Hukilau Mai-Kai History Presentation

June 9th, in support of my recently released book on the history of the greatest Tiki bar on earth, the Mai-Kai, I will once again be giving a presentation at the largest Tiki event outside of California, The Hukilau.

This year I am holding a sort of Mai-Kai reunion and doing a live panel discussion with many of the people I interviewed for the book.  Their first hand stories were the driving force behind the work. I had thousands of fantastic images and I knew a few stories, but getting the history straight from the people who were actually there was a truly rare experience. These folks are now in their 70s, 80s and even 90s, and it is harder and harder to get them together. This will be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Come get your book signed by those featured in it!

First click here get this amazing coffee table book, that is also an interesting read about Don the Beachcomber, Tiki and the birth of the greatest Tiki bar in existence:

Book Jacket

Then get your tickets for the event by clicking HERE.

Here are some of those who will be in attendance:


Angel followed her sister Dee down from Chicago. She was a Mystery Girl and married singer Pat Gallo.


Dee came down from Chicago for Spring Break in 1959 and never went back!


Carol was a Mystery Girl and Ford model who appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson twice in that role.


Toti at center with the Mai-Kai Islanders review. He was the founder of the show.


Randy on far right with his mother Pualani Mossman Avon on TV. He worked for Rums of Puerto Rico and his family are legends of Hawaiian culture.

Hukilau 2003 Video

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.

1968 Mai-Kai Calendar

1968 Mai-Kai Calendar

1968 Mai-Kai Calendar 


Just added, thanks to a loan from a fan of the site, the 1968 Mai-Kai calendar!

Mai-Kai Reunion 2013 and History Presentation


Mai_KaiMai-Kai: History, Mystery and Adventure

 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.

Facebook event

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.

Mod Weekend in Fort Lauderdale March 15-17th

Mod Weekend 1

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!

Mod Weekend 2

Mai-Kai History presentation at the Mai-Kai!

Leila, Mai-Kai Mystery Girl On April 20th, I will give a much updated version of my Mai-Kai history presentation as part of Hukilau. I have many more stories and images and long lost videos than when I was at Oasis, plus, I will have many of the people whose stories I am telling, right there in the room with me!

I am really looking forward to this once in a lifetime event. I hope you will join me as I share the tales that will greatly deepen your appreciation of the Tiki Mecca.

Come meet the man who invented the Mystery Drink, see the Mystery Girl on the Tonight Show, hear how the Mai-Kai was able to recreate Don the Beachcomber’s recipes so perfectly, and how so many incredible people are linked to this incredible place.

Tickets at The Hukilau

Mai-Kai Calendar Girls

In an effort to turn blog posts to web pages, I have started with the Mai-Kai calendars. This also gives me a chance to share a bit of history along the way.

If you are interested in helping with this project, please email me. I do not have every calendar.

Mai-Kai Calendar Girls

Check back for updates!

Charles McKirahan – Fort Lauderdale Mid-Century Architect

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.

Jolly Roger on A1A

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!

Some images by Agilitynut

History and preservation site to browse: HERE

Esquire November 1959 – Mai-Kai

Not much to add to this. Please click the article and read for the exact heaping praise this great magazine put upon the Mai-Kai. And try this very elusive recipe for the Moonkist Coconut. One of very few of Mariano’s recipes that have been made public.

Long live Mai-Kai and the Mystery Girl!

Mookie wins Mai-Kai logo contest!

Mai-Kai Logo Contest

When I heard that the Mai-Kai was having an open contest to redesign their logo to use on new gift shop items, the first person that came to mind was Mookie. His incredible work on my Tiki Daze calendar project blew me away. I knew he would do something great.

I had no idea he would do a lot of great images!

Congratulations Mookie!

Mai-Kai Logo Contest

The 2 above are my favorite. See them all HERE on Facebook.

Mai-Kai Derby Daiquiri and Mariano Licudine

This image is from the June 1959 issue of Esquire magazine. It says:

“The fabulous mixologist Mariano Licudine of the famed Mai-Kai Restaurant in Florida creates new ways with rum in his Derby Daiquiri. The secret: one ounce of fresh orange juice, one half ounce of fresh lime juice, one scant teaspoon of sugar, one andone half ounces of Puerto Rican white label rum, one cup of crushed ice; mix in a blender for 10 seconds or shake vigorously. The bee? Oh, he’s just buzzy. But this, designated the oficial drink of the Florida Derby, is the DERBY DAIQUIRI.”

This date seems to have confused people into thinking this was named the official drink of the Derby in 1959. The Derby Daiquiri has been on the Mai-Kai drink menu since the earliest printings. And it has always been pictured served in the special Jockey glass. So, I would assume it has been the drink of the Derby since 1957 at least, which is the copyright date on the oldest menus I have seen.

Bob Thornton

Here is Mai-Kai owner Bob Thornton holding the drink with the original coaster.

Derby Daiquiri

Here is my glass with the coaster.

UPDATE 8/10/2011:  After extensive research, though the Derby Daiquiri was on the first Mai-Kai menu, it did not become the official drink of the Gulfstream Derby until probably 1959.

Do Something For the Mai Kai Today

The greatest Tiki Supper Club can use your help. And it only takes a couple of minutes.

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!

Yahoo Travel


Trip Advisor

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!

New Mai Kai Website

Pia has wanted an updated site since the day I met her in 2003. It’s finally here. It is so nice! I hope it brings even more people into the happiest place on earth! Thanks Bill fo rmaking it happen!

Mai Kai – The Best

Another New Mai Kai Postcard Found

You’d think that after searching for 6 years for all things Mai Kai I would have seen every postcard there was. No. This one appeared on Ebay a few weeks ago. More things to try to find!