The Mai-Kai: Where the Drinks are Strong and the Ambiance is Stronger

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Night Watch is a regular feature about bars and clubs by nightlife columnist Tara Nieuwesteeg.

Mai-Kai
3599 N Federal Hwy, Fort Lauderdale 954-563-3272; maikai.com

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 told us.
"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 said.

And at that moment I realized: A perfect date is with the Mai Kai itself, regardless of whatever special friend you might bring along.
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