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.
After a few weeks on a strict low carb diet, I wanted to celebrate with a classic cocktail by Don the Beachcomber. I wasn’t about to blow the diet, so I did some research. I opened The Grogalizer and removed some high sugar ingredients and came up with a starting list of favorites. We found sugar free honey online and it mixes like honey syrup. Davinci sugar free syrup is good. These tools allowed me to make my own cinnamon syrup, falernum and allspice dram all sugar free!
I calculated some carb counts of favorites not using my home made syrups, just the SF honey and Davinci SF syrup:
Jasper’s Jamaican using SF syrup – 3 carbs
Navy Grog - 4 carbs
2070 Swizzle made my way with SF honey syrup – 6 carbs
Black Magic - 7 carbs
Nui Nui - 7 carbs
Outrigger – 8 carbs
1934 Zombie Punch - 8 carbs
Jet Pilot - 9 carbs
Test Pilot - 9.5 carbs
Rum Barrel - 11 carbs
Putting my other home made syrups to use can lower the carb counts even more!
You can’t go crazy, but you can certainly celebrate being good on your diet with a drink that won’t make you regret drinking it.
NOTE: Recent studies show that sugar free mixers mean higher blood alcohol levels. The same person drinking a Rum and Coke vs. a Rum and Diet Coke can expect their blood alcohol level to be 60% higher! So if you make sugar free drinks, be very careful. You can get much drunker than you expect. Be VERY careful!
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!
I was proud to share some of my Mai-Kai research at the Mai-Kai during Hukilau this year. My presentation went over well and several said it brought tears to their eyes. A good sign. There were a dozen or so Mai-Kai veterans there who gave me lots of info to move forward with. And after my talk, I was interviewed for an NPR piece. If you have not heard it, then here it is: Mai-Kai and Hukilau on NPR.
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
I have interviewed the founders of this legendary place, along with the varied people who have worked there as performers, servers, mixologists and owners. And I have heard the many tales of those who took their first drink there and patronized it for decades.
For Tiki Oasis 2011, I am bringing the story of this great place to everyone. You’ll find out how the Mystery Drink was invented, and who was the first legendary girl auditioned for the job. Learn how the Thornton brothers used the best parts of Don the Beachcomber’s and added to it to make the grandest Tiki Palace in existence. See amazing images and never before seen vintage video and get the chance to receive the Mystery Ceremony done by former Mai-Kai performer Marina!
Get your tickets via the Tiki Oasis website and join me for a fantastic trip through 60 years of Tiki history!
This record has lots of great images. It is meant to be a sort of scrapbook of your Hawaiian Honeymoon. Places to add notes and it is generally a nice bit of eye candy. I expected the most watered down tripe from the vinyl inside.
Instead I found some good music. Even some great music! The track “He Aloha No O Honolulu” at first gave me a little chill and then it shot straight into breath taking.
THIS page says: It showcases the unique talents of Bunny Brown,
Kihei Brown. Arthur Kaua, Mona Kalima, and Buddy Brown at their best; Bunny Brown recalls, “The whole album was incredibly recorded in just one session.”
THIS is the stuff I play in the Hapa Haole Hideaway. It gives me the feeling that is my ideallic soundtrack.
Hilo Hawaiians – Honeymoon in Hawaii
I don’t know much about what is going on here, so I will leave off with comments. I will note that the track names are as they were printed on the LP.
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.
Here is Mai-Kai owner Bob Thornton holding the drink with the original coaster.
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.
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 ripped live Hapa Haole vinyl. I had recorded this record in 2007, but just recorded it again. It appears to be from the 70s. Looks like the dying end of the Tiki Epoch. Everyone in the images is elderly. The show was recorded in the Malia Polynesian Room in Asbury Park, NJ. I find no internet record of this place existing.
Sad, as Sam Makia made one of my all time favorite records. Take it as you will.
I have narrowed my collecting over the years, mainly due to the fact that I could quickly run out of space. Now that the Hideaway is in operation, I limited it even more.
One of the few things I do collect now are items from the Hawaii Kai, NYC. In the last few months, my very favorite recordings have become the live recordings from various island and Tiki establishments. Nothing is better than the sound of forks on plates in the background!
So when I came across this LP I thought I had hit a home run. However, I was more than a little disappointed to find out that it was a studio recording.
Here it is for you to download. If some expert out there can tell me what is causing the high end distortionin my recordings I’d appreciate it. My guess is the needle on the turntable. It is not a problem with recording levels, etc. It is at the source.
Back in 2001, I made Swank Vinyl Exotica I to sell at the first Hukilau. It turns out that was the only money made on the first Hukilau! I made a second and sold them both on my website.
I just didn’t feel like putting in the time to make the CDs anymore and they ended.
I decided to resurrect them and share them now. I do not swear by the quality of these recordings, only their mood, which at those times, they reflected.