If the folks behind the Quarterdeck pub chain have their way, Fort Lauderdale’s 17th Street will soon become a haven for tropical cocktails and chocolate, anchored by a rum-soaked centerpiece: a two-story tiki restaurant called Hula Kai.
Not to be confused with Mai Kai, this still-under-construction Polynesian retreat on the North Federal Highway. With all due respect to the 66-year-old icon, Hula Kai wants to be a distinctly modern bastion for tikiholics, dedicated to the aesthetic without going too far into kitsch, says James Flanigan, the new CEO of Old School Hospitality.
“Right now, South Florida doesn’t have a legitimate modern pan-Asian tiki bar, and our bar scene is crying out for one,” Flanigan told the Sun Sentinel in an interview this week.
Hula Kai, at 1075 SE 17th St., will be a spacious 5,000-square-foot lounge with a ground floor and mezzanine under 24-foot ceilings. Decorated with undulating lines and tall glass windows, the restaurant-bar will overlook a lush courtyard with palm trees framed in tiki totem poles.
A rooftop bar on the third level and a bar on the ground will offer classic tiki cocktails like Jet Pilots, Rum Runners and Mai Tais, served in statuesque ceramic cups spiked with bendable straws.
The menu, which is still being finalized, will combine Polynesian and Pan-Asian cuisine, including crispy duck, spring rolls, crab rangoon, bang bang shrimp, octopus dumplings and spare ribs. A station with two large woks will cook several versions of pork and beef fried rice.
The Hula Kai project is the brainchild of Flannigan, 37, who was named head of Old School Hospitality in August. The restaurant group, which Flanigan runs with his father Paul and business partner Frank Zaffer, operates five Quarterdecks in Broward County along with Whiskey Neat, a sleek brown liquor lounge that opened next door to the Quarterdeck on Southeast 17th Street in 2019 .(James Flanigan’s uncle, Jimmy, runs the local Flanigan’s chain, which is not affiliated with Old School.)
Old School Hospitality COO Frank Zaffere, left, and CEO James Flanigan, right, are shown in their man cave-style loft offices in Fort Lauderdale. The couple, along with Flanigan’s father, Paul, are planning three ambitious food and beverage projects over the next few years, including Hula Kai, a tiki restaurant and bar in Fort Lauderdale. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel)
Hula Kai was inspired by several trendy tiki bars the Flanigans have frequented over the years, including Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago, the Tonga Room in San Francisco and Latitude 22 in New Orleans, adds Paul Flannigan.
To make Hula Kai happen, Flanigan bought a solid, low-rise building — once occupied by vegan restaurant Green Bar & Kitchen — for roughly $1 million in 2021, according to property records. That building will be demolished by spring 2023 and replaced by Hula Kai, with an expected debut by late 2023, Flannigan says.
That project still needs approval from Fort Lauderdale’s Department of Building Services, but once Hula Kai is complete, it will join Quarterdeck and Whiskey Neat on the west end of the Southport Mall.
The Flannigans have ambitious plans for this shopping center bordered by the Quarterdeck to the north, Waxy’s Irish Pub to the south, Harbordale Elementary to the west and Winn-Dixie to the east, adds Paul Flannigan. Their idea: buy out every owner in the square, tear down the buildings and turn it into a fine dining and bar destination.
“We’re going to have a mini Las Olas here,” says Paul Flannigan, who bought the Quarterdeck in 1986 and expanded the chain from its original location on 17th Street.
James Flannigan says his group is already in preliminary talks with a gourmet chocolatier to take over one of the storefronts, although a lease has yet to be signed.
Until Flanigan can break ground on the building that will house Hula Kai, he’s focused on two other Old School Hospitality projects. The first is Whiskey Neat’s second location, a 2,500-square-foot outpost that will be attached to the existing Quarterdeck in Plantation, across the street from Sawgrass Mills Mall.
Whiskey Neat, at 12310 W. Sunrise Blvd., will open in March 2023 with a multi-colored liquor wall filled with hundreds of rare whiskeys. Like its flagship, the bar is benefiting from the resurgence of brown spirits and craft cocktails, which are increasingly popular with millennial and older drinkers, Flanigan says.
JOLLIBEE OPENS TACOMA MALL RESTAURANT IN PIERCE COUNTY
The Eat Beat — restaurants, bars and recipes
Twice a week
Eating out, cooking and all the South Florida restaurant news and information you need.
The full menu from the neighboring Quarterdeck will be available to Whiskey Neat drinkers. A kitchen passage and corridor will connect the Quarterdeck and Whiskey Neat — although customers must enter the bar through a separate entrance.
“I think of Whiskey Neat as a sidebar that does well enough on its own, but is even more profitable when attached to the Quarterdeck, as an appendage,” Flanigan says. “In Fort Lauderdale, we have great bars like Roxanne’s and No Man’s Land, but there is no good craft cocktail bar out west. And I know we can attract a lot of customers from Sawgrass and the FLA Live Arena.”
Zaffere, Old School’s COO, says if the bar thrives in Plantation, Whiskey Neat has the potential to fit into other live shopping complexes in the future, such as Fort Lauderdale’s soon-to-be-reborn FAT Village.
“Putting it in Plantation is a proof of concept for us,” says Zafere. “Our colleagues who are doing big development projects will be wondering, ‘Okay, Whiskey Neat works great in the suburbs.’ Where else can it work? I’m really excited about it.”
The Quarterdeck Restaurant at the Dania Beach Pier will soon include shipping container kiosks for fast food. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel)
Old School’s second project is a trio of 160-square-foot shipping container pavilions that will take shape near the Dania Beach Pier, adjacent to another Quarterdeck restaurant. The project, called The Shore, will open in the summer of 2023 and will offer easy-to-cook, portable foods including pizza and hot dogs, along with other things like beach towels, beach chairs and sunscreen.
The shipping containers will be clad in wood and emblazoned with the City of Dania Beach logo and painted blue and yellow to resemble the nearby lifeguard stations dotted along the beach. The pavilions will be mounted on skids so they can be moved in the event of a hurricane, Flanigan says.
“People who are hungry and covered in sand don’t necessarily want to walk into the Quarterdeck and wait to be seated,” he says. “It’s a great way to do a takeout business on the beach.”