We've been a bit under the weather and off the road for the past few months, but we could not let the day go by without wishing a very happy 60th birthday to a true eccentric roadside attraction wonder, the Mai-Kai Polynesian restaurant of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. They'll be celebrating with book-signings by authors of Mai-Kai and tiki culture books Sven Kirsten and Tim Glazner, an extended happy hour featuring three "lost cocktails" revived from the Mai-Kai's original 1956 menu, a new tiki statue in their outside garden, and a new Polynesian dinner show. Here's what we had to say when we visited back in 2014:
Even though we've traveled thousands of miles across the USA, we've
never made it to Hawaii. And if we never do, we think we've found a
worthy surrogate -- the Mai-Kai Polynesian Restaurant of
Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Dating back to 1956, it's been Dole-ing out
(as in the pineapple) powerfully intoxicating exotic drinks from ceramic
coconuts, tiki heads and rum barrels to go along with the (mostly)
Chinese food and thick steaks on the menu and the South Pacific native
dancers' floor show. Originally located in an empty field along a
then-two lane stretch of Route 1, it's lush acreage is now surrounded by
the hustle and trafficy bustle of outer Fort Lauderdale sprawl, and its
old-timey oasis-like feel is quite refreshing. Easter Island-like
sculptures mingle among the flaming torches, lush palms and waterfalls
of the Mai-Kai's grounds with a thatched tiki roof on their A-frame and
retro neon sign thrown in for good measure, hearkening back to the
glorious post-World War II era when America was gaga for all things
South Seas. They've expanded many times over the years but the fun,
1960s retro vibe (when tiki was at its "peak-i") has not been lost. You
can dine outdoors, or go for a Zombie, Mai-Tai or Sidewinder's Fang
served by pretty bikini-topped, sarong-bottomed waitresses at the
Molokai Lounge. But for the full Mai-Kai experience, you must take in
the Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest running Polynesian dance show
in the continental U.S. Pretty girls shaking their hips in grass
skirts? Got 'em. Beefy guys in warrior paint walking on fire? Got 'em. A
rockin' hula band with Hawaiian drums and ukuleles? Got 'em! And all
for only $12 a head more than your meal. For devoted fans of tiki, this
place is mecca. For everyone else, we say "Be there. Aloha."
And as an unrelated side-note, we haven't posted anything on this blog in over three months but we had over 27,000 page views last month. That's more than we ever got when we were posting regularly. Go figure!
Route 41 is the old highway that runs east and west along the very most southern part of Florida. It's also known as the Tamiami Trail (that name being a Desilu-type smashup of Tampa and Miami) and runs right through the Everglades. A good deal of this land is owned and run by Native Americans and the Miccosukee tribe has a large development that includes dining, gaming, nightlife, entertainment and other resort-like whatnot. They also have the Miccosukee Indian Village, that features a museum, airboat rides and an old-time Florida tourist staple throwback, alligator demonstrations. We're glad to see them using the word "demonstrations" and not "wrestling" because we're not huge fans of poking at animals mercilessly until they snap at you. We also understand, though, that Native Americans get shafted a lot of the time and need to make a living, so we're happy their website says "no harm or pain is inflicted on the alligators during The Alligator Encounter," an event where visitors are taught "how to respectfully touch and mount a Florida alligator." This is good to know -- if I was going to be touched and mounted by a tourist, I'd want it to be done with respect. The statue depicts a young, husky tribesman with his hand under a frisky-looking alligator's chin, and not in a "coochy-coochy-coo" sort of way. The signature reads that of Chris Dixon of Chris Dixon Studios and 2009. The statue can be seen as you whiz down Route 41 at 60 mph and does cause a double take because of its size and folk-art style, a reaction we get when we see other huge roadside giants. Nice for us eccentric roadside attraction fans that such a recent work of promotion was done in such a retro sort of way. See you later, alligator!
As far as national parks go, Florida's Everglades are more subtle and don't scream crazy-eccentric like Yellowstone or Bryce Canyon, but they are not without their kooky charms. Take, for instance, the sign that beckons travelers to the Gator Park restaurant/gift shop/airboat depot on Route 41 near Shark Valley. An approximately 8-foot tall Coke can sits atop a 4-foot pedestal. But wait, there's more. Cruising the top of the Coke can is a decommissioned airboat driven by a life-sized artificial bear. This is particularly eccentric, since the place is called Gator Park and not Bear Park. It's just the tacky ticket to greet you or bid you farewell to this one-of-a-kind region and must have taken some doing to assemble.
Kudos to you Gator Park. This place floats my (air) boat and to not "pop" in would have been more than I could bear. You really know how to gator done.
A big ball of twine, sharks, a tornado...it's Twine-nado!
We were in Cawker City under much calmer conditions.
You may have noticed the posts here have been rather few and far between lately, but something just got us off our duffs and back to the old blogging keyboard. While casually partaking in the national pastime/tragedy known as "Sharknado" we encountered an eccentric roadside attraction shout-out that got our noses out of the road atlas and glued to the electronic fireplace aka TV set. In "Sharknado: The 4th Awakens" Fin Shepard (played by the sublime to ridiculous Ian Zierling) and his gang find themselves in Cawker City, Kansas where the inclement weather results in a twine-nado: a shark-infested world's biggest ball of twine that liberates itself from its shed in downtown Cawker City and rolls down the main drag not unlike that big ball in the Indian Jones movie ("Sharknado" never met a movie it didn't like to blatantly steal, er, pay homage to). Fin stops the ball by grabbing a loose string and, well, tying it up so it won't roll any more. Unfortunately, this is after the ball takes out, among others, Paul Shaffer, who has apparently
fallen on hard times since David Letterman retired and is doing a live
(final) performance in town.
We give a rating of five out of five concrete potatoes to the Sharknado gang for including Cawker City in their masterpiece. Here's our original Cawker City post from a few years back:
I've often used the phrase "the world's biggest ball of twine" as a
generic label for any really eccentric roadside attraction that makes an
awesome feat out of something mundane. It wasn't until recently,
though, that I actually got to see one of the actual world's biggest
balls of twine (there's more than one, depending on who you believe),
which makes its home in the small north central Kansas town of Cawker
City. A Mr. Frank Stoeber, a local farmer, started the twine ball with
odd bits in 1953 and within four years he had a ball that weighed 5,000
pounds and stood 8 feet tall. In 1961 he gave the ball to Cawker City
and at the time of his death in 1974 the ball was 11 feet tall and
contained 1.6 million feet of sisal twine (sisal being an agave plant
that yields a stiff fiber). To keep the ball growing and its place in
the record books, Cawker City holds an annual Twine-A-Thon every August
where the public is invited to add odd bits of twine to Mr. Stoeber's
overgrown baby (string and yarn are prohibited and rules are strictly
enforced). Today, the ball sits under an open air gazebo (its second
after outgrowing the first) complete with park benches to meditate on
its magnificence. As of September 2009, the ball weighed over 9 tons,
has a 40-foot circumference and over 1500 miles of twine -- enough to
reach either coast from the heartland of Kansas, or wrap up an awful lot
of brown paper packages.
And as if that wasn't enough,
Cawker City did something even more wonderful. In the windows of the
melancholy downtown abandoned storefronts are parodies of art
masterpieces such as The Mona Lisa, The Scream and American Gothic, all
containing balls of twine. Local artist Cher Olsen has painted over 40
of these gems that delight with every passing glance, making Cawker City
one of the eccentric roadside wonders of the world. To twine own self
If you're in the market for a 63,332-square foot sports complex in South Florida and have an extra $7,250,000 lying around, have we got a deal for you. The former Sports Complex at the corner of SW 10th Street and Powerline Avenue is for sale and as an extra added bonus, the place comes with four 7-story hockey sticks at the entrance. Could these be the world's largest hockey sticks? No such puck, er luck. That honor belongs to Evenleth, Minnesota, with their 3-ton, 110-foot long model (with a 700-pound puck, no less). However, it's not every day you pass by an abandoned building with such a showy entrance. You could say it really sticks out.
We've been off the eccentric blog highway for some time now...metaphorically broken down on the side of the road, you might say, but hoping to get back behind the wheel soon. During this time, we were sad to hear of the passing of the namesake of a great attraction we visited back in 2012. Mount Airy, North Carolina barber Russell Hiatt, known as the real-life inspiration for the Floyd the barber character on "The Andy Griffith Show," passed away at age 92 on May 3. Here's a rerun of the post we did about his place:
The great Howard McNear as Floyd the barber on "The Andy Griffith Show"
Russell Hiatt, the real Floyd
Floyd's City Barber Shop is on Main Street in Mount Airy, North Carolina, the real Mayberry.
Russell and his most famous customer
Russell is a barber showing photographs of every head he's had the pleasure to know.
That long-haired fellow looks like he could use a trim.
Russell Hiatt has been a barber for over 60 years in Mount Airy, North
Carolina and he used to cut the hair of Mount Airy's most famous
resident, Andy Griffith. Mount Airy's small town charm became the
inspiration for Mayberry on "The Andy Griffith Show" in the 1960s and
the easy-going, often-befuddled town barber on the show was named Floyd,
with the great eccentric actor Howard McNear playing the part. "The
Andy Griffith Show" became one of the all-time classic TV sitcoms and
McNear's portrayal of Floyd is a real one-of-a-kind, with his rapid-fire
delivery in the early seasons, and then his slow, somewhat bizarre
line-readings in later episodes (McNear had a stroke during the run of
the show that altered his performance but not his ability to be really
funny). Mount Airy takes great pride in being put on the map by Andy and
Floyd's City Barber Shop is still in business on Main Street, with Mr.
Hiatt and his staff giving haircuts (still for $8 reads the sign in the
window). Unlike the one-chair Floyd's on the show, it's a two-chair
shop, packed with mementos and plastered with photographs of Floyd's
satisfied customers and visitors on the walls. I had just had my hair
cut back home so I didn't get the once-over, but I did step inside for a
moment to gawk like a tourist, which they're used to there. And Mr.
Hiatt was sitting in one of the barber chairs, engrossed in his
newspaper, just like the TV Floyd. It's great to see a small town
business still thriving, even if it is due to pop culture. After all, as
the TV Floyd would say, "you hate to see anyone fall into the hands of a
We've been on a bit of a sabbatical here at Eccentric Roadside, but wanted to share a blast from the way, way past from the awesome site Vintage Everyday of some kookily-shaped buildings in Los Angeles. One of them, Tail-O-The-Pup, we actually got to see, and another, Angelfood Donuts, is very similar to Randy's Donuts in Inglewood, which we also saw. Click here to check them all out.
If you thought the Pacific Northwest had a monopoly on mysterious, elusive, camera-shy, hairy, smelly, 7-foot tall, 350-pound bipedal mammals that look like tall guys wearing gorilla suits in shakily-shot videos, you'd be wrong. The Florida Everglades has its own Yeti-like dweller (or at least a legend about one) and there's a place you can learn all about it. The Skunk Ape Research Headquarters sits on a campground about an hour west of the Gulf coast of Florida on Route 41 in tiny Ochopee. There you can learn of its habits and how best to spot one (their website reports 7-9 of them live in the Everglades), and you can also pick up a souvenir or two along the way. The place is run by a Mr. Dave Shealy, the world's leading authority (okay, he's the only one) on skunk apes, so named for their aroma of rotten eggs and methane. The National Park Service denies such creatures exist, throwing the a-word, authenticity, in Mr. Shealy's face. He counters with his concrete casts of skunk ape footprints and photographic evidence of the hairy fellow strolling across an Everglades marsh, not to mention a healthy dose of anger at the government in general. His photo looks very much like the Patterson-Gimlin 1967 film of Bigfoot in Northern California. We like to believe Mr. Shealy's subject is a Pacific Northwest snowbird residing in a South Florida Sasquatch retirement community. Ask him about his grandkids.
This blog is devoted to old fashioned American roadside attractions... the wonderfully big, bizarre, crazy, wacky, quirky, weird, funny, unique and mundane sites you see travelling cross-country by car in the USA, where getting there really is all the fun!