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.
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.
By all accounts, surf guitar legend Dick Dale is just now hitting his stride at age 74. A reviewer of his Houston show last week was simply awestruck:
“He prowled the stage like a man possessed as he worked his way through an impromptu sampling of his massive catalog … that seared the heavens.”
“Dale is far more than a living history lesson of where our favorite music comes from. He is the ultimate showman. His first trick was beginning the show from offstage, as he stood at the bottom of the stage stairs wailing on his Strat to announce his presence. And his singalong of House of the Rising Sun was the loudest crowd singing we’ve ever heard at a Houston gig.”
Bartending contest highlight of Tiki event’s kickoff party
On Thursday night, June 9, The Hukilau kicked off with a bang as five tropical drink mixologists created their own take on the classic Rum Barrel, squaring off live on stage at the Bahia Cabana Beach Resort.
Using predetermined sponsor rums and mixers, plus other ingredients of their choice, they each had seven minutes to make one fully-garnished drink plus samples for the judges. Hosted by author and tropical drink historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, the contest was a combination of cocktail seminar and Tiki party, with colorful drinks made in rapid-fire precision by the contestants and passed around the judging table.
Judging the contest were some of the top rum authorities in the world: UK Rumfest organizer Ian Burrell, San Francisco bar owner Martin Cate, journalist and author Wayne Curtis and New Orleans rum historian Stephen Remsberg. The Rum Barrel Challenge judges (aka the Rum Rat Pack) will also be participating in Beachbum Berry’s “Rumposium” special event on Saturday, June 11, at The Mai-Kai.
* Check out Wayne’s review of the Rum Barrel Challenge
The Master Mixologist Rum Barrel Challenge was sponsored by Montanya Rum and Fee Brothers, and both products were incorporated into all the drinks. Judges rated each drink on its originality, creativity, adherence to the theme, use of the required ingredients, taste (including balance and use of rums), and presentation.
Now entering its 10th year, The Hukilau has become not only the largest Tiki-themed event on the East Coast, but also a museum of Polynesian Pop and mid-century modern art, culture, music and much more.
Most of the weekend’s events celebrate and honor the history of the original Tiki movement, which began in the 1930s and was fueled by vets returning from the Pacific after World War II in the 1940s, the statehood of Hawaii in the 1950s, and the boom of cocktail culture in the 1960s.
What had once been a vibrant culture lay dormant for several decades until it was rediscovered in the 1990s by the retro-loving underground art, music and cocktail scenes. By the turn of the century, a revival was in full swing and events such at The Hukilau were launched.
Now, 10 years down the road, the word “revival” may no longer be relevant as a whole new generation of artists, musicians and mixologists has evolved. With much due respect to the past, they’ve put their own modern spin on Tiki culture and will be showing off their talents at The Hukilau.
Revered psychobilly trio Nekromantix have “emerged from the depths of isolation to unleash their latest sonic creation, a monstrous slab of demonic rock and roll entitled What Happens In Hell, Stays In Hell.” So says Hellcat Records, so you better believe it.
What better band to test-drive what, by mid-summer, will be a newly expanded (350+ capacity) and refurbished Monterey Club in Fort Lauderdale. The cozy rockabilly bar has already been host to some top national touring acts, but its small capacity (around 150) has kept some of the bigger bands from playing there.
That all ends when The Monterey’s new live music room roars to life this summer. The club, which is located on U.S. 1 just north of Fort Lauderdale International Airport (next to the Gold Coast Roller Skating Rink), has taken over the space next door, previously occupied by a motorcycle shop.
Work has begun and plans call for a large stage and PA, possibly even a full liquor bar (it’s currently beer and wine). Good news indeed for “South Florida’s home for rockabilly, punk, hardcore, metal, roots country, and tattooed misfits,” as the website touts.
After more than 50 years of guitar shredding, Dick Dale has certainly achieved legendary status. His iconic style and sound have influenced countless musicians and bands and some of his songs, such as Miserlou, are pop culture classics.
To get warmed up for his two South Florida concerts next week (Sunday at The Vagabond in Miami, Monday at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach), we present a litany of reasons why Dick Dale deserves to go down as one of the all-time greats (along with some just-plain-fun facts). We’ve also culled video clips from the 1960s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s to showcase his incredible longevity (the 1970s were not his best decade).
Before playing electric guitar, Dale learned the drums, ukulele and trumpet. He has also mastered the banjo, piano, organ, harpsichord, trombone, xaxophone, harmonica, xylophone and accordion.
Dale is often credited as one of the first electric guitarists to employ non-Western scales in his playing. This can be traced back to one of his early musical influences: His uncle, an oud player who performed belly dance music. Much of his early music shows a Middle Eastern influence.
Dale invented surf music in the 1950s, not the ’60’s as is commonly believed.
In 2002, a modern Tiki renaissance was in full swing. Inspired by the heyday of Polynesian Pop, which began with groundbreaking efforts of Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic in the 1930s and stretched for more than 30 years into the 1960s, a new generation of artists, musicians, mixologists and entrepreneurs had been embracing retro Tiki culture since the 1990s.
As this grassroots movement gained momentum and new devotees discovered the wider world of mid-century pop culture, full-blown events soon followed. In Southern California – the birthplace of Tiki and haven for some of the genre’s most beloved bars, architecture and artists – Tiki Oasis started small in 2001 and quickly became the largest Tiki event in the West by its second installment in 2002.
The Hukilau was envisioned by its founders not only as the East Coast’s answer to Tiki Oasis, but also a celebration of the growing family and community, or ‘ohana, that had become so enamored with the entire underground movement. The name of the event, of course, comes from the traditional Hawaiian festival held in fishing villages in which a large net is cast into the sea to capture fish for the feast that honors the spirit of family and community.