Preview, photos and event history: Miami Rum Renaissance Festival is back for a 12th taste of cane spirits

Preview, photos and event history: Miami Rum Renaissance Festival is back for a 12th taste of cane spirits

After 18 months of tasting rum in the privacy of our home bars, it’s about time that South Florida offers a small gathering where enthusiasts can sample dozens of new and long-standing products. Luckily for us, the Miami Rum Festival makes its return this weekend for its first event since May 2019.

Photos, recap: Miami festival reunites rum family for one-day tasting event
NEW: Photos, recap: Miami festival reunites rum family for one-day tasting event
Quick takes and highlights from the 2021 Rum Renaissance Tasting Event, including photos and our favorite sips of the day.
>>> CLICK HERE FOR THE RECAP AND PHOTO GALLERY

2021 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

More Miami Rum Festival features below
* 2019 PHOTOS AND RECAP: Rum festival returns to its roots
* EVENT HISTORY: Miami Rum Renaissance Festival year-by-year
* The Atomic Grog’s top nine Miami Rum Fest memories

Billed as the 2021 “Rum Renaissance Tasting Event,” it’s limited to one four-hour general session on Sunday at the Coral Gables Woman’s Club, but that’s more than enough reason to celebrate the safe return of one of the rum world’s longest-running festivals.

Established in 2009, the Miami fest pre-dates the recent fascination among fans of craft spirits and the expansion of premium rum brands and events around the world. It presciently anticipated rum’s renaissance in the past decade and offered both enthusiasts and industry VIPs a high-quality gathering place every year, without fail.

The coronavirus pandemic put all that on hold in 2020, but founders Robert and Robin Burr are ready to welcome back their rum family for a scaled-down, one-day event that will continue to celebrate the ongoing renaissance. The general public is welcome from 2 to 6 p.m. Doors open for industry and trade at 12:30 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 14 – Miami Rum Renaissance Festival at the Coral Gables Woman’s Club, 1001 East Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables. Tickets $39 to $49 per person. Limited free parking. For safety reasons, attendance is limited. Tickets may sell out in advance, so be sure to get them now or by phone at 305-350-0764.
PURCHASE TICKETS ONLINE

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ABOUT THE EVENT: Miami Rum Festival highlights

Lemon Hart Rum's Miles Maximillian Vrahimis and Angelina Maria Correa (right) are serenaded by Melissa Davis of the RumTraveler.com website at the 2019 Miami Rum Festival. (Courtesy of Lemon Hart Rum)
Lemon Hart Rum’s Miles Maximillian Vrahimis and Angelina Maria Correa (right) are serenaded by Melissa Davis of the RumTraveler.com website at the 2019 Miami Rum Festival. (Courtesy of Lemon Hart Rum)

The festival includes unlimited small samples of more than 150 products from dozens of brands, from Antelope Island to Zacapa. Participants include such well-known labels as Cockspur (Barbados), El Dorado (Guyana), Plantation (Caribbean and elsewhere), Rhum Barbancourt (Haiti), Ron Diplomatico (Venezuela), Saint James (Martinique), and Tanduay (Philippines).

But you’ll also spot up-and-coming products from craft distillers including Copalli (Belize) and Prichard’s (Tennessee), along with many other small brands. It’s a chance to taste many new releases just coming to market, along with older expressions that are often hard to find.

Hundreds of connoisseurs, collectors, judges and rum lovers are expected to flock to the historic venue, which first hosted the event in 2019. They’ll have the rare chance to mingle with a room full of rum producers, master distillers, importers, distributors, retailers and other members of the spirits trade. All attendees also receive a free tasting glass.

Robin and Robert Burr welcome guests to their VIP Tasting Bar.
Robin and Robert Burr welcome guests to their VIP Tasting Bar at the Coral Gables Woman’s Club during the 2019 festival. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

“We’re excited that Miami Rum Fest is celebrating its 12th anniversary of bringing the world of rum to South Florida,” organizer Robert Burr said in an announcement on his longtime resource, Rob’s Rum Guide. “We’ve been visiting rum producers to gather an incredible collection of fine rums to sample for this grand tasting event. It’s an opportunity for rum enthusiasts to enjoy their favorites and discover some delightful new expressions, gain a greater appreciation and share the enthusiasm of these fine spirits with friends.”

Beyond all the booths hosted by visiting rum brands, another highlight of the event is the VIP Tasting Bar, a selection of rare, collectable, and limited-edition rums from the Burrs’ own private stash. There’s an extra fee to sample these hard-to-find and expensive rums, but proceeds benefits a local non-profit organization. If you’ve seen the Burrs’ home collection in their Rum Wreck Dive Bar, you’ll know they have a wide assortment of spirits to choose from.

The venue is a charming historic building that dates back to 1935. With wood flooring and rustic touches, it’s unlike most modern event spaces. The surrounding downtown Coral Gables district features a half-dozen hotels within a short distance of the festival. There are also many restaurants, bars and entertainment venues in the area for mingling after the event.

Miami Rum Festival on social media
* Facebook page | Instagram | Twitter

Related websites
Rob’s Rum Guide: Expert reviews and news on cane spirits
Rum Minute: See Robert Burr’s video reviews
Rum Renaissance Caribbean Cruise: Set sail for distilleries in rum’s birthplace
Media coverage: Hear Robert Burr on the Drums and Rums podcast

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2019 PHOTOS AND RECAP: Smaller Miami Rum Festival offers quality, not quantity

Downsized to a smaller but classier venue after six years at massive convention centers, the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival fit into its new environment like a classic cocktail in vintage glassware. Instead of an over-the-top Tiki drink, guests were treated to a rum Old Fashioned. But the end result was ultimately just as satisfying.

The crew from Rum Java presented their full line of coffee-flavored rums, hand-crafted in small batches using roasted Java’Mon Coffee beans from the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The crew from Rum Java presented their full line of coffee-flavored rums, hand-crafted in small batches using roasted Java’Mon Coffee beans from the U.S. Virgin Islands. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

While “less is more” could be a cliché, it seems to work fine in the context of a rum-tasting festival. After all, how many rum samples can you really drink in one or two days? As long as the exhibitors and brands provide top-notch products, including a nice mix of new and classic offerings, attendees should find the festival fulfilling. This was certainly the case at Rum Renaissance Festival, circa 2019.
2019 event preview: Miami Rum Renaissance Festival returns to its roots after 10 years

The Burrs held their first rum-tasting event in 2008 at the historic Venetian Pool in Coral Gables. The return to the Miami suburb in 2019 brought the festival full-circle after a decade in large event spaces across South Florida.

The Coral Gables Woman’s Club may seem like an unlikely site for a rum fest, but it worked out nicely. The crowds taxed the air-conditioning system in the 100-year-old building during the peak afternoon hours and sweltering heat of mid-May, but that’s an issue that can easily be rectified. The charm of the building, which was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1990, outweighs its faults.

Longtime Plantation Rum ambassador Rocky Yeh presents Hurricane Hayward with a sip of one of the brand's latest blends at the Miami Rum Festival in May 2019. The much-loved industry veteran sadly passed away later that year.
Longtime Plantation Rum ambassador Rocky Yeh presents Hurricane Hayward with a sip of one of the brand’s latest blends at the Miami Rum Festival in May 2019. The much-loved industry veteran sadly passed away later that year.  (Atomic Grog photo)

As for the event itself, our afternoon visit was marked by a deep dive into an array of spirits, a reunion with old friends and a general feel of an easy-going industry gathering. Sadly, it was our last time seeing the beloved Plantation Rum ambassador, Rocky Yeh, who passed away Dec. 1, 2019, at age 42. He left a huge mark on the industry during his short but vibrant life and will always be remembered.

While it’s technically not a rum, I was thrilled to pick up a bottle of Kronan Swedish Punsch. I had seen mentions of this classic rum liqueur in cocktail books for years, and it was great to finally have one in my arsenal. Another flavored rum product, Rum Java, wowed us with its distinctive flavors. Distilled from Florida sugarcane, it was the best of several coffee rums we sampled – definitely one of the top trends of the festival.

Lemon Hart & Sons made a rare festival appearance, touting its new Blackpool Spiced Rum and the long-awaited U.S. market return of Lemon Hart 1804, the classic Demerara rum from Guyana. Ambassador Miles Maximillian Vrahimis also mixed up some of the tastiest cocktails of the day.

Continue reading “Preview, photos and event history: Miami Rum Renaissance Festival is back for a 12th taste of cane spirits”

RECIPES: French, Haitian Zombies reflect true roots of deadly cocktail’s namesake legend

RECIPES: French, Haitian Zombies reflect true roots of deadly cocktail's namesake legend

Until cocktail author and historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry unearthed the mystery behind Don the Beachcomber’s classic Zombie cocktail, the true recipe lay buried for more than 70 years. Berry’s discovery and publication of his findings in the groundbreaking Sippin’ Safari (2007) spurred a revival and greater appreciation of the deadly drink that continues to this day.

Beachbum Berry's Sippin' Safari
An ad for ‘Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari’ around the time of its original release.

Simultaneously and coincidentally, the world of cinema also went zombie crazy, ushering in a renaissance of the modern horror archetype. Of the 30 films on a recently published list of “The best zombie movies of all time,” half were released in the 21st century.

With the precision of a pathologist, Berry dissected and definitively revealed the template that the bootlegger turned Tiki cocktail pioneer used to create what was arguably the most popular drink of the post-Prohibition era. The original 1934 recipe is a groundbreaking masterpiece, combining multiple rums and spices with sweet and sour juices and syrups, bitters, and even a touch of anise. Stay tuned for the upcoming book (Searching for Don the Beachcomber) and film (The Donn of Tiki) for the full story of his life and times.

But what inspired the name of the cocktail? We can only assume it was White Zombie, released just a year or two before the drink and considered to be the first zombie film. Starring monster movie legend Béla Lugosi, it’s a far cry from today’s gore fests featuring flesh-eating corpses. The movie is actually fairly faithful to the true folklore, spinning the tale of a Haitian voodoo priest who drugs his victims and turns them into zombie slaves.

Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber) shows off what appears to be a Zombie along with some of his other groundbreaking creations
Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber) shows off what appears to be a Zombie along with some of his other groundbreaking creations. (From TheDonnOfTiki.com)

In the ensuring years, that origin story has been widely ignored by pop culture. The movie genre traces its modern roots to director George Romero and his 1968 cult classic Night of the Living Dead. Nearly every movie or TV series since has loosely followed Romero’s template of reanimated corpses mindlessly running amok for no apparent reason, with political and social statements thrown in for good measure.

Back in the 1930s, Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt (who later legally changed his name to Donn Beach) simply borrowed the name and made no attempt at connecting it to its island of origin. But what if we go back to the roots of the true zombie legend and use it as inspiration for not one, but two new Zombie cocktails?

SEE BELOW: New original cocktails
>>> LE ZOMBI
>>> VODOU ZONBI (Haitian Zombie)

But first, here’s a quick history lesson on the mythology and cultural significance of what has become known as the zombie.

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BACKGROUND: Haitian zombie folklore rooted in slavery, French colonialism

The true story behind zombie folklore is scarier and more tragic than a movie.

"Zombies" by Haitian artist Wilson Bigaud, 1953 (oil on board mounted on wood panel). Part of the Haitian Collection at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.
“Zombies” by Haitian artist Wilson Bigaud, 1953 (oil on board mounted on wood panel). Part of the Haitian Collection at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.

Like its sister islands, what is now Haiti was invaded and colonized by a European power. France established Saint-Domingue in 1664, growing it into the richest sugar colony in the Caribbean on the backs of African slaves.

The brutal practice came to a violent end in 1791, when slaves staged a mass revolt and rose up against their oppressors. By 1794, the French government abolished slavery throughout its empire, more than 70 years before the 13th Amendment ended the practice in the United States.

The revolt sparked the Haitian Revolution, which ended in 1804 with the island’s independence and heroic ex-slave Toussaint Louverture installed as Haiti’s first governor general. It was a defining moment in the history of the Atlantic World, distinctive as the only slave uprising that led to the founding of a state that was both free from slavery and ruled by non-whites and former captives.

The legend of the zombie, or “zonbi” as it was known in Haitian Creole culture, could be considered a metaphor for the horrors of slavery.

A zonbi at twilight in sugar cane field in Haiti. (Wikimedia Commons)
A zonbi at twilight in sugar cane field in Haiti. (Wikimedia Commons)

The word itself and the concept of zombie-like creatures can be traced back to African origins. Some research has also found a connection to the island’s indigenous Taíno people, known for their shamanist practices. The African slaves brought with them traditions and from their homeland, including the “Vodou” religion.

Haitian Vodou developed between the 16th and 19th centuries, merging traditional religions of west and central Africa with Roman Catholicism. In Haitian culture, a zonbi is a dead body brought back to life by a Vodou sorcerer known as a “bokor.” According to legend, the zonbi is under the total control of the bokor as a personal slave and lacks any will of its own. It’s part of a complex, spiritual belief (“soul dualism”) that a person has two or more kinds of souls.

One soul (“body soul”) is associated with body functions while the other (“free soul” or “wandering soul”) can leave the body. In the belief system of the enslaved Africans brought to Haiti, the afterlife included a return to their homeland, where both souls were reunited. However, if they had offended their voodoo deity, they would remain a zonbi and be a slave for eternity.

The Magic Island

The fear of “zombification” was used by slave drivers to discourage slaves from committing suicide. These men who directed the daily work were often slaves themselves and sometimes also practicing voodoo priests, according to scholars. After the revolution, the zonbi became part of Haitian folklore, a stirring reminder of the past in the hope that it never happens again.

The earliest references to zombies in the United States, cited throughout the 1800s, were also closely associated with slavery and connected to African traditions. But the phenomenon went mainstream during the United States’ military occupation of Haiti (1915–1934).

Travel writer William Seabrook’s book, The Magic Island (1929), revealed “voodoo cults” in Haiti and likely inspired the 1932 film White Zombie. Though it takes place in Haiti, the film twists the legend to appeal to its American audience. I Walked With A Zombie, a 1943 horror movie set in a fictional Caribbean island, further strays from the original legend. By 1968 and Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, the horror film was cloaked in social commentary and civil rights, leaving Haiti’s zonbi myth to the history books.

Zombi Child

The Haitian zombie made a brief comeback in 1985, when anthropologist Wade Davis published his controversial findings in the book The Serpent and the Rainbow, which recounted his experiences investigating Vodou cults in Haiti. It was criticized for scientific inaccuracies in regards to its theories about psychoactive drugs, but it was a commercial success and inspired the 1988 horror film of the same name (starring Bill Pullman).

But just when you thought the legend was dead and buried, a more socially aware mindset has sparked new interest.

Continue reading “RECIPES: French, Haitian Zombies reflect true roots of deadly cocktail’s namesake legend”

Hulaween on hiatus: Relive 12 years of madness at The Mai-Kai

Hulaween hiatus: Relive 12 years of madness at The Mai-Kai

The Halloween season is usually a special time at The Mai-Kai. The 62-year-old Polynesian restaurant in Fort Lauderdale has seen its fair share of wild and crazy parties over the years, but not many can come close to the annual Hulaween bash.

Following flooding and roof damage right before Hulaween 2020, last year’s party moved to the parking lot for the first Hulaween Drive-In Movie. The historic Tiki temple remains closed for renovations, and there will sadly be now Hulaween in 2021 after 12 straight years of hijinks.

Despite this apparent doom and gloom, spirits are high among the staff and longtime fans of the family-run operation after last month’s announcement of a new partnership that will not only pave the way for the reopening, but also pump money and energy into making The Mai-Kai better than ever.

Another parking lot party is just not in the cards this year, but we eagerly await the day in 2022 when those doors will swing open and we’ll be back in The Molokai bar for happy hour, followed by dinner and the Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii.

It won’t be long after that before we’re ready for the lucky 13th Hulaween, featuring crazy costumes, live music, and those delicious Mai-Kai cocktails. In the meantime, here’s a look back at the past 12 years of Hulaween madness in The Molokai. Click on the links for full coverage and photos.

2020

Safe and scary fun: Hulaween Drive-In Movie at The Mai-Kai on Oct. 30
The Mai-Kai celebrates Hulaween 2020 with drive-in movie party after closing for renovations

The historic Polynesian restaurant transported revelers to a socially-distanced celebration like no other, including an appearance by Appleton Rum’s Joy Spence.

2019

Hulaween 2019: Luau of the Living Dead
The living dead came to party at The Mai-Kai’s Hulaween 2019 luau

After 10 years, we know what to expect from The Mai-Kai’s infamous Hulaween party: Kooky costumes, rockin’ tunes and many cocktails consumed in The Molokai bar. The 2019 bash lived up to those standards.

2018

Back from the Dead: Hulaween turns 10 with another ghoulish gathering
Back from the Dead: Hulaween turns 10 with another ghoulish gathering

The Molokai bar and The Mai-Kai came alive with the living dead as another full house of more than 100 costume-clad revelers celebrated the 10th annual Hulaween.

2017

Monstrous mayhem at the ninth annual Hulaween party
Monstrous mayhem at the ninth annual Hulaween party

Living up to the theme “Monster Tiki Party,” Slip and the Spinouts rocked The Molokai bar for more than six hours at the ninth annual Hulaween party.

2016

A hauntingly good time at The Mai-Kai’s 8th annual Hulaween party
A hauntingly good time at The Mai-Kai’s 8th annual Hulaween party

More than 100 costumed revelers packed The Molokai lounge for an evening of deadly tropical drinks, live music from Slip and the Spinouts and creative costume contest.

Continue reading “Hulaween on hiatus: Relive 12 years of madness at The Mai-Kai”

The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening

Fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening of The Mai-Kai

After 11 months of uncertainty, loyal patrons of The Mai-Kai finally have a reason to raise a Barrel O’ Rum and celebrate. The founding owners have announced a joint ownership agreement that will not only infuse at least $5 million into the refurbishment of the 64-year-old Fort Lauderdale landmark, but also allow it to reopen in all its historic glory.

The Mai-Kai's official announcement on the sale and new partnership

It’s been a rough year since a vicious October 2020 storm collapsed part of the roof and debilitated the kitchen and back-of-house operations. But the family that has operated the iconic Polynesian restaurant since 1956 has charted a new course with the help of a South Florida real estate investment and development company that specializes in restoring historic properties.

The bombshell was dropped Sept. 28 in an email and social media announcement titled “The Mai-Kai update you have all been waiting for.” The owners made public their joint venture with Miami’s Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality. No strangers to reviving beloved cultural institutions, the companies have been instrumental in revitalizing Ball and Chain and Taquerias El Mexicano in Little Havana’s famed Calle Ocho.

“We really understand what it’s like to be stewards of an older brand, where authenticity and heritage is very, very important,” Bill Fuller, a founder of both companies, told TV news station CBS 4 in Miami. “It’s outstanding to see the outpouring of folks and feedback from all over the world about how meaningful and how important The Mai-Kai has been in their life.”

The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers
EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers

The Mai-Kai began looking for partners in late 2020, when the scope of the damage and extent of the needed repairs became clear. After “considering numerous interested parties,” the announcement said, the search ended with the Miami group “when we met their team and recognized the passion they share for honoring and preserving the legacy of The Mai-Kai.”

That’s sure to please the restaurant’s passionate followers, who continue to show their support by ordering takeout cocktails and attending special outdoor events at 3599 N. Federal Highway in the suburb of Oakland Park. Until Sept. 28, they had been sharing their fears and frustrations online almost daily. A “Save The Mai-Kai” petition has nearly 12,000 signatures.

Past coverage: Thousands of fans unite to show support for The Mai-Kai during closing

Guests of The Hukilau gathered at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18 for the "Save Paradise Party." (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
Guests of The Hukilau gathered at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18 for the “Save Paradise Party.” (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

The Mai-Kai thanks ‘devoted fans and guests,’ promises restoration to ‘former splendor and beyond’

While the news on the ownership change was the top headline, the founding Thornton family made sure to show its appreciation to its customers first and foremost: “Most importantly, we want to thank you, our devoted fans and guests, for your continued support even while our doors have been closed,” the acknowledgement said. “You are a part of The Mai-Kai story, and we’re humbled by the outpouring of love and concern we’ve received. Rest assured, we are doing all we can to restore this beloved local institution — our family’s three-generation legacy — to its former splendor and beyond.”

The news resoundingly dashed all fears of a corporate takeover – or worse, the fate of a bulldozer. To the contrary, it appears that The Mai-Kai will return fully intact. “We’re looking forward to working closely with the Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality to sustain The Mai-Kai the world has come to know and love,” the announcement said. “We’re excited to bring back The Mai-Kai better than ever before — and for you to be a special part of it!”

We won’t receive a reopening date until the restoration and repairs are nearing completion, but a member of the Thornton ownership team said during The Hukilau a week before the announcement that we could be back inside the historic doors in eight to 12 months. Kulani Thornton Gelardi also foreshadowed the big news by saying that the guest areas of the restaurant will remain “85 to 90 percent the way it is now.” Gelardi, daughter of family matriarch Mireille Thornton, said they “want to make sure the building can exist for another 64 years.”

Kulani Thornton Gelardi serves appreciative guests at a special event at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18 during The Hukilau. She later assured the crowd that the restaurant will reopen soon. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Kulani Thornton Gelardi serves appreciative guests at a special event at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18 during The Hukilau. She later assured the crowd that the restaurant will reopen soon. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Speaking to the crowd at the “Save Paradise Party” outside the entrance to The Mai-Kai on Sept. 18, Gelardi promised that “we will reopen,” adding that guests won’t notice much changed “when you walk in that door.” She also spoke of her family, and how much it means to pass along the business to her children and grandchildren.

The news on the ownership change was supposed to take place during the annual Tiki weekender that draws devotees to Fort Lauderdale and The Mai-Kai from around the world. But the ink wasn’t dry on the million-dollar deal until the following week, so the official announcement was delayed.

More details were unveiled Sept. 29 in an official announcement on The Mai-Kai’s official website: “This strategic joint venture will resurrect the renowned Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show, the most unique dining and entertainment experience in South Florida since opening its doors over 6 decades ago.”

>>> The official press release on MaiKai.com

New owners ‘humbled’ and ‘honored’ to be able ‘preserve the legacy” of The Mai-Kai

Mai-Kai musicians perform for guests of The Hukilau on Sept. 18. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Mai-Kai musicians perform for guests of The Hukilau on Sept. 18. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The announcement introduces the new owners, led by Fuller – a Miami real estate and hospitality executive. “We are humbled to have been selected and honored to have the opportunity to restore this iconic landmark,” Fuller is quoted as saying. “We are committed to working with the family to preserve the legacy and expand upon its rich history for generations to come.”

Fuller co-founded Barlington Group in 2004 and Mad Room Hospitality in 2014. “We look forward to working with the Thornton family and Mad Room Hospitality, in doing the same with The Mai-Kai so that many more generations can enjoy this one-of-a-kind, beloved South Florida institution,” he said.

Similar to Ball and Chain, The Mai-kai is “truly is an iconic venue, not just for South Florida but for the United States and the world,” Fuller told Miami TV news outlet NBC 6. “It’s an opportunity to really preserve that legacy and that heritage.”

The Barlington and Mad Room Hospitality team, backed by investors, will assume majority ownership and management responsibilities. Their main focus will be on modernizing and streamlining the kitchen and back-of-house operations, not changing the style or look of the restaurant that remains chock full of vintage art and design flourishes, along with many South Seas artifacts collected by original owner Bob Thornton.

The Mai-Kai in 1956 and today
The Mai-Kai in 1956 and today.

The decision to sell a controlling interest in The Mai-Kai to the Miami group did not come lightly. “We received interest from several investors wanting to partner with us in reopening The Mai-Kai,” Gelardi said in the website announcement. “We ultimately decided to select Bill Fuller and his companies because of their passion and commitment to maintain the authenticity and legacy of The Mai-Kai.”

Gelardi added: “We are very excited for this partnership and eagerly anticipate reopening our doors and welcoming back our loyal fan base to enjoy our delicious food, tropical drinks, thrilling entertainment, and unique ambiance that transports visitors to the South Seas.”

The website does not offer a firm timetable, however, stating that the “pending reopening date is scheduled to be announced after the restoration and repairs are complete.” One look at the state of the world today gives us a clue as to why the timeline will likely remain fluid. News reports are filled with stories documenting supply-chain disruptions, labor shortages, inflated costs and various other woes.

The repairs and renovations are challenging, but they should be manageable considering the team that has been assembled. The new joint venture gives The Mai-Kai a solid foundation and very capable partners with which to build a new future.

Mai-Kai cocktails: Authentic and tribute recipes, news on quarts and gallons to go

The Mai-Kai cost new partners $7.5M with renovations expected to boost value to $16M

A 1979 photo of original Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine in The Molokai bar with his signature tropical drinks
A 1979 photo of original Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine in The Molokai bar with his signature tropical drinks.

The deal was backed by American National Bank, a Broward County community bank that provided debt financing. It includes a complete real estate transfer to the new ownership group, a transaction “in excess of $16 million, including artwork, intellectual property and future improvements to the business,” the website announcement says.

This is far more than public records indicated The Mai-Kai was valued at, which speaks volumes for the historical significance that isn’t always reflected in simplistic property appraisals. Property records show the building valued at a minimum of $3.97 million and the property valued at $570,000. The 2.69 acres fronting Federal Highway, north of Oakland Park Boulevard and south of Commercial Boulevard, includes a 150-space parking lot abutted by a bank and several furniture showrooms.

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening”

Exclusive photos: The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers

Exclusive photos: The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers

Among the most loyal followers of The Mai-Kai are the thousands of guests who flock to Fort Lauderdale for The Hukilau, an annual celebration of Polynesian Pop culture that established a foothold in the historic restaurant in 2003 and remains inextricably linked.

During it's closure, The Mai-Kai has been hosting guests for cocktails and activities in the porte-cochère, under the thatched entrance area. (Mai-Kai photo)
During it’s closure, The Mai-Kai has been hosting guests for cocktails and activities in the porte-cochère, under the thatched entrance area. (Mai-Kai photo)

The recent announcement of The Mai-Kai’s planned refurbishment and reopening sent joyous shockwaves throughout the Tiki community, but especially among The Hukilau’s longtime “villagers,” as they’re known. The 2020 event was canceled due to the pandemic, but we were able to get a taste of The Mai-Kai at The Hukilau in September 2021 during a special event in the porte-cochère. It was comforting to sip authentic cocktails and enjoy the musicians performing outside the front entrance, but many still longed to be inside.

When it was announced during the event that a deal had been struck and The Mai-Kai would be reopening, it made the experience even sweeter. Full details were released the following week (see story below), and the rest is history.

The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening
RELATED COVERAGE: The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening

While the timeline is not clear on a reopening date, hopes are running high that the 20th anniversary of The Hukilau in 2022 will indeed include at least a partial return to indoor activities. The synergy is guaranteed to continue with the news that one of the investors in the new ownership team is The Hukilau’s head honcho, Richard Oneslager.

Beyond taking in all the activities – from the dinner show featuring the Polynesian Islander Revue to live bands in The Molokai bar – a ritual for many villagers during The Hukilau includes walking the sacred grounds and taking photos of their beloved Mai-Kai.

Below you’ll find a collection of those photos, shared with The Atomic Grog over the years. Many are appearing on the blog for the first time. Let’s enjoy the eye candy and look forward to once again returning in person for the grand reopening.

Continue reading “Exclusive photos: The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers”

Recipe: A new Zombie becomes final challenge for The Hukilau villagers

Recipe: A new Zombie is final challenge for The Hukilau villagers

Updated Sept. 22

Upon completion of The Hukilau this weekend at the Beachcomber Resort and The Mai-Kai, event attendees had one additional challenge: Sunday’s “Hereafter Party” dubbed The Final Destination at Death or Glory in Delray Beach. To bring the theme full circle, The Atomic Grog presented a Zombie to end all Zombies.

See recipe below: The Final (Destination) Zombie
RECAP: See photos from the event NEW
Previous coverage: Death or Glory scares up spooktacular Sunday after-party

The Hukilau: Final Destination at Death or Gory

This was not your typical Tiki party. Death or Glory was transformed into “Death or Gory” for the Halloween season, complete with full-on decor and a themed food and cocktail menu. Sunday’s festivities took place in the graveyard (the outdoor Tiki bar and patio) and feature the instrumental stylings of Skinny Jimmy Stingray, himself no stranger to sinister surf songs.
The Hukilau 2021 recap: Daily social media photos

Similarly, the cocktail below is not your typical Zombie. Sure, The Final (Destination) Zombie may look like a Zombie and act like a Zombie, but I don’t recall ever seeing a version of this deadly classic featuring mezcal. The pungent agave spirit is right at home in this new concoction, and Mexico’s Day of the Dead tradition makes it a natural fit.

Some of the many spirits conjured up by Death or Glory in Delray Beach. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Some of the many spirits conjured up by Death or Glory in Delray Beach. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

This hybrid Zombie was crafted with the help of the Luau Lads from Jacksonville. This bartending duo made some of the best cocktails at The Hukilau in addition to presenting a fascinating symposium on the history of Tiki in the Sunshine State.

Continue reading “Recipe: A new Zombie becomes final challenge for The Hukilau villagers”

The Hukilau 2021: Daily recap, photos and video

The Hukilau 2021 updates: Daily schedule and photos

Updated Sept. 30

The Hukilau returned to the picturesque Fort Lauderdale area oceanfront for an 18th time for four days of Polynesian Pop paradise in America’s vacationland. After missing in-person festivities in 2020 due to the pandemic, many of the event’s loyal “villagers” looked forward to getting back to The Mai-Kai and checking out the new host hotel.
UPDATED: See daily social media photos below:
Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday

The Hukilau 2021

The Beachcomber on Pompano Beach is a throwback to earlier years, a smaller venue with lots of outdoor space that works perfectly in the current environment. And while The Mai-Kai has remained closed for extensive refurbishment and repairs since last October, the historic Polynesian restaurant once again hosted a Saturday evening gathering as it has since 2003, a year after The Hukilau made its debut in Atlanta.

The Hukilau 2021Sept. 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.
Social media: Facebook page and group | Instagram
More on The Atomic Grog
* Death or Glory scares up spooktacular Sunday after-party
* Tickets still available, symposiums and schedule announced
* The Hukilau returns with new oceanfront hotel, event at The Mai-Kai

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The Intoxicators, seen performing at The Hukilau 2013, made their 15th appearance at the event. (Atomic Grog photo)
The Intoxicators, seen performing at The Hukilau 2013, made their 15th appearance at the event. (Atomic Grog photo)

ENTERTAINMENT: Musical performances at various stages throughout the Beachcomber included:

The Intoxicators – Bombastic surf and instrumental rock from Tallahassee. Also appearing: the band’s alter ego, simian surf band The Disasternauts.
Aqualads – Reverential traditional instro surf from Charlotte, N.C.
The Hilo Hi-Flyers – Retro exotica-swing-jazz from Southern California.
* Past coverage: More info on the bands
* TheHukilau.com: Playlists from all the bands

GUEST BARS & BARTENDERS: Among the cocktail offerings were drinks from Ayme Harrison (Death or Glory, Delray Beach, Fla.), Luau Lads (Jacksonville, Fla.), Marie King and Ian Yarborough (Tonga Hut, Los Angeles and Palm Springs, Calif.), Scotty Schuder (Dirty Dick, Paris), Greg Schutt (Tropics, Cocoa Beach), and Kimberly Platt (Honu, Dunedin, Fla.).

THURSDAY, Sept. 16

3-9 p.m. – Registration (Beachcomber lobby)

5 p.m. – First Timer’s Reception (Bungalow Row)

6-7 p.m. – Welcome Reception (Pearl Diver Pool)

7-9 p.m. – Blue Hawaii Show with Dan Cunningham

9-11 p.m. – Bungalow Row Parties

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FRIDAY, Sept. 17

11 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. – Symposiums

Michael Bloom and Kurt Rogers are Jacksonville-based bartenders and consultants known as the Luau Lads
Michael Bloom and Kurt Rogers are Jacksonville-based bartenders and consultants known as the Luau Lads.

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. – Florida/East Coast Tiki vs Tropical hosted by Luau Lads.

2:30-3:30 p.m. – Typhoon Tommy’s Guide to Tiki and Oceanic Themeing hosted by Tom Allsmiller.

4-5 p.m. – There’s No Rum in it?: A Primer on the Unsung Spirits of Tiki hosted by Tiki Lindy.

5:30-6:30 p.m. – Tiki & Tattoo hosted by Jeff Kozan.

Continue reading “The Hukilau 2021: Daily recap, photos and video”

The Hukilau update: Death or Glory scares up spooktacular Sunday after-party

The Hukilau update: Death or Glory scares up spooktacular Sunday after-party

Updated Sept. 21

Since 2013, the traditional way to wrap up The Hukilau has been a Sunday afternoon party at The Mai-Kai featuring surf guitarist Skinny Jimmy Stingray, the perfect way to bring the Tiki weekender to a close with a bang. And while The Molokai bar is sadly unavailable this year, the finale has been resurrected with a ghoulish twist by one of the event’s longtime bar partners.

A new Zombie becomes final challenge for The Hukilau villagers
UPDATED: A new Zombie becomes final challenge for The Hukilau villagers
Upon completion of The Hukilau, villagers had one Final Destination: the “Hereafter Party at Death or Gory in Hellray Beach.” To bring the theme full circle, The Atomic Grog presents a Zombie to end all Zombies.
>>> Event overview, photos, more
NEW RECIPE: The Final (Destination) Zombie

Get ready for The Hukilau: Final Destination, the 2021 event’s “Hereafter Party at Death or Gory in Hellray Beach” on Sunday, Sept. 19, from 3 p.m. until whenever the spirits decide it’s time to leave. Yes, this year’s finale will take a demonic twist thanks to the creative folks at Death or Glory, the acclaimed craft cocktail bar and restaurant in Delray Beach.
UPDATED: The Hukilau 2021: Social media photos

The Hukilau: Final Destination at Death or Gory

Skinny Jimmy and his three-piece band will rock the outdoor Tiki bar and patio (aka graveyard), which has been decorated spooktacularly for the Halloween season. There’s plenty of space outside for both Hukilau guests and the general public, who are also invited to this free event. The band starts around 4 p.m., so don’t be late.

The Death or Gory theme extends to the food and cocktails, which include deadly libations such as The Buddy of Christ Zombie and Dead on Arrival. Sponsors Don Q and Plantation will also bring plenty of rum to the party, and you might even be able to taste an Atomic Grog cocktail as we return to host and promote the after-party for the eighth time and celebrate our 10th anniversary at The Hukilau.

Death or Gory, aka Death or Glory, in Delray Beach. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, September 2021)
Death or Gory, aka Death or Glory, in Delray Beach. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, September 2021)

The Final Destination is about 20 miles due north of the Beachcomber Resort & Club, The Hukilau’s headquarters in Pompano Beach. But thanks to the generosity of Plantation Rum, a code will be available for villagers to get free round-trip rides via Uber. Death or Glory is at 116 N.E. Sixth Ave. in the northeast corner of Delray Beach’s Atlantic Avenue dining and bar district.

A full menu will also be available for lunch and dinner. Indoor dining and bar seating is available for small parties. Visit DeathorGloryBar.com or call (561) 808-8814.

Death or Glory will also be participating as a pop-up bar during The Hukilau events at the Beachcomber, so be sure to sample their drinks and meet the bartenders. Over the past several years, guest bartenders from visiting Tiki establishments across the country have made Death or Glory their own final destination on Sundays. They often jumped behind the bar for special guest shifts, a tradition we expect to see continue this year.

Skinny Jimmy Stingray and his band perform in The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau in June 2108. (Photo by Heather McKean)
Skinny Jimmy Stingray and his band perform in The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau in June 2108. (Photo by Heather McKean)

Skinny Jimmy Stingray has been a fixture at The Hukilau, rocking The Molokai during the weekend with his reverential classic surf tunes and select covers. With longtime cohorts Frenchy on stand-up bass and Kevin on drums, the trio has also performed at bars and clubs around the region. Jimmy has also opened for legends such as Dick Dale, the Surfaris, and Los Straitjackets. Check out the music on Bandcamp and YouTube.

Halloween started early in “Hellray Beach” with Death or Gory kicking off on Sept. 6 this year. It’s the fourth year of the spirited seasonal pop-up, inspired by the bar’s success with the Miracle concept during the winter season. Death or Glory has transformed into the kitschy Christmas bar every year since 2017, with 2021 in the works.
* Past Atomic Grog coverage: Miracle expands in South Florida
Miracle cocktails reviewed and ranked

The Buddy of Christ Zombie and the Death or Gory cocktail menu. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Buddy of Christ Zombie and the Death or Gory cocktail menu. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Open since April 2017, Death or Glory was nominated for Best New American Cocktail Bar at the Spirited Awards at Tales of the Cocktail in 2018. It’s known for its inventive cocktails and food, including many vegetarian and vegan options. It has an extensive spirits menu, including dozens of gins, mezcals, tequilas, and whiskeys. The rum collection tops 100 and is the largest in Palm Beach County, including many rare and premium options.

Continue reading “The Hukilau update: Death or Glory scares up spooktacular Sunday after-party”

The Hukilau countdown: Tickets still available for 19th Tiki weekender in South Florida

The Hukilau countdown: Tickets still available for 19th Tiki weekender in South Florida

Updated Sept. 18

A limited number of tickets are still available for The Hukilau 2021, scheduled for Sept. 16-19 at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach, according to an email announcement. The 19th Tiki weekender will also include a special event at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale.

The Hukilau countdown: Tickets still available for 19th Tiki weekender in South Florida

The longest-running Polynesian Pop celebration on the East Coast will feature 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.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: BUY PASSES NOW | CHECK THE SCHEDULE
See below: News on symposiums, Marina the Mermaid, more
NEW: The Hukilau 2021 updates: Daily schedule and photos
NEW: Death or Glory scares up spooktacular Sunday after-party
Previous: The Hukilau announces return in 2021 with new oceanfront hotel, event at The Mai-Kai

Regarding concerns over safety and COVID, the email announcement noted that “all signs still point to a fun, safe, outdoor event.” It added: “In the event that The Hukilau 2021 must be cancelled, or at any point you would prefer to hang back, we are offering full refunds for all passes and tickets, including service fees.” Have questions? Check out the online FAQ at TheHukilau.com or email organizer Richard Oneslager.

Ticket options range from all-inclusive passes to à la carte events. Here are the highlights:

Villagers enjoy The Hukilau's Rum Island Pool Party in June 2019 at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina in Fort Lauderdale. (Photo by Heather McKean)
Villagers enjoy The Hukilau’s Rum Island Pool Party in June 2019 at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina in Fort Lauderdale. (Photo by Heather McKean)

Beachcomber Pass ($269): Villagers buying the entry-level pass receive admission to Friday and Saturday’s Rum Island Pool Parties, Saturday’s Tiki Treasures Bazaar, plus a “Bungalow Party Pass” at the Beachcomber. The pool parties and bungalows will feature complimentary drinks from top Tiki bars and bartenders from around the country, plus live entertainment and sponsor booths. Also included is Saturday’s Save Paradise Party at The Mai-Kai, which will feature a private seating in the outdoor porte-cochère and access to buy authentic Mai-Kai cocktails along with a special announcement on the future of the historic restaurant. Entertainment will be provided by Polynesian Islander Revue performers. Passholders can also add a rum tasting pass ($25) and symposiums ($10 each) à la carte. (Symposium tickets sold on a space-available basis.)

Aloha Pass ($299): This mid-level pass includes all of the Beachcomber perks, plus admission to Thursday’s kickoff party featuring live music and cocktails. Beachcomber passholders also receive a complimentary rum tasting pass and access to all symposiums, plus free transportation to The Mai-Kai. Both Beachcomber and Aloha passholders can also buy à la carte tickets to Friday’s luau on the beach ($49 cocktails only, $129 food and drinks) and Sunday’s Tiki brunch ($49).

The Beachcomber Resort & Club has a secluded oceanfront space on Pompano Beach.
The Beachcomber Resort & Club has a secluded oceanfront space on Pompano Beach.

South Seas Pass ($599): Villagers at the top tier receive all of the same benefits that the other passholders receive, with the cost of the Friday luau (cocktails and dinner) and Sunday brunch included in the pass. They will also get early admission to the luau and bazaar, plus priority seating at symposiums. South Seas villagers will also be treated to a small custom Tiki created by Tiki Tony, plus a special reception at Saturday’s Mai-Kai party.

Continue reading “The Hukilau countdown: Tickets still available for 19th Tiki weekender in South Florida”

Photos: The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021

As The Mai-Kai works behind the scenes on a potential reopening, locals continue to enjoy a taste of the historic Polynesian restaurant with regular to-go cocktail offerings as well as occasional Tiki marketplaces in the parking lot.

An announcement on the future of the 64-year-old Tiki temple in Fort Lauderdale is expected to come during The Hukilau weekend in September, if not sooner. In social media posts, The Mai-Kai makes it clear that they do not currently have a reopening date, but “hope to announce one soon.” The owners urge fans to sign up for the newsletter at MaiKai.com to receive official word on future plans.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
Guests arrive at The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace on July 18, 2021.

In the meantime, here’s a look back at the most recent Tiki Marketplace in July, which proved to be just as successful as the first one in May. All photos are from The Mai-Kai and The Atomic Grog.

Preview story: The Mai-Kai hosts 20 vendors, serves up tasty food and drinks at second Tiki Marketplace

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
Vendors fill the parking lot at The Mai-Kai at the second Tiki Marketplace.

More than 20 booths offered an array of goods and services, from the original art of Robert Jimenez (aka Tiki Tower) to the cold-pressed coffee and juices of the Impressed Juice Co.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
At The Mai-Kai’s booth, manager Kern Mattei shows off some of the restaurant’s many items available for sale while guests enjoy the restaurant’s authentic cocktails.

Many were just happy to be on the grounds of The Mai-Kai with like-minded fans. Tropical drinks were available to take home or imbibe under the shade of the porte-cochère. The Mai-Kai Trading Post booth was a highlight, offering new glassware and apparel along with a vast collection of collectibles and branded merchandise.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
The Mai-Kai’s entrance-exit area was turned into an oasis for tropical treats. Or just a cool place to relax.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
Performers and musicians from The Mai-Kai’s long-running dinner show were part of the festivities.

Members of The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue were on hand to entertain attendees, providing a much-needed taste of what makes the restaurant distinctive and historic. Until closing in October after flooding and kitchen damage caused by a vicious storm, it was considered to be the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
Robert Korhonen shows off original artwork he created in tribute to the July 18 marketplace host.

Once again, the event was expertly organized by Pia Dahlquist, The Mai-Kai’s director of public relations, who flawlessly took care of all the logistics so everything went off without a hitch. And although the usual South Florida summer heat made itself known, skies were clear and there was a constant flow of guests all day.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
Quarts of The Mai-Kai’s most popular cocktails were available at the July 18 marketplace.

It was great to see members of the Thornton family and their small staff working behind the scenes and taking care of guests at the front entrance, where an array of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks were available. The restaurant was founded in 1956 by brothers Robert and Jack Thornton, two young transplants from Chicago. Bob Thornton’s widow, Mireille Thornton, still serves as owner and choreographer of the Polynesian show while her children and other family fill other roles in the operation.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
Hurricane Hayward picked up a Tiki mask from Tom Fowner (left) along with some cool artwork from the N! Satterfield booth.

The vendor marketplace opened at 11 a.m. (running until 4 p.m.), and we arrived early to get our first pick from the art booths. I was happy to snag a mask carved from palm wood by local artist Tom Fowner, a longtime contributor to The Mai-Kai perhaps best known for creating one of the three carvings in the porte-cochère that guests see when they arrive.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
The Luau Lads (left) and Sandbar Sauce booths featured a tasty collection of cocktail mixers and accessories. The Atomic Grog’s booty included a selection of these goods along with Mai-Kai glassware and art by South Florida’s Nik Satterfield and Tom Fowner.

It was also a priority to pick up some craft cocktail syrups from two highly recommended purveyors: Jacksonville’s Luau Lads and Miami’s Sandbar Sauce. It was nice to finally meet Jose Salcido and taste his fresh syrups. We hope to see Michael Bloom back in Fort Lauderdale for The Hukilau in September along with his fellow Lad, Kurt Rogers.

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021
Hurricane Hayward and Skinny Jimmy Stingray hoist a few quarts of Mai-Kai cocktails.

Many old friends were spotted in the crowd. We met up with another old favorite from The Hukilau and The Mai-Kai, surf guitarist Skinny Jimmy Stingray. We look forward to the day when his band can again perform in The Molokai bar.

Continue reading “Photos: The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale, July 2021”