It’s late 1972. I’m visiting my grandparents in South Florida but I’m more excited about our day trip to the East Coast’s answer to Disneyland: Walt Disney World. The park had opened just a year earlier and promised to be – in the eyes of an 11-year-old in the early ’70s – the coolest place on Earth.
I’ll never forget my first ride on the futuristic Monorail, the spooky and fun Haunted Mansion, the cartoonish architecture of Tomorrowland, plus the iconic castle and all the classic characters. The day flew by too fast but I cherished my souvenirs, including a Haunted Mansion record that I played to death over the years.
Fast-forward some 30 years and I’m a childless grown-up in South Florida. I’ve made the rounds of most of the state’s attractions as a teenager and young adult but never made it back to the Magic Kingdom. My only Disney World experiences were a day at Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) and a trip to Downtown Disney for a concert at the House of Blues. Like many others, I thought I was too cool for Disney World.
Our expedition through the mysterious tropical drink selection at The Mai-Kai takes a dangerous turn with another mid-century classic from the menu’s “STRONG!” offerings.
Tongue-in-cheek drinks lionizing primitivism were common during Tiki’s golden age. The ominous Shrunken Skull and its variations were among the most infamous. The idea was to conjure up a sense of danger lurking in your local tropical getaway. Classic Tiki bars offer the ultimate escape from the mundane day-to-day existence, and every island adventure needs a little bit of macabre yet kitschy risk-taking.
In this case, the danger lies in the strong rums that permeate this deadly concoction. The Shrunken Skull is one of only two current Mai-Kai drinks that feature a rum floater (a shot of rum added to your drink as it’s served). Not coincidentally, the other also comes with an element of danger attached to its name: the Shark Bite.
The Shrunken Skull is also one of only a handful of Mai-Kai cocktails to come in its own custom mug, originally a vintage shrunken head design that can fetch more than $100 on the open market. It was replaced by a modern version that is not quite as rare but can still reach $50 or more for older versions.
The above links and info come courtesy of Ooga Mooga, the premiere website for Tiki mug collectors. This highly recommended resource lets users track their mug collection while showing it off to others. Loaded with photos of great vintage mugs, it’s worth checking out even if you don’t register as a collector.
The Shrunken Skull also often comes in an Abelam mug (average price: $30), which features a mask-like design of the Abelam people who live in the East Sepik province of Papua New Guinea. A vintage Abelam mug is typically priced in the $100 range.
All of the above mugs have a handle, which is atypical of most Tiki mugs. It’s usually an indication that the mug does double-duty on the dessert menu as a vessel for hot coffee drinks. At The Mai-Kai, the current Abelam mug also can be enjoyed with an after-dinner classic, the flaming Kona Coffee Grog. The shrunken head mug is also used for the Tahitian Coffee.
I picked up both mugs in the gift shop, aka The Mai-Kai Trading Post. I’ll be monitoring their prices on Ooga Mooga like any good mug investor.
One of our favorite lowbrow artists, Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli, will be hosting a showing of his recent prints next Tuesday (July 26) at one of our favorite retro restaurants – Howley’s diner in West Palm Beach.
The show, titled “View the Pooch,” will run from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. and will also feature live music from South Florida blues guitarist J.P. Soars. Howley’s has a full bar featuring beer, wine and cocktails plus an extensive menu of diner classics.
Pooch is well-established as one of the most talented artists in South Florida and continues to branch out and establish himself throughout the greater art world. As owner/operator and chief artist at Altered State Tattoo in Lake Worth since 1996, he’s long been the go-to guy in South Florida if you’re looking for one-of-a-kind, eye-popping ink. Pooch’s award-winning tattoo work is known for its rich color and incredible detail. His work has been featured in many tattoo publications, such as Tattoo Society and International Tattoo Art.
In today’s world of pop surrealism, of which I’m a big fan, nobody holds a candle to the master: Salvador Dalí. Those of us stuck in central and South Florida are lucky enough to have access to perhaps the greatest collection of Dalí artwork outside of Spain.
The Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg is a must-see for anyone interested in the legendary surrealist, but it offers much more. It’s been named the top museum in the South by the Michelin Guide and called “one of the top buildings you have to see before you die.” This $36 million state-of-the-art facility is sure to please all lovers of modern art and is a surreal experience in its own right. Make sure you allow yourself at least half a day as there’s lots to see.
The new facility on the waterfront in St. Petersburg Beach just opened in January, and we paid a visit in May. It replaces an older building that housed the Dalí collection in St. Petersburg for nearly 30 years but was limited in size to fully showcase the great master’s work. Even if you’ve been to the old museum, you need to return to check out this modern marvel, which features 20,000-square-feet of gallery space and a design that truly has to be seen to be appreciated.
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.
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.
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.