Mai-Kai updates: Cocktails and car show, Tiki marketplace announced

Mai-Kai updates: Cocktails and car show, Tiki marketplace announced

Updated April 13

For a restaurant that has been closed since October, The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale is sure a busy place these days. In advance of this Sunday’s parking lot car show, guests are picking up quarts and gallons of classic tropical drinks. Meanwhile, vendors are being sought for the historic Polynesian palace’s first-ever outdoor Tiki marketplace, scheduled for April 17.

Cruise-In at The Mai-Kai
The Mai-Kai’s second parking lot “cruise-in” will feature classic cars, food and signature cocktails.

Sponsored by the local Five Points Motor Club, the latest Mai-Kai Cruise-In Classic Car Show on March 28 follows a similar, successful event on Feb. 28. Pre-1974 vehicles will be on display from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., including a special Dubs & Tiki’s VW section.

The Mai-Kai’s DJ Mike will also be on hand spinning tunes at this socially distanced event. Unless seated with your party, guests are required to wear masks and/or practice physical distancing at all times. Feel free to bring chairs, hang out and enjoy the show.

The Mai-Kai's signature Mai Tai is one of several cocktails available during special events and periodic rounds of to-go opportunities. (Official Mai-Kai photo)
The Mai-Kai’s signature Mai Tai is one of several cocktails available during special events and periodic rounds of to-go opportunities. (Official Mai-Kai photo)

In preparation for the cruise-in, The Mai-Kai batched up an ample supply of four cocktails for pick-up this week, along with an exclusive rum. The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend, a special Barbados rum from the Foursquare Distillery, is available only during these limited take-out opportunities right before special events. Look for the next window to open in April.

Loyal guests placed orders for quarts and gallons of the Barrel O’ Rum, Mai Tai, Jet Pilot and Black Magic, the latter returning to the menu by popular demand.

The same four cocktails will be offered on Sunday in single servings or quarts, along with beer, wine and water. Guests can pair their drinks with gourmet street food from the M.C.K. Fusion food truck. The Mobile Culinary Kitchens truck features Colombian and Latin American fusion cuisine, including burgers, tacos, quesadillas and more.

It was great to be back at The Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show on Sunday for the Cruise-In Classic Car Show. Cool…

Posted by The Atomic Grog on Monday, March 29, 2021

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The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend is available only via take-out from the restaurant.
The Real McCoy 12-year-old Distillers Proof Mai-Kai Blend is available only via take-out from the restaurant. (Official Mai-Kai photo)

We’re now approaching five months since a catastrophic roof collapse over the kitchen shut down the 64-year-old historic landmark. But The Mai-Kai chose to turn lemons into lemonade, converting its vast parking lot into a gathering spot for fans at the Hulaween 2020 drive-in movie party on Oct. 30.

Following the 64th anniversary party on Dec. 28, fans received a bombshell when it was announced that the Thornton family was considering selling the 2.69-acre property. Possible partnerships are also on the table, but the consistent message from The Mai-Kai has been a desire to keep as much of the original property intact as possible.

This did not quell the overwhelming outpouring of concern and support from fans, who took to social media to console each other and seek ways to help the cause. The most high-profile effort is the “Save The Mai-Kai” petition on Change.org, which at press time has topped 10,750 signatures with no signs of slowing down.

Thousands of fans unite to show support for The Mai-Kai during closing
Thousands of fans unite to show support for The Mai-Kai during closing
Previous coverage: More than 10,000 have signed a petition and thousands are flooding social media channels as the historic restaurant plans events, take-home cocktails while potential partners/owners are sought.

The Mai-Kai hosts first Tiki Marketplace featuring vendors, entertainers, cocktails, rum tasting and more
NEW: The Mai-Kai hosts first Tiki Marketplace featuring vendors, entertainers, cocktails, rum tasting and more
The historic restaurant may be closed for repairs, but a new event takes advantage of the large parking lot for a safe and fun-filled day featuring the generous spirit of ‘ohana.
LATEST EVENT INFO
* Complete list of vendors | Rums available for tasting

Vendors sought for Tiki marketplace in April

The Mai-Kai Tiki Marketplace

News of the next parking lot event was revealed when The Mai-Kai put out a call for vendors for an ambitious Tiki marketplace on April 17. While similar events have become popular regular happenings at Tiki bars around the country, this is believed to be the first time The Mai-Kai has hosted an outdoor Tiki marketplace in its long history.

The Mai-Kai’s director of public relations, Pia Dahlquist, is rounding up vendors to fill the restaurant’s 150-space parking lot. She said she’s aiming for around 25 to 30 booths with a “diversified” lineup. If you’d like to participate and need more information, contact Dahlquist via email or call (954) 646-8975. The cost is just $50 per booth.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai updates: Cocktails and car show, Tiki marketplace announced”

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

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

Updated Feb. 28, 2021

When the owners of The Mai-Kai announced in December 2020 that the historic restaurant and the several acres of land the mid-century marvel has occupied since 1956 were possibly for sale, the first reaction from most longtime customers was shock and fear.

Cruise-In with the Five Points Motor Club at The Mai-Kai
While The Mai-Kai is closed, events continue to be held in the parking lot.

Shock that the seemingly indestructible Tiki temple had been taken down, not by the coronavirus pandemic or hurricane-force winds, but by a vicious rainstorm that caused irrecoverable damage to the kitchen that was beyond the capacity of the family-run operation to fix. And fear that the announcement that the owners were seeking partners (or buyers) meant the end of the world’s most well-preserved example of a Polynesian supper club on the grandest of scales.

They flooded social media channels to commiserate, but those emotions did not lead to resignation or despair. Rather, it lit a fire under the legions of followers that had come to love and cherish The Mai-Kai over its many decades of operation.

Related: The Mai-Kai celebrates 64th anniversary as extent of flooding damage, closing detailed

UPDATE: ‘Save The Mai-Kai’ petition tops 10,000 signatures

Primed by the don’t-just-sit-there ethos of the pandemic, these passionate boosters quickly turned their frustration into action. The most shining example of this united front of support can be found in a petition posted on Change.org on Jan. 23. After just two days, it topped 2,600 signatures. Three weeks later, the “Save The Historic Mai-Kai Restaurant & Polynesian Show” petition was closing in on 10,000 signees. It passed that mark on Feb. 22 and has a new goal of 15,000.

SIGN THE PETITION NOW

Mai-Kai petition tops 10,000 signatures

The petition is aimed at Mayor Jane Bolin of Oakland Park, the Fort Lauderdale suburb that has always been an ally of its most famous business. Also named is Broward County Commissioner Lamar Fisher, whose district includes the restaurant that faces Federal Highway (aka U.S. 1) just a few miles from the area’s famous beach.

It urges supporters to sign the online petition to let the officials “know that you don’t want to lose this iconic fixture that makes Oakland Park a global tourist destination and revenue source for so many.” On top of the signatures, more than 270 people took the time to post comments, lamenting the potential loss of a beloved part of their lives.

“The Mai Kai is an icon of authentic Americana in Fort Lauderdale, a place that visitors from across the U.S. and from abroad expect to find in this city – because there is nothing like it anywhere else,” wrote author Sven Kirsten, who featured the restaurant in The Book of Tiki, his influential treatise on Tiki culture.

A vintage photo of The Mai-Kai when the main showroom was still open to the elements
A vintage photo of The Mai-Kai when the main showroom was still open to the elements. (Published in Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant; credit: Licudine family photo collection)

Author Tim “Swanky” Glazner, who wrote the definitive Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, added:
“It is important to the finances of the city. Thousands of people will never return to the city if it closes.”

For others, it was very personal. Holly Kriss wrote: “This is an important cultural landmark which must be saved at any cost! One of the reasons we moved permanently to FL was because of the MaiKai!!” Added Kathryn Pease: “My family and friends go to the Fort Lauderdale area specifically to go to the Mai-Kai.”

Julie Perkins summed up the feelings of many perfectly: “The Mai Kai is historically important architecturally and culturally. It is no hyperbole to say that there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. Other tiki restaurants exist, but very few have been in operation for over 50 years, and none with the combination of architecture, live show and gardens that attract visitors from around the world as the Mai Kai does. My family and I visit Ft. Lauderdale from Texas once or twice a year solely because of the Mai Kai.”

Fans gather on Facebook to offer support, share experiences

Save the Mai-Kai group on Facebook

In addition to the petition, a new “Save the Mai-Kai” group exploded on Facebook, gathering more than 730 like-minded members in just two days and 1,400 four days after forming on Jan. 21. It’s now nearing 2,000 members and has become the site of shared emotions, from angst to despair to hope. Many take the opportunity to share family photos of their trips to The Mai-Kai, some from decades ago.

JOIN THE GROUP NOW

The description says the purpose of the group “is for tiki fans worldwide to band together and see what we can do to save this incredible treasure.” The group’s only rules are “Be civil” and “Be respectful.”

By all accounts, members are not just respectful but also reverential and reflective. One member shared a photo of his parents enjoying cocktails at The Mai-Kai in 1962, noting that “57 years later I finally went in 2019. Not sure why I waited so long to go.”

Continue reading “Thousands of fans unite to show support for The Mai-Kai during closing”

Year in the rearview: The Top 9 Tiki stories of 2020

Year in the rearview: The Top 9 Tiki stories of 2020

Undoubtedly, it was a year many would rather forget – preferably by downing a few Mai Tais. If we take “hindsight is 2020” at face value, perhaps some day there will be positive lessons to be learned from last year’s many tragedies. Despite this, not all the news was negative in the modern Tiki revival. Dispensing with the bad news first, here are The Atomic Grog’s picks for the nine most newsworthy stories of 2020.
Bonus recipe below: The Urban Archaeologist (tribute to The Book of Tiki 20th anniversary and commemorative mug)

1. CORONAVIRUS SHUTDOWNS

Support Tiki bars now by visiting their online stores, contributing to fundraisers

Of all the industries that were dealt a sucker punch by the pandemic, the bar and restaurant world is the one that seems to have suffered the most long-running impact. When the mandatory closings swept across the United States (and the world) in March and April, most were ill-prepared to deal with the consequences. Heroically, the majority were able to survive by pivoting to take-out and streamlined operations. Sadly, others have remained closed with still no ETA on reopening dates. The list of businesses that closed permanently is sobering. But as we look back at the year, we’re proud of the efforts everyone put forth to keep their Tiki bars and related companies alive against all odds. We will continue to pray for their survival and encourage everyone to help as best they can.

Support Tiki bars now by visiting their online stores, contributing to fundraisers
UPDATES: Support Tiki bars now by visiting their online stores
Get updates on closings and openings, plus the latest on mugs and merchandise, plus more resources.

2. EVENTS CANCELED, POSTPONED

It’s hard for a community to thrive and survive when it’s stripped of its ability to congregate en masse to celebrate and boost each other’s spirits. This hit home in the Tiki world in early March, when Inuhele: Atlanta’s Tiki Weekend held the dubious distinction of being the last pre-pandemic event to take place. The summer season’s blockbuster festivals were forced to scramble. Some postponed, some went to a virtual format, others canceled altogether. But there was still no keeping the fervent followers from seeking out their friends and favorite events, even in stripped-down and online-only form. We tip our hat to the organizers who keep the faithful happy and their brands alive, along with their supporters who kept their heads up and their communities alive throughout the year.

The Year in Tiki 2020: Recap the top virtual and in-person events
The Year in Tiki 2020: Top virtual and in-person events
Take a look back at the major happenings, featuring artwork and links plus photos and video.

3. FLOODING AT THE MAI-KAI

In any other year, the closing of The Mai-Kai would undoubtedly be news story No. 1. But 2020 was no ordinary year, full of curve balls and unexpected twists. After closing during April and May, The Mai-Kai reopened under state social-distancing guidelines and was successfully navigating the pandemic through the summer and fall. An inventive take-out program was pushing boundaries and pleasing fans, while the historic restaurant was consistently filling its available seats with guests eager to watch the acclaimed Polynesian Islander Revue. All that changed in late October, however, when massive rains flooded the kitchen and back-of-house after a roof collapsed during the storm. With no functioning kitchen, The Mai-Kai has closed until the extensive repairs can be done. The annual Halloween party became a drive-in movie event in the parking lot and online sales were stepped up. A family-run operation since 1956, The Mai-Kai faces perhaps its biggest challenge, possibly with a new partnership or ownership. Here’s hoping the grand reopening will top the list of 2021 news events.
The Mai-Kai for sale: See the official statement NEW
UPDATES: Owners vow to “preserve family legacy” while continuing take-out drinks and more events

The Mai-Kai celebrates 64th anniversary under the moon as challenges loom
The Mai-Kai celebrates 64th anniversary under the moon as challenges loom
Check out all the details
on The Mai-Kai’s sold-out 64th anniversary party on Dec. 28.
Photos: The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue
News: Extent of flooding damage, closing detailed

4. THE PASSING OF TOTI

Toti Terorotua of The Mai-Kai's Polynesian Islander Revue

In September, The Mai-Kai, its extended family and longtime fans mourned the death of Toti Terorotua, a founding member of the restaurant’s acclaimed Polynesian Islander Revue in 1962. “Toti was not only an outstanding musician and entertainer, he was a great friend and part of what made the Mai-Kai one great big family,” an official statement from the restaurant said. “Toti was a highly regarded musician in Tahiti before coming to the US, creating two classic Tahitian albums with his namesake band Toti’s Tahitians. You can still hear songs from his albums, along with his unforgettable voice, softly playing in the background on the Mai Kai’s nightly soundtrack.” Toti was discovered in the late 1950s by Donn Beach himself, who picked him to be part of his show at the Don the Beachcomber in Waikiki when it opened at the International Marketplace. Toti came to Fort Lauderdale and The Mai-Kai to be part of the original Polynesian show and never left. He retired 2000 after 38 years, but came back in 2006 to play drums at The Mai-Kai’s 50th anniversary at age 71. He continued to perform on stage for another decade-plus. In announcing his death, The Mai-Kai shared a tribute in Tahitian, translated to: “We will miss you so. But dreams will keep us near you. We know we’ll meet again. Farewell for just a while. For just a little while.”
Listen: Buy or stream Lure Of Tahiti by Terorotua & His Tahitians

Continue reading “Year in the rearview: The Top 9 Tiki stories of 2020”

Photos: Remembering Dawn Wells at The Hukilau 2015

The recent death of television sitcom icon Dawn Wells, best know as Mary Ann on the 1960s classic Gilligan’s Island, immediately brings back happy memories amid the sadness. Wells died Wednesday morning in Los Angeles at age 82.
See below: Photos of Dawn Wells at The Hukilau

The cause of her death was related to COVID-19, her publicist announced. Tina Louise, the last surviving regular cast member from the 1964-67 series, paid tribute to Wells on Twitter: “I will always remember Dawn’s kindness to me. We shared in creating a cultural landmark that has continued to bring comfort and smiles to people during this difficult time. I hope that people will remember her the way that I do — always with a smile on her face.”

Dawn Wells is greeted at The Hukilau 2015 by emcee King Kukulele and artist/performer Crazy Al Evans. (Credit: The Hukilau)
Dawn Wells is greeted at The Hukilau 2015 by emcee King Kukulele and artist/performer Crazy Al Evans. (Credit: The Hukilau)

When remembering Wells, many recall images of the enduring show about castaways stranded on a deserted Pacific island. A few lucky Tikiphiles also cherish the memorable chance to meet the actress in June 2015 at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale.

Organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White invited Wells to participate in the annual Tiki weekender, designing a special event just for her: A “Three Hour Tour” cruise in a luxury yacht through the Intracoastal Waterway. The Hukilau villagers joined their favorite castaway on June 12, 2015, aboard the Lady Windridge Yacht as it set sail from the Pier 66 Marina at the event’s host hotel.

Guests were invited to dress in their favorite Gilligan’s Island garb, with Wells selecting the costume contest winners. They also enjoyed an open bar featuring craft Tiki cocktails and food, luxuries not afforded the passengers on the ill-fated S.S. Minnow. Wells later participated in an autograph session and mingled with attendees of The Hukilau throughout the weekend at both the Pier 66 hotel and The Mai-Kai restaurant.

Dawn Wells
A vintage photo of Dawn Wells during the ‘Gilligan’s Island’ heyday in the 1960s.

The Hollywood Reporter quoted Wells as saying the “values and principles” of Mary Ann mirrored her own and are timeless: “I know this because the core of Mary Ann is really me. I mean, I built her from scratch … if you play a character long enough on stage or screen, I think your true self shows through.”

Wells appeared in more than 150 TV shows, seven movies and six dozen stage plays. She was a producer, author, spokesperson, journalist, motivational speaker, and teacher. She also founded and participated in many charity organizations. Donations in her name can be made to The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn.; the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum; and The Shambala Preserve outside Los Angeles.

Continue reading “Photos: Remembering Dawn Wells at The Hukilau 2015”

The Mai-Kai celebrates 64th anniversary under the moon as challenges loom

The Mai-Kai celebrates 64th anniversary under the moon as challenges loom

In 64 years, The Mai-Kai has never failed to celebrate the anniversary of its Dec. 28, 1956, opening with its own distinctive flair. This year will be no exception, despite a global pandemic and an unfortunate roof collapse in October that forced the restaurant’s temporary closing.

It is finally the end of 2020 and we’re here to help you finish strong. We have made a fresh batch of Rum Barrels and…

Posted by Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show on Wednesday, December 30, 2020

 

Jump to more features below
Photos: The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue
News: Extent of flooding damage, closing detailed

On Monday, the owners of the historic landmark in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Oakland Park will open up their vast parking lot for Under The Mai-Kai Moon, the 2020 version of the annual Customer “Mahalo” Appreciation Party. The socially distanced event sold out less than a week after going on sale.

Under The Mai-Kai Moon - photo by Mark O'Byrne
A view of the front of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway. (Photo by Mark O’Byrne)

The event is not just a bittersweet celebration. Proceeds will benefit laid-off employees as well as keeping The Mai-Kai in business until repairs are finished. Unfortunately, it could be a long process (see below).

Since 1962, the centerpiece of any celebration at The Mai-Kai has been the Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii. Under The Mai-Kai Moon will feature three performances by the acclaimed group, which includes dancers and musicians from islands in every corner of Polynesia.

Cars will be spread out across the 150-space lot behind the restaurant with gaps in between to allow a “tailgate party” atmosphere, except it won’t be BYOB. The Mai-Kai will be selling several signature cocktails as well as beer, wine and soft drinks. One or more food trucks will be on hand to provide ample options for noshing.

Under The Mai-Kai Moon - artwork by Pooch
Artwork by Mike Pucciarelli (aka Pooch)

The event will run from 6 to 10 p.m., and vehicles can arrive as early as 5:30. Unlike the recent Hulaween Drive-In Movie party, there’s no cutoff time on arrivals. All parking spots will allow views of the performances, and guests can spread out their folding chairs in adjoining empty spaces.

You’ll want to be there by 8 p.m., however, to catch the first of three shows by the Polynesian Islander Revue. The performances will be staged on a flatbed truck, which will be moved around to different locations to allow all cars a good view, according to The Mai-Kai’s director of public relations, Pia Dahlquist. A DJ will also be spinning tunes to keep the atmosphere lively.

Two of The Mai-Kai’s signature drinks – the Barrel O’ Rum and Mai Tai – will be sold by the quart and glass. The Vodka Barrel will also be available by the glass along with beer, wine and sodas. There will also be a complimentary champagne toast for everyone at 9.30 p.m.
Continue reading “The Mai-Kai celebrates 64th anniversary under the moon as challenges loom”

Pouring along with The Atomic Grog on The Tiki Trail Live

See below: Resources and links referenced during the show

Original event preview …

Join us tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern (6 p.m. Pacific) as we mix up the latest tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Jet Pilot on the Tiki Trail live on Zoom. Click here to check the recipe and make sure you have all the ingredients to pour along. The Zoom meeting ID is 724 724 4576.

Hosted by Jeff Ballard, the Tiki Trail is one of the longest-running Zoom meet-ups of 2020. Every week, Tikiphiles gather to socialize and ask questions as Jeff interviews a rotating array of guests including mixologists, artists and musicians. Don’t be late as we’ll be making the Jet Pilot right at the top of the show.

The official Tiki Trail mug by David Outland
The official Tiki Trail mug by David Outland.

The Tiki Trail kicked off in 2016 to bring together “the people, venues, events, music, art and style of all that is Tiki,” according to the mission statement on the official websit, TikiTrail.com. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Ballard traveled around the country visiting Tiki bars and events, posting interviews and sharing the stories of the subculture’s movers and shakers. The website includes an events calendar, marketplace, and information on the Tikicomber app.
* The Tiki Trail on social media: Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

When COVID-19 shut down most bars and events, Ballard shifted his efforts online to continue to bring people together and also help struggling artists. All the special guests on the show are given the opportunity to promote their latest endeavors. There are also often sponsors who provide goodies for special giveaways. I created some tasty cocktails earlier in the month using some unique ingredients promoted on The Tiki Trail …

View this post on Instagram

We celebrated Mrs. Hurricane’s birthday this weekend with one of her favorite drinks. She had a classic Piña Colada (by Will Pasternak of @blacktailnyc) while I had the Hawaiian Coffee Colada (by @tiarewhodat of A Mountain of Crushed Ice). … Links to recipes in the comments. … Beachbum Berry Coconut Mug and cocktail picks from @cocktailkingdom. … Mahalo to @tikitrail for the promo goodies used in these drinks: @the_tiny_umbrella, Macadamia Nut Orgeat from @hamakua_coast_premium, and Hawaiian Rum Agricole from @kuleanarumworks … #pinacolada #tiki #tikidrink #tikidrinks #tikicocktail #tikicocktails #homebar #hometikibar #tikitrail #beachbumberry #cocktailkingdom #thetinyumbrella

A post shared by Hurricane Hayward (@theatomicgrog) on

Launched in August 2019, Tikicomber is the first-ever Tiki community app. It gives users a fun, easy and engaging way to “discover, collect and share” all the people, bars, drinks, art, music and more that make up their own Tiki world. The app allows you to track your Tiki adventures, discover new Tiki finds, share your Tiki collection, and more. Click here for more info. Check for availability on the app store on your device.

Screenshots of the Tikicomber app
Screenshots of the Tikicomber app.

Continue reading “Pouring along with The Atomic Grog on The Tiki Trail Live”

New symposium at The Hukilau 2020: ‘How The Mai-Kai Perfected the Modern Tiki Cocktail’

The Hukilau 2020: A week of virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need
NEW: The Hukilau 2020: A week of virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need
You can pay homage to the canceled Tiki weekender with educational symposiums, a special virtual event at The Mai-Kai, plus more.
UPDATED: The Tiki Times
See what’s canceled, rescheduled – plus new online events

On April 20, The Hukilau announced that its 19th annual Tiki weekender scheduled for June 3-7 in Fort Laduerdale was being postponed by the coronavirus pandemic. In its place will be a series of events across the country aimed at raising money for Tiki bars devastated by shutdowns. Click the link below for more info.

The Hukilau hits the road to spread aloha, benefit closed Tiki bars
The Hukilau hits the road to benefit closed Tiki bars
The tour will include The Mai-Kai, other stops across U.S., plus The Hukilau London in October.

The original story remains below for posterity …

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Updated Feb. 25, 2020

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.

The Mai-Kai's owners, Bob Thornton (left) and Jack Thornton (right), with master mixologist Mariano Licudine
The Mai-Kai’s owners, Bob Thornton (left) and Jack Thornton (right), with master mixologist Mariano Licudine. (Credit: Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)

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.

A vintage Mai-Kai photo of cocktails in The Molokai bar
A vintage Mai-Kai photo of cocktails in The Molokai bar. (Mai-Kai photo)

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.

Founding co-owner Bob Thornton shows off the award-winning Derby Daiquiri
Founding co-owner Bob Thornton shows off the award-winning Derby Daiquiri. (Photos courtesy of Tim Glazner, SwankPad.org)

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.

Donn Beach (1930s), Mariano Licudine (1960s), and a current Mai-Kai bartender (2019)
Donn Beach (1930s), Mariano Licudine (1960s), and a current Mai-Kai bartender (2019). (Photos from newspaper archives and The Atomic Grog)

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.

Continue reading “New symposium at The Hukilau 2020: ‘How The Mai-Kai Perfected the Modern Tiki Cocktail’”

Photos: 10 highlights from The Hukilau 2019 in Fort Lauderdale

Photos: 10 highlights from The Hukilau 2019 in Fort Lauderdale

The Hukilau 2020: A week of virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need
NEW: The Hukilau 2020: A week of virtual events honor 19th annual Tiki weekender, help those in need
You can pay homage to the canceled Tiki weekender with educational symposiums, a special virtual event at The Mai-Kai, plus more.
UPDATED: The Tiki Times
See what’s canceled, rescheduled – plus new online events

On April 20, The Hukilau announced that its 19th annual Tiki weekender scheduled for June 3-7 in Fort Laduerdale was being postponed by the coronavirus pandemic. In its place will be a series of events across the country aimed at raising money for Tiki bars devastated by shutdowns. Click the link below for more info.

The Hukilau hits the road to spread aloha, benefit closed Tiki bars
The Hukilau hits the road to benefit closed Tiki bars
The tour will include The Mai-Kai, other stops across U.S., plus The Hukilau London in October.

The original story remains below for posterity …

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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.

2020 Preview: The Hukilau returns to historic hotel for 19th annual Tiki weekender
The wait is over! The Hukilau 2020 dates and host hotel revealed

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.

See below: Bonus cocktail recipes from the Rum Island Pool Parties
Passion Fruit West Indies (Pagan Idol) | Playboy (Tiki Underground)

The Hukilau 2019 was held June 5-9 at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina, B Ocean Resort and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Featuring Tikiyaki Orchestra, Tikiyaki 5-0, Surfer Joe, The Volcanics, The Hula Girls, The Intoxicators, Gold Dust Lounge, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, The Swingin’ Palms, Slowey and the Boats, King Kukulele, Brother Cleve, Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid, Ian “Rum Ambassador” Burrell, and 25 top Tiki bars and bartenders from around the world.
* TheHukilau.com | Facebook: Page and Group | Instagram
Previous recap: The Hukilau 2019 photos and video from social media

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 …

Continue reading “Photos: 10 highlights from The Hukilau 2019 in Fort Lauderdale”

The Tiki Times: Preview the full 2020 events calendar

The Tiki Times: Exclusive 2020 events guide

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

The Year in Tiki 2019: Recap all the top events with photos and video
2019 in review: Photos, video, recaps of all of last year’s top events NEW
Social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

2020 EVENTS CALENDAR
Updated Jan. 8, 2020

Jan. 3-5 – The Rhythm Collision Weekend #7 in Riverside, Calif.
The Rhythm Collision Weekend #7

Jan. 11 – Tiki Central 20th Anniversary Celebration at Forbidden Island in Alameda, Tonga Hut in Los Angeles, Frankie’s Tiki Room in Las Vegas, and Tiki Cat in Kansas City.
Tiki Central 20th Anniversary Celebration

Jan. 12 – The Original Tiki Market Place 8th Anniversary in Garden Grove, Calif.
The Original Tiki Market Place 8th Anniversary

Jan 19-20 – Exotica VIII in The Raines Law Room at the William Hotel in New York City.

Jan. 25 – Central Florida Rum and Food Experience in Lakeland.

Jan 25 – Winter Surf Fest in Huntington Beach, Calif.

Feb. 7-8 – Miami Rum Congress in Miami Beach.
Miami Rum Congress

Atomic Grog coverage: 2019 photo gallery and event recap
Miami Rum Congress 2019

Feb. 13-23 – Modernism Week in Palm Springs, Calif.

Feb. 21 – Taste of Aloha and Art of Tiki Cocktail Showdown at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami Beach.
Atomic Grog coverage: Surprise winner, new spirit of aloha in South Beach
Surprise winner, new spirit of aloha at fifth annual Art of Tiki

Feb. 21-23 – Hi-Tide Winter Holiday: Pittsburgh.
Hi-Tide Winter Holiday: Pittsburgh

Continue reading “The Tiki Times: Preview the full 2020 events calendar”

What we learned at Appleton master blender Joy Spence’s rum tasting at The Mai-Kai

What we learned at Appleton master blender Joy Spence’s rum tasting at The Mai-Kai

Updated Aug. 27, 2019

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.

Quick links below
* 5 things you might not know about Joy Spence
* 12 things we learned about how Appleton rum is made
* How Joy Spence wants you to experience Appleton Estate rums
Recipe: Joy Spence’s favorite rum cocktail
* Event preview, Joy Spence biography and Appleton rum overview

Appleton Estate master blender Joy Spence speaks to an enthusiastic group of rum enthusiasts at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale on Aug. 14, 2019
Appleton Estate master blender Joy Spence speaks to an enthusiastic group of rum enthusiasts at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale on Aug. 14, 2019. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

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.

Joy Spence talks about and her early career and her 38 years at Appleton Estate during a special rum tasting at The Mai-Kai on Aug. 14, 2019
Joy Spence talks about and her early career and her 38 years at Appleton Estate during a special rum tasting at The Mai-Kai on Aug. 14, 2019. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* 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

The full range of Appleton Estate rums were featured at a special rum tasting at The Mai-Kai on Aug. 14, 2019
The full range of Appleton Estate rums were featured at a special rum tasting at The Mai-Kai on Aug. 14, 2019. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* 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.

Continue reading “What we learned at Appleton master blender Joy Spence’s rum tasting at The Mai-Kai”