The Mai-Kai: Where the Drinks are Strong and the Ambiance is Stronger
Night Watch is a regular feature about bars and clubs by nightlife columnist Tara Nieuwesteeg.
3599 N Federal Hwy, Fort Lauderdale
If love makes the world go 'round, alcohol makes love a little easier to find. That's why, this week, I've selected a few great places you can go to have ultimate success in liquoring up (and scoring with) a hot date. Consider this your Christmas present--from my home to yours. When you do finally get your soul mate in the sack, be sure to thank Night Watch.
The Mai-Kai is a Fort Lauderdale staple (since 1956!) and Elvis-in-Hawaii Polynesian sulf-culture mecca. It's a good place to bring tourists and a great place to bring a date if you want to trick him or her into believing you are both cool and cultured.
The Mai-Kai has a lot to it (gift shop, restaurant with Polynesian stage show and fire dancers, lush outdoor tropical gardens), but the bar area is spectacular all by itself: It's like a Disney ride and tiki bar, all wrapped up in a hula skirt. The whole place is low-ceilinged and damp-smelling, and draped with nautical décor: fish nets, life preservers, weathered maps, rope ladders, and barrels. Busty figureheads beckon from the walls, and you can look through the porthole-like windows to glimpse tiki scenes. During my recent visit, small flickering lamps and Christmas lights twinkled in the otherwise dark room while a long-haired dude in the corner stood playing feel-good island tunes on his Fender strat.
My buddy Beard and I cracked open our menus. I scanned the "mild" and
"medium" alcoholic drinks; Beard flipped right to the "strong" and
began eying the Barrel O' Rum. There were rum juleps, daiquiris, and
something called a "Shark Bite" (description: Swim fast and hope for
the best). Beard opted for the "Shrunken Skull" (description: Dangerous
and deadly) and I settled for a standard pina colada.
Jordan, our petite, chatty bartender, was clad in the standard Mai-Kai
unform -- bikini top, short sarong, and flower in her crimpy brown
tresses -- and served up our drinks at lightning speed.
"You guys should come in for happy hour," she said.
"It's 5 pm to 7 pm, every day. Half-price drinks."
We were already slogging down our drinks. Amid my jitters from the subsequent sugar-rush, I made a mental note.
She paused to pull her bikini top up a little, noting that the uniforms
were notorious for falling down and pulling on cleavage. The fix, which
waitresses must constantly perform, is "called the Mai-Kai tug," Jordan
"Hot," said Beard.
I began chatting with a middle-aged man sitting nearby, who mentioned
seeing Beard "on the Internet" before (and subsequently revealed on his
phone a picture of a drug-addled, furry-faced homeless man who indeed
bore a slight resemblance to my drinking partner). He was there with
his small son.
"I come here because it's the Mai-Kai," he said. "There's nothing else like it."
I turned to the little blond kid. "What are you doing here?"
"I just got done with a show," he said matter-of-factly.
"He's a fire dancer," Jordan interjected, delivering a glass of water to the child.
"Is it hard?" I asked.
"Nope--fun!" he said.
His dad whipped out his phone and showed me a video of the kid twirling a stick of fire, lit on both ends.
"Wow," I said, genuinely impressed.
"That was my first show," the kid said. "I'm better at it now."
When I returned to my own table, Jordan and Beard were arguing
flirtatiously about the merits of sports-watching and Beard was downing
a Barrel O' Rum, which is precisely what it sounds like.
"Can I get another drink?" I asked.
Jordan reverted from her fevered arguing voice to the soft,
syrupy-sweet siren song of a demure Mai-Kai bartender. "Of course," she
And at that moment I realized: A perfect date is with the Mai Kai
itself, regardless of whatever special friend you might bring along.
Get the Things to Do Newsletter
Find out about upcoming events and special offers happening in South Florida.