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.
Related posts: Latest updates on The Hukilau 2015

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 TheHukilau.com 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.

Pier 66 features three pools and waterfalls

Pier 66 features three pools and waterfalls.

On top of all the amenities, the hotel also has an abundance of space, both indoors and outdoors, with the kind of tropical feel that Tiki Kiliki has been seeking for a new home for The Hukilau. After nearly retiring the event last year, she was buoyed by a new partnership that has given the event the financial freedom to make an ambitious move like the Pier 66 deal. [See previous coverage]

With 30,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space for special events, Pier 66 has everything The Hukilau was looking for. It will be the location for most activities during the event, according to the announcement made Tuesday via e-mail and on the event’s newly launched website, TheHukilau.com. As usual, The Mai-Kai will remain the site of Saturday’s main event and some special parties, but plans are shaping up for lots of memorable activities at the hotel.

The most notable is a special event in the revolving Pier Top Ballroom, the former restaurant and lounge that’s now used only as a 3,000-square-foot special event space. Featuring a spectacular 360-degree view of the Fort Lauderdale skyline and Atlantic Ocean, this is a one-of-a-kind venue. Tuesday’s announcement gives few details, only that it will include Tiki cocktail historian and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. A longtime symposium presenter at The Hukilau, Berry recently opened his first bar, Latitude 29 in New Orleans.

The Tiki Treasures Bazaar, which hosts vendors from around the world, will fill the hotel’s 7,500-square-foot Crystal Ballroom and Atrium. The bazaar will also be the site of special events and performances. Anyone interested in participating can check the vendor page on the website for more info.

There will also be live Tiki carving in the Pier 66 courtyard, poolside activities, after hours parties, educational symposiums, plus the eclectic lineup of bands and entertainers from around the world that The Hukilau has become known for.

Pier 66 overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway, and its upper floors offer views for miles

Pier 66 overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway, and its upper floors offer views for miles.

To make sure you get a poolside or tower room, you should make reservations now via a special link on the website. The full site will go live soon with ticket sales and full details, Tiki Kiliki said in the announcement. As a perk for those who buy the Big Kahuna, Aloha and Luau passes, The Hukilau will provide free transportation to all scheduled events at The Mai-Kai.

The Hukilau is the largest event on the U.S. East Coast dedicated to honoring and preserving authentic mid-century Polynesian Pop culture. It also celebrates the ongoing Tiki revival by featuring the biggest names in the current scene, including music, art, mixology and more. Co-founded by Tiki Kiliki in 2002 at Trader Vic’s in Atlanta, the event came south in 2003 and found a permanent home at The Mai-Kai. After a “final aloha” was announced in 2014, a new partnership was forged that will allow the event to continue to grow.
* More history: TheHukilau.com | The Atomic Grog

Pier 66 has also made a major investment in its future, recently completing a $20 million renovation that ungraded the famous marina for the first time in 50 years. It’s now capable of hosting more and bigger yachts, enabling it to be one of the host locations for the popular Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in October. The waterfront Pelican Landing restaurant and Panorama ballroom were also upgraded.

Pier 66 in the news
* Pier 66 marina gets $20 million upgrade for show
* Big changes underway for Pier 66, Bahia Mar in Fort Lauderdale
* Pier 66 Marina to complete multimillion dollar upgrade

A 1963 postcard shows Pier 66 in its first incarnation with a small hotel and pier.

A 1963 postcard shows Pier 66 in its first incarnation with a small hotel and pier.

The history of Pier 66

The prime real estate on the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway where the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 now sits was purchased by Phillips Petroleum for a gas station in 1956. The original plan was to create a first-class fueling station for yachts.

The oil company built the fuel dock in 1957, then installed the marina that recently received a multimillion-dollar upgrade. It didn’t take long before plans evolved. The building that still anchors the west side of the resort was opened in November 1957 as a restaurant. By 1959, a two-story hotel was added, and Pier 66 began to gain a reputation as a destination resort. Some of the original two-story buildings have been renovated and still serve as the lowest priced hotel rooms on the property.

The 17-story tower was built in 1964 for nearly $6 million. Construction problems pushed the project into 1965, when it opened with 250 rooms and a revolving top floor cocktail lounge. The floor was designed to make one revolution every 66 minutes, offering guests a 360-degree panoramic view of the ocean, beaches, waterways, Port Everglades, downtown skyline, and surrounding neighborhoods.

A Pier 66 postcard from 1970

A Pier 66 postcard from 1970.

The “66” theme can be found throughout the architecture and design of the hotel. A glass-walled elevator takes 66 seconds to ascend from the lobby to the top floor. Each wall of the tower has 66 windows, and there are 66 spires decorating the crown of the revolving lounge, now used exclusively as a ballroom for private events. Previously, the Pier Top Lounge was a popular hangout for locals and tourists alike. More recently, it was retooled as restaurant serving brunch, but that was discontinued.

Finding itself heavily in debt, Phillips Petroleum was forced to sell Pier 66 in 1985. It went through several different owners, including H. Wayne Huizenga, the billionaire former owner of Blockbuster Video and the Miami Dolphins. All the owners wisely kept the iconic Pier 66 name, along with its accompanying rich history.

Sources: Florida Heritage Travel | Jane’s Bits

The Hukilau host hotels in Fort Lauderdale
2015 – Hyatt Regency Pier 66
2014 – Bahia Mar Beach Resort
2013 – Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel (Yankee Clipper)
2012 – Best Western Oceanside Inn, Bahia Cabana Beach Resort
2011 – Bahia Mar, Bahia Cabana
2010 – Bahia Mar, Bahia Cabana
2009 – Bahia Cabana
2008 – Yankee Clipper, Bahia Cabana
2007 – Yankee Clipper, Bahia Cabana
2006 – Yankee Clipper
2005 – Bahia Mar
2004 – Bahia Mar, Bahia Cabana
2003 – Holiday Inn

The Hukilau links
* Official website | Facebook page | Facebook group | Twitter | YouTube
Official photos | Flickr | Instagram

Official venue sites
* Hyatt Regency Pier 66 | Facebook page | Flickr
* The Mai-Kai | Facebook page

Atomic Grog coverage
* Following ‘magical’ 2014, Tiki Kiliki has big plans for The Hukilau in 2015 and beyond
* The Hukilau offers a deep dive into the history of porthole cocktail lounges
* Full coverage of The Hukilau 2014
* Past photo recaps of The Hukilau: 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009
* All posts on The Hukilau | The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide | All Mai-Kai posts

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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