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

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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