Mai Kai Restaurant: History of a South Florida Institution

Categories: Food News

All photos courtesy Mai Kai Restaurant
Fort Lauderdale doesn't have the long history of cities like New York or Boston. With just over 100 years under the city's belt, you're not going to find landmarks like the Plaza Hotel. However, you will find mid-century gems like the Mai Kai.

To many residents, the spot may be thought of as a quirky happy hour destination or even a tourist trap, but the Polynesian themed restaurant is actually steeped in tradition and history -- as well as a bit of mid-century kitsch.

With this weekend's of the Hukilau, a massive tiki-themed event, we decided to revisit the home of the longest running Polynesian review in the entire country -- mainland, anyway.

See Also:
- Hukilau is this Weekend: How to Roast a Whole Hog Hawaiian-Style
- Ten Best Happy Hours in Broward and Palm Beach Counties

Brothers Bob and Jack Thornton opened the restaurant on December 28, 1956 in the middle of nowhere on US1. The construction cost about $400,000, making it the most expensive restaurant construction project to take place anywhere that year. Within the first year of opening, the Mai Kai recouped the entire 400 grand in construction cost and actually turned a profit.

Mai Kai circa 1957

Location Info


3599 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, FL

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icculus17 topcommenter

Mai Kai does everything right, except for the food.  I've gone twice for birthdays and both times wanted to send my food back. The food was bland and the veggies were roughly cut, maybe it was a bad night....

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