A journalist and Florida resident for more than 40 years, Jim "Hurricane" Hayward shares his obsession with Polynesian Pop and other retro styles on his blog, The Atomic Grog. Jim's roots in mid-century and retro culture go back to his childhood in the 1960s, when he tagged along with his parents to Tiki restaurants and his father's custom car shows. His experience in newspaper journalism and more than 20 years as an independent concert promoter have given him a front-row seat in the South Florida scene since the 1970s. He promoted hundreds of rock, punk, and indie concerts under the Slammie Productions banner since the early 1990s. A graduate of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications in 1983, Jim was a longtime editor and web producer for The Palm Beach Post before his retirement in 2022. He earned his nickname by virtue of both his dangerous exotic drinks and his longtime position overseeing tropical weather coverage in his stormy home state. Jim now spends his time mixing cocktails, attending events and writing stories for this blog, which launched in 2011. The Atomic Grog extensively covers events, music, art, cocktails, and culture with a retro slant.
If you missed the Tiki fine art show at The Hukilau last month, you have another chance to check out some great work by artists such as Kevin Kidney, Jody Daily, Shag, Skot Olsen and many more at the Harold Golen Gallery, Miami’s premiere pop surrealist art gallery.
The gallery’s annual Fine Art Tiki show has its grand opening this Saturday as part of the monthly Second Saturday Art Walk in the Wynwood Art District of Miami. The area features more than 70 galleries, museums and collections. Many of them host parties and special events during the monthly art walk.
In cocktail bars these days, every effort is made to let the customer know what their drink contains. And this is a good thing. Especially when we’re guaranteed “hand-crafted cocktails made with fresh squeezed fruit,” as we just discovered on the menu for the new Longboards restaurant in downtown West Palm Beach. Longboards goes even further, spelling out every ingredient (and their exact measurements). See the menu here. Now, we suspect that part of the reason for this is to give the inexperienced bartenders easy-to-find directions on how to make the cocktails. But no matter. As long as it raises the bar for quality tropical drinks, we’re all for it.
The Mai-Kai, on the other hand, is a throwback. Not a throwback to the dark days of cocktails when ham-fisted bartenders used artificial ingredients to create abominations that gave tropical drinks a black eye. But a throwback to the golden age of Tiki, when cocktail pioneers such as Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic created complex, iconic drinks that were so over-the-top delicious that the recipes became closely guarded secrets. They’re made behind closed doors, in back bars away from public view. And even the bartenders preparing the drinks aren’t completely aware of every ingredient. Proprietary mixes and syrups with cryptic names and numbers are common.
Even on-and-off rains throughout the night couldn’t douse the good vibrations permeating the 500 block of Clematis Street on Saturday night during the grand opening party for the surf-themed Longboards restaurant and raw bar.
Longboards was packed to the gills all night as the free food and drinks flowed from this cool raw bar and restaurant that took over the dormant space formerly occupied by Ray’s Downtown. The surf theme was carried through with great effect, from the dozens of surfboards gracing the walls and ceilings, to the surf videos on TVs and a big screen, to the “beach” area on the back patio shared with the neighboring Lounge (we can’t wait to see what’s to become of the “VIP” trailer).
The Mara-Amu is one of the most popular of the 47 tropical drinks on The Mai-Kai’s vast menu, due in part to the fact that it’s the only one that comes in a Tiki mug you can take home after quaffing your cocktail (others require a special trip to the gift shop). The mugs have remained generally the same over the decades, but occasionally you’ll discover a different glaze or an entirely different design (see bottom photo).
Since they’re given away with the drink, Mara-Amu mugs aren’t especially rare or hard to find. Check the Ooga-Mooga mug collectors site for recent prices and lots of photos. The mug is iconic, however, and inspired a Tiki that now stands in a prominent spot in The Mai-Kai’s famous outdoor gardens.
The Mara-Amu Tiki is unique, created by South Florida artist Will Anders when he was toying with the idea of making Tikis from foam. The idea was they could withstand the elements better than wood, and be easy for people to install in their outdoor pools and Tiki bars. They ended up being more difficult and costly to carve (and also susceptible to lots of superficial damage inflicted by unrespectful guests), so the idea never took off.
One of Anders’ claims to fame is his role in restoring the smaller Tikis in The Mai-Kai’s gardens. He was given access to molds created by late owner Bob Thornton from the original wooden Tikis, and over the years has re-created many of them in concrete. As you meander through the lush tropical paths in the gardens, much of what you see are re-creations by Anders. He also carved a giant new wooden Tiki, dubbed King Kai, that stands near the Mara-Amu in the gardens. See the full story and photos of the creation and installation of this 10-foot icon in May 2016.
The 500 block of Clematis Street gets a long-awaited injection of that good old Rodney Mayo magic this weekend with the grand opening of the South Florida nightlife mogul’s newest venture, the surf-themed restaurant and bar Longboards.
As owner or part owner of 13 other establishments from West Palm Beach to South Beach, he knows a thing or two about the hospitality industry. But rather than open cookie-cutter, tourist-friendly nightspots, Mayo has a creative flair for the funky and offbeat. And a clever eye for retro cool.
Perhaps we’re just getting tired of smoky bars and dance clubs, but we find his restaurant ventures (Dada and Tryst in Delray Beach, Howley’s in West Palm Beach) the coolest in his portfolio.
It looks like we may want to add Longboards to the list. We stopped by for a sneak peak last night and were blown away by the transformation that has taken place in the space formerly occupied by Ray’s Downtown at 519 Clematis St. Next door to The Lounge and across the street from Respectable Street (two other Mayo properties), Longboards is poised to become a welcome addition to the western reaches of the downtown strip. It’s a full-blown restaurant and bar with great theming, modern yet retro at the same time.
When you think of the Mint Julep, you immediately think of the Kentucky Derby. In 1959, when the organizers of the $100,000 Florida Derby sought a similar drink to promote their race, they turned to The Mai-Kai.
The Derby Daiquiri, created by legendary mixologist Mariano Licudine, became the race’s official drink. The Florida Derby, which began in 1952, is still run today every spring at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale with a purse now set at $1 million. Winners usually go on to compete in the Kentucky Derby.
The Derby Daiquiri immediately gave the race and The Mai-Kai a huge publicity boost. It was championed by Rums of Puerto Rico in countless national ad campaigns and was featured as Esquire magazine’s drink of the month.
When New York’s Cue magazine printed the recipe, restaurants all over Manhattan started serving the “$100,000 drink,” Jeff “Beachbum” Berry wrote in the chapter on Licudine and The Mai-Kai in his 2007 book, Sippin’ Safari. The lounge at the Newark, N.J., airport served the drink to vacationers departing for Fort Lauderdale.
Not to be outdone, Berry wrote, Mai-Kai owners Jack and Bob Thornton sent a portable Tiki bar to the Fort Lauderdale airport, where Licudine himself served his creation to arriving passengers. In his thatch-roofed “goodwill wagon,” Licudine also met VIP arrivals at train stations and cruise ship docks, in the process becoming something of a local hero, Berry wrote.
The drink’s first menu sightings were on the 1959 Molokai bar menu and main drink menu. A certificate issued by Rums of Puerto Rico (see below) officially registered the drink on Aug. 1, 1958.
The 1957 menu does not include the Derby. Instead, you’ll find the Cuban Daiquiri, The Mai-Kai’s take on the classic that dates back to the town of the same name in the late 1800s. But with that island’s political troubles, it made sense to remove it. The timing of the Derby Daiquiri was perfect as a replacement.
Curiously, the only other menu changes around this time involved Daiquiris: the Special Daiquiri was renamed the Special Reserve Daiquiri and the Floridita Daiquiri was introduced. But the Derby was the clear favorite out of the gate.
There’s a lot to like about the The Hukilau, the gathering of the worldwide Tiki community that takes place every June in Fort Lauderdale: The cool art and collectibles, the cocktails and camaraderie, the history and majesty of The Mai-Kai restaurant.
One overlooked and under-appreciated aspect of the four-day event, however, is the live music provided by bands who travel from around the country to perform for the brightly-attired masses at a variety of venues. This year’s event was no exception. The Intoxicators from Tallahassee, Tikiyaki Orchestra from Southern California, The Exotics from Milwaukee, Grinder Nova from Atlanta, The Fisherman from New York City and The Disasternauts from Cocoa Beach all brought their own distinctive retro sound and style to the event.
Following are some video highlights and our recollections of the potent musical Mai Tai that we call The Hukilau …
JUNE 2023: Updated tribute recipe for The Hukilau 2023
There is no doubt that the Barrel O’ Rum (aka Rum Barrel) is the signature cocktail at The Mai-Kai in South Florida. From the iconic mug to the big, boozy yet accessible flavor profile, it epitomizes the over-the-top experience you’ll find at the 66-year-old Tiki temple.
After the Polynesian Islander Revue and the historic property itself, one of the first images that jumps to mind is delighted guests holding “Barrels,” as they’re affectionately known, soaking up the vintage atmosphere. And while we’ve been able to enjoy take-home quarts and gallons of the “spirituous libation” since early in the pandemic in April 2020, we sadly have not been inside the hallowed halls for an evening of regular service since a catastrophic roof collapse in October 2020.
We made just one small addition to the earlier version posted in April 2020. The timing is perfect to share the update and more detailed mixing notes during The Hukilau, the annual Tiki weekender that invades South Florida every summer and has been the occasion for many Barrels to be consumed over the past 20 years.
During Sunday’s closing Tiki Brunch, The Atomic Grog joined Matt “Spike” Marble for a live recording of his popular YouTube show, Spike’s Breezeway Cocktail Hour, to mix a few Rum Barrels. Guests in attendance were treated to a large batch of Barrels, thanks to The Hukilau’s bar team.
It was the culmination of a weekend featuring multiple ways to enjoy The Mai-Kai as we await the grand reopening. Next year, undoubtedly, we’ll be toasting The Mai-Kai’s return with a Barrel O’ Rum.
Dick Dale and Laramie Dean: Sunday, June 12, at The Vagabond in Miami
Monday, June 13, at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach. See below:Photos from both shows
Concert reviews by Jim Hayward
The much-anticipated return to South Florida by surf guitar god Dick Dale was fraught with question marks.
Could guitarist Laramie Dean, a 30-something-year-old Dale disciple with big dreams but not a lot of experience on a national level, pull off a three-week coast-to-coast tour with no booking agent or tour manager?
Would all the young musicians joining forces for the tour – most notably Dale’s 19-year-old son Jimmy, drumming for both his dad and Laramie – be able to quickly come together as a unit and rise to the standards expected of them?
And, most critically, would the 74-year-old Dale be able to withstand the rigors of the road after years of health issues (he’s battling both diabetes and cancer)?
All of these concerns proved to be unfounded in the wake of the recent tour that sold out clubs across the country and undoubtedly left many eardrums still ringing. If the two South Florida dates are any indication, touring is the best medicine for the ailing guitar legend. Dale’s performances left no doubt about his abilities. He appeared spry and gregarious on stage and off, signing autographs and meeting fans late into the night.
As for Laramie and his surrounding cast, these guys performed like a well-oiled machine. And Jimmy Dale? The sky’s the limit for this kid. On the road for just a week, the bands blew into South Florida for a two night stand:
Tropical drink revivalist Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and his “Rum Rat Pack” – four of the world’s most noted authorities on the cane spirit – banded together on stage at the legendary Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale during the afternoon of Saturday, June 12, to celebrate Tiki’s favorite elixir.
More than two hours and a thousand or so cocktails later, the 200 Tikiphiles attending this 10th anniversary Hukilau exclusive event were swept up in a movement not seen in these parts of the tropics since Fidel’s rise to power in another rum-soaked nation just to the south. But in the friendly environs of The Mai-Kai, which actually pre-dates Castro’s revolt by several years, the revolutionaries were armed only with good spirits. Lots of good spirits.
Before the symposium even started, several samples of high-end rums awaited us as we were seated in the Polynesian palace’s main dining room. Beachbum Berry wasted no time in introducing us to some of the fine rums on display this afternoon: Chairman’s Reserve from St. Lucia; Rhum Clement VSOP and La Favorite Rhum Agricole, both from Martinique; Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum from Guyana; and Dos Maderas (a blend of aged rums from Barbados and Guyana).
Of course, more than 50 cocktails from The Mai-Kai’s legendary tropical drink menu were also available, and many in the audience wasted no time in beginning the evening’s imbibing early (The Atomic Grog included). I opted for one of the restaurant’s signature drinks, the Derby Daiquiri, a refreshing frozen lime-orange concoction created by the late, great master mixologist Mariano Licudine. Mariano’s son, Ron, was in attendance for the festivities and was happy to entertain us cocktail geeks with stories from his youth when his dad ruled the tropical drink world.