dated back to the 1930s at least, and which seemed to deny time by still standing in a location that was heavily commercialized all around, is no more.
Those who went to Opal’s Lounge were right next to it and there were many mysteries in the old courtyard. An older man lived there and came by to say hello to Opal regulalrly. There was a GTO Judge in there somewhere. I hope someone got the old sign… Wish it were me…
If you are heading to Fort Lauderdale for Hukilau next week, you might want to take a little side trip as you drive to the Mai-Kai and see other places designed by Mid-Century master Charles McKirahan. McKirahan worked with the Thornton brothers to design the stunning A-frame of the the original Mai-Kai, and also has many surviving grand designs in the area. A couple of side turns as you go will give you the chance to see these great buildings.
- Premiere Hotel – Just off A1A as you go to the Mai-Kai.
- Sea Chateau, now the Alcazar Resort – Now a gay resort.
- Manhattan Tower – Great neon, so check it at night. Near the Premiere and on your way to teh Mai-Kai
- Birch Towers – Now condos along the way to the Mai-Kai
- Birch House – Also on the way
- The Jolly Roger – now the Ramada Sea Club – On the left as you go
- Coral Ridge Yatch Club – Just past Sunrise on your way
- Coral Ridge Country Club
- Breakwaters Towers – As you come in from the airport
- Ocean Manor – Further up the coast
- Maybury Mansions – Further north
As you can see (if you looked) if you turn in around Bayshore Drive before you get to Sunset, and just cruise around those streets, you’ll see lots of great mid-century places. This area was home to the first Hukilau in 2003, but we outgrew the Holiday Inn very quickly!
History and preservation site to browse: HERE
We recently sold our 1968 Serro Scotty “canned ham” 15 foot camper for something with more room and amenities. We got a 1964 Avion 24 foot Holiday. Great vintage style. We look forward to making our own and bringing it back to a classic, vintage modern look. Click the above image for the brochure featuring our camper and the whole Avion line.
Yes, that’s right, it’s a bear with topless island girls, having a cocktail. Oh, and an old miner too. That’s from the drink menu for a very unique Tiki bar in Alaska. Right, Alaska. This great menu is obviously a perversion parody or the classic Trader Vic’s menu. In one image, that bear is doing something with an Alaskan native totem pole. For a moment I wondered if this wasn’t pre-Tiki, as the only Tiki cocktail on the menu was Don the Beachcomber’s Zombie. But then, duh! It’s the Trader’s menu! So, maybe it is mid to late 30’s. Very low prices and few classic cocktails as we knew them.
There is a great thread on Tiki Central that details the quest for this place and what might remain of it. Pictures unearthed by Unga Bunga and Taboo Dan:
James Teitelbaum was on his way to try to find what remained of the place, but, it turns out, most everything there was destroyed by an earthquake in 1964. Bummer.
More help from Tiki 65 Saturday. We had to rehang the thatch over the bar. The support hook was not to our satisfaction and a few other tweaks. That was done. The big job was the bar top install.
Once the front row was installed, being very sure of the fit, it made the rest fit in lpace fairly easily.
11 foot bar, that’s near 3 feet deep, meant a lot of looking at flooring. We found what we wanted, and it turned out that one box would cover the whole bar. That was a very lucky break on this special order. We could not have bought another piece. Sahara is the color and it is very close to the look of the bar and tables at the Mai Kai. Ours has square pegs in it. It is hand scraped and faux aged bamboo. We tested a scrap piece by leaving a glass of ice water sitting on it for 24 hours. No change. No water penetrated.
I also reworked the foot rest. Picked to good straight pieces of 5 inch bamboo and cut them to match. We’ll do a little decoraing on them and screw them in when we do the bar front later.
More detail at Tiki Central.
In this economy, things are tough for a business that depends on tourists. And the new owner, Dave Levy has also invested a ton of money in renovating the Mai Kai in the last year.
So, spend a couple of minutes adding your glowing reviews to these online travel pages to counter the many stupid reviews of people who are clueless. Help keep the Mai Kai around for your kids and their kids to go and marvel. Hell, do it so you can go and marvel!
These are the top review sites when searching for the Mai Kai. And while there, be sure to look up your other favorites and give them good reviews too. They need more people who don’t complain about them being too dark or expensive to chime in!
We had the pleasure of visiting with the owners of the Robert Daniel house here in Knoxville. The house was designed and built by James Fitzgibbon in 1950. I won’t bore you too much with words. The house is incredible. The owners say they regulalrly find architects at their door dropping by to see Fitzgibbon’s master work. Often they are old friends of his.
The rock is all local from the Candora Marble company, which supplied a lot of what you seein Washington DC.
The lucite triangle coming out of the roof is where a tree used to grow.
Upper deck area that used to be a childrens play area.
Above to the left is where the master bedroom is.
Through the bookcase you can see the step down to a study. Bedroom above.
Looks out to a gardwn and fountain area.
This little station was in a movie filmed in Knoxville. Anyone recall what movie? October Sky or Box of Moonlight? In the movie, I recall there were like 20 Highway direction signs in front of it.
Great vinatge lines.
A phone? I forgot to see if it had a dial tone.
These lights must have shined on a lot of classic cars getting gas…
Don’t be using the “H” word unless you are from the Hills. I got the pride.
Knox Glass sign on Central. Looks like it could have gas tiki torches.
I’m not sure what this says about me, but a few months ago, this sign was un-retouched and showed it’s 50 plus years of service and I loved it. Now it has been refurbished, and, I’m not so thrilled. Sick?
I’ve had a couple of converible tops replaced by these guys.
Just a great old building and sign.
UPDATE: As luck would have it, I busted the back window out of my convertible top yesterday while unloading wood for bar construction. I called Lonnie’s immediately and the number was disconnected. Drove by to see a closed sign and the place cleaned out…
This place is still open doing business.
Spent this beautifal Fall day photographing some vintage Knox ville, signs and buildings. I’ll be posting them over the next week.
I built the Hideaway first in my rental house. Then I moved in with Ms Swanky and converted her dining room into the Hideaway. Now we are living the American Dream and I am living the Poly Pop dream and we are building a rather permanent Hideaway. This is a major undertaking. The sort of thing you’d only do if you own. We’ve hired contractors to rewire everything. That is, 4 outlets in the ceiling on a switch behind the bar. A wet bar. Just a serious bar build. We are now deep into the construction phase. We hope to get started on building the actual bar soon. And then we will get to the fun part where we start putting in decor. It has been a ton of work and there is a lot more to go. Been colecting specifically for th eproject now too. We are also doing a tropical lanai to go with the Tiki bar.
More Mai Kai goodness pre-Hukilau
Just got this card to add to the Vintage Server Girls thread on Tiki Central.
Great aerial photos of the Stardust and Aku Aku posted here on Tiki Central. Really shows how remote the place was then. Nice to see that perspective.
In a follow up to this popular post on the Hawaiian Village in Myrtle Beach, SC, I add this vintage postcard of the exterior.
Great sign, and what looks like a 15 foot tiki out front.
It is good to see more of this place….
I came across this site by accident and looked down the list of motels in my area. I realized it was actually a list of vintage motels that are still open. “Reasonable rates” sure. $39 a night or less. Will the room be awful and totally unacceptable, or will it be a blast from the past? I stayed at one not so long ago that had the coin-op vibrating bed with incredible vintage graphics on the box.
So, next time you are planning a road trip down memory lane, or, well, trying to relive a past you may never have had the chance to experience, this site will steer you in the direction of the survivors.
Check out the Sputnik mailbox!
On Wednesday I happened to be in the hospital emergency room and browsed the local Knoxville Magazine and they had this article on a great house in town. It was a teaser and did not give the address.
Saturday, we were out hitting some garage sales and turned down the street and I immediately spotted a thick growth of bamboo. We slowed. Then I saw more house and we were both oohing. Then I saw the modern beams on the side of the house from the pictures and I knew I’d stumbled upon the house!
It was an original Lustron home from 1948. There are 3 of these in Knoxville that I know of today. This one I did not know about. The problem today with these homes is that they are just too small by our standards. Gary solved this by very artfully adding on to his Lustron. The whole property is incredible and he carried the atomic theme even to his mailbox, which is a stainless steel Sputnik design
It is such a pleasure to just know this place is here in town. There are some drop dead gorgeaous modern homes near there. They are in a very upscale neighborhood and are classic and will remain for ages. This one is just over the top Mod.
You know I will be slipping an invitation in his mailbox to my next luau!
This is the parking area behind the house. Love the gates!
This is an addition behind the house. Perfectly matching!
The metal wings on the side are a great touch and mimic the vintage building that is now Belleza Salon.
From the front you see the original small Lustron home.
This is a place I have seen a lot of ephemera from over the year, but not the actual place until now. The lettering on the trash can is a clue. It’s the Queen’s Surf.
I love these old pictures. The guy to the left in the black suit and skinny tie and a lei. They are so well dressed. Below we see a little of the interior roof. Very nice.
This post is very cool and I envy the guy. A great set of coincidences that just make your vintage heart melt.
Read the story. Keep vintage hope alive! Way cool!
It’s just a couple of weeks away. Last year was a crazy weekend. I hardly slept! It was the first year I have actually gotten to enjoy the weekend and talk to so many people. I think I talked more in a few days than the entire year. The hot tub made for memories we’ll all keep forever. Once again, thanks to Crazy Al. He has a way of inventing fun.
This year I am endeavoring to spend more time at the Mai Kai. It is my favorite place on Earth. I want to be there for Happy Hour a couple of times.
Beachbum Berry’s talk last year and then sipping with him at the Mai Kai was fantastic, and getting an all new book will be a huge plus. This book has more history rather than being just a recipe book. Lots of new recipes in it too though. Pre-Order it now and have it for him to sign at the event.
After years of anticipation, we are getting a little peak at The DVD of Tiki and a showing of footage from the Hukilau Hurricane of 2004. Many I talk to say that year was the best in many ways. For a lot of Floridians, it was the worst. Very much the worst for me. I never recovered really. But it is a powerful memory and I love to hear Pablus sing “Hukilau Hurricane.”
I look forward to seeing the Crazed Mugs perform at the Mai Kai again. When they took the stage last year, it all just stopped and we were transfixed. Otto was standing next to me and he whispered, “he’s our Bruddah Iz.” So right.
The Hukilau mug has some of my favorite imagery in Polynesian Pop this year, the cannibal trio. I have discussed them with Sven and Bob at Oceanic Arts. I think the concensus is that it started with Donn Beach, which is precisely why those tikis are so special.
The new version of Tiki Road Trip will be making its debut at Hukilau and we get to see all the places we never knew existed.
Robert Drasnin will perform his new work which was recorded earlier this year for a new release. Basement Kahuna says his record “Voodoo” is near perfection for the tiki bar soundtrack and now we’ll have a great follow up.
It’s always great to see my many friends I see only this one weekend a year in person. It’s great to be around so many people who are passionate about the same things I am. And this year my lovely fiance will join me, although she plans to spend more time tanning and exploring the area than doing the tiki-nerd stuff.
This event is central for us non-Californians. California may have an abundance of tiki locales, but we still have the best one of all by a mile down in Fort Lauderdale. We all come together to worship in a rum dazed fog for the weekend. We get to visit the Mother Ship of Tiki and be transported to that special place. That place that is slowly slipping away more and more. No other place holds that mystery better than the Mai Kai. And we right coasters are darned proud. Inside the Mai Kai, it is like stepping back in time. As close as any of us will get anyway…
Two weeks and I’ll be there, at the bar, soaking it all in for my yearly ration… It’s never enough…
This year was the first annual Tiki Eyeball. It was an event by Wizzard Road Shows, which does a number of car events over the summer. I was contacted to put together a tiki carving demonstration and then helped get ideas together and promote the event.
For Basement Kahuna, it meant driving 4 hours up to Knoxville from Athens. We then set out on another 9+ hour drive to central Illinois. With a late start and lots of stopping to search antique malls, plus an hour where we put it in park and stood in the interstate, it turned into about a 14 hour drive.
Basement Kahuna and I are always on the prowl for rare liquors and this old sign we thought pointed the way. Screw gin and vodka! We sell Whiskey! Well, on opening the door, a few haggard locals swung around on their stools at 2PM on a Thursday. We were not finding anything there.
So we were a little loopy come Friday. Noa Noa’s in our room before the trip to the Aku Tiki Room. Lake Surfer and his wife, Tipsy McStagger, Kevin and Hadley Moore, and others came by. And then we found out the bus had broken down. In the middle of an intersection…
The sunken bar at the Aku Tiki Room. The design of the bar was fantastic. I wish there was a bar this cool around here, tiki or no tiki.
This painting once had no lei. It still has some nipple. Cool.
Great shell lamps. These are over 3 feet across.
Tipsy and others at dinner.
The Tiki Twins! These gals started serving there, along with their Mom, when they were 13. They continued to work there for decades. I spent most of the night talking to them and hearing their story. In fact, I spent so much time taking pictures and talking I forgot to eat dinner! Luckily I it also kept me drinking slowly.
Great Oceanic Arts rail posts and mask with shell sconces.
Next day was kar time with Kay Ohara signing prints.
Tonga Trader and his wife drove their 1961 Chyrsler 300 to the event. This is one of my favorite cars. You gotta love a cross ram V8 luxury car.
Kevin Moore shows a novel way to torch a tiki carving, using a 1959 Cadillac… Video is on its way…
BK and I went back to the Aku Tiki Room that night and stopped by the Kewaunee Moose Lodge.
This is the Church of the Future! On the road to the ATR.
BK enjoys a lobster tail dinner. The drinks here are fantastic. Demerara Dry Float, Beachcomber Punch and Rum Barrels I recommend. El Dorado 12 Year. The bartender Tom works hard to keep the ingredients in stock.
On the return trip, we stopped at our Papua New Guinea collector’s house to see the new shipment. Here are a few shields.
We’ll have a few pieces for sale at Hukilau.
The event was poorly attended for reasons we don’t know, but we’ll correct some problems and do it again next year. I already have a verbal agreement from Pablus to perform in the round in the ATR. Basement Kahuna puts the ATR right behind the Atlanta Trader Vic’s. He now has one of his carvings there and is designing their signature mug we hope will be available when we return next year.
Update: Of course Mimi has cool pics of the Waikikian and the Tahitian Lania on her site. Thanks to Dusty Cajun for this image and the tip.