SUBSCRIBE NOW
As low as $49 for one year. Save 59%.
SUBSCRIBE NOW
As low as $49 for one year. Save 59%.

New management seeks to revive Mai Tai Lounge in downtown FWB

Savannah Evanoff
Northwest Florida Daily News

FORT WALTON BEACH — The Mai Tai Lounge has been open in downtown Fort Walton Beach for more than 20 years.

Over time, though, it has faded into the realm of forgotten bars.

Less people have come through the doors at night, the hours have been cut back and the space has turned into a venue less people know about.

The new managers said they hope to change that.

More:Former Nightown manager opens Vibe Nightclub & Lounge in downtown FWB

As newlyweds Richard Vetch and Nattida Butkhan start their new life together, they also are ready to breathe new life into the Mai Tai.

“We know the owner of the building and we got an opportunity to manage,” Butkhan said. “With me and my husband working together, we can make this place work.”

Managers Nattida Butkhan and Richard Vetch stand outside the VIP room inside the Mai Tai Lounge in downtown Fort Walton Beach.

“Our ambition is to get it back to where it was five or six years ago, where it was open throughout the week,” Vetch said.

The Mai Tai's current hours are 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. (or 4 a.m. depending on the crowd) Thursday through Sunday at 126 First St. SE.

Vetch and Butkhan said they love collaborating.

Looking through fabric inside the Mai Tai Lounge in downtown Fort Walton Beach.

The two met while Vetch, a member of the U.S. Army, came to the area for a training event. He met Butkhan, a longtime resident, while out with buddies and the two have been together ever since.

More:VINTAGE PHOTOS: Fort Walton Beach in the 1980s

The Mai Tai has only four employees now, but Vetch and Butkhan said they hope to expand. Butkhan has more than 10 years of bartending experience, some of which were at the Mai Tai, and Vetch is an excellent bar-back, she said.

Nattida Butkhan talks with a customer at the bar inside the Mai Tai Lounge in downtown Fort Walton Beach.

“You have to keep in mind that you are running a business and you’re a team,” Vetch said. “That’s how we look at it. We go to work and we love each other and we know that we’re going to work hard for each other. We always feel like we’ve accomplished something at the end of the night."

Partiers inside the Mai Tai Lounge in downtown Fort Walton Beach.

In the early hours of the night, the lounge doubles as a karaoke bar.

“It’s a big open floor area,” Vetch said. “Early in the evening, we have a great karaoke system, screens for lyrics and we have a great sound system. Usually in the evening, we have a big karaoke crowd. They sing everything from Thai music to country music to rap to rock. It’s really whatever the group wants to sing.”

While it is a Thai bar, they will play any genre, Vetch said.

The path to the VIP room inside the Mai Tai Lounge in downtown Fort Walton Beach.

“We try to set it on the vibe of the room,” Vetch said. “If we have a bunch of guys who are into country, we’ll play country. We’re pretty malleable when it comes to the music we play.”

As the night progresses, the space transforms into a night club with primarily dance music, sometimes led by a DJ. The couple said they hope to eventually have themed night, such as a Latin music night.

Partiers inside the Mai Tai Lounge in downtown Fort Walton Beach.

The bar offers a full menu of cocktails, beer and wine, but its most "lit" drink is the Volcano Bowl which features a flame in the center, Butkhan said. It has four types of liquor and is served in what resembles a soup bowl. 

“It’s a unique drink for our establishment,” Vetch said. “No one else serves it around here. It’s a group-sized drink.”

The Volcano Bowl is the Mai Tai's most popular drink — many people come in exclusively to order it, Butkhan said. But Vetch said he thinks the Mai Tai has more to offer than people realize.

The view from the entrance to the Mai Tai Lounge in downtown Fort Walton Beach.

The Mai Tai is close enough to Destin that if someone is going out and deciding between Fort Walton Beach or Destin, it can provide everything that the franchise bars in Destin offer, Vetch said. But it has a personal touch.

“You definitely feel like it’s your bar when you’re in there,” Vetch said. “It feels like a local bar, even if you’re not a local. We’re very inviting. If you want to go and dance, you can dance. If you want to sing, you can sing. If you want to sit at the bar and have a good conversation, we offer that. It’s very much a homey feeling."

“It feels like a family,” Butkhan said.