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Mai Kai vs. Kahiki?

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Hi, everyone,

Having never had the good fortune to make it to the Kahiki before its sad demise, I was wondering how people who had been there thought the Mai Kai compared to it? Which one do you guys think was the ultimate tiki restaurant?

I've never been to the Kahiki, but the Mai Kai was incredible. I was stunned at the waterfalls and ponds throughout the restaurant. Even the bathroom was fully decked out to look like it was part of a ship.


First of all, Welcome to Tiki Central! I see that you are a new poster.

I was not fortunate enough to go to the Kahiki, but I must say that it would be awfully hard to beat the Mai Kai!

I will stand by (my) Sam's Seafood, but after seeing the Mai Kai, I get the urge to go to Sam's to rip down a few of the various "beer" signs, fix the broken pufferfish lamp, dim the lights more and add 100% more carvings!

I'd love to hear those with extensive Kahiki & Mai Kai experiences add their 2 coconuts worth!


Not to slight the Kahiki, which was amazing, but the Mai Kai has it beat, hands down.

JonPez posted on Wed, Jul 2, 2003 4:17 PM

I trust James' opinion. He's seen just a few Tiki Bars in his time.
I never got to see the Kahiki, but the MaiKai was amazing. Good thing the drinks are wet, because my mouth dried out from having it open so much. My only disappointment with the MaiKai was the distressing amount of decay. Before it got dark and the lights were dimmed, it made me sad. Rot in the tikis, missing thatch, roof leaks and busted pufferfish lamps were a little hard to take.
Second post...Won't be the last...


Tristan here...

I'm pretty sure that the Mai Kai is in the process of re-thatching their roof (hence the exposed beams from removing the old stuff).

[ Edited by: Tiki Bree on 2003-07-02 20:18 ]

I never had the pleasure of being in the Kahiki but I did have a great time at the Mai Kai (and probably will again, when I get to FL again), it seemed to me that they did some Tiki refurbisihing for the Hukilau (from the pics I've seen). When I visited in 2001 there was more decay, so I think they are aware of it, and doing steps to remedy the situation.
Gotta love that 30' Moai that used to be in the Kahiki, though

Thanks for the welcome, SugarCaddyDaddy. I must admit to being a lurker here for quite some time, but I was so inspired by the sheer gorgeous swellegance of the Hukilau to start posting.

I totally know what everyone is saying about being saddened by the decay. The big Tiki out in the gardens that appeared almost gutted with it was utterly heart-wrenching. But, at the same time, you have to remember that the place is almost 50 years old. I just hope that the Mai Kai is now being proactive about trying to fix these spots up.

[ Edited by: modchick65 on 2003-07-03 08:11 ]

The "Mai Kai" is the "Greatest"!


That's the thing. 50 years. Don't look at it as decay, but character! If the tikis were all replaced with new ones, we'd hate it. If they continue like they are, they will be fine for another 100 years.

I talked a lot with the owners last week, and they are very into details. Yes, the roof leaks, but you have to imagine the cost of fixing that structure correctly.

I'm afraid my nose gets a little bent now when you gripe about the Mai Kai's "decay." It's like you're saying my baby's ugly!


My mouth is still hanging open over Mai Kai. The show was amazing.

Sorry, Swanky. Didn't mean to infer that the Mai Kai was anything less than the complete and total Tiki and architechtural heaven that it is. The place is amazing and one of a kind, leaky roof or not.

The problem is (and maybe it's just me), when I see a vintage structures in need of repairs -- small or large - my first thought is that the owners don't care and don't appreciate what they have. This is what's happening in Wildwood, NJ, and it completely breaks my heart for a variety of reasons I won't go into here. But I am comforted by the fact that you've spoken to the owners, and they not only know... but they also CARE. That is really, really great.

The Mai Kai is such an incredible place, and I just want it to be around forever.


Both these places are crap! My money for best Tiki bar goes to "Swanny's Tiki Bar and Grill" down the street from the Mai-Kai!


The question is irrelevant because the Kahiki is gone forever but the Mai Kai is still going strong!


Main Discussion Area: Mai Kai vs. Kahiki?
Posted by thejab on 2003-07-03 12:43

The question is irrelevant because the Kahiki is gone forever but the
Mai Kai is still going strong! "

I thought my comment was irreverent, too.

The baby is gorgeous, Swanky, yet I have to say personally I think restoration of the originals is indeed possible...replacement WOULD be a travesty...case in point-Mr. Bali Hai's old-age facelift courtesy of Bigbro.. http://www.bookoftiki.com/bali.html I thought it turned out wonderful..

kctiki posted on Thu, Jul 3, 2003 3:40 PM

On 2003-07-03 10:26, Swanky wrote:
Don't look at it as decay, but character!

That's what I tell myself when I look in the mirror. Middle age is not for sissies!

Swanky is exactly right. I worked at the Kona Kai, Plaza Hilton, in K.C. when it was fairly new. Everyone kept saying how it cost umpteen million to decorate - over the top tiki in every detail. It was fun to look at, but seemed too perfect and Disneylike with no feeling of history.

On the other hand, there was joint called The Kon-Tiki Room closer to downtown. It was seedy and disreputible (like most of my dates at the time). The place had seen better days, but the the aura was genuine and the drinks were smashing.

Both these places are gone now. So enjoy the Mai Kai while you have it, blemishes and all.

Swanky posted on Thu, Jul 3, 2003 3:59 PM

The point is that the Mai Kai does care. They are researching what they have and seeing it in a new light. Their most important pieces were moved indoors. They also are very traditional people. Think about what it takes just to keep that place dusted! We all are concerned and care about the Mai Kai. I can assure you the owners do too. They were ecstatic to have Hukilau there and see the place full of people who adore it the way they do. They invest heavily in their employees and they stay with them for decades. They also invest in every other part of the place. That's what makes the Mai Kai beautiful in every way. Talk to the owners and you see people who care about the place, the employees and the history, not just the money. They believe, as Bob Thorton did, that the key to their success is in being authentic and true to their roots, the gods and every detail that makes Mai Kai. You hardly find that anywhere, it's a near religious experience to find it in the ultimate Tiki Palace. Words don't do justice. I can't tell you how many times I was choked up and teary-eyed last weekend.

The Swank Pad Broadcast - If it's Swank...

[ Edited by: Swanky on 2003-07-03 16:01 ]


"Main Discussion Area: Mai Kai vs. Kahiki?
Posted by Swanky on 2003-07-03 15:59

The point is that the Mai Kai does care. They are researching what they
have and seeing it in a new light. "

yes-the light shining throught the holes in the roof!!!!

JUST KIDDING!!! I love the Mai-Kai so much that I have been there three times in the last year and a half and I live in California. In fact I can't wait until I go back again!!!!

I got choked up at the show...I thought often that I was not worthy of the Mai Kai!


On 2003-07-03 21:47, Basement Kahuna wrote:
I thought often that I was not worthy of the Mai Kai!

I was also thinking that you were not worthy of the Mai Kai.

In fact, I tried to get you thrown out.

Wanna give me a deal on that very worthy Maori carving?

Yikes...are we talking about a money deal or a body deal, big boy? :wink:

You never told me you accepted body deals!!!!

Ooops, James...The ante just got upped!

Actually, I should have correctly guessed that Jade is Jame's pimp and all John Boys have to play her beeper if they want him. :) The ante may in reality get higher soon as I will shortly be (as soon as I get the first few items carved and shipped) Basement Kahuna as featured in the world famous Mai Kai gift shop! Just got the nod the other day. I'm pretty psyched about it...



Should have given you that 'G' and/or favors while I was in your hotel room...

Wow, BK, that's great!!!!
One more name to drop and elevate my social status!

PS - Excuse me, but I only deal in quality merchandise. :wink:

I did a Re-Furbish-Repair a while back at a Bar on Catalina Island's Two Harbors. It was the old movie set the one for the Bounty. It goes like this.

They had one hole they needed to be fixed. The roofer fell through the roof trying to to fix it and there was another rather large hole. They tried to fix that hole then wham-o! The entire roof had to be taken off. Now, the ceiling was bamboo and potog matting. Well, that crumbled too. So now they have a bar with no roof or ceiling. So then, the Money Fairy came and turned a 1.95 project into a 11,950. project. Long story short. There is a giant process behind fixing minimal complaints. Enjoy it while you have it! 1954 codes were a lot different than 2003 codes and when it's time to refurbish, the can-o-worm and Money Fairy might take it's toll!

Stop your bitchin' and enjoy the History of the Mai Kai and be Thankfull you even set foot in the place! I still get chills thinking of being there. I hope you's do too!

Aloha and Mahalo,
Bamboo Ben!

I have been to the Mai Kai just once during the Hukilau 2003 event and I am a veteran of the long gone Kahiki and I can tell you that the Mai Kai wins hands down. The Kahiki used to have a walk through garden area like the Mai Kai but it was torn down many many years ago to expand the parking lot. The Mai Kai's walk through garden was just spectacular. Waterfalls, tropical plants and a huge tiki count. The 2 things that I really did enjoy at the Kahiki was the fish tank rooms, where the tables actually had fish that swam by your table, and the bathrooms. Nothing can touch the Kahiki's bathrooms where water ran from the tikis mouth into a large clam shell bowl. Other than that, the Mai Kai is the best Polynesian Restaurant left on this grand of scale, so lets take care of it and enjoy it.


My comments meant no offense, Swanky. The Mai Kai IS the best, "character" and all. I know how tough it must be to keep up with everything.
Being in Florida, we have the same problems as the Mai Kai. My house is hitting 50 as well and we are going to have to get a whole new roof on our house and it is going to cost a fortune... and it doesn't have any steep pitches, outrigger beams or thatch. A did ask how much it would cost to add a roof like that... They just blinked and said that I was crazy (wasn't the first). Shingles it is...
The MaiKai is absolutely amazing. The "decay" I saw did NOTHING to dampen the experience or change my feelings for the place. It was awe-inspriring. It deserves to be there another 50.

Third post... won't be the last.


Wow. I have a couple of friends that grew up in Columbus, and they told me what it was like in the Kahiki and I thought maybe it had Mai Kai beat by a notch, but after reading Jeff Central's post I stand corrected. I can't tell you how many millions of times I drove past the Mai Kai when I was in high school and never went in. Imagine!! Now that I haven't lived in Ft. Lauderdale for 17 years, I wish the place was closer. I'll be back there before the year is over though, that's for sure. As far as structural damage goes, the only thing I noticed, maybe a year or so ago, was some damage/repairs going on in the Molokai bar up front. The water was turned off on the 'hurricaine effect' too, but that was fixed by the time I visited again last December. I don't remember the tikis being in bad shape when I walked through the garden, although I do think they 'cleaned up' one of the big tikis for the kids by cutting his 'thing' off. Or maybe that was just somebody grabbing a souvenir, if yaknowhaddimean. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.


Swanky posted on Mon, Jul 7, 2003 9:07 PM

Let me put the tiki castration myth to rest. The Mai Kai didn't do it, Mother Nature did. It rotted off and they never had to deal with the controversy.

The other couple of issues I have heard over the years that I had a chance to ask about:

The velvet paintings were likely Leeteg when they were new, but people touch them so much they have to have them repainted every year or so, and they do not have a fake Leeteg signature painted on on purpose.

Next issue is the painted tikis. Some people think it's wrong to paint them. But they only paint the ones that are supposed to be painted.


If they let me move into Mai Kai, I'll use my body as a shield against nature.

kctiki posted on Tue, Jul 8, 2003 7:04 AM

On 2003-07-07 21:07, Swanky wrote:
Let me put the tiki castration myth to rest. The Mai Kai didn't do it, Mother Nature did. It rotted off...

Now THAT is some character building decay!

I hope the Mai Kai is stays so busy they can afford any and all repairs so the next generation can enjoy it's majesty.


Hmm wonder what would be better, having 'it' cut off, or rotting off. Jeez..that musta hurt! :drink:


We were fortunate enough to have visited the Kahiki several times before it closed and have been to the Mai Kai three times in the past few years. We often debated the same issue until we concluded that they were both amazing, though different.

Now that the Kahiki is gone, I think the Mai Kai stands uncontested as the premier mainland Tiki bar/restaurant that I have seen. But while they both stood, a couple of things to consider: the Kahiki was in Columbus OH. That alone gives it an advantage in my book. To have a Tiki oasis in the middle of the snowy Midwest is THE definition of Tiki in my book. To give the patrons a tropical escape in landlocked Columbus is the kind of experience I think Tiki bars are all about. I mean, it's great that Tiki bars started with Don in California, but I have always maintained that if you are in Southern California, Hawaii or coastal Florida you are already in a tropical environment and while perhaps a nice change, a faux tropical experience is a little redundant. No offense to all the super cool left coast Tiki temples. I'm just admitting my bias. Living in Chicago, I think that we (and others in inclimate locals) NEED Tiki even more to get through those too-long winters.

Regardless, both the Kahiki and Mai Kai were well conceived and lovingly executed. The design and decor was impeccable. I never saw the gardens at the Kahiki that Jeff alludes to, so when I witnessed the Mai Kai for the first time, I too, was blown away. I have to say the Mai Kai has so much to offer, the bar, the hula show, the great food, the gardens, the gift shop- It's a very fulfilling experience and perhaps a little more complete than the Kahiki. We used to sneak downstairs at the Kahiki and look all around. I suspect that back in the day, when the Kahiki was really going full-tilt they were very comparable in their offerings. But with the Kahiki gone, we can only pray that the same never happens to the Mai Kai.


I have seen both the Kahiki and the Mai Kai, and although I tend to think of them more as being equal in status, I might have to give the edge to the Mai Kai - mainly because of the continuing dinner show tradition, the large outdoor gardens, and perhaps because their barrel rum mug was a natural fit for my fingers.

However, in many ways, I liked the Kahiki better. I liked the main bar area of the Kahiki better, as gazing across the island bar and looking at others sitting across on the other side appealed to me, and there was quite a bit of Polynesian decor on the walls and hanging from the ceilings to gaze at. The Mai Kai's Molokai bar area had more of a 'waiting in a ship' feel to it - appropriate for a dinner show type place.

I also felt the Kahiki had a much more impressive and single awe-inspiring focal point with the Moai fireplace at the end of the main A-frame center hall, which was the obvious main item to take photos of. The charms of the Mai Kai, on the other hand, were spread out through many rooms - one had more of a sense of a surburban driving experience through block after block - except all the sites were full of amazingly cool stuff rather than typical surburban crap. It was this overall cumulative effect of all of these rooms that makes it so impressive. One could take a photo here, and a photo there, but one knew that you could never come close to capturing the essence of the whole in any one shot.

One of the biggest differences between the Mai Kai and the Kahiki were the geographic locations. Being in Florida, the Mai Kai was able to build and sustain a large outdoor tropical garden area, which would have been quite impossible in Columbus without greenhouse type protection. But part of the charm of the Kahiki was that it was in a northern state - Ohio, and in the cold months of January and February, you might have had to drive through snow to reach the Kahiki. Walking in from a winter storm, to see the Polynesian decor and to savor the exotic drinks -- well, to me that represents so much of what attracts me to the tiki lifestyle - it is the retreat, for a few hours, into the myth of Polynesia. Perhaps the need for this myth was stronger in the more northern, colder latitudes.

The Mai Kai exists in Southern Florida, where palm trees and tropical plants grow naturally in the much warmer climate. Being a ex-Wisconsin native, I tend to think of the whole southern Florida area(and southern CA also) as being quite exotic. In this sense, the Mai Kai is just one part of the whole exotica portrait of southern Florida.

It is hard to think of the city of Columbus as exotic - the Kahiki was a bright gem that shined even brighter because of this contrast.

The Kahiki did have a basement area - somehow this reminds me of tiki bars being built in hundreds of basement tiki bars stetched across America ... while again, the Mai Kai was stretched out horizontally across a single elevation.

Both the Kahiki and Mai Kai did what they were designed to do - recapture the Polynesian experience on a very grand scale. I miss the Kahiki, and hope to return to the Mai Kai many times.


[ Edited by: ikitnrev on 2003-07-08 22:16 ]

[ Edited by: ikitnrev on 2003-07-08 22:17 ]


Having never been to the Kahiki I honestly can't compare it to the Mai Kai but, being a Floridian I consider it nothing short of a priviledge to have the Mai Kai a few hours away.
As for its state of disrepair, we have seen improvements in the last two years. At one time you really could see the sky through the roof of the Molokai Lounge.
The Mai Kai was in great shape for Hukilau '03!

Vern, thank you so much for your very thorough and informative compare and contrast between the two restaurants. This is exactly the information I was looking for when I initially asked the question.

Having never had the pleasure of seeing the Kahiki, I spent a lot of time at the Mai Kai wondering if it was anything as amazing as the Mai Kai was. This was quickly followed by an even-deeper feeling of disappointment that they tore it down. As amazing as the Mai Kai was, I was curious if the Kahiki was comparable, or even more incredible.

Thanks again for your thoughts, Vern! When ya coming to Philly?

I have to agree with ikitnrev & Boutiki about the Kahiki's attributes and location. It was certainly a place of many great memories for me, especially when one is in this frozen winter wasteland of the midwest.

You California types and Florida folks can walk outside and get that tropical feeling. We had to go to the Kahiki. Nothing compaired expect being in a tropical climate and place.

We plan on visiting the Mai Kai around the end of the month. I am sure we will not be disappointed.

And you have to remember that there were some changes made to the Kahiki over time, like the gardens, and time had a way of slowly fading away a great deal of Kahikis luster.

So, you have to condsider; Kahiki of the 90's or the Kahiki of the 60's vs. Mai Kai?

It's depressing now, when I think about it.
But we certainly want to visit the Mai Kai before such changes or closure happens there.

I look forward to catching a show.

Well, thing is, when you visit the Mai Kai you ARE seeing the Mai Kai of the 60's. Unlike Kahiki, the ownership had respect for the place straight through, and it has rewarded them royally. Kahiki foods in all likelihood doesn't put 7.5 million dollars a year in the bank selling frozen eggrolls and various other cardboard microwave slop that has replaced their once world-famous cuisine.. The Mai Kai does....and they have remained one of the top epicurean establishments in the continental U.S. and the world at large. Greed is a great killer, and it's a shame that it killed the Kahiki. I have reverence for the Kahiki,and respect, but it was far and away no Mai Kai, and now that it is lost to time (even on the eve of this great tiki resurgence), never will be. Nothing before or since the Mai Kai even compares, anywhere.

On 2003-07-08 13:42, ikitnrev wrote:
...part of the charm of the Kahiki was that it was in a northern state - Ohio, and in the cold months of January and February, you might have had to drive through snow to reach the Kahiki. Walking in from a winter storm, to see the Polynesian decor and to savor the exotic drinks -- well, to me that represents so much of what attracts me to the tiki lifestyle - it is the retreat, for a few hours, into the myth of Polynesia...

Exactly, Vern. That's why places like the Honolulu Restaurant near DC is so charming, or the Alibi in Portland, or the Hale Kahiki near Chicago. They are like walking into a wardrobe and finding the kingdom of Narnia. (see C.S. Lewis)

On a certain level, I think all of the old tiki places are great and the grandness and scale of the Mai-Kai shouldn't diminish any of them for what they are. A good example is the overlooked Hawaiian Inn in Daytona Beach. Even though it is definitely low-brow compared to the Mai-Kai, or even a Trader Vics or Tonga Room, I think it probably comes closer to what the typical Florida tiki joint was offering 30 years ago -- Witco decor, luau buffet, tiki drinks and a hula show for the sun-burned set, and that's why I love it.

God bless tiki bars, everywhere!

Aloha from the Sunshine State!

[ Edited by: Kailuageoff on 2003-07-10 08:07 ]


*On 2003-07-10 01:28, Basement Kahuna wrote:*Kahiki foods in all likelihood doesn't put 7.5 million dollars a year in the bank selling frozen eggrolls and various other cardboard microwave slop that has replaced their once world-famous cuisine.. The Mai Kai does....and they have remained one of the top epicurean establishments in the continental U.S. and the world at large.

I don't intend to compare it to the Kahiki because I never went to the Kahiki but I thought the food at the Mai Kai was excellent both times I had dinner there. Definately the best I've had at any polynesian restaurant. Trader Vic's comes in a close second for cuisine and all the rest lag way behind.


"Main Discussion Area: Mai Kai vs. Kahiki?
Posted by the75stingray on 2003-07-09 21:34


We plan on visiting the Mai Kai around the end of the month. I am sure
we will not be disappointed"

aNYONE planning on visiting the mai-kai between now and maybe october or November or so. You can buy (over the mail) a Mai-Kai Dicount Card. It costs about $10 but is really a coll souveneir and will pay for itself instantly!! Call the Mai-Kai for details--I don't think I saw it mentioned on the web site. Hurry-because they have to MAIL it to you!!!

Please be aware that the Mai-Kai club discount card doesn't apply on Friday or Saturday nights. (At least it didn't when I bought mine, and I have only been on Friday and Saturday nights). Still, its the coolest card in my wallet.

Geoff & Mr. Smiley- Thanks for the info. I will definately do that, if for no other reason than to have a cool card in my wallet.
Thanks again guys!


Hi all,

I have been to both the Kahiki and the Mai Kai, and I have to agree with Vern. Here are my thoughts:

First of all, the Mai Kai's drinks are the best drinks you can buy anywhere. They beat Trader Vic's, Kowloon's, and the Hala Kahiki's by miles and miles. The Kahiki had great drinks too, but I'd say they only rated a bit higher than the drinks one can get at the Bali Hai in Mass (near Boston). Still no where near the drink quality of the Mai Kai.

The food at the Mai-Kai is better than what I remember getting at the Kahiki.

However, the Kahiki's decor was very, very impressive. The giant easter island type heads on either side of the entrance; the gigantic tiki fireplace; the rain forest; the aquariums, and all the amazing artifacts hung everywhere -- and the bathrooms were terrific. The decor (inside especially) was of a higher quality than the Mai Kai, though both are/were great.

Hello folks,
Being from the snowy Midwest, I feel it is time I experienced the Mai Kai. I missed the Bali Hai in St. Paul and the Kahiki. I am going to Ft. Lauderdale for the first time during the last week of August. I plan on being at the Mai Kai every night during my stay there (Aug.23-27).
The information in this thread has been very enlightening. If any of you friendly Florida Tiki folks are in the neighborhood at that time, I'll be the tipsy 5'7" white chap with the loud Hawaiian shirt.


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