NOTE: The Hukilau 2020 was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. A series of online events was held in its place. The 2019 recap below was posted before the pandemic. The Hukilau is returning to a live format in September 2021.
The Hukilau’s 2020 entertainment lineup will be announced on Feb. 3, when event tickets and passes go on sale for the 19th annual Tiki weekender June 3-7 in Fort Lauderdale. While The Mai-Kai remains the nerve center of the Polynesian Pop celebration for the 18th straight year, most of the festivities will be centered at the B Ocean Resort on Fort Lauderdale Beach.
After five years as host hotel, the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina closed for a years-long refurbishment and re-imagining on the day after The Hukilau 2019. To give you a preview of what you can expect during the whirlwind weekend, following is a look back at last year’s festivities. While this Top 10 list is nowhere near complete in capturing the diversity of activities that encompassed the five-day bash, it offers a snapshot of some of the more memorable moments.
The Hukilau 2019 was held June 5-9 at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina, B Ocean Resort and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Featuring Tikiyaki Orchestra, Tikiyaki 5-0, Surfer Joe, The Volcanics, The Hula Girls, The Intoxicators, Gold Dust Lounge, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, The Swingin’ Palms, Slowey and the Boats, King Kukulele, Brother Cleve, Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid, Ian “Rum Ambassador” Burrell, and 25 top Tiki bars and bartenders from around the world.
* TheHukilau.com | Facebook: Page and Group | Instagram
Previous recap: The Hukilau 2019 photos and video from social media
Mahalo to the venues, the organizers, all the participants and (especially) all the villagers who attended. Special thanks to those who provided photos for use below. Here’s a sampling of what we enjoyed, in no particular order …
1. THE TIKI TOWER TAKEOVER
The fifth annual installment of The Hukilau’s signature cocktail event rose to meet expectations with a star-studded, all-female lineup and some of the best drinks in its history. After having no more than five participating bars in any of the previous years, there was a certain amount of risk expanding to eight for 2019. The party kicked off (sort of) on time at 4 p.m. Thursday and ran smoothly for three hours. The Pier Top Lounge’s signature floor even rotated for the first time since the first year, making it even more difficult to choose which of the excellent bartenders to stagger over to next.
Mahalo for a job well done to Sarah Clarke of Hidden Harbor in Pittsburgh; Phoebe Esmon of The Huna Hut in Ashville, N.C.; Jeanie Grant of Pagan Idol in San Francisco; Ayme Harrison of Death Or Glory in Delray Beach; Marie King of Tonga Hut in Los Angeles; Sierra Kirk of Hale Pele in Portland; Libby Longlott of UnderTow in Phoenix; and Shannon Mustipher of Glady’s in Brooklyn.
The cocktails were all outstanding: Bastard in a Basket (Esmon), Golden Girl (Clarke), Kill Devyl Reef (Mustipher), Ladies of the Jungle (Longlott), La Pearla (Grant), Lucille (Harrison), Marine Layer (Kirk), and Pandan Express (King). Featured rums included Plantation, Rum Bar, Pusser’s, and The Real McCoy.
With the expansion to eight pop-up bars, the crowds were spread out and there was plenty of time and opportunity to fully enjoy as many cocktails as you pleased without spending too much time in line. That also allowed more time to socialize and savor what could be the final Tiki Tower Takeover, though we sure hope not. Keep an eye out for our special recap (including cocktail recipes and ratings) coming soon.
* Previous coverage: Preview, photos and complete Tiki Tower Takeover history
2. THE BANDS
The Hukilau has a long history of presenting some of the best bands of the Tiki revival, with an emphasis on surf and exotica, and 2019 was no different. The lineup presented a perfect mix of artists, both regionally and stylistically, newcomers to The Hukilau, and old standbys. In addition, a blossoming relationship with Vincent Minervino and Magdalena O’Connell of Hi-Tide Recordings and the Hi-Tide Summer Holiday: Asbury Park resulted in the inclusion of five bands from the New Jersey-based label. I’m sure we’ll see more from the label’s stellar lineup at future events.
From California, we were treated to the exotica and surf sounds of Tikiyaki Orchestra and Tikiyaki 5-0; the surf-meets-rockabilly-meets-Hawaiian sounds of The Hula Girls; plus the amped-up trad surf of The Volcanics. The musical highlight for many was the first Hukilau appearance of Surfer Joe, all the way from Italy. Instro surf ambassador Lorenzo “Surfer Joe” Valdambrini dazzled the crowd on guitar, backed by Jon Paul Balak (Tikiyaki Orchestra, Tikiyaki 5-0) on bass and Minervino on drums. Valdambrini and Balak also presented an informative symposium, Surf Music: More Than Meets the Ear.
We were introduced to the laid-back, tropical sounds of Hi-Tide’s Slowey and the Boats and The Swingin’ Palms, from Philadelphia and upstate New York respectively. And, of course, our Florida bands are the icing on the cake: Tallahassee’s high-energy instro surf of The Intoxicators and The Disasternauts; the rootsy alternative surf/jazz of Miami’s Gold Dust Lounge; and the retro surf sounds of Fort Lauderdale’s Skinny Jimmy Stingray.
As an added bonus, several of the bands released new albums and debuted them at The Hukilau: The self-titled LP from Gold Dust Lounge and Beneath an Amber Moon from Slowey and the Boats. Also be sure to check out the 10th anniversary re-release of Tikiyaki Orchestra’s Swingin’ Sounds for the Jungle Jetset.
Hear The Hukilau bands
* The Atomic Grog’s playlist on Spotify
3. THE ARTISTS
The Hukilau has always attracted the cream of the crop of Tiki revival artists, and 2019 continued that tradition. It was a pleasure to meet Baï, who created the official mug and artwork. She came all the way from Paris, documenting her adventures on a special Facebook page. Baï also participated in the symposium Everything You Wanted to Know About Tiki Mugs but Were Afraid to Ask on Friday along with Danny “Tiki Diablo” Gallardo, John Mulder of Eekum Bookum and Henrik Van Ryzin (aka VanTiki), hosted by Crazy Al Evans.
Gallardo also created special barware for students in the Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy classes, plus a rare mug for graduates based on a Tiki at the Mai-Kai. Of course, he also quickly sold out of his annual Mai-Kai mug in the Tiki Treasures Bazaar.
South Florida’s Anders and Fowner, whose handiwork can be found at The Mai-Kai, returned to teach their popular craft classes (Carve Your Own Tiki Pendant and Make Your Own Fish Float Pendant, respectively). Tiki Tony’s Saturday class, Paint Your Own Black Velvet Masterpiece was a sellout.
4. THE SYMPOSIUMS
The Hukilau pioneered the concept of educational Tiki symposiums as we know them today, and there’s always something new on the calendar each year to provide both historical perspective and informative entertainment. First-time presenters this year included Cocktail Wonk author Matt Pietrek (How the British Navy Influenced the Birth of Tiki) and Ron Ferrell (Home Tiki Bars).
There’s no doubt that the most popular presenter is the global rum ambassador, Ian Burrell, who sold out two cocktail classes, one of two rum tastings, and his symposium Professor? Ambassador? Both! Teaming up with rum collector Stephen Remsberg on Friday afternoon, the UK RumFest founder led a freewheeling, no-holds-barred discussion of cane spirits.
Other symposiums at Pier Sixty-Six included Surf Music: More Than Meets the Ear and Everything You Wanted to Know About Tiki Mugs mentioned above, as well as discussions of Trader Vic’s art and women in Tiki that are also mentioned below in highlight No. 6. Many of the symposiums also included free “Polynesian Pop Ins” shortly afterward during which the hosts and guests got the chance to mingle and dive deeper into their respective subjects.
On Sunday, Pietrek joined me at The Mai-Kai Grand Finale for The Rums of The Mai-Kai: From the Back Bar to Your Glass, an interactive presentation, discussion and rum tasting contest in the main dining room. Afterward, a group of lucky villagers received a VIP tour of the legendary back bar and its historic rum collection. Much of the event was recorded live for an episode of the Inside the Desert Oasis Room podcast.
Coming soon: Photos and exclusive coverage of The Rums of The Mai-Kai symposium
5. THE CLASSES
As Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy classes entered their third year, The Hukilau saw its first graduates. To graduate and receive a special mug created by Tiki Diablo based on a historic tiki at The Mai-Kai, students are required to complete eight classes, including a minimum of five “core” subjects (how to make a Daiquiri, blending rums, garnish, etc.).
In addition to those mainstay classes taught by experts including Scotty Schuder (Dirty Dick), Ian Burrell, and Kevin Beary of Three Dots and a Dash, there were new classes this year: Tiki on the Thames with Georgi Radev of London’s Laki Kane; Stocking Your Home Tiki Bar with Matt “Cocktail Wonk” Pietrek; Attack of the Zombie Women with author/educator Shannon Mustipher and Pagan Idol bar manager Jeanie Grant; Mai Tai Two Ways hosted by Pittsburgh’s Hidden Harbor and Atlanta’s S.O.S.; and Tiki Mayhem (featuring Burrell, Radev and Daniele Dalla Pola of Nu Lounge Bar in Italy and Esotico in Miami).
Last but not least, I was honored to be joined by legendary rum collector Stephen Remsberg for The Rums of The Mai-Kai: The Classic Tiki Template. Most of these classes sold out, and all students received special barware designed by Tiki Diablo including sippers, spoons, muddlers, strainers, and a flask.
But how to make rum and Tiki cocktails wasn’t the only curriculum offered to villagers. Just as popular are the craft classes taught by noted artists, offering students hands-on instruction in a variety of mediums. Returning classes were Tiki Tony’s Paint Your Own Black Velvet Masterpiece and Tom Fowner’s Make Your Own Fish Float Pendant.
New for 2019 was Carve Your Own Tiki Pendant with Will Anders, the Fort Lauderdale artist responsible for many of the giant Tikis at The Mai-Kai. Just as artistic were the tips provided by South Florida’s Nicole Brauchler in Pool Party-Proof Makeup, as well as the high-energy instruction of Angie Pontani in Go Go Aerobics. The latter class, held Saturday morning, was The Hukilau’s last official event in the Pier Top Lounge before the prolonged closing for hotel-wide renovations.
6. THE WOMEN OF THE HUKILAU 2019
Reflecting a growing awareness of the crucial and expanding role of female members of the bar and restaurant industry, The Hukilau 2019 presented several events that paid tribute to these efforts. In addition to the all-female Tiki Tower Takeover mentioned above, there was the Attack of the Zombie Women cocktail class with Shannon Mustipher and Jeanie Grant, plus many other talented women representing the many pop-up bars in attendance. Villagers learned about the current state of the industry in the Women Who Tiki panel discussion, named for the Tiki bartending community led by Mustipher.
Meanwhile, the Women of The Mai-Kai symposium hosted by Tim “Swanky” Glazner focused on the contributions of the Polynesian restaurant’s influential owner, Mireille Thornton, as well as pioneering performer Pualani Mossman Avon. The author of Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant brought Thornton on stage for a rare interview and also swapped stories with Avon’s son, Randy Avon Jr., himself a Mai-Kai insider and former member of the Polynesian palace’s inner circle.
Also notable for their contributions to The Hukilau 2019 were Baï and the many other female artists who displayed their work in the Tiki Treasures Bazaar (see above). A rare treat was the first appearance at the event by Eve Bergeron, the granddaughter of Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron and vice president of marketing for the international restaurant chain that began with the original Oakland, Calif., location in 1937. Her symposium, The Art of Trader Vic’s, featured a detailed exploration of the restaurant’s distinctive illustrations, books, menus and other items.
The Hukilau’s collectible mug was created by an acclaimed French artist making her first appearance at the event. Baï also participated in a symposium on Tiki mugs (see above), and she could be seen out and about enjoying the festivities almost as much as the ubiquitous Crazy Al. There was also no shortage of women in power positions behind the scenes at The Hukilau, including co-organizer Sherill Gross and bar team manager Phoebe Esmon.
Of course, it wouldn’t be The Hukilau without Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid and her vintage swimshows at The Wreck Bar at the nearby B Ocean Resort. More popular than ever, Marina and her pod of aquaticats sold out all three of their 2019 shows (Wednesday night, plus Thursday and Friday afternoons). The multi-talented Medusirena, who also performs at Tiki and retro-themed events across the country, first made a splash at The Hukilau in 2007 shortly after reviving the mermaid swimshows in the pool at the historic Yankee Clipper, which then served as the host hotel. The Hukilau has moved several times, the Clipper changed ownership and became the B Ocean, but Marina Duran-Anderson endures as an institution. Happily, The Hukilau is returning to the B Ocean in 2020. Another institution who returned in 2019 was burlesque queen Angie Pontani, who headlined Thursday’s Tiki A Go-Go in The Tower party.
7. THE BARS & BARTENDERS
Where else but The Hukilau could you spend a leisurely five days tasting world-class cocktails from all of these locations: 4 Kahunas (Dallas), Archipelago (Washington, D.C.), Death or Glory (Delray Beach, Fla.), Dirty Dick (Paris), Esotico (Miami), Flask & Cannon (Jacksonville, Fla.), Gladys (New York City), Hale Pele (Portland), Hidden Harbor (Pittsburgh), Inferno Room (Indianapolis), Laki Kane (London), Manolito (New Orleans), Nu Lounge Bar (Bologna, Italy), Odd Birds (St. Augustine, Fla.), Pagan Idol (San Francisco), Porco Lounge & Tiki Room (Cleveland), The S.O.S. Tiki Bar (Decatur, Ga.), Suffering Bastard (Sanford, Fla.), Three Dots and a Dash (Chicago), Tiki TNT (Washington, D.C.), Tiki Underground (Akron, Ohio), Tonga Hut (Los Angeles), Trailer Happiness (London), UnderTow (Phoenix), and Zombie Village (San Francisco).
Pop-up bars were everywhere: From the Rum Island Pool Party (actually three parties, Friday through Sunday) to the Friday’s High Tide Party. At the latter event, the bartenders from more than a dozen Tiki bars gave the six bands a run for their money in pure entertainment value. Many of the visiting bartenders also participated in symposiums and classes. In the Mai Tai Two Ways class, Hidden Harbor and S.O.S. took on the controversial topic of reinterpreting Tiki’s most iconic cocktail. Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy students also learned how to garnish like Three Dots and a Dash, and pour a drink with the “Cuban Roll” technique like you’ll see at Dirty Dick.
8. THE MAI-KAI
It’s obvious why The Hukilau moved to Fort Lauderdale in 2003 after the inaugural event in Atlanta. The Mai-Kai, named to he National Register of Historic Places in 2014, is the perfect backdrop for a Polynesian Pop celebration. The 63-year-old restaurant never disappoints, seemingly getting better with age and serving as the historic anchor for all the weekend festivities.
Wednesday’s pre-party, Saturday’s main event, and Sunday’s grand finale were all packed with reverential fans and awe-struck newbies. Built to handle the crowds of Tiki’s mid-century heyday, The Mai-Kai is well-suited for today’s Tiki hordes and never fails to deliver an authentic experience along with delicious food and drinks.
Official events hosted by The Mai-Kai at The Hukilau 2019 were:
* Wednesday’s pre-party featuring Gold Dust Lounge & DJ Hi-Tide.
* Saturday’s main event featuring Slowey & the Boats, The Hula Girls, Surfer Joe, Tikiyaki 5-0, and The Intoxicators. Plus two sold-out dinner shows starrting The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue.
* Sunday’s finale featuring Skinny Jimmy Stingray and The Rums of The Mai-Kai symposium with Hurricane Hayward and Matt Pietrek. [Hear audio / Full recap coming soon]
9. THE VILLAGERS
The Hukilau’s eclectic followers are always known as “villagers,” a nice throwback to the event’s origin story: In Hawaii, a “hukilau” is a gathering of people, typically family and friends, who join forces to cast a net to the sea in an effort to land fish to feed the village. The modern Hukilau, as envisioned by its founders, is a way for Tiki revivalists to cast their net across the globe and lure new friends and family to join the cult of Tiki. It’s always good to see a constant stream of new faces every year, along with the many returnees. Nobody wastes the opportunity to escape from the drudgery of daily life and connect with their fellow enthusiasts on a very personal level. As usual, a good time was had by all!
In what could be the final bash at Pier Sixty-Six, at least for the foreseeable future, the hundreds of villagers in attendance savored the time together. With a packed schedule, there was always something to do, but a laid-back vibe prevailed. Even the inevitable, seasonal rains whipping through the grounds could not dampen the spirits or keep partygoers from enjoying the daylong pool parties. Sunday’s Rum Island Pool Party got the brunt of the storms, but the hearty crowd ignored mother nature’s fury and rocked out with The Hula Girls, Surfer Joe, and The Disasternauts in a fitting finale.
In 2019, The Hukilau continued its efforts to enable its villagers to support the communities that touch the event through the charity See Aloha initiative. According to the website, See Aloha is “our reminder to see all the goodness that is around us, and then lend a helping hand where needed.” For the second straight year, money was raised for hospitality education and scholarships in Broward County provided by the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association. The FRLA education foundation works with more than 200 Florida high schools to prepare students for a career in hospitality.
Money was also raised for the Saint Benevolence charity, which directly funds crucial medical services and education programs across Haiti. All profits from Saint Benevolence rum, a unique clairin produced in Haiti, also directly fund charity efforts on the impoverished Caribbean island.
The money was raised during a silent auction and from sales of pendants created and donated by artist Crazy Al Evans. The money will go to scholarships in hospitality education in Broward County. Special thanks to The Mai-Kai’s director of sales and marketing, Pia Dahlquist, for organizing and running the auction during Friday night’s High Tide Party.
10. THE RUM & COCKTAILS
What a long way The Hukilau has come from the days of finding proper Tiki cocktails only at room parties, Beachbum Berry’s symposiums and The Mai-Kai. The drinks served in 2019 reached epic proportions and included libations from 25 of the world’s best Tiki bars, solidifying the event as one of the top rum and cocktail events anywhere. From Thursday’s Tiki Tower Takeover, to Friday’s High Tide Party, to the daily Rum Island pool parties, the selections were plentiful and the quality was top-notch. According to Phoebe Esmon, who managed the controlled chaos and unsung heroes in the Pier Sixty-Six kitchens preparing the weekend’s fortifications, an estimated 30,000 total cocktails were served, all made with fresh-squeezed juices and hand-crafted ingredients. The Hukilau’s villagers are one thirsty bunch.
There were so many opportunities to sample cocktails – including dozens of daily pop-up bars and bartenders, classes and symposiums – that it was nearly impossible to try them all. And the amazing thing for the lucky villagers is that most of these tasty treats were included in the price of admission. While heavy on the rum (for good reason!), the depth and variety of the drinks was also impressive. Among the many sponsors providing spirits and mixers were Angostura, Appleton, Cockspur, Diplomatico, Don Q, Gubba, Hamilton, Lemon Hart, Orgeat Works, Plantation, Pusser’s, The Real McCoy, Real Syrups, Rhum Barbancourt, Rum Bar, Rums of Puerto Rico, St. Benevolence, Sandy Feet, Santa Teresa, Tiki Lovers, Swedish Punsch, Tanduay, and Worthy Park.
With all of these first-class opportunities to imbibe at Pier Sixty-Six, not to mention the legendary cocktail menu at The Mai-Kai, there has always been little demand for impromptu room parties at The Hukilau similar to other Tiki events. Nevertheless, a handful of rooms (several run by participating pop-up bars) hosted parties on Thursday night. The cocktail experience was not entirely passive, either. After learning pro tips from distinguished faculty, villagers taking Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy classes got to roll up their sleeves and make their own potent potations.
Mahalo to contributing photographers Hukilau Mike, Jim Neumayer, John William, Jose Villasana, Mondo Mongo, Julie St, Donna Mahoney, Adrian Eustaquio, Robert Jiminez, Mrs. Swizzlestick, Wendy Chapkis, John Atkins, and Debra Schmitt.
Passion Fruit West Indies
(By Pagan Idol in San Francisco, as served at the Rum Island Pool Party at The Hukilau 2019)
* 2 ounces The Real McCoy 5 (or any good aged Barbados rum)
* 1 ounce passion fruit syrup
* 1 ounce pineapple juice
* 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
* 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1 dash Angostura bitters (optional)
Shake (with cubed ice) or pulse blend (with crushed ice) and serve in a Tiki-themed glass. Garnish with an orchid.
A perfect poolside drink, Passion Fruit West Indies is refreshing and goes down easy. But it’s not short on flavor or nuance if you use fresh, quality ingredients. Inspired by a drink of the same name from the 1945 menu at San Francisco’s venerable Tonga Room.
Notes: While the stated ingredients include passion fruit juice, we went with syrup for our original reinterpretation to add richness to this simple and juicy drink. We also suggest a dash of bitters. Pagan Idol’s general manager, William Prestwood, responded to our Facebook post by sharing the official recipe (sans bitters) but agreeing that “passion fruit syrup is the right move.” He also recommends The Real McCoy’s limited release Distiller’s Proof, a 12-year-old rum that clocks in at 92 proof and packs a flavorful wallop. We’d also recommend any other rum produced at the Foursquare Distillery, including Doorly’s and R.L. Seale’s.
(By Tiki Underground, as served at the Rum Island Pool Party at The Hukilau 2019)
* 3/4 ounce Appleton Estate Signature Blend Jamaican rum
* 3/4 ounce Pusser’s Gunpowder Proof rum
* 1 ounce cinnamon syrup
* 1 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1 ounce pineapple juice
* 1 dash Angostura bitters
Pulse blend with crushed ice and serve in a Tiki-themed glass. Garnish with a pineapple stick.
One of the signature drinks at the tropical oasis in northern Ohio between Akron and Cleveland, Playboy deftly combines two excellent mixing rums with sweet, sour, bitter and spicy flavors that all work in perfect harmony.
Notes: Pusser’s Gunpowder, released at the traditional 109 proof, is purported to be similar to the last rum issued by the modern Royal Navy to its enlistees in 1970. In the Navy rum tradition, it’s a blend of rums from Guyana, Trinidad, and Barbados. Gunpowder Proof isn’t widely distributed, unfortunately, but luckily there’s one other similar rum on the market. Plantation’s O.F.T.D. – a 138-proof blend of rums from Guyana, Jamaica and Barbados – would certainly be a formidable replacement. Like Tiki Underground, we used our house-made cinnamon syrup and the freshest juices available in the Playboy. The result should be the hit of any pool party.
The Hukilau 2019 social media recap
* Photos and video from The Atomic Grog and villagers
The Hukilau 2019 preview coverage
* Final preview, news and updates
* The Atomic Grog presents new class and symposium at The Hukilau
* Tiki Tower Takeover cocktail party sold out – Preview, photos and complete history
* Last party at Pier Sixty-Six? Events sell fast as new cocktail classes added
* 100 Days to The Hukilau: Weekend events at The Mai-Kai feature The Surfrajettes
* Tickets on sale, book your room now for June 5-9 bash in Fort Lauderdale
* Hotel room parties are back, plus preview events, more
* First official announcement promises enhancements, same vintage experience
The Hukilau past coverage
* 2018 recap: Photos and video from social media | More 2018 coverage
* 2017 daily recaps, news, photos and video | More 2017 coverage
* More recaps: 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2002-2008