I was in town on business and debated about coming, but figured I should attempt it. When I drove up around 9pm, there was a big “Building For Sale” banner out front. I pulled into the parking lot and noticed a couple people outside smoking. I walked in (very much a back-door with the Mai Tai Lounge sign lit up overhead) and down the stairs. Very dated, very much in need of some TLC, but what was there was definitely a cool thing to see; must have been incredible in its heyday. There were maybe 5-6 regulars there; that was it. Ordered a Mai Tai (good ‘n strong) and the bartender said it was last call. Another regular came in and sat down and (knowing I’d not been there before) said “you made it just in time.” I said I knew it was last call, and he said, “well that, but this place is closing for good October 31st (2017). Owner isn’t renewing the liquor license. Of course, she’s been saying that for years.” The owner came down a little later to count the till and she said they were definitely closing; she and her partners can’t (among other things) afford accessibility upgrades the license renewal requires, and is just ready to get out of the business, so it was time to close up. Definitely a shame, as the folks there were great, the drinks were strong, and the bones of a classic tiki bar are still there. You can look online even back 10+ years and people have been talking about its slow demise. But it seems after 50 years, it really is the end. Go while you can!
When Mt. Fuji Inn opened in 1967, it was Omaha’s first Japanese restaurant, with a bar where things skewed more Polynesian, the Mai Tai Lounge. Even among those who don’t get to Omaha, it is well-known for its moai tiki mugs. The main restaurant was long ago remodeled and stripped of its mid-century charm, but the Mai Tai Lounge still said “1967” loud and clear. The bar was in somewhat ragged shape, but I couldn’t help but daydream about settling into one of those torn-up old chairs at the beat-up cushioned bar. I’m sad that I’ll be missing out on this classic.
If you’re anywhere near Omaha, get there before the end of October and enjoy it while you can! And please: someone get lots of photos for Critiki to document the Mai Tai Lounge for posterity. You can also swing into nearby Laka Lono Rum Club, which is new, but has had some pretty serious effort on the themed decor.
(I owe you two interviews about The Art of Tiki show! AND! It’s time for the annual list of your Top Ten Tiki Bars in the World. All of those are on their way in the coming days.)