Mai-Kai: History & Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant — the book is out!

978-0-7643-5126-6The Mai-Kai Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale — opened in 1956 and still running strong today — is my #1 favorite place in the world. The architecture and interior design! The Molokai bar! The history! The drinks! Every time I’m about to go inside, I am literally — and I do not jest — jumping up and down with excitement. So it’s thrilling that now, after a decade of research, Tim “Swanky” Glazner has written a history of this amazing space … the people who created it … visited it … and have kept it going with such enthusiasm for 60 years.His book: Mai-Kai: History & Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant (Amazon affiliate link). I already have my copy… I’ve ogled all 400 historic photos… and this weekend I am digging in.

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Early postcard of the Mai-Kai circa 1956. Photo from the book Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant by Tim “Swanky” Glazner

I met Swanky during both my trips to The Hukilau, and he knows I wanted to cover his book launch. So he sent me this email with some of the back story (I edited it slightly for the blog):

Dear Pam,

I’ve spent more than a decade researching my favorite place on earth — a place that most consider to be the pinnacle of the mid-2oth-Century Tiki era. Through Schiffer Publishing, that research will be released to the world in the form of a new book. Featuring first-hand stories and more than 400 images, this book documents the history, allure, and enduring legacy of the Mai-Kai.

The Mai-Kai has been in the same family for 60 years. Above: The Tahiti dining room circa 1971. Photo from Mai-Kay: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant by Tim “Swanky” Glazner
Of course, the drinks can be an important part of the Mai-Kai experience. Photo from Mai-Kay: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant by Tim “Swanky” Glazner

Opened in 1956, a few brash young men created the Mai-Kai restaurant and bar in Fort Lauderdale as a peer to Don the Beachcomber’s Polynesian-themed Chicago restaurant, but they took the concept to new and greater heights. The Mai-Kai became the playground of celebrities and playboys, and the beautiful women working there used it as a jumping-off point for adventure and fame.

The main dining room at the Mai-Kai today. Photo from Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant by Tim “Swanky” Glazner. Photo used in book courtesy Jochen Hirschfeld.
The Samoa dining room has seen the fewest changes in its decor than any other space in the Mai-Kai. Photo from  Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant by Tim “Swanky” Glazner.

First and foremost, the book is great to look at, but it’s also an amazing story. The fact that the Mai-Kai still exists and is not a decrepit shadow of its former glory, but, rather, has remained a steadfast keeper of the flame for 60 years, is a miracle. Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant is not a history book to keep on the nightstand to knock you out on sleepless nights. It’s the stories of amazing men and women, celebrities, models and playboys connected to this legendary place. It is their stories of love, adventure, and nightlife during that iconic era. Men and women, now in their 70s and 80s recounting their glories with no regrets.

An early coaster. Featured in Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant by Tim “Swanky” Glazner.

Congratulations, Tim — 10 years of research, collecting, then writing! That’s a tremendous life-accomplishment!

Retro Renovation readers, I will say that paging through the book, my first impressions are that its focus is on the history of the people who built, worked at and visited the Mai-Kai. While there are many great shots of the decor — something that I’m particularly interested in — you still need to need to visit!

About Tim “Swanky” Glazner:

It’s NOT the Mai-Kai, BUT Tim Glazner’s home tiki bar — the Hapa Haole Hideaway — is pretty darn fantastic, too! Here’s a shot he submitted to our 2013 home tiki bar uploader.
Tim “Swanky” Glazner, author of Mai Kai: History & Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restauraunt. Photo by David McCauley.

Tim’s bio, from the publishers:

As one of the pioneers of the modern Tiki movement, Tim “Swanky” Glazner has been researching its various aspects for over a decade. He has written articles, appeared in documentaries, been interviewed by NPR and other radio shows, and has given presentations on the history of Tiki and the Mai-Kai specifically. Materials from his collection have been published in other books and used in museum exhibits. By creating Hukilau, the second largest Tiki event in the world, centered around the Mai-Kai, he was granted access to the images and people whose stories appear in this book.

Additional link love:

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Very neat! I added it to my list of things to do when we are in South Florida next! Added book to my cart. Thank you

  2. Annie B says:

    What a fabulous post. I’m saluting the Mai Kai with a Mai Tai. Cheers!

    Reminds me of Memphis TN ‘s Luau which had a twelve foot replica of an Easter Island Moai beside its entrance.

  3. Tikimama says:

    We got to see Swanky’s presentation on the Mai Kai at Tiki Oasis in August, complete with guest performance by one of the original Mystery Drink Girls – Nani Maka. What a treat! I can send you photos if you’d like, Pam.

    Alas, I didn’t have enough to purchase the book at the time, but I fully intend to – it’s a masterpiece!

  4. James Buxton says:

    Wonderful place! Would love to visit! Glad that the place has a book about it. I come away from this article missing the Kahiki restaurant here in Columbus. The Kahiki was very much like this restaurant, but succumbed to the wrecking ball around 2000. Glad this place survives.

  5. Bette Jean says:

    Tim, I see you’ve got some book events. Our local independent book store, The Vero Beach Book Center does several author events every month. Check ’em out…would love to see you there! Bette Jean

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