Fort Lauderdale's Mai Kai: Hula History in Florida
By Gary McKechnie
If you don’t know about the Mai Kai Polynesian dinner show on Fort Lauderdale’s Federal Highway (U.S. 1), it’s a legend among fans of tiki culture, the retro kitsch style that sprang up when the South Pacific began to infiltrate the American culture through Hawaiian dance, bamboo furniture, colorful tropical prints and, of course, colorful drinks served in pineapple-shaped glasses.
Mai Kai captures this era very, very well.
Considering the Mai Kai opened in 1956 – some 58 years ago -- I arrived assuming it would be past its prime. Thankfully, I had never been so wrong.
Even on a weeknight, it was active with couples and families and locals and tourists. Even better, every accent piece was perfectly placed and fit a range of South Pacific themes. To top it off, when my wife and friend and I sat down for dinner, we found the prices were affordable, the menu diverse, the food delicious, and the service beyond excellent.
In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised. You can’t run a business for nearly six decades unless you’re doing something right – and then doing it right over and over again.
And what the Mai Kai does right the best is entertain.
While the style and accents and theming and gardens and waterfalls and tropical drinks and South Seas dishes put you in the right frame of mind, putting everything over the top are the professional musicians and performers that, in a 90-minute show, dazzle the audience with variations of Polynesian songs and dances.
Yet even though a hostess explained the origin of every dance, I can’t recall much of that. All I remember is that when the ladies shook their hips, they were shaken with atomic power. When the men twirled flaming torches, they did so with a blend of athleticism, daring, and art.
Trust me. Whether you go for party, a corporate event, a wedding, or just an evening on the town, you haven’t experienced Fort Lauderdale until you’ve experienced one of Florida’s treasures: The Mai Kai.
If you go...
The Mai Kai
3599 N. Federal Highway (U.S. 1), Fort Lauderdale
(954) 563-3272 ext. 1