When you visit Greater Fort Lauderdale, make sure to enjoy Polynesia while you're here. That's not as weird as it may sound. And now there's one more good reason to plan an evening at the Mai-Kai. Just before Thanksgiving, this local institution became the first property in the city of Oakland Park to receive an official designation as "historic." And well-deserved it is. Authorities from the city and the Historic Preservation Board recognized the Mai-Kai for both its architectural character and its history. Apparently they didn't say anything about the food and entertainment, but they could have. At this combination restaurant-bar-nightclub-garden, the food is part of the entertainment, really. You don't go to the Mai-Kai only to eat. You go to have a good time and take in a terrific show.
And to relax. Honestly, I've always found this place to be among the more soothing ways to spend a night on the town. It's best to begin at the Molokai Lounge for a tropical drink - or two. One of my faves is a special Mai-Kai cocktail called the Black Magic, which is whipped up from fruit juices, coffee and dark rums. (Note, please, that the word "rum" is plural ... and make appropriate arrangements for a ride home.)Then you can head into dinner. I recommend making reservations for the show. You can munch on something like Mai-Kai Orange Beef while watching a first-rate Polynesian revue. Wearing hand-sewn costumes, the delightful dancers offer up movements choreographed by the Mai-Kai's dynamic owner, Mireille Thornton, who regularly travels to such places as Tahiti, Samoa and Hawaii for inspiration. After the show, make sure to take a stroll through the extensive garden just outside the dining room. No kidding, this is a wonderful way to enjoy a special Fort Lauderdale dinner. For more info, check out the very cool Mai-Kai website: http://www.maikai.com/home. So, ok, I hear you saying something like: "Great! Sounds like fun! But, uh, where's all that history?" Well, the Mai-Kai opened in December 1956 and is among very few large-scale Polynesian restaurants of its kind still operating in the United States. Just before he took over as host of the Tonight Show, Johnny Carson vacationed in Fort Lauderdale and devoted one memorable outing to the Mai-Kai with his sidekick, Ed McMahon. The story goes that Johnny danced the hula onstage. Perhaps he'd had a Black Magic before dinner. And who could blame him for partying? The architecture, the atmosphere, the food and drink and entertainment along with the outdoor gardens set among a real subtropical environment ...they combine to make the Mai-Kai like nowhere else. Historic? Without doubt. And fun? No doubt about that either.