Congrats to Fort Lauderdale’s Mai Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show for being granted National Historic Landmark status! (It’s about time!)
The quintessential Tiki Bar/Lounge/Experience has been one of the world’s most elaborate (and famous) Tiki-themed establishments since 1956. It’s gone through a few changes over the years (The Molokai Lounge was created with the ship interior theme in the 1960s) but still retains much of its original architecture and decor, and all of its original charm.
Tiki themed restaurants & lounges began sprouting up in the mid 1930s, and had their heyday from around the end of WW2 through the late 1960s (see our Tiki Culture page). But as society evolved out of the sophisticated cocktail culture of the American mid-century and into the torn blue jeans & acid rock culture of the late ’60s, Tiki Bars became less fashionable, less of an exotic escape and more as a kitschy joint for “the last generation”. Sales fell, and most of the grand and beautiful Tiki palaces fell too.
The Mai Kai is one of only a handful of the original Tiki-themed restaurants to make it through the Disco era, the Mod ’80s, the bland ’90s and The Great Recession, along with multiple hurricanes and an insane buildup of furniture stores, strip clubs, strip malls and other restaurants along the strip of Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale…a stretch of road that was completely vacant and considered “way out west” when the Mai Kai was built in ’56. It’s a testament to the family who has owned this family-owned business and to the newest proprietors that it has remained not only open, but successful, for nearly 60 years.
And it’s about time that fantastic, fantasy palaces like this are finally being recognized for what they are: A great piece of American history.
-Tiki Chris, reporting from the lanai at the Mai Kai