The Hukilau was held June 6-9, 2013, at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel (aka the Yankee Clipper) and The Mai-Kai restaurant.
See below: Gallery of 40 photos
More than 800 devotees of Polynesian Pop culture and classic mid-century style assembled for the 12th annual gathering of the tribe known as The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale. Despite inclement weather that forced some venue and schedule changes, the colorfully-clad attendees didn’t seem to mind, flocking to a wide assortment of events showcasing eclectic music, rum-filled cocktails, expert speakers and lots more.
Below are the highlights of The Atomic Grog’s whirlwind weekend, which began early in the week with organizational efforts and didn’t end until Sunday’s post-event party at The Mai-Kai. I missed one band and a couple symposiums, but I tried to hit all the major happenings and photographed the revelry for posterity (see photos below). For extensive photo coverage, click on the Go11Media link below the gallery.
The following is highly subjective but should give a fair snapshot of the wide array of festivities, along with a few tasty cocktail recipes. I apologize to any bands and participants I may have neglected to mention, but all did a great job. It was tough narrowing this list down to 10. In roughly chronological order …
1. PRE-PARTY AND A PEEK BEHIND THE SCENES
While not on the official schedule, Wednesday night at The Mai-Kai always serves as an unofficial pre-party and gathering spot for early arrivals. Crowds vary from year to year, and you never know what to expect. But this year’s turnout exceeded all of the restaurant’s expectations. The Molokai bar reached its 150-person capacity soon after opening at 5 p.m. and remained hopping all night. Mrs. Hurricane and I arrived a little later in the evening after the crowds had thinned a bit, enjoying drinks and appetizers while socializing with old friends.
We also received an unexpected surprise when we were given a special glimpse into the inner-workings of The Mai-Kai by owner Dave Levy. We saw his office, which remains in virtually the same state with the identical desk and chair used by the restaurant’s late founder, Bob Thornton. We were also escorted into the backstage area used by the performers in the famous Polynesian Islander Revue. There, we ran into Levy’s mom and Mai-Kai matriarch Mireille Thornton along with her crew of artists toiling late into the night, putting the finishing touches on all-new costumes for that weekend’s shows. Most Mai-Kai fans know that Mrs. Thornton, a native of Tahiti, has choreographed the stage show (established in 1961) and designed the costumes since 1962. (She later married Bob Thornton and still oversees the entire operation.) But you get a new appreciation when you see the colorful and intricate craftsmanship first-hand. It was a thrill to see the fruits of their labor during the dinner show Saturday night. The costumes are all handmade with authentic materials from Polynesia with an obsessive attention to detail. Levy shared a great story about an expensive excursion to the South Seas for the sole purpose of locating one special type of feather for a costume. Look for more on the history of The Mai-Kai and the Polynesian Islander Revue in a future blog post.
2. TREASURE HUNTING IN THE BAZAAR
A comforting constant from Thursday’s sneak preview through Saturday’s open-to-the-public finale, the Tiki Treasures Bazaar at the Yankee Clipper was a welcome oasis all weekend. The intimate but never overcrowded ballroom off the main lobby featured some 20 vendor booths stuffed with vintage and retro-inspired wares, live bands, special free cocktail samples (see below), the “Bon Voyage: Sailing the South Seas” art show, and a memorabilia signing by famed pin-up photographer Bunny Yeager.
The art show drew me in for repeated leisurely strolls (Chris Chapman’s piece was a personal favorite), while the selection of goods on display around the room constantly beckoned. I settled on a classic Mai-Kai rum barrel mug and a stylish aloha shirt, somehow restraining myself from many other temptations. An unexpected treat during Thursday’s preview party were special cocktails created by The Mai-Kai and featuring the new Kahakai Tiki Rum. This “Tiki Polynesian style rum” comes in several spiced flavors, including the “original” used in the Kahakai Tiki Swizzle [click here for the recipe]. If you don’t have access to Kahakai Tiki, just substitute your favorite spiced rum. It’s a simple recipe that evokes the spirit of The Mai-Kai and takes the spiced rum drink to a higher level.
3. MIXING IT UP WITH ANGOSTURA RUM AND BITTERS
Another pleasant surprise at the Tiki Treasures Bazaar was the Cocktail Mix Up with Angostura Rum and Bitters on Friday afternoon. My hopes were pretty high, but brand ambassador David Delaney did not disappoint with his two exceptional cocktails. Delaney and brand representative Amy Schwartz were very friendly and helpful to all guests, offering samples of the various Angostura rums. Schwartz explained that since the brand has long been associated with its iconic bitters, they’re making a major push to get the word out about the excellent rums.
Delaney’s two featured cocktails were his award-winning Five Island Fizz (featuring Angostura 1919 aged rum), plus his interpretation of the classic Jungle Bird (featuring the 7-year-old Trinidad & Tobago Caribbean Rum). Both were incredibly well-balanced and flavorful, showing off Delaney’s skills as a world-class mixologist. I spent a great deal of time at the Angostura booth savoring the drinks and rum samples, and also received a very cool gift from Angostura … Mahalo! Below is the recipe that earned Delaney his brand ambassadorship, plus a cool $10,000 as winner of Angostura’s Global Cocktail Challenge.
Five Island Fizz
1 1/2 ounces Angostura 1919
3/4 ounce Velvet Falernum
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
1/4 ounce Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
1 1/2 ounces Barritt’s Ginger Beer
5 dashes Angostura aromatic bitters
* Shake first four ingredients briefly with ice and strain into a Collins glass. Add ginger beer, fill with crushed ice and float bitters on top. Garnish with a lime wheel wrapped around a Luxardo cherry. Click here to see the finished product, plus another great Delaney recipe.
The Five Island Fizz is a great spotlight for all these high-quality ingredients, and they all shine through perfectly. It was easily my favorite drink outside of The Mai-Kai the entire weekend, even though it was batch prepared. I made it at home later following the above recipe, and it took on a whole new complexity with the method of adding the ginger beer and bitters at the end. If you don’t have these specific brands, substitute a good aged Caribbean rum, plus quality falernum, maraschino liqueur and ginger beer. There’s no substitute for the famous bitters. And I’d also encourage you to seek out Angostura’s rums, which are held to the same high standards. I hope to have more on this brand, including the Jungle Bird recipe, in a future blog post.
4. TALES OF THE YANKEE CLIPPER COME TO LIFE
I tore myself away from the Angostura booth the catch the climax of Tom Duncan’s informative and entertaining symposium, “Tales of the Yankee Clipper.” Duncan, known to all as TikiTomD on the Tiki Central message board, has an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of this colorful hotel (est. 1956) and its mid-century heyday. His presentation was top-notch.
Duncan concentrated much of his symposium, which included great vintage photos and artwork, on the hotel’s Polynesian Room (also well-documented on Tiki Central). He had so much information, in fact, that he had to cut the symposium a bit short after rain necessitated turning the Yankee Clipper’s Point Room into the venue for the evening’s Main Event. When he offered to return from his Space Coast home for part 2 of his symposium, the audience responded with hearty applause.
The real treat was the finale, which featured a live performance by two Polynesian Room alumni, dancer Nani Maka and musician Larry Hines, son of bandleader George Hines. The duo transported the audience back in time more than 40 years. Hines was flawless in his classic performance on guitar and vocals, while the ageless Nani Maka danced with the grace she surely exhibited during the heyday of Polynesian Pop.
5. THE DISASTERNAUTS CRASH LAND, STEAL THE SHOW
Perhaps less graceful than Nani Maka, but every bit as entertaining, were the late-night hijinks of The Disasternauts. This impromptu performance of the simian surf band was no surprise to regulars of The Hukilau, especially when heavy rains forced the Friday night Main Event indoors. This happy accident kept the Tiki Treasures Bazaar open all night and in need of additional performers.
While Ìxtahuele, The Ding Dong Devils, and The Hula Girls kept the packed Point Room entertained upstairs, those who ventured downstairs into the lobby ballrooms to check out the vendors were treated to stellar sets by two of the Florida surf scene’s finest – The NovaRays and The Intoxicators. And when these two bands appear together, the odds are good that a certain group of former NASA astro-chimps will be swinging in for an unannounced jam.
Sure enough, as our group strolled through the lobby of the Yankee Clipper, we spotted a hirsute figure in an orange jumpsuit scurrying past the valets and through the front door. Sensing a fellow surf guitarist nearby, he made a beeline for Skinny Jimmy Stringray and gave him a not-so-subtle greeting right in the kisser [see photo]. What followed was a vintage display of primal surf mayhem as the Space Coast trio blasted off on a high-energy set of classic instrumentals (plus a few between-song grunts). It was controlled chaos at its best.
6. WRECK BAR MERMAIDS MEET BOND, JAMES BOND
With The Hukilau returning to the Yankee Clipper and the legendary Wreck Bar for the first time since 2008, Marina Duran-Anderson (better known as Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid) obviously made an effort to take her performances to the next level. She’s been doing her mermaid shows with a small “pod of aquaticats” for the past seven years, enthralling tourists and locals who gather weekly to watch the graceful underwater acrobatics in the Clipper pool via portholes in the bar.
But the performances geared toward The Hukilau audience are always a bit more sophisticated and typically feature much larger ensembles. With the Yankee Clipper serving as the host hotel, there were three special shows scheduled over three days, including two mysterious late-night swims. We caught the late Friday “Pearl Dive” after witnessing the Disasternauts’ shenanigans.
Billed simply as a show featuring “Marina and friends as they search for pearls and treasures,” the unexpected theme quickly became apparent as classic James Bond tunes filled the Wreck Bar. Sans mermaid fins, Marina and company found themselves embroiled in some kind of underwater espionage involving a well-dressed spy [see photo]. The show was perfectly executed, despite an unexpected plunge into the pool by one of the Disasternauts. Marina and her team stuck to their guns and presented a sophisticated late-night surprise.
7. A BOOTY OF OFFICIAL COLLECTIBLES
The Hukilau always features a line of quality limited-edition merchandise by some of the top Tiki artists and manufacturers, and 2013 was no exception [see photo]. There was a great variety of retro glassware, a pillow cover featuring Shag-designed fabric, T-shirts, and a pendant by Chris Chapman that was inspired by on a memorable Tiki at The Mai-Kai. Everything is now sold out, so you’ll have to troll eBay to find these goodies.
We mug collectors were treated to two special releases. For the second year in a row, the Official Mug was created and manufactured by Tiki Diablo aka Danny Gallardo. It was no surprise that the mugs nearly sold out prior to the event. Gallardo out-did himself with a great design based on a Tiki by legendary carver Barney West that can be found in The Mai-Kai garden [see photo]. But as if the mug alone (in a choice of two colors) wasn’t enough, he also threw in a very cool faux lava rock coaster and LED light to keep it illuminated in even the darkest Tiki bar.
I also had to pick up The Hukilau’s first-ever Coconut Mug, based on the iconic Trader Vic design and manufactured by Eekum Bookum. It’s the perfect vessel for a Moonkist Coconut or other similar vintage cocktail. No matter what you put in them, two mugs are always better than one.
8. A TRIP TO THE WILD SIDE OF THE WEST INDIES
The Hukilau is fortunate to have one of the world’s foremost experts on tropical drinks on hand almost every year to present symposiums that both educate and entertain. Jeff “Beachbum” Berry returned for his eighth appearance this year with “The Wild West Indies,” featuring a preview of his upcoming sixth book, Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them.
On Saturday afternoon, the main dining room of The Mai-Kai was packed for the hour-long presentation, which featured Berry’s engaging stories, a multi-media slideshow, sample cocktails and several special guests. Rum expert Joe “Leisure Master” Desmond mixed up a classic gin fizz to help Berry bring to life the fascinating history of the Panama Canal’s bawdy cocktail scene. Berry’s stories were eye-opening and give much insight into a lost era.
Stephen “Professor” Remsberg, owner of the world’s largest private rum collection, joined Berry to tell the story of legendary Jamaican bartender Jasper LeFranc, who spent more than 30 years at the Bay Roc Hotel in Montego Bay. Noted for some of the best cocktails in the Caribbean, such as Jasper’s Jamaican, LeFranc would enhance his drinks with a secret mix that he kept in an unmarked bottle behind the bar. Remsberg, a frequent customer, was able to learn what went into this sweet and spicy syrup and shared his findings – along with the recipe and a cocktail – with The Hukilau audience. Look for recipes and full coverage of the symposium in an upcoming blog post.
Berry’s booze cruise through time gave us a peek at some of the great stories and drinks that are sure to fill his new book, expected to be released this fall. He also snuck in a plug for a cool new product he helped Cocktail Kingdom produce: Beachbum Berry’s Navy Grog Ice Cone Kit, with pre-releases available for sale after the symposium. A long line snaked through the Samoa and Tahiti dining rooms as Berry signed boxes and greeted guests. I had to grab one [see photo], adding to my stash of goodies, and will be putting it to the test in an upcoming review.
Related: Take 5 with Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Tiki cocktail author and historian
9. FROM SWEDEN TO TAHITI: ÌXTAHUELE AT THE MAI-KAI
Perhaps the most anticipated band at The Hukilau was Ìxtahuele, an exotica quintet from Sweden. Making their first appearance in the United States, the group fit in perfectly with the spirit and vibe of the event. They play in the authentic style of 1950s and ’60s exotica pioneers Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman, spicing up their setlist with classic covers amid the excellent selection of originals.
Their Friday night debut at the Yankee Clipper was impressive and helped set the mood in the small indoor ballroom, which became a last-minute venue when rain made a poolside party impossible. But the perfect venue for Ìxtahuele was the 57-year-old Mai-Kai, where they performed Saturday night in the intimate and secluded Tahiti room. It can sometimes sound cliché, but this truly was like stepping back in time. Looking dapper in their tuxedos and performing flawlessly, the band and its atmospheric music seemed to blend in seamlessly with the authentic South Seas decor.
Songs included many originals from their debut album, Pagan Rites, plus some obscure cover tunes such as Martin Denny’s Llama Serenade. Check out the video below. And be sure to pick up Pagan Rites on Amazon.com or iTunes. Even if you’re not a big fan of exotica, this album is sure to impress. It takes a vintage sound and style and brings it into the 21st century with the great production and musicianship it deserves.
10. SUNDAY’S FINALE AND LOST COCKTAILS PARTY
The Hukilau’s last day is usually a mellow affair with many guests catching early flights home and others just trying to relax after an exhausting weekend. But this year’s special film screening brought hundreds of revelers to The Mai-Kai at noon, and an after-party kept the diehards dancing all day in The Molokai bar. It was an appropriate capper to an action-packed event.
Instrumental surf band Skinny Jimmy & the Stingrays, from nearby Deerfield Beach, kicked off Sunday’s festivities in The Molokai just after noon with some classic tunes, such as Miserlou and Squad Car [See video], along with a sprinkling of great original tunes. My personal favorites are Hurricane Surf and Espionage. The band returned later to play two more sets and kept the party in high gear all day long. With great song selection, top-notch musicianship and an appreciation for retro music, this is an up-and-coming band to keep an eye on.
At 1:30, the main dining rooms were packed for the world premiere of Plastic Paradise: A Swingin’ Trip Through America’s Polynesian Obsession. In production for two years, it was filmed and produced by Miami’s award-winning documentary filmmakers Common Machine, who were on hand to answer questions after the screening. [See photos]
The documentary will hit the film festival circuit before airing on PBS later this year. It takes a broad look at the history and origins of Polynesian Pop, but the bulk of the story covers the current revival and includes interviews with many folks who were in the room watching the premiere. Much of the footage was filmed at The Mai-Kai and The Hukilau in 2011 and 2012, along with California and New York. Nearly every major figure in the current scene appears in the film, along with some lesser-known. One of the latter was Ron Licudine, son of The Mai-Kai’s original mixologist, Mariano Licudine. He told the story of how the family would help his father re-name the classic Tiki cocktails he put on the restaurant’s first drink menu in the 1950s. Some names, it turns out, were very personal. The Impatient Virgin, he said with a smile, was named for cousin Virginia in the Philippines. The audience got a kick out of this, and it served as the perfect segue into the after-party in the bar.
The Lost Cocktails Party ran until 7 p.m. with happy hour prices and three special retired drinks from The Mai-Kai’s original 1956 menu, including the Impatient Virgin. It was most likely the first time this drink had been served since it disappeared from the menu in the 1980s. The other featured drinks were the Demerara Float and Last Rites. (Click on the links to see reviews and recipes.) The retro-loving crowd at The Hukilau enjoyed the vintage cocktails and the bar remained packed, the dance floor active, into the evening in a fitting finale for The Hukilau 2013.
Postscript: We received sad news two weeks after The Hukilau when we learned of the death of Ron Licudine, who lost a long battle with cancer at age 69. Our deepest sympathies to the Licudine family, and to all those who were touched by his great humor and enthusiasm. Aloha Ron.
It’s not too late to plan for 2014. The dates have already been announced …