‘Mai-Kai Mixer’ shakes up South Florida with rockin’ retro cocktail party

Updated June 16, 2012
See below: See exclusive photos from the bash

Related: Cocktail flights soar at Mai-Kai Mixer, reveal revolutionary use of rums
Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide | Rums of The Mai-Kai

The Mai-Kai’s Molokai bar was jumping on Saturday night, June 9, as an eclectic mix of cocktailians, Tiki enthusiasts, retro hipsters, and surf music fans gathered for The Atomic Grog’s first Mai-Kai Mixer.

Atomic Grog Mai-Kai Mixer

Doors opened at 4:30 for Saturday’s early happy hour, and dozens of Mai-Kai faithful queued up early for exclusive flights of the Fort Lauderdale Polynesian palace’s legendary cocktails. DJ Mike “Jetsetter” Jones got the festivities in high gear with his wide-ranging playlist of retro party music, and up-and-coming surf band Skinny Jimmy & The Stingrays nearly blew the doors off the place. The party went full-throttle until the midnight hour.

The event was held to celebrate the The Atomic Grog’s 52 weeks of Mai-Kai cocktail reviews and the recent reintroduction of a classic rum to the 55-year-old restaurant’s acclaimed drink menu.

The rum cocktail flights sold out quickly as more than 30 signed up to taste sample versions of three vintage drinks featuring Lemon Hart Demerara rum. Several hundred filtered through the bar throughout the evening for happy hour – which ran until 7 p.m. – and two high-octane sets from Deerfield Beach’s Skinny Jimmy & The Stingrays.

Mai-Kai manager Kern Mattei selected and organized the presentation of the “blind tasting” of the flights, challenging participants to name the cocktails they were sampling by using only the 47-drink menu for reference. Guests who correctly named the cocktails received an assortment of prizes from the event’s sponsors: The Hukilau, the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, and B.G. Reynolds’ Hand-Crafted Syrups. A raffle was also held with two winners landing the grand prizes: A $25 Mai-Kai gift certificate and a hand-painted, limited edition T-shirt from artist Nik Satterfield.

The Atomic Grog's Hurricane Hayward confers with DJ Jetsetter.

The Atomic Grog's Hurricane Hayward confers with DJ Jetsetter.

The flight’s cocktails were top-notch, as usual, and provided insights into the revolutionary use of multiple rums pioneered by Don the Beachcomber in the 1930s and still featured today at The Mai-Kai. Click here for a full report and reviews of the featured cocktails, which spotlighted the return of the acclaimed Lemon Hart Demerara rum.

With Jones expertly jumping from genre to genre, the mood in the Molokai continued to rise as happy hour ended and partygoers enjoyed another new Lemon Hart cocktail, the Yeoman’s Grog, which was half price all night long. Jones – the former owner of the late, great Jetsetter Lounge in Lake Worth – effortlessly mixed classic punk with rockabilly, new wave and a dizzying range of styles. Where else could you hear Wanda Jackson, The Slits, David Bowie, The Ramones, and Delta 5, all in one fell swoop?

Skinny Jimmy leads the Stingrays through a set of classic surf tunes.

Skinny Jimmy leads the Stingrays through a set of classic surf tunes.

But for many, the evening’s real eye-opener was Skinny Jimmy & The Stingrays, a fledgling surf combo that recently opened two South Florida dates for the godfather of the genre, Dick Dale.

It was quickly apparent that those shows had an impact on this blossoming quartet as they kicked off their set with a vengeance, tearing through Dale’s signature song, Miserlou. Like Dale, the band understands the dynamics of instrumental surf rock. Namely, to play loud and clean and let your amps do the talking.

Though louder than bands normally heard in the cozy Molokai, the Stingrays wowed even the most jaded bar denizens. Someone gushed on The Mai-Kai’s Facebook page: “I really enjoyed the band you had at the bar tonight. Skinny Jimmy was awesome!!” Another comment on the Facebook event page raved about the “fun event, great band and DJ.”

To get the sound of authentic instrumental surf rock, it’s actually preferable to forgo a PA so the Fender amps can power the reverb-soaked sound. This approach dates back to the genre’s origins more than 50 years ago, when Dale and his contemporaries got their big sound by playing without PAs in giant California ballrooms, pushing and redefining guitar and amp technology for generations to come. Dale still follows this classic approach with his wall of amps turned up loud enough to drown out club sound systems.

Skinny Jimmy & the Stingrays rock late into the night.

Skinny Jimmy & the Stingrays rock late into the night.

In the rum-soaked Mai-Kai last Saturday, you could hear echoes of this old sound as four well-dressed guys expertly manipulated their vintage instruments, sans PA. Jimmy Stingray (lead guitar), Doctor Dan O (rhythm guitar), G-Man (bass), and Savvy Stingray (drums) actually consider themselves an “instrumental roots rock” band. Their covers ran the gamut of vintage garage and surf classics, from Rumble by Link Wray and his Ray Men to Walk Don’t Run by The Ventures.

But the band’s secret weapon is its members’ attitude and chemistry. They don’t just limply “cover” old songs, going through the motions like many bar bands. They go full-throttle, giving these iconic tunes a swift kick (with the appropriate reverence). And though their original tunes are few, they’re certainly memorable, kicking just as much butt as the songs that inspired them.

Jimmy holds everything together with his tight lead guitar playing, his quirky on-stage presence perfectly fitting the band’s retro persona. But the band’s secret weapon may be its drummer (aka Chris), who displays an energetic and powerful playing not often seen in these parts in bands such as this. Keep an eye out for these guys as they hopefully surf a wave to success.

Related review: Cocktail flights soar at Mai-Kai Mixer, reveal revolutionary use of rums

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Exclusive Atomic Grog photos
(click on thumbnails to see larger images or to view as slideshow)

About Hurricane Hayward

A professional journalist and Florida resident for more than 30 years, Jim "Hurricane" Hayward shares his obsession with Polynesian Pop and other retro styles on his blog, The Atomic Grog. Jim's roots in mid-century and reto culture go back to his childhood in the 1960s, when he tagged along with his parents to Tiki restaurants and his father's custom car shows. His experience in journalism, mixology, and more than 20 years as an independent concert promoter make him a jack-of-all-trades in the South Florida scene. A graduate of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications, Jim is a longtime web producer for The Palm Beach Post. In his spare time, he has promoted hundreds of rock, punk, and indie concerts under the Slammie Productions name since the early 1990s. In 2011, he launched The Atomic Grog to extensively cover events, music, art, cocktails, and culture with a retro slant. Jim earned his nickname by virtue of both his dangerous exotic drinks and his longtime position producing The Post's tropical weather website.
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2 Responses to ‘Mai-Kai Mixer’ shakes up South Florida with rockin’ retro cocktail party

  1. Sunny&Rummy says:

    Looks like a great time was had by all! Very sorry I didn’t make it down there, but congratulations on putting it all together.

  2. Savvy Stingray says:

    Hey Jim,
    Thanx for the kind words; We REALLY enjoyed playin’ for you an’ the gang at the Molokai. We appreciate you thinkin’ of us, if there’s anything we can do for you or the scene in the future, please call us and we will be there!

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