Donn Beach, aka Don the Beachcomber, famously came up with the idea of a lavish and immersive lounge featuring South Pacific themes and Caribbean cocktails in the 1930s. But it took two upstart restaurateurs and one of Beach’s top bartenders to take the Tiki concept to a whole new level when they opened The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale in 1956.
At The Hukilau, set for June 3-7 in Fort Lauderdale, find out how the combination of the insightful ownership of Bob and Jack Thornton along with the mixology skills of former Don the Beachcomber bartender Mariano Licudine set a standard of tropical cocktail excellence that has stood the test of time for more than 60 years.
Sticking closely to Beach’s groundbreaking secret recipes, but putting their own more modern and accessible spin on them, the brothers and their head bartender envisioned a menu of some 50 elaborate libations that endure and are beloved to this day under the continued ownership of Bob Thornton’s family.
Learn how The Mai-Kai still follows Don the Beachcomber’s procedures and standards that were created nearly 90 years ago to maintain the mystery and allure of the modern tropical cocktail in the restaurant’s secret back bars.
Join Hurricane Hayward of The Atomic Grog blog and some very special guests for an exploration of the passing of the torch from Donn Beach to the Thornton brothers, and the key role of Licudine in keeping these historic cocktails alive and thriving.
The Hukilau’s 2020 entertainment lineup will be announced on Feb. 3, when event tickets and passes go on sale for the 19th annual Tiki weekender June 3-7 in Fort Lauderdale. While The Mai-Kai remains the nerve center of the Polynesian Pop celebration for the 18th straight year, most of the festivities will be centered at the B Ocean Resort on Fort Lauderdale Beach.
After five years as host hotel, the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina closed for a years-long refurbishment and re-imagining on the day after The Hukilau 2019. To give you a preview of what you can expect during the whirlwind weekend, following is a look back at last year’s festivities. While this Top 10 list is nowhere near complete in capturing the diversity of activities that encompassed the five-day bash, it offers a snapshot of some of the more memorable moments.
Mahalo to the venues, the organizers, all the participants and (especially) all the villagers who attended. Special thanks to those who provided photos for use below. Here’s a sampling of what we enjoyed, in no particular order …
NEW: Check out The Atomic Grog’s annual calendar for all the major events across the world of Tiki culture. This list also includes rum events, plus modernism, surf and rockabilly music, Disney and other happenings of interest to the Tiki community. It will be continually updated throughout the year, so check the link below for The Tiki Times main page frequently: UPDATES: FULL 2020 EVENTS CALENDAR
What could possibly be better than an Appleton Estate rum tasting at The Mai-Kai? How about the first-ever such event at the historic Polynesian palace hosted by Joy Spence, the longtime master blender for the venerable Jamaican brand synonymous with pure premium rum.
The 50 or so enthusiasts who were lucky enough to score a ticket to the sold-out presentation on Aug. 14 were in for a treat. In addition to four delicious Appleton rums, we enjoyed a complimentary Mai Tai and happy-hour prices on The Mai-Kai’s extensive cocktail and pupu menus.
But the most valuable take-away was undoubtedly the fascinating first-hand information provided by the world’s first female master blender. Her articulate and straightforward delivery, sprinkled with entertaining and whimsical anecdotes, made the rum-tasting experience a true Joy.
Here are some of the many insights we learned from Spence during her hour-long appearance in the Fort Lauderdale restaurant’s Tahiti dining room:
5 things you might not know about Joy Spence
* In her youth, she went to an all-girls catholic school and originally wanted to become a nun. “But I’m an only child, and when I told my mother I wanted to become a nun she marched down to the school and told the principal that she needs grandchildren.” Luckily for Appleton Estate and Jamaican rum devotees worldwide, she never joined the convent.
* Spence went to college to become a doctor, but she ended up concentrating on her passion for chemistry. When it came time to get some industry experience, she joined Tia Maria as a research chemist. At this time, the company that makes the dark Jamaican liqueur was located right next to J. Wray & Nephew, which makes Appleton Rum.
* She was bored at Tia Maria and always noticed the action at the “happening place” across the road, so in 1981 she sent a resume and set up an interview. “They told me right up front that there were no vacancies,” she said, but two weeks later they offered her a new position as chief chemist because they were so impressed with her resume. Despite the salary being less than her current job, she left Tia Maria and the rest is rum history.
* As chief chemist, Spence worked closely with the master blender, Owen Tulloch. “I became very fascinated with what he was doing in his private room,” she said, and her curiosity led her to knock on his door and find out. Spence recalled: “He started to test me and said ‘you have amazing sensory skills. You’ll become an excellent blender one day.’ So he took me under his wing and I studied with him for 17 years. When he retired, my bosses took a very bold move to appoint me as the master blender. No other woman had ever been given that position in the entire spirits industry. They actually got a lot of flack for it, but they knew what they were doing. My whole life changed after that.”
* The first rum she oversaw as master blender was the Appleton Estate 250th Anniversary release in 1999. She said her knees where shaking during the process. She wasn’t sure how it would be received, “but I got an excellent reaction” and “that gave me the strength and courage to continue and make the other blends that we now have in our portfolio.”
12 things we learned about how Appleton Estate rum is made
* Appleton Estate, est. 1749, is located in the lush and tropical Nassau Valley. “Believe it or not, it rains every day at 2 p.m., so we don’t have to worry about irrigation,” Spence said. This rainfall feeds the limestone springs beneath the ground, as well as the robust sugar cane crop.
* The estate grows 10 varieties of sugar cane year-round. The crop is harvested between January and May and crushed to yield juice. The juice is then boiled, resulting in crystals of sugar suspended in molasses. A massive centrifuge separates the two. The sugar is sold, and the leftover molasses is pumped over to the distillery, becoming the starting material for the rum.
* The limestone springs – which produce a distinctive turquoise blue water with “a nice soft, sweet taste” – are Spence’s favorite part of the estate. “When I’m feeling depressed and down, I take a glass of Appleton Estate Reserve, drive over to the water source, sit on a rock, and enjoy the beauty of the springs. I sip the Reserve, and by the time my glass is finished, all my troubles have been washed away and I’m ready to go back and face the problems of the distillery.” This unique spring water is added to the molasses.
Like the daily thunderstorms that didn’t seem to dampen anybody’s spirits, The Hukilau careened through Fort Lauderdale last week for its 18th annual Tiki weekender with an exhaustive schedule of events at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel, B Ocean Resort and the historic Mai-Kai restaurant.
The host Pier Sixty-Six shut down immediately after the event for several years of expansion and renovations, so it was a bittersweet party. But that didn’t stop The Hukilau’s villagers from throwing their cares to the wind while enjoying a seemingly limitless supply of Tiki cocktails, educational symposiums, mixology and craft classes, dozens of live music performances, vintage mermaid swimshows, all-day pool parties, dinner and shows at The Mai-Kai, plus a whole lot more.
Look for more upcoming posts with photos and special reports on events including the Tiki Tower Takeover and our Rums of The Mai-Kai class and symposium. Here’s a look back at all the fun via social media posts …
The Hukilau 2019: Women of Tiki take over the tower Thursday, June 6, was tropical cocktail heaven during the opening festivities of The Hukilau at Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina in Fort Lauderdale. The signature Tiki Tower Takeover cocktail party included eight of the world’s top female Tiki bartenders. Between sampling all the delicious drinks, hanging out with friends and enjoying the gorgeous views from the 17th-floor Pier Top Lounge, we managed to snap a few photos. Coming soon, a blog recap featuring more photos plus cocktail reviews and ratings. >>>> CLICK HERE FOR THE FACEBOOK PHOTO GALLERY
Established in 1956, The Mai-Kai is a national historic landmark with many iconic features that guests see every time they visit, from the Polynesian Islander Revue, to the distinctive design and decor, to the gracious staff.
But there’s one key element to the experience that you rarely ever see, but almost always taste: The rums of The Mai-Kai. Using tropical drink recipes that can be traced directly back to Don the Beachcomber’s 1930s-era classics, the behind-the-scenes bartenders follow generations-old methods of mixing rum cocktails.
Hurricane Hayward of The Atomic Grog will take guests of The Hukilau 2019 on an virtual journey to the Caribbean to learn about the key rums and styles that have dominated The Mai-Kai’s acclaimed cocktails for more than 60 years. This includes an intimate class for bartenders and enthusiasts at the Pier Sixty-Six hotel, and an interactive symposium on stage at the Polynesian palace in Fort Lauderdale.
Here are the details on both events:
The Rums of The Mai-Kai: The Classic Tiki Template Saturday, June 8, at Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class in the Commodore Room, 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Don the Beachcomber’s groundbreaking use of multiple rums in a single cocktail is crucial to the style that came to be known as Tiki. Nearly 90 years later, that exact same blending of spirits is still practiced today at The Mai-Kai. Hurricane Hayward of The Atomic Grog blog will guide hands-on lessons on how the flavors from different Caribbean islands are used in concert to create some of the world’s most famous rum rhapsodies. Put these practices to use to make your home bar sing. Special guest “professor” Stephen Remsberg, famed rum historian and collector, will share his knowledge and a few treats from his collection.
Another special treat: Students will shake up cocktails using sponsor rums and actual Mai-Kai ingredients. The restaurant will provide us with ample quantities of several classic drinks, sans rums, for our mixing pleasure. Also, there will be raffles held throughout the class with an assortment of door prizes, including signed books and barware from Cocktail Kingdom’s Beachbum Berry Collection.
All class members are also invited to The Mai-Kai on Sunday for special events that include rare “lost cocktails” from The Mai-Kai’s 1956 menu, plus reserved seats for an on-stage rum presentation by Hurricane Hayward and Matt Pietrek, aka Cocktail Wonk. Select students will participate in the symposium while a group of others will receive an exclusive, private tour of The Mai-Kai’s back bar and historic rum collection. Free shuttle will run betwen The Hukilau hotels and The Mai-Kai from 11:30 a.m. until around 5 p.m.
BUY TICKETS: Class sizes are limited, so act now before this sells out. Tickets for all Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy classes cost $49 plus fee, and include a special series of barware (rum sippers, spoons, muddlers, strainers, and a flask) created especially for students by Tiki Diablo. Participants get one item per class, plus the many rum samples, cocktails, and door prizes mentioned above.
The Rums of The Mai-Kai: From the Back Bar to Your Glass Sunday, June 9, at The Mai-Kai The Mai-Kai Grand Finale, noon to 4 p.m., featuring live music in The Molokai bar by Skinny Jimmy Stingray. Symposium in the main dining room at 1:30 p.m.
Take a deep dive into the historic rum collection of the legendary Polynesian restaurant with Jim “Hurricane” Hayward of The Atomic Grog blog and special guest Matt Pietrek, rum expert and author of the award-winning Cocktail Wonk blog. Discover new information on The Mai-Kai’s connection to Tiki cocktail forefather Don the Beachcomber through the rums they have in common. Includes an interactive, multimedia presentation and rare “lost cocktails” from the archives, as we enjoy The Mai-Kai before it opens to the public.
Updated June 1 Click here for updates on sold-out events, see the full schedule: NEW:THE HUKILAU 2019 – Unofficial Schedule Due to popular demand, The Atomic Grog presents a handy-dandy schedule in spreadsheet format for all five days of the upcoming Tiki weekender in Fort Lauderdale, including lots of new info like band set times, Saturday night at The Mai-Kai and more. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL SCHEDULE
As The Hukilau fast approaches its 18th annual Tiki weekender in Fort Lauderdale in June, hotel rooms at the host Pier Sixty-Six are sold out, and the more popular symposiums and classes are filling up. But new events are still being added, including a Saturday cocktail class and Sunday symposium on the rums of The Mai-Kai hosted by The Atomic Grog. * More below: Passes available | Special event tickets | Pop-up Tiki bars | New, upcoming
Meanwhile, news just broke that Pier Sixty-Six will be closing for a massive two-year renovation immediately after The Hukilau 2019. This news is not unexpected, and plans for a new 2020 site have been in the works. “There should be no uncertainty that we will have a great venue for 2020,” said The Hukilau’s owner/organizer, Richard Oneslager. “I do think it’s the end of an era at Pier Sixty-Six, and it is special that we get to cap it off.” See more below:Is this the last fling at Pier Sixty-Six?
Pier Sixty-Six, a landmark property developed in 1956 on the Intracoastal Waterway and home of The Hukilau since 2015, has sold out of rooms for the event. But The Hukilau organizers have lined up a great back-up option less than a mile away, directly on Fort Lauderdale Beach. The recently renovated B Ocean Resort, formerly known as the iconic Yankee Clipper, has plenty of rooms at a special rate for villagers attending the festive Polynesian Pop party.
Marina’s special shows for The Hukilau are always among the more popular events, and capacity is limited in The Wreck bar to allow all paid attendees prime viewing. So it’s advised that you act now if you don’t want to get left out. There are three performances on the schedule, but Wednesday night’s late-night burlesque show and Thursday’s 2 p.m. show are already sold out. Tickets remain only for the 2 p.m. matinee on Friday ($20 plus service charge).
In the 21st century pop culture landscape, you typically gauge the health and success of a subgenre not by its mainstream success but by the vitality of its core audience. While Tiki has flirted with crossover fame for decades, it remains deeply rooted in the wants and needs of its devoted constituents. As evidence of this, we have the latest slew of new book and magazine releases aimed directly at this loyal demographic.
This year marks the publication of several new cocktail books along with continuing releases of a new quarterly magazine devoted to the revival of Polynesian Pop and mid-century culture. Who says social media and the Internet have killed off the printed word?
Hardcover book salutes Tiki home bartending community
The official U.S. release date is not until April 1, but The Home Bar Guide to Tropical Cocktails is already is among the top new releases in the alcoholic spirits category on Amazon thanks to relentless promotion by Reilly and the loyalty of her followers. Over the years, she’s probably served most of the California Tiki community at home parties, major events including Tiki Oasis and Tiki Caliente, plus a stint at Tonga Hut in North Hollywood.
A book release party was held on Sunday, March 10, at the Tonga Hut featuring live music by The Glasgow Tiki Shakers and special limited edition Mai Tai glasses. Joining the authors at the meet-and-greet and book signing were Kirsten, Murphy, Horne, and Geiger. Exotica Moderne magazine also joined the party, with artist Big Toe signing copies of the new issue featuring his cover artwork (see story below).
Reilly met Morgan – who teaches film, screenwriting and public speaking – through a shared interest in Tiki mugs. After many Rumpus Room gatherings, Morgan planted the seed for the book, but it was tough talking Reilly into sharing her secret recipes, according to an Exotica Moderne article on the book. This is a tradition dating back to the early days of Tiki cocktails, when mixologists feared others bars would steal their drinks, but Reilly also was leery about today’s free-for-all on social media. Luckily, she finally relented and the book was born.
Included among the 150 cocktail recipes are several created specifically for the book, plus the secrets to making your own exotic syrups such as ancho chili, lemongrass, sesame, and hibiscus. Full-color photos of a half-dozen home bars are splashed across the book’s pages. “These folks spend months and years and thousands of dollars on these bars, and it shows, we’re thankful,” Reilly told Exotica Moderne.
Spirits educator’s book puts modern spin on rum and Tiki cocktails
It’s no surprise that all three of the new books profiled here are written or co-written by female mixologists, long under-represented in the bar industry at large and Tiki subgenre in particular. But a new breed of talented professionals are quickly putting their creative mark on the Tiki and rum worlds, led by a Brooklyn-based cocktail consultant and spirits educator Shannon Mustipher.
Mustipher’s new 192-page hardcover book, Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails (release date: March 19 on Amazon), is the culmination of her short but intensive journey from bartender at the Caribbean restaurant Glady’s in Brooklyn in 2014 to her current role as “spiritual adviser” and founder of the Women Who Tiki pop-up that spotlights women slinging some of the best tropical cocktails behind the bar. She’s also a founding member of Women Leading Rum, an industry organization dedicated to education and career development.
In a short 5 years, Mustipher has taken her passion for Caribbean rum and raised it to the next level via brand consulting and speaking engagements across the country. Her writing, recipes and opinions have appeared in publications including Imbibe, Punch, GQ, and Liquor.com. While overseeing the bar program at Gladys, she took her show on the road representing brands including Denizen(former brand ambassador) and Pusser’s (currently brand education specialist).
Mustipher is known for taking tropical drinks to the next level by incorporating flavors of Southeast Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, including the Zombie, Mai Tai and Jungle Bird. Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails (Rizzoli/Universe) also includes original recipes, techniques, tasting notes and recommendations plus tips on style and music. The book promises “a focus on refreshing flavors, fine spirits, and high-impact easy-to-execute presentation.” It also promises to be one of the most visually stunning cocktail books in recent memory, considering Mustipher’s prior career as a styling assistant in the photo industry.
What city best exemplifies the recent explosive growth of Tiki bars and Polynesian Pop culture? A strong argument could be made for Atlanta, which has been blessed with at least three new exotic cocktail destinations since 2015. Now, in just its second year, the Tiki weekender known as Inuhele has greatly expanded to include three days of bar-hopping, panels, vendors, bands, demos and more geared to the area’s burgeoning scene.
But things really got interesting when the Tiki and craft cocktail revivals merged, creating a hot trend among bartenders and owners worldwide. Atlanta caught the bug, resulting in the opening of The S.O.S. in Decatur, just northeast of Atlanta, in 2015. In 2018, the Virginia Highland neighborhood of Atlanta saw the opening of Tiki Iniki, the first stateside franchise location of the concept created by Todd and Michele Rundgren in Hawaii. And while not truly traditional, Match Bamboo Lounge offers spirited aloha in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood.
All this activity spurred Horror in Clay’s Jonathan and Allison Chaffin to organize the first Atlanta Tiki Homebar Tour, dubbed Inuhele (for “cocktail journey”) on Feb. 24, 2018. It was a small affair with 50+ people taking a bus tour of local home bars for a day, then concluding the night at Trader Vic’s. * See photos from 2018
For 2019, the Chaffins are taking Inuhele to the next level as a full-blown weekender on the same scale as other mid-sized Tiki events such as the pioneering Tiki Kon in the Pacific Northwest, which also started as a home bar tour nearly two decades ago. The Marriott Century Center has been secured as the host hotel, and the Chaffins promise “a weekend of bar hopping, panels, bands, demos, sharing of ideas, and most importantly community building.”
The community definitely came together to help make such an ambitious undertaking possible. Among the more than a dozen sponsors are: * Tiki Tango, host of the “Tiki Hop-on Hop off Shuttle” and Friday night party. * Spiribam rum specialists, presenting sponsor of the home bar bus. * BG Reynolds, the premium bar syrups purveyor and man behind the “Iron TikiTender On Tour” event that will take place on Saturday at the Marriott. * Royer Corp., the popular swizzle stick manufacturer known for its cutting-edge designs. >>> See all the sponsors here
Friday kickoff and bar crawl: Events at the Marriott Century Center include classes and meet-ups, the trading post, a DJ dance party with Brother Cleve, plus more. Meanwhile, a bus will shuttle guests to Trader Vic’s, Tiki Tango, and Tiki Iniki all evening.