Tiki Culture Is Alive and Well in Fort Lauderdale
Still looking to beat the heat? The kitsch aspects that define Tiki culture have become a kind of stylistic cult over the years, and Fort Lauderdale has emerged as a haven for Tiki Americana, boasting several attractions that make you want to don a lei and grab a Mai Tai, and pretend you're on an island in the South Pacific.
On Friday and Saturday nights, the “Mermaid Show” at the Wreck Bar—featured in Robert De Niro's 1999 movie Analyze This—is a mainstay of Fort Lauderdale Tiki culture. Tucked into the lobby of the B Ocean Resort, formerly the 1950s-era Yankee Clipper hotel, it features massive aquariums, nautical decor and porthole views into the main pool, as well as a custom list of island-inspired cocktails.
During its weekly “Mermaid Show” (happening Friday and Saturday nights, at 6:30 p.m. sharp) entertainers dressed as mermaids put on an aquatic performance that is viewed through those portholes, a high Tiki moment that embodies the best of classic Fort Lauderdale. The resort also offers a “Mermaid Wedding,” with an underwater ceremony flanked by the hotel’s mermaids. (In August, the New York-based Stonehill & Taylor will commence a year-long redesign of the resort’s public areas and 487 guestrooms, though happily, the Wreck Bar will remain.)
Also in Fort Lauderdale is the family-friendly Mai-Kai, listed as one of the “ten best Tiki bars in the United States” by USA Today. Along with Polynesian food and big rum drinks in festive glasses, the Mai-Kai has a nightly floor show of Polynesian dancers and Samoans twirling double-ended torches.
On any given night, the Molokai Bar at the Mai-Kai might contain tatted-up hipsters in Pareo sarong wraps, Pan Am flight bags, and Shriner hats, dancing with equally tatted-up rockabilly women in poufy retro dresses. (Every June, the Mai-Kai realizes its true aesthetic perfection with The Hukilau, an international conference on all things Tiki, with everything from black-tie-clad Swedish Tiki bands to appearances by Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island.)
Recognizing the circa-1956 Mai-Kai’s legacy, the National Park Service has added it to the National Register of Historic Places. With any luck, it will stick around for a long time.
Tom Austin is based in Miami and covers the Florida beat for Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter at @TomAustin.