Underwater Artistry: Mermaid Shows at the Wreck Bar – Fort Lauderdale, FL

B Ocean Resort (formerly Yankee Clipper)

We have all been led to believe that mermaids are just mythical creatures, but you may be convinced otherwise with a weekend visit to the Wreck Bar at B Ocean Resort (formerly Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel). It originally opened in the 1950s as the Yankee Clipper, hence the ship-shaped architecture.

The Wreck Bar, one of the few porthole lounges left in America

The Wreck Bar, which was built to look like a sunken Spanish galleon, is one of the few porthole lounges left in America. Behind the bar are windows that display an underwater view of the hotel’s pool. In the past decade, the property has undergone changes in ownership and multi-million-dollar renovations, but the Wreck Bar has managed to stay relatively intact.

A full house for the mermaid show at The Wreck Bar

The space is small — and the mermaids quite popular — so you better get there early. When we visited a few years ago, we arrived 45 minutes early and the room was already half full, with all extra available space filled in with white folding chairs. (There were lots of families in the crowd, and it is a bit strange to see a bunch of kids in a bar.)

The Wreck Bar in Fort Lauderdale

We were initially tempted by the banquettes and tables along the back wall of aquariums. Instead, we snagged a few of the bar stools for front-row views of the show. That’s definitely the way to go unless you have a larger group. (Also, you can admire the wooden bar rail with all the carvings inscribed by patrons over the years. Legend has it that Joe DiMaggio etched his and Marilyn Monroe’s initials, and the owner of the hotel removed that chunk as a souvenir.)

Stained glass mermaid at The Wreck Bar

There’s a lovely stained glass mermaid mural, plus neat little details like gold doubloon-type coins inlaid in the tables. Looking up, you’ll notice jagged cut-outs in the wood plank ceiling to reinforce the shipwreck setting.

The Wreck Bar in Analyze This

The Wreck Bar has been featured on the silver screen in the 1960 spring break flick “Where the Boys Are,” and more recently in “Analyze This” (1999). A plaque on the wall commemorates the scene with Robert DeNiro and Billy Crystal.

Mai Tide poster by Tom Thordarson

You may also spot a poster of “Mai Tide,” a painting by Tom Thordarson (aka Thor) featuring the queen bee of the deep blue sea: Marina the Fire-Eating Mermaid (aka MeduSirena). (She’s been a muse for many artists and even inspired a comic book character.)

Black Pearl at The Wreck Bar

While you wait for the show to start, you can take the opportunity to order some grog and/or grub. (Pictured is the “Black Pearl,” which used to be a signature drink. You should probably save your serious imbibing for the nearby Mai-Kai, my favorite tiki bar in the world.) The revamped food menu ranges from avocado hummus, sweet soy ginger wings and corn, lobster and crab cakes to chimichurri rib-eye, mahi mahi and jerk guava bbq chicken.

Marina the Fire-Eating Mermaid

Marina is a famous finned figure on the tiki scene. The Wreck Bar hadn’t regularly hosted mermaid shows since 1962, but she revived this wonderful retro entertainment here and it’s been a success for nearly a decade. She’s also appeared at events like Tiki Oasis in San Diego, Tiki Kon in Portland and The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale. (And if you’re ever in Macau, you can see her digitally projected at the City of Dreams’ Vquarium.) I’d caught her performance at Vintage Roadside’s mermaid event at Modernism Week in Palm Springs, but there’s nothing like seeing her in her natural habitat.

Mermaid show at the Wreck Bar

She and the “Aquaticats” she’s trained put on a mesmerizing show, demonstrating such control of movement underwater in their graceful gliding and flips, all the while interacting with the audience via mysterious gazes and flirtatious looks. After the show, guests can go upstairs to the pool level and pose for photos with them.

Mermaids in Fort Lauderdale

Around Halloween, the Creature from the Black Lagoon has been known to crash the pool party, while Christmas might feature a siren in a Santa suit. There are also special themed shows scheduled during The Hukilau (June 8-12).

Side of the Wreck Bar

The Wreck Bar opens at 5:30 p.m. and MeduSirena’s 30-minute swimshow takes place at 6:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Parking is available for $10 in a garage across the street. (Then, access the hotel via the covered walkway on the fourth level, take the second set of elevators down to the lobby and head left to the Wreck Bar.)

Want to know where else you can find cocktails and fishtails? Travel + Leisure recently published an article on the “10 Places for Mermaid Spotting in America.”

UPDATE! Some recent news from The Wreck Bar: “The Wreck Bar will soon be nearly twice its size, with two additional portholes restored. The cocktail & food menu is now better than ever! (No more plastic cups!) Bartender Mark is “Raising the Bar!” We are also looking into later night shows for 21+ only.”

The Wreck Bar
B Ocean Resort
1140 Seabreeze Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316
954-564-1000

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Mai-Kai Restaurant – Fort Lauderdale, FL

Hands down #1 on my list of the Best Tiki Bars is the Mai-Kai Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. (And I say that coming from California where we’re pretty spoiled by all the awesome tiki spots close by.) It was started by Chicagoan brothers Robert and Jack Thornton in 1956, and it’s still family-run to this day. It’s a tiki timewarp that you can’t miss.

As covered in my previous post, we started out at the Molokai Bar for happy hour. Then we went out to the tropical garden filled with waterfalls and tikis, where photo opportunities abound.

I loved this bridge and the lagoon-like feel. I hear it’s also worth wandering through at night when it’s all dark and mysterious.

It’s like an amazing labyrinth going from room to room, and this is barely the tip of the iceberg. The restaurant area alone can seat nearly 500 people! (I’d still recommend making reservations for dinner, though.)

There are seven seating sections, each named after a South Pacific island and decorated with authentic artifacts (including a shrunken head from Samoa). Tonga is popular for its elevated view of the stage for the luau-style show, but we had a closer vantage point from the Papua New Guinea room on the side.

Another one of the special things about the Mai-Kai is the ritual of the Mystery Drink. A loud gong brings the dining room to attention as a lovely Mystery Girl delivers a large bowl of booze (enough for four people to share) along with a little hula dance and lei.

Ordering cocktails, I again went for the big guns with the Barrel O’ Rum ($14) from the “strong” tropical drinks section (preferred it over the Jet Pilot), while my dear designated driver ordered the non-alcoholic Maui Sunrise ($6.25) made with peaches, bananas and passionfruit syrup (pictured left).

Mr. Baseball is happy as long there is steak, so he had the 10 oz. filet mignon ($39.50) perfectly roasted in the Chinese oven. Also on the menu are several seafood preparations and an assortment of Asian dishes like curries, teriyaki chicken, sweet and sour pork, and Peking duck.

That mid-century Continental classic Lobster Thermidor, here listed under the more theme-appropriate pseudonym Lobster Tahitienne ($37), is just something you don’t find on menus since diners started caring about things like calories and cholesterol. It’s pure indulgence: more than a pound of lobster sauteed in butter and served in its shell with a creamy sauce with sherry and Dijon mustard.

The song and dance show performed by the Polynesian Islanders Revue is choreographed by owner Mireille Thornton, a native of Tahiti who joined the Mai-Kai in 1961 as one of the original dancers. We were there on a Thursday when there’s just one show at 8 p.m. (Fridays & Saturdays have two). A $10.95 per-person fee is added for the entertainment, but it’s fun and worth seeing. (It’s free for children under 12.)

We went all out for our visit, but there are ways to save money at the Mai-Kai. First is the aforementioned happy hour. The Fort Lauderdale airport (and probably other tourist hubs) had 2-for-1 show coupons, while the website www.SouthFloridaDines.com offers a $30 dining voucher for $15. (Though of course you can only use one discount.)

Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop where they have tons of Mai-Kai souvenirs. (They also recently had a contest for new T-shirt and logo designs.) I just had to take home that big ol’ Mystery Bowl home with me. The really fun part was getting it to fit in my carry-on luggage…

Mai-Kai Restaurant
3599 North Federal Hwy.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33308
954-563-3272

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Mai-Kai Happy Hour at the Molokai Bar

When friends of ours told us they were getting married in Miami, my first thought was: “Congratulations!” And then my second thought was: “I get to go to the MAI KAI!”

The Mai-Kai is one of the most impressive (and last remaining) original Polynesia-inspired palaces. For more than fifty years its thatched A-frame has stood on a once remote (now industrial) stretch of highway in Fort Lauderdale.

Spending an evening here is not just dinner, it’s an event. And you must start off in the Molokai Bar, which resembles the belly of a storm-faring ship complete with carved wooden figureheads, rigging and nautical lanterns.

Simulated rain streams down the angled windows, adding to the sense of escapism. And there are plenty of tikis out there to spot, too.

You might be so distracted by the surroundings (and the bandeau/sarong-draped lady servers) that you don’t even notice there aren’t any bartenders around. Rather, they’re kept behind closed doors in part to preserve the long-held secrets of the recipes.

Mariano Licudine, a former Don the Beachcomber bartender, created the cocktail menu with variations of Don’s drinks and new signatures like the Derby Daiquiri and Mystery Drink (more on that later). I picked up this repro of a vintage menu in the gift shop.

Happy hour is from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and appetizers and almost all the drinks are half price. As advertised and classified, the Jet Pilot ($6.50) was seriously potent. Mr. Baseball opted for the non-alcoholic Tropical Punch ($3.25) which is made with pineapple juice, passionfruit syrup and guava and papaya nectars, according to this article.

We also ordered the won ton soup ($3.25) and my favorite Polynesian app: crab rangoon ($4.75) flavored with cheese and curry and served with barbecue, sweet and sour and hot mustard. There’s lots of other fried delights, including intriguing things called Tahitian cheese tangs, plus oysters Rockefeller and even escargots.

Happy hour at the Molokai Bar was just the beginning of our night at the magical Mai-Kai. There’s still the garden and dinner and show and, of course, more cocktails.