Updated Sept. 18
After a 27-month hiatus, The Hukilau is returning to the picturesque sands of Fort Lauderdale beach in September with a four-day takeover of an oceanfront boutique hotel, plus a main event at The Mai-Kai that could kick off a new beginning for the historic Polynesian restaurant.
“It will be a smaller, more intimate event. Almost everything is outdoors,” said The Hukilau’s owner/organizer, Richard Oneslager. “We won’t be packed into a ballroom,” he noted, citing COVID concerns. All state and local guidelines will be followed, he added.
The Hukilau 2021 – Sept. 16-19 at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Featuring live music (The Intoxicators, Aqualads, The Hilo Hi-Flyers), symposiums, rum sponsors and pop-up cocktail bars, luau on the beach, Tiki marketplace, plus more.
* Tickets on sale now
THE HUKILAU SEPTEMBER UPDATES
* Daily schedule, news and photos from social media
* Death or Glory scares up spooktacular Sunday after-party
* Tickets still available, symposiums and schedule announced
The Hukilau was last held in June 2019 at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina, which has since gone down for extensive renovations that could last several more years. Only the iconic tower and marina will remain when the resort reopens. The 2020 event, scheduled for the B Ocean Resort, was waylaid by the coronavirus pandemic.
Luckily, Broward County’s famous highway A1A beachfront also contains many smaller and more appropriate venues for 2021. One of these is the Beachcomber Resort & Club, located just north of the Fort Lauderdale strip in Pompano Beach. The Hukilau has reserved the entire boutique hotel for the weekend, creating a complete Tiki takeover. With pandemic protocols still fresh in everyone’s mind, most of the activities will be held in various outdoor spaces on the resort’s grounds and private beach.
Of course, The Hukilau would not be complete without its heart and soul, the historic Mai-Kai in nearby Oakland Park. The restaurant remains closed after a massive flood caused extensive back-of-house damage in October 2020. But Saturday’s traditional main event will return to The Mai-Kai, taking place in the sprawling parking lot just a 15-minute drive from the Beachcomber.
Tickets, hotel rooms available soon
Previous 2020 passholders who rolled their tickets into 2021 were given priority and early access to confirm hotel rooms. Remaining rooms can be booked now only by phone by calling (954) 941-7830.
Tickets will be limited to keep the event safe and intimate. However, if space is available and the Beachcomber sells out, The Hukilau has arrangements with several nearby beachfront properties to offer special rates to spillover guests who are shut out of Beachcomber rooms. Locals can also pick up event tickets and not worry about accommodations.
In a change from past years, The Hukilau will offer all-inclusive tickets that encompass all events – including symposiums and special experiences. South Seas passes are the top-tier passes, giving Hukilau villagers access to all weekend events, including reserved seats at symposiums. Beachcomber and Aloha passes offer most of the experiences, with extra events available for an additional fee.
A new beachfront hotel near The Mai-Kai
The Beachcomber Resort & Club is a family-owned hotel with 140 rooms, suites and villas that sits right on the Atlantic Ocean in Pompano Beach, just north of Fort Lauderdale. The property also includes a cluster of apartments across A1A for event staff and participants. It’s roughly half the size of the B Ocean, so expect a more cozy event.
The resort offers “sweeping ocean views, two pools, tiki huts, full beach access, and more amenities, all reserved for our beloved villagers,” The Hukilau’s official announcement said. While many of the most popular activities will return to the schedule, organizers have made adjustments based on past feedback.
A conscious effort is being made to allow for more beach and social time with friends, a top request from villagers. The resort “is custom-made for us,” Oneslager said in a recent phone interview. He noted that the Beachcomber is blocked out for event attendees only, including the private beach.
The main event space is an open-air thatched hut where symposiums and performances will be held. The space is often used for weddings and other special events. Bands, solo musicians and DJs will be disbursed in outdoor areas around the resort. Performers will include musicians who lost their gig at The Mai-Kai when storm damage forced the restaurant’s closure in October.
Rum companies and other sponsors will host parties in a cluster of bungalows around a grassy area ideal for comfortable mingling. Pop-up cocktail bars and live performers will be spread out around the property, including poolside, Oneslager said.
On Thursday, The Hukilau’s opening day, guests “can expect welcome cocktails and cabanas filled with boozy libations from our roster of guest bars,” according to the official website. “Friday will be stacked with symposiums, pool parties, a grand luau, and guest bars.”
Catered by the Beachcomber and guest bartenders, the Friday night luau will be held in a private area just off the beach from 7 to 10 p.m. The cost of the feast is included in South Seas passes, while other ticketholders can add it for an extra fee.
In a change from years past, there will be no additional charge for symposiums (except for the lowest level passholders, who can pay $10 for tickets). There may be capacity limitations, but the top-tier South Seas passholders will receive priority seating. Most of these events will be outdoors under the large tiki hut, which can be modified to protect guests from gusty wind and rain, Oneslager said.
The Beachcomber will host the Tiki Treasures Bazaar as well as a pool party on Saturday. On Sunday, The Hukilau bids farewell with a beachside Tiki brunch and themed cocktails from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. It will be a festive sendoff with pop-up bars and live music.
While most of the weekend everts are scheduled to be outdoors, contingency plans are in place in the event of inclement weather. The Beachcomber has enough indoor restaurant and lobby space to host the luau if necessary. And the tiki hut area can shield guests during typical rainy days. Plans also call for a tent to be installed over the resort’s croquet lawn, Oneslager said.
If a severe storm hits, there are guarantees from the hotel that all reservations are 100 percent refundable. Event passes are also refundable if a named tropical storm sparks watches or warnings in the area within seven days of The Hukilau. Regardless of the weather, all rooms come with a cancellation window up to 10 days before the event. For more detailed information, check the online FAQ.
UPDATED: Save Paradise Party at The Mai-Kai
Like past years, The Hukilau will celebrate its Saturday main event at the historic Polynesian restaurant that has been part of every event since the move to Fort Lauderdale in 2003. Unfortunately, the closing for renovations has forced the owners to adapt since ceasing dinner service in October.
The Mai-Kai has remained active, offering cocktails to go and many outdoor special events. The latest Tiki Marketplace was held July 18 on the heels of car shows and sold-out events commemorating the 64th anniversary in December and Hulaween in October.
So what’s in store for The Hukilau? Passholders are invited to an exclusive “Save Paradise Party” on Saturday in the restaurant’s thatched outdoor porte-cochères space where guests has previously entered the restaurant. Free transportation will be provided for South Seas and Aloha passholders. The Mai-Kai’s famous cocktails will be available for purchase.
Villagers will watch performers from The Mai-Kai’s famous Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii.
“We felt the sting and sadness like everyone when the news of the Mai-Kai made headlines,” the website announcement said. “We have been working with them closely the past six months, and though there is no definitive news to report, we think best to quote that rabid 19th century Mississippi river drinker Mark Twain: ‘The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.’ Come to The Hukilau Save Paradise party on Saturday and imbibe your favorite cocktails straight from the Molokai Bar!”
Even more exciting: The Mai-Kai owners are expected to make a presentation with updates on future plans. “I expect good news from The Mai-Kai,” Oneslager said.
Top-flight entertainment, Tiki bar teams returning in 2021
While The Hukilau hotel and schedule are scaled-down, expect the same high level of bands and bartenders. In fact, many past and longtime musicians and bar partners are in the process of being confirmed, Oneslager said. He gave us the scoop on the headlining bands in advance of the official announcement:
The Intoxicators are gracing The Hukilau for the 15th time, making the Tallahassee-based instrumental combo the event’s unofficial house band. This high-energy group has compiled a vast catalog of original tunes and several self-released albums since forming in 2001. They’re also known for their intimate relationship with The Disasternauts, so don’t be surprised if the simian surf band crashes the party as well.
Aqualads are veterans of the instrumental surf scene, releasing albums and playing for appreciative audiences around the country for more than two decades. The Charlotte, N.C., group (est. 1997) released the four-song digital EP Castaway via New Jersey’s Hi-Tide Recordings last August.
The Hilo Hi-Flyers are a throwback to another era, combining traditional exotica with swing and Rat Pack era jazz. Hailing from Southern California, this new band successfully transports listeners to another place and time. An 11-song debut album, Adventure, is available on limited-edition “tiger orange” vinyl from Hi-Tide Recordings.
The full entertainment lineup will be announced in the coming weeks. Also TBA are the many guest bars that will be setting up shop at the Beachcomber. Oneslager is still nailing down the full lineup, but he said that many favorites from past years are expected to travel from around the country (and overseas) to mix up tasty cocktails, along with several newcomers.
The Hukilau also announced that students in Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy classes will be offered the chance to finish their studies and receive their diploma (and exclusive Tiki Diablo mug) along with others who recently completed all their graduation requirements.
The Hukilau is the last of the major Tiki weekenders to announce a return to live, in-person events. The 20th anniversary Tiki Oasis kicked off the festival season today (July 28) with a five-day gathering of the tribe at the Town & Country resort in San Diego. Click here for the full 2021-2022 events calendar.
An unfortunate conflict in scheduling with the resort landed The Hukilau on the same dates as Ohana: Luau At The Lake in upstate New York. Oneslager said that this was not done without much debate. “It’s been hard putting all the puzzle pieces together,” he said.
The organizers of Ohana, the Fraternal Order Of Moai, were “gracious, supportive, and understanding” of The Hukilau’s predicament, Oneslager said. “It’s exciting that the community has grown so much and can support great events all over the country.”
Memories of Bahia Cabana
This will be The Hukilau’s 19th live event since launching in 2002 in Atlanta. After relocating to Fort Lauderdale in 2003, The Mai-Kai and various area hotels hosted the festivities through 2019, typically in early June. Due to COVID-19, last year we enjoyed a virtual party hosted at The Mai-Kai.
For some old-timers, the Beachcomber will conjure up flashbacks to the Bahia Cabana, the intimate 1970s-era hotel that hosted Hukilau festivities on eight previous occasions (2004-2005, 2007-2012) – the most of any venue. It was also a small, independently run hotel on Fort Lauderdale’s A1A strip with minimal indoor space and a laid-back attitude.
Located across the street from the beachfront Yankee Clipper (now known as the B Ocean Resort), “the Cabana” was beloved for its anything-goes atmosphere, pool parties and casual vibe. It was the site of countless room crawls (both official and unofficial), late-night penthouse parties, and performances from bands including Los Straitjackets, Martian Denny Orchestra, Tikiyaki Orchestra, The Intoxicators, The Disasternauts, and The Woggles.
* More past coverage: The Hukilau history, 2002-2008
The Beachcomber could be considered an upscale, boutique version of that old spring break haven, which was closed in 2017 and sadly torn down in 2018 to make way for a “new chic resort.” The Beachcomber isn’t trendy or “chic,” more like a modern throwback to the family-run resorts of Florida’s past.
The Hukilau 2021 promises an intimate and more simple event that harkens back to the carefree days of the Cabana, but also offers modern amenities plus authentic Polynesian Pop and rum/cocktail experiences that should please even the most discriminating Tikiphiles.
The Mai-Kai official sites and social media
* MaiKai.com | MaiKaiTradingPost.com
Twitter | Facebook: Official page | Friends of The Mai-Kai group
Instagram: Restaurant | The Molokai bar | Trading Post
The Hukilau host hotels in Fort Lauderdale
2021 – Beachcomber Resort & Club
2019 – Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina
2018 – Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina
2017 – Hyatt Regency Pier 66
2016 – Hyatt Regency Pier 66
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
Note: The Hukilau launched in 2002 at the Hilton in Atlanta
The Hukilau: Recent coverage
* Photos: Remembering Dawn Wells at The Hukilau 2015
* The Hukilau 2020: Virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need
The Hukilau: Past event coverage
Photos: 10 highlights from The Hukilau 2019 in Fort Lauderdale
* 2019: Photos and video from social media
* 2018 social media recap | More highlights
* 2017 daily recaps, news, photos and video | More highlights
* More recaps: 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2002-2008
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