South Florida’s Timeless Venues

February 10th, 2015

Today’s Miami Herald brought the news that the State of Florida is recognizing the Vagabond Motel in Miami, an emblem of MiMO design and the Mai Kai Restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale on the state register of historic places. This places them in a protected category and guarantees their existence in the form they now have. I knew the Vagabond as a derelict property whose most recent use may have been for the prostitutes who used to roam that stretch of Biscayne Blvd. And now restored, it’s the home of a new boutique hotel and eponymous restaurant that’ll be certain to garner better stories in the future.

The Mai Kai on the other hand didn’t need any restorative energy but has been in continuous operation in its present form on US1 in Ft. Lauderdale since its creation in 1956. In the mid 70s, I was lucky to meet one of its founding partners, Bob Thornton, who hired me to photograph the famous Mai Kai Calendar. Bob was a very hands-on client who had a lot to say about what he wanted his baby to look like. Luckily I satisfied him that first time and was invited to come back again the next year. The calendar used 24 images, twelve pages front and back, one for each month. Each front page had a portrait of a beautiful Asian cocktail waitress photographed in one of the restaurant’s iconic settings. The flip side showed off other features of the restaurant such as the wood ovens or the spectacular stage performances. Not much in the Mai Kai changes. Some of the photographs I did back in the 70s are still in use by the Mai Kai today. Those were fun shoots! Long days working while the restaurant was closed during the day followed by a trip to the bar as opening time approached. No, I wasn’t able to drive home on my own many of those days.

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