The Hukilau is movin’ on up …. to the landmark Pier 66 hotel on Fort Lauderdale Beach

When Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White said she had big plans for the revived and reinvigorated Polynesian Pop event she has organized since 2002, she wasn’t kidding. When The Hukilau returns to Fort Lauderdale for its 14th annual Tiki weekender in June, it will be headquartered at one of the area’s most distinctive landmark hotels, the towering Hyatt Regency Pier 66.

The Hukilau

The Hukilau: June 10-14, 2015, at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. More info at and Facebook.
* Make hotel reservations now
* Previous coverage: Following ‘magical’ 2014, Tiki Kiliki has big plans for The Hukilau

The 17-story Pier 66 tower was built 50 years ago and opened in 1965

The 17-story Pier 66 tower was built 50 years ago and opened in 1965.

Rising 17 stories on the south end of Fort Lauderdale Beach, the historic hotel has roots that date back to 1956, the same year The Mai-Kai restaurant opened its doors around 6 miles to the north. The historic Polynesian supper club has been the centerpiece of The Hukilau since 2003, when the event moved from Atlanta, but host hotels have not been as stable [see list]. The most popular have been the Bahia Mar, Yankee Clipper and Bahia Cabana, all located near the more lavish Pier 66, which dominates the skyline next to Port Everglades and the Intracoastal Waterway bridge. But none of The Hukilau’s previous hotels approaches its amenities or spectacular views.

Pier 66 was built on 22 acres adjacent to the port as a dock and marina by Phillips Petroleum (aka Phillips 66), hence the “66” moniker. In the late ’50s, a two story hotel and restaurant were added, but the site gained notoriety (and its lasting iconic status) in 1965, when the 17-story tower was erected. Containing 250 rooms, its signature touch was the penthouse, a mid-century modern space-age design that contained a rotating cocktail lounge. Celebrating its 50th year in 2015, the tower’s rooftop restaurant/lounge will be the site of a very special event at The Hukilau.
* See more hotel history below

Pier 66, now operated as a Hyatt Regency property, is a popular destination for conventions, weddings and special events. It features 384 rooms, five restaurants and lounges, a newly remodeled marina, and three pools and waterfalls. The luxury hotel also boasts a spa, fitness center, water taxi, boat rentals and fishing charters, two tennis courts, and a complimentary beach shuttle.

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Photos: A ghastly good time at The Mai-Kai’s sixth annual Hulaween party

Ghoulish, whimsical and Tiki-inspired costumes filled The Molokai bar on Halloween night during The Mai-Kai’s annual bash that celebrates all things creepy and kooky, aka Hulaween.

See below: Browse photos from the event

Slip and the Spinouts perform live music for the undead at Hulaween 2014

Slip and the Spinouts perform live music for the undead at Hulaween 2014. (Atomic Grog photo)

Popular South Florida rockabilly band Slip and the Spinouts had the house rockin’ all night long with three sets of classic covers and retro-inspired originals. Frontman Slip Mahoney led his band through a wide range of genres, from country to swing to blues and kept the dance floor filled with costumed partygoers.

Costumes were as creative as usual, with many playing off The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian theme. The winner in the costume contest adorned himself with a giant evil green head that appeared larger than many of the restaurant’s famous Tikis. The Count (aka general manager Kern Mattei) and Minnie Mouse’s evil sister Millie (aka marketing director Pia Dahlquist) once again hosted the festivities, with many prizes provided by sponsor Appleton Rum.

Appleton reps were also passing our free samples of The Mai-Kai’s Mai Tai, which features the brand’s always tasty 12-year-old dark Jamaican rum.

It was the first time in the event’s six years that Hulaween fell on Halloween night, giving lovers of Tiki, tropical and retro culture the perfect venue for their annual night of frightening fun.

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Epcot Food and Wine Festival continues to deliver delicious bites, a bounty of booze

As the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival approaches its 20th anniversary next year, it shows no signs of getting stale or losing momentum. Foodies flock to Disney World every fall for this massive event, which was expanded this year to 53 days. We hit dozens of food and beverage booths during a recent two-day visit, our first since 2012. If you’re visiting during the fest’s last few days, or want to file away some tips for next year, check out the reviews below.

Hurricane Hayward samples the flavors of Brazil at the 2014 Epcot Food and Wine Festival

Hurricane Hayward samples the flavors of Brazil at the 2014 Epcot Food and Wine Festival. (Atomic Grog photo)

2014 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival: Through Nov. 10 at Disney World, Buena Vista, Fla. Access to the festival marketplace is free with theme park admission; food, seminars, and special events are priced individually. More at

The festival is believed to be the largest food and wine event of its kind in the world, and its size and scope can be overwhelming. More than 250 food-and-beverage menu items are available (priced from $3 to $8) at 36 booths and kiosks encircling Epcot’s World Showcase Lagoon amid the 11 permanent international pavilions. It’s a great atmosphere for sampling the food and drinks from more than 25 international regions, with many nearby diversions such as acrobats, musicians, and Disney’s famous attractions.

There are also nearly 400 culinary, wine and beverage demonstrations featuring hundreds of the industry’s top experts; concerts starring a wide array of retro rock, soul and blues bands; cultural exhibits; and special events such as food and wine pairings, VIP parties, special breakfasts and lunches with celebrity chefs, and much more. Many fans spend multiple days or weeks exploring everything the festival has to offer, making it the centerpiece of their vacation every year. It’s also a popular destination for central Florida locals, especially on weekends.

Tony Abou-Ganim (left) and Dale DeGroff present a mixology seminar at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival at Disney World on Sunday, Nov. 2

Tony Abou-Ganim (left) and Dale DeGroff present a mixology seminar at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival at Disney World on Sunday, Nov. 2. (Atomic Grog photo)

The seminars, which are reasonably priced and sometimes free, cover a wide range of topics, from obscure wines to culinary demos featuring Food Network stars such as Robert Irvine. My personal interest lies in cocktails, so when planning our trip I went straight for the list of mixology seminars. I was excited to pick up tickets to a demonstration featuring one of the biggest names in modern mixology, Dale “King Cocktail” DeGroff. When we arrived, we found out that he was sharing the stage with another pioneer of the modern cocktail revival, Tony Abou-Ganim.

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Take a trip through the history of surf culture with Cutback, ‘Surfers Journey’ CD

In South Florida, where bands and musical trends come and go faster than the annual influx of tourists, there’s one comforting constant for lovers of the never-say-die genre of instrumental surf rock: Four guys who call themselves Cutback. The band will celebrate the culmination of years of hard work this fall with the release of a 17-track CD, Surfers Journey.

*** Friday, Nov. 7 – Cutback CD release party in The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale. Free admission. Happy hour 5 to 7 p.m. Live music and drink specials all night.

Cutback CD release party at The Mai-Kai

The members of Cutback (guitarists Rich LaVoir and Frank Ferraro, bassist Nicky Ravine, and drummer Elliott Crawford) have been surfing and playing music for more than 30 years. Since the band’s debut in 2002, the goal was simple: Take listeners on a musical journey that showcases the history of surfing and the influence of surf culture.

Surfers Journey includes 14 original compositions by the band, including Surf Fever, Tubo Mexicana, 151 Rum Swizzle, and Conan the Surfarian. With its roots firmly planted in surf-rock history, the band puts its own spin on the genre with rock guitar flourishes and undeniable chemistry and tightness.

A mainstay for years during The Mai-Kai’s Friday night live music showcases, Cutback has finally documented its original music in a sonically impressive CD with packaging on par with any record-label release. Go to to hear song samples or pick up a pre-release copy of the album at Deep Eddy Records. It will be available on iTunes on Nov. 7.

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Book makes waves by giving Florida’s rich surfing history its due

When you examine the sport of surfing and its surrounding culture, Florida is sometimes overlooked while hot spots such as California and Hawaii grab the spotlight. A new book released in May could go a long way toward changing that perception.

Surfing Florida: A Photographic History, by Paul Aho, 272 pages, $31.95, University Press of Florida. Also available via Amazon, at regional surf shops and local book stores. See also: Facebook page

Surfing Florida: A Photographic History

The book follows an impressive gallery exhibit, also called Surfing Florida: A Photographic History, that debuted at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton in March 2012. The exhibit of rare photos, surfboards, video, music and interviews made the rounds of galleries throughout the state in 2012 and 2013 to much acclaim.

The exhibit will become a permanent part of the Palm Beach County Surfing History Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving, documenting and exhibiting the history of Florida surfing. The group’s website says the expansive displays will be available only for non-profit, educational purposes, so donations are encouraged.

Past Atomic Grog coverage
* Surfing rides new wave of interest thanks to FAU exhibit
* FAU’s surfing exhibit closes with a splash
* Florida at forefront of surf rock’s contemporary renaissance

If you missed the exhibit and/or wish to take a deeper dive into Florida’s colorful surfing scene (past and present), the book is highly recommended. It goes into much more depth and includes a broader and more detailed look at the men and women who make the scene unique. It’s loaded with great stories and photos by many contributors including some of surfing’s top photographers.

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The Mai-Kai’s annual festively frightening Hulaween party lands on Halloween night

For the first time since launching one of the most intimate and authentic Halloween parties in South Florida in 2009, The Mai-Kai will host this year’s bash on the night of All Hallows’ Eve. Fort Lauderdale’s legendary Polynesian restaurant will be crawling with Tiki-fied ghouls and zombies on Halloween night during its sixth annual Hulaween in The Molokai bar.

*** Friday, Oct. 31 – Hulaween 2014 featuring Slip and the Spinouts at The Mai-Kai, 3599 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. (954) 563-3272. Free admission. Happy hour 5 to 7 p.m. Live music and costume contest in The Molokai bar, 7 p.m.-midnight.
* Facebook event | Past coverage, photos on The Atomic Grog

Hulaween 2014 at The Mai-Kai

Until this year, the festive event never landed on Halloween night itself. Will The Mai-Kai’s ancient Tiki gods be pleased or annoyed? You’ll have to attend the party to find out. The eerie event, sponsored by Appleton Rum, starts at 5 p.m. and features live music by South Florida roots rockers Slip and the Spinouts, a costume contest, deadly drink specials and retro Halloween tunes during happy hour.

The haunted happy hour runs from 5 to 7 p.m., with most of the bar’s dangerous tropical drinks, such as the Shrunken Skull and Shark Bite, priced at 50 percent off. Also half-priced are the tasty Polynesian appetizers such as the Pupu Platter, ribs, chicken, shrimp and salads. Check The Atomic Grog’s Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide for other deadly treats.

Also during happy hour and until Slip Mahoney and his band of costumed characters take the stage, The Atomic Grog will be programming more than 2 hours of retro Halloween-themed tunes, from early blues and exotica to jazz, rockabilly and surf. This will be the band’s fourth Hulaween appearance, a testament to its popularity and staying power as torch-bearers of the South Florida rockabilly scene. Slip and the Spinouts is The Mai-Kai’s go-to party band that always knocks ‘em dead.

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Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto design, merchandise revealed during Mahaloween event at Disneyland

Fans of the much-anticipated Tiki bar coming soon to the Polynesian Village Resort at Walt Disney World were treated to a sneak preview during the inaugural Mahaloween Luau at Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel. Disney Imagineers showed off a logo T-shirt and several mug prototypes, along with some insight on the design and theming of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto.

See below: Tikiman’s Mahaloween recap, photos | Polynesian Village Resort updates
Bonus cocktail recipe: A tribute to the Uh Oa! from Trader Sam’s
Past coverage: Say aloha to Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Disney’s Polynesian Village
See all our updates on the Polynesian refurbishment

A T-shirt featuring a Trader Sam's Grog Grotto logo was displayed at Mahaloween Luau on Sept. 29

A T-shirt featuring a Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto logo was displayed at Mahaloween Luau on Sept. 29. (Photo by EPCOT Explorer)

The event on Monday, Sept. 29, was a seasonal-themed party that included food and drinks, live music, exclusive merchandise, and a presentation by Walt Disney Imagineering on the past, present and future of Tiki at the Disney parks. Among those in attendance was Steve “Tikiman” Seifert, who keeps fans of the Polynesian Village Resort updated on all the recent changes and refurbishments with his authoritative website and Facebook page. Seifert kept an eye out for news on the Polynesian and the Grog Grotto, and he gave us a full report after the event. Check out his photos and more insights on Mahaloween below. Thanks also to EPCOT Explorer for his photos.

Amid all the construction and re-imagining of the Polynesian, Disney has released very little info about its new Trader Sam’s outpost in Orlando since a big announcement and release of concept art on May 2 [See The Atomic Grog’s story and photos]. And while Imagineers Brandon Kleyla and Kyle Barnes didn’t drop any bombshells, they did provide a few visual and informational treats. Kleyla, in fact, was wearing an orange T-shirt featuring a Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto logo that will likely soon become a merchandise item. A blue shirt was also shown during the presentation. Kleyla, who grew up in Florida and frequented Disney World in his youth, was the Imagineering set decorator for Trader Sam’s in Anaheim, bringing to life an immersive environment that borrows heavily from classic Disney attractions such at the Jungle Cruise, Enchanted Tiki Room and Adventurer’s Club [See interview].

Veteran Imagineer Kyle Barnes, who had a lead role in the Disneyland Hotel bar’s design, took the mic to talk about the concept behind Disney’s second lounge “owned” by Trader Sam, the infamous “head salesman” on the Jungle Cruise attraction at Disneyland and Disney World. Barnes said that while the Disneyland location celebrates the Jungle Cruise and a 1930s African Queen aesthetic, the Disney World bar will synch up with the Magic Kingdom and feature more of a “technicolor” look and feel.

One of the new mug designs for the Polynesian Village Resort, as seen at Mahaloween Luau at Disneyland

One of the new mug designs for the Polynesian Village Resort, as seen at Mahaloween Luau at Disneyland. (Photo by EPCOT Explorer)

Barnes also confirmed suspicions that have made the rounds since the concept art was released showing a giant squid tentacle behind the bar [See photo]. The Grog Grotto will celebrate the classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, “with various props from that attraction,” he said.

A nautical theme makes perfect sense considering a grotto is often a small cave near water. And it will be located just across Seven Seas Lagoon from the Magic Kingdom and Adventureland, which includes Trader Sam’s home in the exotic rivers of the Jungle Cruise, as well as the animatronic tikis in the Enchanted Tiki Room. The T-shirt logo also includes a giant squid, so don’t be surprised if the Grog Grotto features a backstory about Sam’s adventures on and beneath the sea.

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Special event at The Mai-Kai takes guests on a flight back to classic ‘Potions of the Caribbean’

Updated on Sept. 22

Since its release last December, Beachbum Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them has set a new standard for cocktail history books. Chock full of vintage photos and artwork, detailed research and stories, not to mention 77 recipes, the 317-page hardcover opus was recognized in July as Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book at the annual Spirited Awards during Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans.

Drink Flight at The Mai-Kai featuring 'Beachbum Berry's Potions of the Caribbean'

While critics raved, fans devoured the cocktails along with the stories, creating a unique drinking and reading experience. At Fort Lauderdale’s famous Mai-Kai, which is featured in the the book, general manager Kern Mattei was so impressed with the classic recipes he decided to feature some of them during a one-night-only event on Saturday, Sept. 20.
See below: Virgin Island Kula recipe

From 6 to 8 p.m. in the restaurant’s Molokai bar, Mattei and his staff presented a flight of three cocktails straight from the pages of Potions of the Caribbean. It was the first time ever that these drinks were served in the nearly 58-year history of The Mai-Kai. And at just $12, it was a great bargain. The bar’s regular happy hour started at 5 and revelers stayed well past 8 as they enjoyed many of The Mai-Kai’s nearly 50 acclaimed tropical drinks. Tables were also filled with Pupu Platters and other small plates as a crowd of more than 50 filled the back section of the bar.

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Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Take a journey to the exotic Island of Martinique

This is the final review of the drinks that appeared on original 1956-57 era menus but were later retired.

See below: Ancestor recipe | Review
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide | More “lost cocktails”

Of all the cocktails that disappeared from The Mai-Kai’s bar menu since the famed Polynesian restaurant opened in Fort Lauderdale in 1956, perhaps the most elusive has been the Martinique Cocktail. It lasted into the 1980s, but disappeared without a trace.

A menu from Don the Beachcomber's Chicago restaurant, circa 1963

A menu from Don the Beachcomber’s Chicago restaurant, circa 1963.

A 1979 menu described the drink as “a small, yet robust creation of Martinique Rum, fresh juices and harmonious syrups” (see image below). I was able to identify this drink as a descendant of a classic cocktail by tropical mixology’s founding father, Donn Beach, aka Don the Beachcomber. Although I haven’t seen it on many Beachcomber menus, I was delighted to find the Martinique Cocktail listed as one of the “original rum drinks” at the Chicago location in 1963, seven years after The Mai-Kai opened.

It’s highly likely that this was the same drink, and not just because of the name. Mariano Licudine, The Mai-Kai’s original bar manager and mixologist, had a history of borrowing recipes from his days working at Don the Beachcomber, which began in 1939 in Hollywood. He was the No. 2 bartender at that very same Chicago location from 1940 until 1956, when he joined owners Bob and Jack Thornton at The Mai-Kai.

The Mai-Kai's 1956-57 menu

The Mai-Kai’s original 1956-57 menu includes 33 cocktails still served today, and 10 that are no longer offered, including the Martinique Cocktail.

However, finding a recipe was another matter entirely. I discovered many “Martinique Cocktail” recipes online, but none attributed to Donn Beach. But, of course, Tiki cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry once again came to the rescue with his most exhaustive research effort to date, the voluminous Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them, published in December by Cocktail Kingdom. The hardcover opus deservedly won the 2014 Spirited Award for Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book at Tales of the Cocktail in July.

Included in the chapter on the influence of the Caribbean on early Tiki cocktails is a recipe for Don the Beachcomber’s Island of Martinique Cocktail, along with the backstory. Like many Donn Beach drinks, there were multiple recipes over the years, including an early version based on the classic Caribbean drink the Ti Punch (aka Petit Punch), which dates back to the late 1800s in Martinique. It was a simple combination of rum, lime and sugar, what Berry calls the “holy trinity” of tropical mixology.

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10 reasons why you need Sven Kirsten’s new book, ‘Tiki Pop’

Pop culture phenomenons are routinely shunned by historians and academics. This is especially true in the case of 20th century Tiki culture, which has been typically dismissed as being kitschy and unauthentic to the native civilizations that inspired it. Of course, this critique entirely misses the point of the artistic movement that peaked in the 1950s and ’60s but has been the midst of a continuing revival during the past several decades.

The book's cover is a colorized version of a vintage photo from Tiki Gardens on Florida's Gulf Coast

The book’s cover is a colorized version of a vintage photo from Tiki Gardens on Florida’s Gulf Coast. © Sven Kirsten/Taschen

Luckily for fans of Polynesian Pop history and the current renaissance, we have Sven Kirsten. The contributions by this German-born, longtime Los Angeles film professional and self-proclaimed Tiki urban archaeologist are inestimable. His third hardcover book puts many pop culture historians to shame, exploring in rich and colorful detail the uniquely American phenomenon that permeated fashion, music, eating, drinking, and architecture for decades.

Tiki Pop: America Imagines Its Own Polynesian Paradise, published by Taschen (English and French). Available via Amazon and at retail outlets.
* Official Facebook page

Published in connection with an elaborate exhibit at a museum in Paris, Tiki Pop traces the development of Tiki as romantic vision and cultural appropriation. It takes readers on a journey from James Cook’s first expeditions in the Pacific, through Gauguin’s exotic paintings, to Hollywood’s big-screen fantasies, to the modern “temples” (bars, restaurants, hotels, apartments) built to celebrate Tiki as the god of recreation.

If you’re not sold yet, here are 10 good reasons why everyone with an interest in Polynesian Pop and mid-century culture needs to waste no time in picking up Kirsten’s latest hardcover opus:

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