It’s that time of year again, when ghouls and ghosts haunt the historic Fort Lauderdale restaurant The Mai-Kai, scaring up frightening fun at the eighth annual Hulaween on Friday, Oct. 28. The event takes a savage turn this year with the theme “Curse of the Cannibals” in honor of the famous Polynesian eatery’s upcoming 60th anniversary.
UPDATE: See our annual recap and photos from the party
Featuring live music from South Florida’s long-running retro rockabilly band Slip and the Spinouts, drink specials and a wild-and-wacky costume contest, Hulaween has become a South Florida favorite for those looking for a vintage Halloween experience. Happy hour begins at 5 p.m. and the party runs past midnight. The best part: There’s no cover charge or minimum. But The Molokai bar fills up fast, so get there early.
*** Friday, Oct. 28 – Hulaween 2016 – Curse of the Cannibals 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
* See 2015 party recap, photos | Past event coverage
Hulaween is once again sponsored by Appleton Rum, which will provide special giveaways and drink specials. The official Hulaween cocktail is the Appleton Zula, based on the vintage Zula cocktail that has been featured on The Mai-Kai’s menu since 1956 and dates back to Tiki drink godfather Don the Beachcomber. [To find out why Zula is the Hulaween special, watch the video below] Appleton is the most popular rum on the extensive menu, featured in dozens of drinks.
Another Hulaween fixture is Slip Mahoney and his all-star band, a familiar face at South Florida events for decades and always a favorite at The Mai-Kai. The band will play three sets of classic covers and originals, keeping the party going past the witching hour. The band is adept at an incredibly eclectic variety of genres, from rockabilly to Western to swing, surf, blues and roots rock. Also look for Slip and company to get into the spirit of things with their own festive costumes. This will be the band’s sixth Hulaween appearance.
During happy hour, The Atomic Grog will serve up a special playlist of “jungle exotica” music courtesy of Spyrate Radio. Then, before and after the live music, a brand-new mix of Halloween and monster music will fill The Molokai, curated from Spyrate’s special Tiki Oasis Radio mixes broadcast live in August during Tiki Oasis 16: Party on Monster Island. The Appleton Girls will be on hand, as usual, offering up samples and giveaways. In past years, there were free Mai Tai samples, so keep an eye out.
Around 10 p.m., don’t miss the costume contest featuring cash and prizes for the winners. Hulaween attendees are always creative with their costumes, with past winners including a Headhunter and Head (2015), Evil Tiki (2014), and the Tiki Couple (2013). This year’s theme will allow guests to once again explore their primitive sides.
The festivities kick off at 5 p.m. with The Mai-Kai’s famous happy hour, annually rated among South Florida’s best. Most of the bar’s nearly 50 tropical cocktails are half-price, along with an expanded menu of small bites. The Appleton Zula will be 50 percent off during the entire party, along with the normal Friday night specials: the deadly Shark Bite and Jet Pilot.
In addition to the long list of classic pupu platters (Crab Rangoon, Shanghai Chicken, Javanesian Beef), an extensive new selection of sushi and signature tapas was added this year by new chef Mark Rivera. There are vegetarian and gluten-free options, plus Rivera’s inventive modern-meets-classic approach to such mouth-watering new additions as charred octopus; street tacos; and duck, wagyu beef and pork belly sliders.
Along with the tasty food and drinks, the restaurant’s other claim to fame is the authentic South Seas decor, earning it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. The Molokai has its own unique look and feel, designed during a 1971 remodeling to look like an 1800s Pacific seaport. Much of the decor was not only inspired by the 1962 movie Mutiny on the Bounty, but many items are actual pieces from the film, acquired when the MGM prop department closed in 1970.
Another distinctive element of The Mai-Kai’s design that dates back to its opening are the iconic “three cannibals,” which have been depicted in artwork on menus, on coasters, in advertising, and even the streetside sign. It’s one of many classic elements borrowed from Don the Beachcomber, which featured the Cannibal Room bar and trio of Tikis in the Chicago location in the 1940s and ’50s. This restaurant was an inspiration to Chicago brothers Bob and Jack Thornton, who went on to open The Mai-Kai in 1956 with the help of many key Chicago staff from Don the Beachcomber.
You can discover many more fascinating stories about the history and the people who built The Mai-Kai in the new book, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant by Tim “Swanky” Glazner. Released Sept. 28, the 176-page hardcover book is packed with more than 400 vintage color and black-and-white images of the restaurant in its early days. You can pick up a copy signed by the author in The Mai-Kai Trading Post gift shop.
Perhaps the greatest legacy of The Mai-Kai is the Polynesian Islander Revue (est. 1961), the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii. Don’t be afraid to duck away from Hulaween to catch this one-of-a-kind vintage dining experience, or make reservations for a meal in one of the appropriately dark and secluded back dining rooms. Look for the shrunken skulls displayed in the Samoa Room, rumored to have come from one of the Thornton brothers’ expeditions to the South Seas to collect authentic artifacts. Are they real? It’s one of many mysteries of The Mai-Kai.
Also be sure to check out the new Tiki carvings recently installed on the sprawling grounds: Near the entrance you’ll find a new Tiki trio by three noted Florida artists (Will Anders, Tom Fowner and Jeff Chouinard). And in the rear of the scenic torch-lit garden, look for the 10-foot King Kai carved by Anders.
After nearly 60 years, the popularity of The Mai-Kai has not waned. For the second year in a row, members of the Critiki website have ranked it as the best Tiki bar in the world in a tally of the website’s ratings of more than 850 venues around the world. Ranked on everything from drink quality to decor, The Mai-Kai retained its overall 9.8 rating (out of 10).
The Mai-Kai is at 3599 N. Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale, on the west side between Commercial and Oakland Park boulevards. Call (954) 563-3272 for more information or to make dinner reservations. Valet and paid self-parking.
* Official site | Trading Post | Twitter
* Facebook: Official page | Friends of The Mai-Kai group
* Instagram: Restaurant | The Molokai bar | Trading Post
* Mai-Kai history: Book and official website | Facebook page
* Google Maps: Explore The Mai-Kai in 3-D
In this 1937 classic, Betty and Grampy are on an around-the-world flight when they’re forced to crash-land on an apparently deserted island. Though Grampy invents a number of gadgets that allow them the comforts of home, things take a turn for the worse when a group of cannibals shows up.
The Atomic Grog
* 2015 recap, photos: The undead get lively at The Mai-Kai’s seventh annual Hulaween
* 2014 recap, photos: A ghastly good time at The Mai-Kai’s sixth annual Hulaween party
* 2013 recap, photos: Partygoers raise hell at The Mai-Kai’s fifth annual Hulaween
* 2012 recap, photos: Hulaween was hoppin’ all night at The Mai-Kai
* See all the past Hulaween coverage
More Hulaween photos
* 2011 | 2010 | 2009
More on The Atomic Grog
* ‘King Kai’ leads procession of new Tikis into The Mai-Kai
* Tour of The Mai-Kai’s mysterious bars and kitchen (with photos)
* The Okole Maluna Society: The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide