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I have been researching the Mai-Kai in one form or another for over 12 years. I have been seriously looking into its history and people for a long time to document the past. I had thought I would do a book that was just pretty pictures. Once I began to talk to the people around this landmark, I found their stories amazingly compelling. Now the book will also have a wonderful story too.
I have worked on this book project in my spare time for years now. I have spent vacations in back rooms scanning images with my wife, and visiting old timers to hear their tales. I have tracked people down and interviewed people from Florida to California to Tahiti. I have a newfound respect for those who create books. It is a lot of work and time.
I hope to get the book ready in 2015 and get it published. Please support my efforts by simply liking the Facebook page first, and if you happen to have something you think will help the book, please email me and share it.
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.
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…
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…