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Tiki Central Forums General Tiki Interview with Kern Mattei of the Mai Kai
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Interview with Kern Mattei of the Mai Kai
pablus
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 23, 2003
Posts: 2155
From: www.crazedmugs.com
Posted: 2007-09-01 7:07 pm   Permalink

Long conversation with WIll tonight.
I think he is going to not worry so much about anything other than making the tikis look the way they were at the Mai Kai when they were originally done. Mostly by Leroy Schmaltz.

If they were painted then, they'll be painted now. If they were "authentic" then they'll be that way now.

The story is actually quite fascinating. Seems Bob Thornton had an employee there who took it on himself to have these tikis cast as he saw what time was going to do to them eventually. The molds were placed in a warehouse and just waited.

Will's story is interesting too. I like the part where he talked about riding down to the Mai Kai on his bike as a kid and jumping in the fountains there until he was chased out by the chefs. Now he can go in them any time he wants. Call it "research."

I hope he takes the time to post his story more detailed than I can. I just wanted to get across that he has a long history there.

Now some perhaps grave news. I don't know what I'd do if I were in the same situation but here goes.
Seems that the place has been zoned for a 10 story building. Taxes go up even if you didn't do anything. Also, there is a developer in the area who wants to make that block into a city within a city kind of thing with apartments and shops and all of that. Now, what would you do if someone came along and offered you a bazillion bucks for your prime piece of real estate?

I've got some ideas of my own, but not worth posting about. The thing is... what will Dave do?
I think he really wants it to stay the way it is and even improve on it. But there are certain economic factors involved that I can't begin to understand the magnitude of.

I didn't get a chance to talk to Kern but I will about the involvement of Mirielle in the artistic direction.

Big mahalos to Chip and Andy for having us over tonight. Great place and of course, perfect Mai Tais.



[ This Message was edited by: pablus 2007-09-02 05:27 ]


 
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bigtikidude
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Joined: Aug 10, 2004
Posts: 8965
From: Anaheim,Ca.
Posted: 2007-09-01 7:14 pm   Permalink

Holly Cow this is scary news....

Jeff(bigtikidude)


 
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pablus
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 23, 2003
Posts: 2155
From: www.crazedmugs.com
Posted: 2007-09-01 10:28 pm   Permalink


I think Dave is pretty solid there unless the place starts to cannabalize itself business-wise.
But that's just my opinon.

It's almost a good thing that the surrounding area is kind-of "lower scale" adult clubs and cheap motels, etc. Perhaps it will be left alone for that reason. There is a lot of cash in this city. Incredible amounts. I would think that some of that money would be interested in an icon like the Mai Kai and keeping it stable. There's enough cash here to helicopter the Mai Kai in its entirety, down to the beach front every night.

Anyway, big kudos to Will for doing what he's doing without any money involved or at best, very little.
Mahalo, Will.



 
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bigbrotiki
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Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 11267
From: Tiki Island, above the Silverlake
Posted: 2007-09-02 12:24 am   Permalink

Considering the above info, a few splashes of paint seem inconsequential in the big picture. But, not knowing what the future will bring, we might as well plug away at improving the present.

Kudos to Will for being such a good sport. He understands that we all love the Mai Kai, and that, it being the last authentic Tiki temple and prime example of the heyday of the style, we are all very concerned about it retaining its unique and rare character.

Quote:

On 2007-08-31 20:16, Chip and Andy wrote:
And then I realized that they only look bad because they look so new. They have no patina of age and look out of place against everything else. In four or five more months when the Florida sun has dulled the shine, the Florida rain has softened the edges... they are going to be fantastic!



I considered that also, but please look again at the Mobile Home and the Mini Golf Tikis that I posted earlier, and the Barney West Moai that Teakey put up: Their paint jobs are all well weathered, but...they still simply look wrong.

Quote:

On 2007-09-01 19:07, pablus wrote:
Long conversation with WIll tonight. I think he is going to not worry so much about anything other than making the tikis look the way they were at the Mai Kai when they were originally done. Mostly by Leroy Schmaltz. If they were painted then, they'll be painted now. If they were "authentic" then they'll be that way now.



That all sounds very easy. But it's a little more complicated. When was "then"? That Moai paint job, and some of the other Tikis like that giant Maori by the sign were clearly applied after the 60s, and are wrong. Does that mean these mistakes will be repeated?

And the fact that Leroy is a Tiki veteran does not necessarily make him infallible. He, like all veterans that had to survive the 80s, adjusted to "what the public expected", too. Just like some of the old mixologists who lost their incentive and care in making the original cocktails. As a matter of fact, brightly painted Tikis are the equivalent of too much grenadine-red, overly syrupy Mai Tais in the history of Tiki culture, both occurring at the same period, marking the devolution of Tiki.
(And I am not suggesting the slightest bit here that Leroy lost his touch, he just did what was commercially viable at the time!)

Here is an example, an early Oceanic Arts carving, with tastefully restrained "naive" paint accents that have a limited palette (white/black/and an earthy red) in an aged look:


(I realize the eyes are black, the lips are red ...but this is a different carving here!)

...and the same carving, overly decorated by Leroy for an art show:


Leroy did this to "personalize" the otherwise lathe-carved pieces for the show. Did that make them his own art? Perhaps. Would he have done them like that 30 years ago for a restaurant? Never.
(Unfortunately, the show and the book that followed it failed to trust in the fact that O.A.'s carvings, though mass-produced, were art in their own right, namely pop art/Polynesian pop, which had its OWN history and context which gave the carvings their meaning and value. Like the restaurant owners in the olden days that felt embarrassed about admitting that the decor was NOT from the islands, the exhibits curators tried to make the O.A. pieces "special"...which totally missed the point that mid-century Tiki was already cool enough by itself.)

In the same book, THESE two Tikis, which I fortunately had been able to admire in their natural brown color at the entrance to the Las Vegas Sahara Hotel Don The Beachcomber, were pictured as examples of Tiki style Ouch!:



After the Beachcomber closed, the inventory was taken over by O.A., where they were painted in this way in the early 90s, because that was what the party rental business customers went for. I sincerely believe that since then, Tiki awareness has grown in leaps and bounds, making such drastic measures unneccessary.

Just like with the cocktails, the time and effort spent on what O.A. used to call "polychroming" (used mostly for their New Guinea style carvings) seemed not worth it anymore in the 80s and 90s...nobody seemed to notice the difference. Here is an example of a unique Oceanic arts piece that shows their old, lovingly applied "polychromed" paint style:



The paint is distressed, bleached and dirtyied up which makes the carving look like straight from the jungle. Plus the paint scheme is tasteful and somewhat in keeping with traditional Oceanic art, not a coloring book free-for-all. I can only re-emphasize the importance of looking at Oceanic art books for reference. The original native artists had very specific reasons why and where they chose which paints, and to neglect that completely makes the Tikis look wrong even to the un-educated viewer, not so much on a conscious, but on an instinctive level.

Sorry about being so seemingly anal about this, but it's my job. Being supportive and complimenting on TC is all good and fine, but when it comes to preserving the quality of mid-century Tiki culture, I prefer to make a clear point without skirting around the issue. I know there are some folks out there who understand me and who appreciate this.



[ This Message was edited by: bigbrotiki 2007-09-02 00:29 ]

[ This Message was edited by: bigbrotiki 2007-09-02 00:36 ]


 
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icebaer69
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Joined: Feb 03, 2007
Posts: 194
Posted: 2007-09-02 04:59 am   Permalink

Quote:

On 2007-09-01 22:28, pablus wrote:
... There is a lot of cash in this city.
Incredible amounts...




http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/orl-condobust2707aug27,0,2001796.story?page=1

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pablus
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Joined: Jul 23, 2003
Posts: 2155
From: www.crazedmugs.com
Posted: 2007-09-02 05:40 am   Permalink


Let's hope that the condo bust talked about above (have to cut and paste the url) has a positive impact on the Oakland Park area as in "left alone."

No matter. The riverfront residents of Ft. Lauderdale have the combined cash of many nations and can weather any kind of financial storm. They're above it all already.

Back to Big Bro.
I get it. I'd be willing to bet rum to soda water that Will will accept any help from anyone who wants to do polychroming or any other technique to finish up the tikis. As it is, the ones I've seen fit well out there in the garden and most have very slight touches of white or very subdued color. They are very brown. I wish I had a still camera with me to take some photos tonight. Maybe I'll buy one. Maybe I'll drink up all of the money I would have spent on a still camera.

Freaking Mai Kai is brutal. The booze gauntlet continues tonight.


 
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GatorRob
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Joined: Aug 20, 2004
Posts: 1773
From: 3 hrs 33 mins to paradise
Posted: 2007-09-02 08:09 am   Permalink

Quote:

On 2007-09-02 05:40, pablus wrote:
I'd be willing to bet rum to soda water that Will will accept any help from anyone who wants to do polychroming or any other technique to finish up the tikis.


Gawd, I would if I only had the talent and skills for it. I've spent considerable hours helping the Mai-Kai with their music selections in the Molokai and in the back dining rooms, following on the heels of Swanky's wonderful contributions. I did it not for a penny, but simply as an act of love for the place, wanting it to stay true to its mid-century Poly pop roots. Kern was gracious in allowing me to work on the project, as I'm sure he is with Will. I think that's the point of this whole conversation thread: we all just want to see the Mai-Kai, last of the greats, remain true to its roots as long as possible and as long as the owners (owner?) and management are receptive.


 
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GatorRob
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Joined: Aug 20, 2004
Posts: 1773
From: 3 hrs 33 mins to paradise
Posted: 2007-09-02 08:11 am   Permalink

Big mahalo to pablus for providing all these updates and sacrificing his liver in the process.

 
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bigbrotiki
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Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 11267
From: Tiki Island, above the Silverlake
Posted: 2007-09-02 08:47 am   Permalink

Yes, thanks to Pablus for holding the "missionary of classic Tiki" post in this last Poly pop refuge, while the natives are trying to subdue his resolve with voodoo potions designed to knock the strongest believer of his high bar stool! Hold on to the bamboo, big guy, the spirit(s) of Tiki is protecting you.

Though I doubt that Will is up to re-casting what he has already done, but I believe that Benzart is an elder here that has seen the Tiki generations come and go and would be totally happy and qualified to lend his experienced eye and advice to the proceedings.

I myself would gladly volunteer to find the equivalent original carvings to the Tikis in my vast Oceanic Art book library, if Will wants to post them.

Just to make one more thing clear (again), I am NOT promoting slavish copying of the original artifact color schemes. The creative re-interpretation of original primitive art was what made American Polynesian pop unique. But mid-century carvers like Leroy and Barney West and designers like George Nakashima and Gabe did so with the originals as a guide, preserving their character and style and while adding their own touch. It is all a matter of balance, and of how far does one go. Nowadays, many new Poly pop Tikis are simply based on 50s Poly pop Tikis to the degree of loosing all resemblence to the original source, which makes for a much less compelling effect.

So please Will, don't let all this " elder guidance" spoil your fun and creative impetus, paint away with gusto, but with care, too.


 
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tikiyaki
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Joined: May 18, 2004
Posts: 2710
From: The Exotic Port of REDONDO BEACH, CA
Posted: 2007-09-02 11:37 am   Permalink

Regarding the possibility of the Mai Kai getting sold to make room for Condos.....

Wouldn't this be a good time to get some sort of petition going to render the Mai Kai to "Historic Landmark" status ? Is there any sort of Historic Landmark laws in Ft Lauderdale ? If so, why wait until it's in danger to protest and petition ?

I say, get it going now. Maybe a nice essay on the importance of this establishment written by Sven, and a signature drive to get this place listed under Historical Preservation. Print it up, present it to the city Historical Landmark division.

Better to nip that issue at the bud, than wait until that "big money offer that can't be refused" to come in and claim the last standing Temple of Tiki from the original heyday.

I say, why wait ?

Any thought on this ?

BTW...I also concur with Sven about the coloring, but's that's neither here nor there.


 
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VampiressRN
Grand Member (8 years)  

Joined: Nov 23, 2006
Posts: 5810
From: Sun City Lincoln Hills (NorCal)
Posted: 2007-09-02 12:56 pm   Permalink

I never made it to the original Trader Vic's in Hollywood, but I certainly understood the preservation efforts of the TCers. They did what they could to try and bring the preservation of a historic landmark to the attention of TPTB, but unfortunately progress and the holy grail (money) won out.

Sad now to hear that the Mai Kai (where I have also not been) might be suffering from the same march against time.

Quote from Pablus..."Now some perhaps grave news. I don't know what I'd do if I were in the same situation but here goes. Seems that the place has been zoned for a 10 story building. Taxes go up even if you didn't do anything. Also, there is a developer in the area who wants to make that block into a city within a city kind of thing with apartments and shops and all of that. Now, what would you do if someone came along and offered you a bazillion bucks for your prime piece of real estate?"

Definitely see the writing on the wall here too. You can't blame the owner of these fabulous tiki treasures, I would be hard-pressed to turn down a multi-figured offer. Only hope if progress sweeps over the Mai Kai, that all the decorum can be auctioned off to tikiphiles that truly appreciate every item within. Let the picture taking begin!!! Once again, I will have to appreciate the famous lounge through pictures. Someone get me a drink menu please.

_________________
"Oh waiter, another cocktail please!!!"


 
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Swanky
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Joined: Apr 03, 2002
Posts: 5065
From: Hapa Haole Hideaway, TN
Posted: 2007-09-02 2:37 pm   Permalink

Quote:

On 2007-09-02 11:37, tikiyaki wrote:
Regarding the possibility of the Mai Kai getting sold to make room for Condos.....

Wouldn't this be a good time to get some sort of petition going to render the Mai Kai to "Historic Landmark" status ? Is there any sort of Historic Landmark laws in Ft Lauderdale ? If so, why wait until it's in danger to protest and petition ?

I say, get it going now. Maybe a nice essay on the importance of this establishment written by Sven, and a signature drive to get this place listed under Historical Preservation. Print it up, present it to the city Historical Landmark division.

Better to nip that issue at the bud, than wait until that "big money offer that can't be refused" to come in and claim the last standing Temple of Tiki from the original heyday.

I say, why wait ?

Any thought on this ?

BTW...I also concur with Sven about the coloring, but's that's neither here nor there.



The owners of the Mai Kai are against any such designation. They are very much better at keeping the place as their family has for 50 years than a bunch of freakin politicians.

Trust Dave and the family.

They have friends and I am sure, as long as they have the business to keep the place going strong in its perfect style, they will. If things come along to screw that up politically, I hope they have the right friends to keep that off their backs.

I have spent a bit of time with Dave and I see the twinkle in his eye as he talks about the place. He is a hard businessman, but has a heart of gold. His love of the Mai Kai and what it meant to his father and means to his family and history, is very deep.

There are no better hands for the Mai Kai to be in than those it is in now.

I can't wait to see the place again, regardless, but to see it back as it was before the damage will be a great great joy!
_________________

Announcing Swank Pad and Crazy Al's Molokai Maiden!


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VampiressRN
Grand Member (8 years)  

Joined: Nov 23, 2006
Posts: 5810
From: Sun City Lincoln Hills (NorCal)
Posted: 2007-09-02 4:56 pm   Permalink

That is encouraging indeed...might make it there some day after all.
_________________
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pablus
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 23, 2003
Posts: 2155
From: www.crazedmugs.com
Posted: 2007-09-02 5:15 pm   Permalink


As far as the dancers go, they will probably be entrusted to Lani ( I think that's her name).
She's been there long enough to know how it goes and what to do.

I think that's the girl that Crazy Al says "ALL TIME!!" about.

Went again tonight, after a fun and delicious afternoon at the Jetsetter, (another post altogether), and just hung around with the Amber Love Goddess and sipped a few Floridita Daquiris.

It really is an amazing place. My favorite table is the back of the Molokai in the high room with an open falls behind it and over looking the inside tiki gardens behind the stage.

One other thing I learned last night that I forgot later because of...uhhhh.... something I drank.
A lot of the fixtures, like corner braces that look like they were salvaged off of pirate ships and things like that, are plaster. There are molds for these things too.

Thanks to Will for the lessons and good luck with your task.
See you soon when we record there. Can't wait for that. We'll get those tikis dancing.

Back to the Rusty Key.





 
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Chip and Andy
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Joined: Jul 13, 2004
Posts: 2217
From: Corner table, Molokai Lounge, Mai-Kai.
Posted: 2007-09-02 7:35 pm   Permalink

Quote:

On 2007-09-02 11:37, tikiyaki wrote:
... "Historic Landmark" status ? ...



An excellent idea and one that would benefit many a building here in south florida.

BUT! And this is a big but...

Historic Designation is the WORST thing that could happen to the Mai Kai. Well, to any business really.

The designation is more appropriate for examples of archetecture, or a home that someone famous lived in, that kind of thing. If the Mai-Kai were to be listed as Historic, an oversight board run by the local goverment would have to be consulted for every little thing that was done in/to/around the place. It would mean calling a meeting with the review board and applying for a permit to do anything down to changing a bathroom faucet that was dripping. And that is only a slight exageration. I know because I work for said local government and I know most of the people on the Historic Board (most of them are idiots, by the way).

The only way to 'Save' places like the Mai Kai is to GO to places like the Mai Kai. Filling the seats in the bar, bringing as many friends to do the same as often as possible, that is how you save places likes this. As long as we keep going to the Mai Kai and enjoying the Mai Kai, and more importantly recommending the Mai Kai to anyone and everyone who even thinks about going to South Florida (this means you to everyone not already in South Florida), the place will be there for us.

Long story short (too late) If you are not going to the Mai Kai regularly, or regularly recommending it to others, you are not helping. Go there, tell others, it is the only way to keep places like this open. This is true of any tiki establishment, not just the Mai Kai.

OK, I will step off of my soap box and return this thread to it regularly scheduled broadcast.....

Pablus, it was great seeing you at the Jetsetter. Glad you got to see it, wish there could have been more ohana there to share the heat.


 
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