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Mauna Loa, Detroit, MI (bar)
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 2720
From: Toronto,Canada
Posted: 2003-07-24 08:27 am   Permalink

Name:Mauna Loa
Street:3077 West Grand Boulevard


The Mauna Loa is likely the least talked about extinct tiki restaurant there is. Search any engine for information, and nothing appears. It's as if it never existed. But in its day it was one of the most lavish, expensive and spectacular Polynesian palaces of the Midwest, if not all of North America. Located on a man-made lagoon at 3077 West Grand Boulevard and Cass Avenue in Detroit's New Center area, it was surrounded by palm trees, swaying, waving, and beckoning swanky Detroiters of the late 60's to come inside to another world.

Mr. Tikifish took me to pay homage to the site where it once used to be, but we found nothing there, not even the building shell. After The Mauna Loa closed, new owners opened an American seafood restaurant there, but apparently it caught fire and had to be demolished. The site of this once proud South Seas supper club is now the St. Regis hotel parking lot.

The Interior:

The Monkey Bar:
Situated in the centre of the Mauna Loa, the Monkey Bar's actual bar-top had 1,250 Chinese coins embedded in Lucite, as well as four-bladed fans from a Hong Kong saloon (I imagine they mean ceiling fans, not fan-yourself-like-a-geisha fans). The bar tables were brass bound hatch covers from trading schooners.

The Bombay Room:
This room was a formal dining area with 3,000 zircons imbedded in the filigreed teakwood panels that surrounded a sacred elephant shrine. The waiters wore turbans, though I have no idea if they were East Indian, or perhaps just some white guys serving up birdie num-nums while wearing dark make-up like Peter Sellers in The Party.

The Papeete Room, the Tonga Room, the Lanai Room and the Maui Room:
I don't know anything about these rooms, except the Oriental waiters wore Mandarin jackets.

The Mugs and Other Dinnerware:

The Mauna Loa mugs were specially designed for the restaurant. I know of four:

The Polynesian Pidgeon:
The main body is designed to look like a section of bamboo, and the handle is actully a bird, climbing up the bamboo. The drink that came in this mug was called Polynesian Pidgeon. As the menu says, \"Two or more will stimulate you enough to give yourself away. Watch out!!\"

Bob's Rum Barrel:
Shaped like a rum barrel. Holds the drink called, of course, Bob's Rum Barrel. \"This barrel of varieties of rum specially blended and made for adventurers and lovers (sic)\"

The Coconut:
Your standard coconut shaped mug. \"Coco Aku: Coconut milk, spices and rums are delicately blended to suit the most discriminate taste.\"

The Signature Mug:
A funky little tiki man impetuously sticking out his tongue. This mug came in both black and brown varieties and held the drink they called Baha Lana. The menu cautions \"you wouldn't really care what happens before or after you take this drink\". The bottom reads \"Design by Mauna Loa Detroit\".

The Salt and Pepper Drums
These seem to be not too hard to find, even today. Perhaps they were sold in a gift shop, if the Mauna Loa had one. They are dark brown ceramic drums that read \"Mauna Loa\" with tan skins stretched over the top. The bottom reads simply 'Japan'.

The Sugar Bowl - A squat, round brown ceramic tiki head with lid. Bottom reads 'Design by Mauna Loa Detroit'.

The Menu:
I am missing the Main Course section of the menu, but I these items will give you a taste of the exotic flavours that awaited the lucky diners at the Mauna Loa.
Hot Appetizer Selections:

Shanghai Crab Roll 1.85
A fluffy combination of exquisite delight.
Polynesian Puff 1.65
A stuffed sensation from the Islands.
Hikoki Tidbit 1.50
The Polynesian meatball.
Rumaki 1.60
Water chestnuts and spiced chicken livers, rolled in crisp bacon.
Puffed Shrimps 1.95
A for real Oriental preparation
Napuka Fishfang 2.25
A sweet and sour fish presentation on a bed of romaine, with hot plum sauce.
Hawaiian Barbecued Ribs 2.40
Meaty baby back ribs marinated in Island spices from our Polynesian ovens.
Nuku Hiva Drums 1.75
Specially marinated chicken upper rings, a masterpiece of island culinary art.
Cha Siu 1.90
Slices of lean pork loin, cured in barbecue sauce.
Bali Miki 1.95
Sweet soya cured slivers of selected beef on bamboo spears.
Avaku Pillow .95
The Chinese egg roll.
Taipi Beef 2.45
Oriental seasoned tender beef cubes on picks, served in Kobe.

Delightful, Exotic Dessert Presentations

Hawaiian Snow Ball 1.25
French Vanilla ice cream rolled in shredded coconut with crushed pineapple and chocolate syrup.

Captain Bob's Banana Boat Flambe 1.25
Baked banana with kumquats and coconut pineapple ice cream flamed at your table.

Orange Blossom Flambe 1.25
Stuffed orange with brandy ice cream flamed with orange brandy at your table.

Mauna Loa of Snow with Fresh Fruit
A sensation of fruit arrangement made from selected tropical and continental fruits.

Article from The Bay City Times, Sunday August 20 1967

An artist's sketch above shows Detroit's new Mauna Loa restaurant, one of the most expensive of it's kind ever built in the Midwest. Circled areas show the hand-carved bird heads, some of hundreds of authentic artifacts imported from the Pacific Archipelago under the art direction of Florian E. Gabriel, 39, a native Bay Citian who was art director and decorator for the building.


A former Bay Citian can confirm the authenticity of the elaborate Polynesian décor of Detroit's newest, luxurious restaurant, the Mauna Loa.
Florian E. Gabriel, 39, son of Mrs. Rose Gabriel, 1701 S. Chilson ave, was art director and decorator for the $2.25 million restaurant nestled on a man-made lagoon at West Grand Boulevard and Cass Avenue.
Gabriel, who now resides in Los Angeles, and George Nakashima, chief designer of the Mauna Loa, also have designed lavish restaurants in Montreal, Portland, Dallas, Chicago, Cleveland and Beverly Hills.
Their latest accomplishment provides patrons with a make-believe trip through the Pacific Archipelago and India. On the site a waterfall rushed down a hill of volcanic lava into a lagoon surrounded by flaming tiki poles and seven palm trees.
The interior design, said the 1945 graduate of Bay City Central High School, \"is a fusion of many exotic locales,\" all authenticated since the plans were begun two and one half years ago.
Gabriel, who attended St. Hedwig school, spent three years in Special Services of the Air Force after high school graduation. Later he studied four years at the Art Center School, Los Angeles.
Ten years ago Gabriel, whose sister, Mrs. Clarence Meier, and a brother Robert still live in Bay City, became art director for Stephen Crane Associates in Beverly Hills. (Crane owns the Luau Restaurant in Los Angeles). Gabriel and Nakashima have been advisors for the Crane firm the last four years, but are no longer in its fulltime employ.
The Mauna Loa's foyer is a ceremonial hut with a red box hanging from the roof. In the islands, when a Polynesian swain takes his maiden into this hut, it indicates they will be married, said Gabriel.
The heroic island figures and the tiki poles with carvings are authentic, as are the glowing blowfish and an enormous war canoe from Samoa.
The bar, imbedded with 1,250 Chinese coins, has four-bladed fans from a Hong Kong saloon, Bar tables are brass bound hatch covers from trading schooners.
The Bombay Room, formal dining area, has 3,000 zircons imbedded in the filigreed teakwood panels that surround a sacred elephant shrine. Turbaned waiters serve diners there, while in the Papeete Room, the Tonga Room, the Lanai Room or the Maui Room, the Oriental waiters are Mandarin-jacketed.
The upstairs banquet area is of a Mediterranean décor with hand rubbed woods, burnished bronze statues, three interior pools with tropical plantings and waterfalls and a bar-b-que pit.
Mauna Loa has both American and Oriental kitchens, plus a third one to serve the banquet room. Visitors are welcomed there, but not in the service bars where island drinks are mixed with secret formulas.
Gabriel and Nakashima will revise and add to the Mai Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale and work on another Mauna Loa, this one in Pittsburgh that will be headed by the Detroit project's 40 local stockholders.
(I assume the Maunal Loa Pittsburgh never happened...)

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