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The Mai-Kai

The Mai-Kai

Mai-Kai Trading Company

Saturday, June 11, the attendees of The Hukilau will spend an enchanted evening at the Mai-Kai! The night kicks off with drinks & music in the nautical Molokai Bar, then moves to the Mai-Kai’s many dining rooms, where there will be two dinner seatings (don’t forget to make your dinner reservations) and the Mai-Kai’s famous Polynesian floor show! After dinner, enjoy more music and entertainment in the Mai-Kai’s rear dining areas, Samoa and Tahiti, stroll the exotic and lush outdoor gardens and visit the gift shop. It’s sure to be a night to remember!

The Mai-Kai... it’s hard to describe, as so many thoughts and emotions come to mind as one enters the doors of this mid-century icon. Driving over the wood planked bridge you realize you are entering into another world of enchantment and beauty.

Mai-Kai Photos
Mai-Kai Photos

In the 1950s, two brothers from the Chicago area, Robert and Jack Thornton, set their sights on building one of the most amazing Polynesian restaurants in the world. As Bob Thornton told The Miami Herald in 1974, "The region generally was on the move, and Fort Lauderdale had no specialty restaurants outside of steak houses." After Bob left the service and Jack left college, the brothers trained at bars pouring drinks and toured all the leading Polynesian restaurants in the country, including Hawaii. With $100,000 of their own and their parents’ money, a reluctantly granted bank loan and two of the top men from Don the Beachcomber's in Chicago (Mariano Licudine as Master Mixologist and Kenny Lee as Master Chef) -- the brothers managed to open the Mai-Kai in December 1956 on a barely populated slice of U.S. 1 in Fort Lauderdale, FL, a sleepy but growing tourist town. The restaurant had four rooms, a small bar and could seat 225 people for dinner.

Mai-Kai Photos 02

They never expected what happened. The two shows a night turned into sometimes 4 and 5 shows a night, the last patrons leaving at 5am. The success was overwhelming as celebrities from members of the Rat Pack to Johnny Carson flew in to experience what everyone was talking about. The impeccable cuisine, the cocktail creations, the beat of the drum and the beauty of the women that served you were to be trademarks that are still present today.

In December of 1960, who knew that the Mai-Kai and the life of Bob Thornton was to change forever. Mireille, a beautiful Tahitian-born dancer, walked into the Mai-Kai after being recruited by a friend of Thornton’s while in California. She made it through rehearsals and became a part of the staff only to be fired shortly after because she couldn’t dance and needed to lose weight! Two weeks later, after a grueling fitness regime and professional Polynesian dance lessons, she was back on staff as a dancer in the Mai-Kai Polynesian Floor Show. Five years later, romance sparked between Bob and Mireille, and 11 years later they were married. Mireille took on an active role within the Mai-Kai, designing costumes and recruiting dancers from the South Seas, and took over as Choreographer of the Mai-Kai Islanders Review, a position she held until mid-2007 upon her retirement from the business.

The Mai-Kai is operated today by Mireille’s two children from her first marriage, David Levy and Kulani Thornton-Geraldi, whom both became her partners in the enterprise after Bob Thornton’s death in 1989 (he had bought out his brother Jack in 1970.) David Levy became the sole owner in 2007 after the retirement of Mireille. The Mai-Kai is still a thriving family business that now boasts eight dining rooms seating 489 for dinner—each named after a different island in the South Seas, the Molokai Bar that seats 150 guests, a full gift shop and the amazing Mai-Kai gardens where guests may stroll to view an extensive collection of new and vintage Tiki carvings and enjoy the wide array of tropical plants. And of course, any night of the week you will be entertained, as others have for the last 50 years, by the dancers and musicians that make up the Mai-Kai Islanders Review—still going strong. If you've never had a chance to experience the Mai-Kai, The Hukilau is a great chance to be with hundreds of other people that appreciate Polynesian Pop and Mid-Century culture just as much as you do. If you cannot join us, then make it a point to come and visit this enchanting and amazingly beautiful example of Polynesian Pop.

Visit Mai-Kai at: Mai-Kai Photos 03

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