The Hukilau has become a Fort Lauderdale institution, an annual bacchanalia of Tiki culture that draws devotees from around the globe for four days of revelry. The throngs of “villagers” are easy to spot on the south end of tourist-laden State Road A1A. Sporting Hawaiian shirts, exotic tattoos and toting Tiki mugs, they certainly let their passion show.
The Hukilau: Thursday through Sunday, June 6-9, 2013, at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel (Yankee Clipper), Best Western Oceanside, and The Mai-Kai restaurant. Tickets, schedule and updates at TheHukilau.com and Facebook.
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The 12th annual event – set for this week at two beachside hotels and the legendary Mai-Kai restaurant – could be daunting to the newbie or casual observer. So, for those who just want to get their feet wet in this ocean of Tiki madness, here’s what to look for:
* The Sheraton (aka Yankee Clipper) – home of Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid (Medusirena) and her underwater swim shows in the Wreck Bar – is ground zero. Rooms are sold out, but the neighboring Best Western and other nearby hotels are fine for a “staycation.” Marina and her “pod of aquaticats” perform late night Thursday (1 a.m.), 11:30 p.m. Friday and 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
* You don’t need a room or an all-access pass to enjoy the party. Various tickets are available for events at The Yankee Clipper, most including access to the art show and Tiki Treasures Bazaar. For the first time, the bazaar will be free and open to the public Saturday afternoon. A four-day “Aloha Pass” is $95, while a three-day pass is $75. Thursday night’s Kickoff Party (featuring Miami’s Gold Dust Lounge is $27 while the Friday night Main Event (featuring Ìxtahuele, The Ding Dong Devils, The Hula Girls, King Kukulele, DJs and more) costs $40. Tickets will be available at The Hukilau registration desk in the Yankee Clipper lobby on Thursday (noon to 10 p.m.) and Friday (10 a.m. to 10 p.m.).
* Eclectic music sets the mood, and The Hukilau offers a rare chance to catch Ìxtahuele (Sweden), The Ding Dong Devils (California), The Hula Girls (California), The Intoxicators (Tallahassee), and The NovaRays (Orlando). South Florida is represented by Gold Dust Lounge and Deerfield Beach’s Skinny Jimmy & the Stingrays. Performances are poolside at the Yankee Clipper on Thursday and Friday, and also at The Mai-Kai on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Check the online schedule for venues and times.
* Your admission also gets you access to the Tiki Treasures Bazaar, open from 6-9 p.m. Thursday and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday in one of the Sheraton’s ballrooms. And Saturday’s 10 a.m.-4 p.m. session is absolutely free. Check out dozens of vendors from all over the world, have a cocktail or two (look for the special samples from noted mixologists) and chat up some of the VIPs. Though all the educational symposiums are sold out, you’re likely to run into friendly folks such as tropical drink guru Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and tattoo artist and historian Paul Roe mingling throughout the festival. The bazaar will also host a memorabilia signing by pioneering pin-up photographer Bunny Yeager on Saturday at 1 p.m. and a special Tiki art show, Bon Voyage: Sailing the South Seas, all weekend. The show will benefit Abandoned Pet Rescue of Fort Lauderdale.
* Farther inland, The Mai-Kai hosts events on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Sure, we enjoy this Polynesian paradise year-round, but the vibe and energy is unique during The Hukilau. Check out the Thursday night Official After Party at 9 p.m. sponsored by Deadhead Rum and featuring live surf music by The Intoxicators and special guest DJs James Brown’s Sweat, Sensitive Side, and Action Pat. This South Florida trio has raised roof at The Molokai bar before with their hip-shaking blend of R&B, garage, rockabilly and other tunes, so we know the dance floor will be filled. Admission is $10 at the door, free for those with a multi-day wristband from The Hukilau.
On Saturday, you can still reserve a seat for the second dinner seating featuring The Mai-Kai’s famed Polynesian Islander Revue. The performers always put on a special show for The Hukilau, and the first seating is already sold out. If you prefer, have dinner in one of the smaller dining rooms, outside in the lush Tiki garden or just hang out in the distinctive Molokai bar and check out the bands. The Ding Dong Devils, The Hula Girls, and The Intoxicators will be playing in the bar while Ìxtahuele and The NovaRays will set up in the Tahiti dining room. Be aware that unless you have a wristband from The Hukilau, it will cost $10 to enter. Call (954) 563-3272 for dinner reservations.
If you can drag yourself back after Saturday’s night bash (and we strongly encourage you to do so), you’ll find more fun at The Mai-Kai on Sunday. Live music kicks off in The Molokai at noon with Skinny Jimmy & the Stingrays, followed at 1:30 by the showing of a documentary on Tiki culture by Miami filmmakers Common Machine. When Plastic Paradise: A Swingin’ Trip Through America’s Polynesian Obsession ends, The Hukilau is officially over, but the aloha spirit will continue as The Mai-Kai hosts a special “Lost Cocktails Party” from 3 to 7 p.m. featuring rare drinks that haven’t been served in decades. Skinny Jimmy & the Stingrays will play two more sets of surf classics and happy hour prices will also be in effect. Before the film, admission is free for passholders, $5 for non-passholders. After the film, it’s free for all.
All of this should give you ample opportunities to dive as shallow or as deep as you’d like into the Polynesian Pop phenomenon.