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The Hukilau, the East Coast’s largest and longest-running Tiki weekender, has confirmed an all-new lineup for one of its signature events during the 16th annual festivities in Fort Lauderdale in June. When the acclaimed Tiki Tower Takeover returns to the revolving rooftop ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 for a third straight year, it will feature four new Tiki bar teams and a special master of ceremonies, globetrotting “rum ambassador” Ian Burrell.
The Hukilau: June 7-11, 2017, at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Buy tickets now.
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The Tiki Tower Takeover is a unique three-hour happy hour with panoramic views of Fort Lauderdale featuring some of the world’s top Tiki bartenders. During its first two years, it included such Tiki cocktail royalty as Beachbum Berry, Martin Cate and Paul McGee. These high-profile Tiki bar proprietors helped launch the special event in 2015 and returned last year for an encore. For 2017, there’s a whole new lineup, announced Sunday in an email to ticket-holders by The Hukilau’s Richard Oneslager.
“The new line-up is a great mix of contemporary American Tiki bars, and two world class standouts from Europe,” Oneslager wrote. “In addition, we have one of the world’s leading rum experts emceeing the event for us.”
Oneslager and partner Mike Zielinski of Idle Hands Events Management took over ownership of The Hukilau in 2015. Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White stepped down after 15 years as co-creator, co-founder, producer and organizer in December. Oneslager and his team have faced a challenge in White’s absence, but the latest news signals that the event is still on track, with more details set to be announced soon.
The charismatic Burrell, who is based in London and hosts the annual UK RumFest, is billed as the international ambassador of rum. He’ll lend his expertise to several events at The Hukilau, including tastings and symposiums. As host of the Tiki Tower Takeover, expect him to raise the energy level and add his unique brand of humor and enthusiasm. Burrell’s one and only previous appearance at The Hukilau was 2011, when he helped judge a cocktail contest and participated in a special “Rumposium” event with Berry, Cate and other luminaries. He’s truly the spirit’s global ambassador, spreading the gospel at events around the world. In 2013, he made appearances on all seven continents.
* More on Ian Burrell: Take 5 interview
* At The Hukilau 2011: Rum Rat Pack | Rum Barrel Challenge
* At Miami Rum Festival 2014: Tiki seminar and cocktail recipe
During the June 8 event, signature cocktails will be served up by four of the world’s top bar teams, two from Europe and two from the United States. Here’s the official lineup of pop-up bars announced Sunday:
Scotty Schuder of Dirty Dick in Paris, France. The co-owner of this funky neo-Tiki bar is also known for his expertise in helping craft Plantation’s new O.F.T.D. rum (along with Berry, Cate, McGee and others). Dirty Dick is legendary for its fun atmosphere, its rum selection and its expertly crafted cocktails. Occupying a former brothel space (hence the saucy name), It recently made the list of the World’s Best Bars.
* Related: Drinks International profile
* New interview: Inside the Desert Oasis Room podcast
Daniele Dalla Pola of Nu Lounge Bar in Bologna, Italy. Also rated by many to be among the best bars in the world, Nu Lounge is a neo-Tiki bar known for its chill, retro vibe and world-class craft cocktails. Dalla Pola, the general manager and an award-winning mixologist, oversees a bar program known for its wide selection of spirits, bitters and homemade syrups.
* Related: Interview by A Mountain of Crushed Ice
Bartenders to be announced from Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago. This modern neo-Tiki bar made a splash a year after opening by winning the award for Best New American Cocktail Bar of 2014 at Tales of the Cocktail. Originally conceived by Paul McGee before he opened Lost Lake, this popular downtown lair is a mash-up of modern Tiki with craft cocktail aesthetics. The current beverage director is Kevin Beary, who finished third in the Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai Festival’s cocktail competition in August with bartender Cory Starr.
* Related: Bar of the week | Cocktail of the week
Garret Richard of Slowly Shirley in New York City. This young gun is a veteran of The Hukilau, leading his Big Apple bar’s pop-up at last year’s Tiki Road Trip Pool Party and serving on the Tiki Mondays With Miller crew during the first two Tiki Tower Takeovers. The Greenwich Village underground bar shares space with another craft cocktail hot spot, The Happiest Hour, giving Richard a launching pad for his modern take on classic Tiki. He has also competed in The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown at both the New York City and South Beach wine & food festivals.
* Related: Bar of the week
In addition to the elite bartenders taking part in the Tiki Tower Takeover, there are plans to increase the number of pop-up bars from around the country participating in other special events to eight. Look for upcoming announcements on special guest bars and bartenders.
Tickets, rooms available now while supplies last
The Tiki Tower Takeover tickets are $75 (plus fees), and include complimentary cocktails, food and entertainment in a one-of-a-kind atmosphere. The other special event on sale now is the previously announced “Rat Pack in the Saturn Lounge” ($55), which will be held after the Tiki Tower Takeover on June 8. “Frank, Dean and Sammy” will transformer the Pier Top Lounge into a Vegas showroom, complete with martinis and showgirls.
Until they go on sale to the general public, you must buy a general event pass to have access to the Tiki Tower Takeover and Rat Pack party tickets. These passes range from a three-day Luau Pass ($159) to a four-day Aloha Pass ($179) to an all-encompassing South Seas Pass ($379). The latter includes tickets to both special events, plus early access to the Tiki Tower Takeover and four limited-edition cocktail glasses created for the Rat Pack party. Other benefits include Wednesday’s Pre-Party at The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai (which typically sells out), plus Thursday night’s Kick-Off Party and “first look” at the vendors in the Tiki Treasures Bazaar, Friday’s afternoon Rum Island Pool Party and evening High Tide Party, Saturday night’s Main Event and Sunday’s Finale at The Mai-Kai (including free shuttle), free rum and spirits tastings, plus more.
Click here to order
Also, it’s a good idea to book your room now at Pier 66 at the special rate for The Hukilau’s “villagers” before the allotment is sold out. A mid-century icon, the hotel recently celebrated its 60th anniversary. Rooms in the modern tower, which was added in the mid-1960s, are the most popular so act now. Rates range from $129 for a standard “double” room in one of the two-story buildings that overlook the marina, to $226 for a tower suite. To get the special rates, you must go to TheHukilau.com and click on the “Book Your Room Now” link.
Tickets to symposiums and other special events will go on sale as they’re announced.
Sneak peek at the entertainment, symposiums
The international theme of the Tiki Tower Takeover will carry though to the music as well. While a full lineup and schedule will not be announced for several weeks, one of the headlining bands has already been confirmed: Canadian instrumental surf band The Surfrajettes.
Hailing from Toronto, Ontario, The Surfrajettes are a delightful anomaly in today’s modern music scene: Four young ladies who perform tradtional instro surf music, a genre usually reserved for older men in natty suits. The Surfrajettes not only have the sound, they have an image to match: Retro mod 1960s, including beehive hairdos and go-go boots.
But be forewarned: This is no gimmick band. One listen to the music, or perusal of the videos on Facebook, will quickly convince you that these woman have serious musical chops and reverence for the oft-ignored classic surf sound. The band has performed at clubs and special events throughout eastern Canada and the Midwest United States, including the Great Lakes Surf Battle. They’re scheduled to join an elite group of surf bands in August at the Asbury Park Surf Music Festival in New Jersey.
Expect more musical acts to be announced soon, including a classic exotica group and at least one more from band from outside the U.S. Live music is featured every day of The Hukilau, from the Thursday and Friday night events at Pier 66, to the Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday parties at The Mai-Kai.
Educational, entertaining and intoxicating symposiums are a staple of The Hukilau, and 2017 will be no exception. The full lineup of guest presenters is still being finalized, but one returning author has already been announced:
Tim “Swanky” Glazner will present more fascinating facts and stories that came out of his years of research that resulted in the acclaimed Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, released in September by Schiffer. His 2016 sympoisum, which included a preview of the book and special Mystery Girl dance by Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid (a former performer at The Mai-Kai), sold out the large Panorama Ballroom at Pier 66 on Friday afternoon.
For 2017, Glazner plans something new and special: “The real history from the mouths of those who lived it.” He’ll host a panel discussion featuring important figures from the history of The Mai-Kai and beyond. This once-in-a-lifetime event will let you hear first-hand memories and “tales of the high life in the mid-century” that go beyond the stories in the book. Glazner, who co-founded The Hukilau in 2002, will also likely be leading special walking tours at The Mai-Kai.
Also returning are Fort Lauderdale artists Tom Fowner and Will Anders, who will offer hands-on symposiums that allow villagers to learn about Tiki art and craftsmanship. Burrell also plans to talk about Tiki, rum and cocktails in several special presentations. In addition to Glazner’s talk, several other symposiums about The Mai-Kai will be announced soon. These will include in-depth looks at the restaurant’s decor and cocktails.
And resurfacing again for 2017 is another favorite of villagers at The Hukilau: The special swimshows at The Wreck Bar in the B Ocean Resort by Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid and her pod of aquaticats. Expect several Hukilau-only performances in the pool at the 60-year-old beachside hotel formerly known as The Yankee Clipper, visible via large portholes in the expanded historic bar. This will be Marina’s 11th appearance at The Hukilau.
* 2016 photo recaps: Glamour Girl Swimshow | Savage Jungle Swimshow
Swimshow and symposium tickets are sold separately and will be announced on social media and the official website when they are available. A Sunday symposium at The Mai-Kai will be included in that day’s festivites at no extra charge.
New merchandise, rum sponsors in the works
Tiki Tony, The Hukilau’s official artist for 2017, has been hard at work on new designs and merchandise. The California artist has created a dozen different possible Tiki mug concepts, which were posted on a special site. Villagers can click here to take a poll and vote for their favorite. The mugs will once again be crafted and produced by Eekum Bookum.
Last year’s merchandise included distinctive mugs, glassware and prints by the artist Shag. The Hukilau merchandise booth at the event will likely include a small selection of items from past years in addition to the new swag.
Guests staying at the Pier 66 also receive a robust goodie bag with free items provided by The Hukilau and its sponsors.
The Hukilau organizers plan to continue last year’s emphasis on rum and spirits in the sponsor booths in the Crystal Ballroom and Atrium at Pier 66. Last year, more than a dozen rum companies offered free samples and cocktails throughout The Hukilau. Vendors are being lined up for the Tiki Treaasures Bazaar, which offers an eclectic marketplace for artwork and retro-themed goods from around the world. Email email@example.com for more information.
* See photos from last year’s Bazaar
Also on tap for 2017 are special rum tastings, both at the Bazaar and at other locations. Rum ambassador Burrell is sure to lend his expertise. Pop-up bars from around the country will also be featured in Friday afternoon’s Rum Island Pool Party, a sequel to last year’s Tiki Road Trip Pool Party. Special guest bars will also be featured in the Friday High Tide event in the Pier 66 Panorama Ballroom.
In addition to getting their tickets and rooms reserved, villagers are encouraged to book their Saturday night dinner reservations for The Mai-Kai. You can do this via The Hukilau website for the first time, selecting either the first dinner show seating at 6 p.m. or second seating at 9. The first seating is filling up fast. You won’t want to miss the The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii.
There’s a good reason The Hukilau moved to Fort Lauderdale just one year after launching in Atlanta in 2002. The Mai-Kai is considered to be the last remaining example of a vintage Polynesian supper club, and it was recently named to the National Register of Historic Places. Tikiphiles make pilgrimages yearround to see the tropical paradise that includes a lavish outdoor Tiki garden, six dining rooms, vintage A-Frame main building, plus an acclaimed cocktail menu featuring some 50 classic drinks that can be traced back to the secret recipes of Tiki pioneer Don the Beachcomber. At The Hukilau, it’s extra special to share the experience with hundreds of like-minded enthusiasts while live surf and exotica bands perform in the bar and dining rooms.
A year of transition for The Hukilau
Expect the schedule to stay pretty much the same as past years, organizers say. Full details will be posted soon, so be sure to follow along on Facebook and Twitter. “We think we have an amazing line up in 2017, not just in bars and bartenders, but all the other elements of the event,” Oneslager wrote in the email to ticketholders.
Many plans were already in place when Tiki Kiliki resigned. Giving the event an international flavor this year was her concept. Many of her key staff members remain on board to guide the event, including last year’s co-organizer, Sherill Gross. Email her if you have any questions or concerns. James McDonald is back as on-site production coordinator. The bar and cocktail support team continues to be led by spirits coordinator Dean Hurst, along with George Jenkins and Christina Jordan of The Straw Hat Barmen. Ananda Keator returns as volunteer coordinator. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to join the team.
“Christie put a great team and a staff in place to ensure the success of the event,” Oneslager told me earlier this year. “I can’t thank her enough.”
More on The Atomic Grog
* Updated schedule, drawing and silent auction announced with exclusive prizes
* The Hukilau tickets go on sale, co-founder Tiki Kiliki steps down
The Hukilau 2016 photo recaps
Day 1: Pre-Party at The Mai-Kai, The Wreck Bar mermaid show
Day 2: Savage Jungle Swimshow, Tiki Tower Takeover, Kickoff Party and Tiki Treasures Bazaar, Shag’s SkyLounge, After Party at Kreepy Tiki
* Full coverage of The Hukilau