In the entertainment and hospitality industry, your biggest fans can also be your toughest critics. So when the new owner of South Florida’s beloved Mai-Kai sat down with more than 100 Tiki enthusiasts during The Hukilau on June 11 for an open discussion of his plans to renovate the 65-year-old landmark, their reaction was crucial.
Judging by the many rousing ovations throughout the 50-minute presentation, veteran real estate developer and historic preservationist Bill Fuller passed the test with flying colors. The only murmurs of dissent came when the organizer of The Hukilau, Richard Oneslager, jokingly asked if it was true Fuller planned to replace the restaurant’s signature Chinese ovens with microwaves, and if The Molokai bar was being re-themed to Miami Vice.
Looming thunderstorms put a kibosh on the multimedia presentation planned for the open-air beachside gathering at the Beachcomber Resort in Pompano Beach. But Fuller’s words were more than enough to win over the crowd who came from around the world to the 19th Tiki weekender that traditionally culminates with a climactic evening at The Mai-Kai.
Fuller elaborated on those plans during his talk at The Hukilau, divulging some new details. He was joined by two members of The Mai-Kai family, Kulani Thornton Gelardi and Kern Mattei, who also revealed some interesting new projects in the works.
After a spirited intro by event emcee King Kululele, Oneslager sat down with Fuller and led a question-and-answer session under the large thatched hut between the pool and beach at the quaint boutique hotel. The burning questions on everyone’s mind, Oneslager said to Fuller, were: “What’s going to stay? What’s going to change? And are you going to screw things up?”
Fuller said he was “lucky to be at the right place at the right time to be able to join forces with the family” in September 2021. The reason The Mai-Kai is being preserved is mainly due to the will of the Thornton family, he said. Gelardi’s mother, Mireille Thornton, inherited the ownership mantle from her late husband, Robert Thornton, in 1989.
The 85-year-old family matriarch will continue to choreograph and produce the restaurant’s authentic Polynesian show, which she joined as a dancer from Tahiti in the early 1960s. “She has her own nuances, which is what makes special experiences like this tick,” Fuller said. “You can’t just replicate it, you need to have that body of knowledge, that creativity and heritage. That’s what’s so rich within the walls of The Mai-Kai.”
The first question for Fuller from the audience echoed a common refrain on social media: Exactly when can we expect to be back within those walls?
The Hukilau was back on the beach for 2022, hosting its many retro-themed Tiki festivities at a scenic hotel just north of Fort Lauderdale. The 19th Polynesian Pop weekender (the second longest-running in the world), featured four days of live music, educational seminars, cocktails and rum tastings, plus lots more. Click below for extensive photo/video recaps on social media. Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday
The Beachcomber, a family-owned property in Pompano Beach, features lots of outdoor space just steps from the Atlantic Ocean. The Mai-Kai, the longtime host restaurant that remains closed for refurbishment, participated by serving cocktails and offering villagers drinks to go. The new ownership team also presented an exclusive symposium on the exciting new plans for the historic property.
The Hukilau 2022 – June 9-12 at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach. Featuring live music (The Surfrajettes, The Intoxicators, The Manakooras, King Kukulele, Skinny Jimmy Stingray), symposiums (Ian Burrell, David Wondrich, The Mai-Kai, Rocket Betty, Spike Marble, Headhunter Ray, Jeff Ballard), 15 guest bars, rum tastings, luau on the beach, pool parties, Tiki Treasures Bazaar, plus more. Official website | Instagram | Facebook page and group
The first weekend in June brought a blast of stormy weather to South Florida, but the second weekend promises an entirely different – and much more festive – tropical disturbance. The Hukilau will innundate the Fort Lauderdale area beachfront with four days of rum-soaked activities, rockin’ surf bands and special guests from across the worldwide Tiki revival.
The 19th Polynesian Pop celebration is scheduled for Wednesday through Sunday, June 9-12, at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach. Highlights include Friday’s luau on the beach and Saturday’s giant Tiki marketplace. Pool parties will feature music by top underground bands (The Surfrajettes, The Intoxicators, The Manakooras) and cocktails served up by 16 Tiki bar teams from near and far.
By Thursday, the hurricane season’s first potential tropical system will be long gone. Weekend forecasts call for rain chances around 30 to 40 percent with high temperatures near 90, a typical early summer weekend in balmy South Florida.
Most of The Hukilau’s events and social gatherings take place poolside and under shaded thatched huts at the beachside resort. Organizers are prepared in case of bad weather with back-up plans to move some events indoors, but coverings in the outdoor areas can shield guests during typical rainy days.
The event is not yet sold out, so check the tickets page at TheHukilau.com for pass availability. The best bet for locals and late arrivals is the one-day Palm Pass ($129), which includes Saturday’s Rum Island Pool Party and Tiki Treasures Bazaar, plus the evening bungalow parties. Online sales will continue to be available, but walk-ups will also be accommodated on Saturday.
Other options include the multi-day Aloha (Friday-Saturday) and South Seas (Thursday-Saturday) passes. Many symposiums and special events are included in the price of the top-tier passes. All guests receive complimentary craft cocktails from some of the world’s best bartenders as well as tastings of sponsor rums.
If you’re still looking for a room, it’s worth checking the Beachcomber first. The resort is close to selling out, but a few rooms are often held back for last-minute release. There’s also the possibility of cancellations at any time. Call (954) 941-7830 for reservations, and be aware that you’ll need to show proof of an event pass at check-in.
Don’t fret if all of the 150-odd rooms at the Beachcomber are taken, however. The beachfront along scenic State Road A1A is loaded with options, including many small boutique hotels and motels. The official alternate hotel is the Ocean Beach Resort & Suites, a half-mile to the north. Call (954) 942-2030 and mention The Hukilau for a special rate.
The move last year to the Beachcomber was party due to necessity because of the pandemic. It provided much outdoor space, along with a smaller room count as well as fewer expenses. Past host hotels have included massive properties such as the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina, which closed for a multi-year refurbishment immediately after The Hukilau 2019.
But the change did not come without some sense of serendipity. The Hukilau, after all, is named for an oceanside gathering of family and friends for a giant fishing festival.
“This is what The Hukilau is meant to be,” organizer Richard Oneslager said in a recent interview. “We’re on the ocean, doing business with a family-run property.”
The entire hotel is reserved for The Hukilau, which both limits its size and makes for a more immersive event. It’s a “complete escape to a Tiki paradise,” Oneslager said, referring to the experience as “our own little world.” Because there are no outsiders, “everyone around you is part of the show,” he said. Very few events can offer that complete package.
Oneslager said there are no plans to grow more than a modest 5 or 10 percent. He said he likes the current configuration, which gives villagers the opportunity to meet new friends, but still have an intimate experience. Previous story: More on the hotel and event history
“Having the whole property to ourselves is a big thing,” he said. While he won’t give an exact number, Oneslager said the total number of passes sold this year will be less than 750. That aligns The Hukilau more with the many medium-sized multi-day events rather than the giant Tiki Oasis in San Diego. The Tiki Times:The Atomic Grog’s exclusive events guide
In addition to all the major highlights on the schedule and noted below, Oneslager continues to add fun, last-minute features. He mentioned the return of Tiki miniature golf as well as a series of outdoor “Ohana-Rama” games that you can play at your leisure or join a competition. There will also be a Tiki bingo event Saturday to benefit the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association’s educational foundation.
The East Coast’s longest running Tiki weekender is back in full force this June, including many familiar faces along with new features and entertainment for villagers to enjoy at the oceanfront Beachcomber Resort in South Florida. Tickets and room reservations are available now for the 19th live edition of The Hukilau, set for June 9-12, 2022.
Pompano Beach’s Beachcomber Resort & Club hosted the scaled-down 2021 event, proving to be the perfect venue for a more intimate but mostly outdoor gathering of the Tiki tribe. The entire hotel is once again reserved for The Hukilau’s guests. But with fewer than 150 rooms available, it may fill up fast. Call (954) 941-7830 to reserve your spot at the party now. (Reservations will require proof of an event pass at check-in.)
Additional hotels nearby will be announced soon, so don’t despair if the Beachcomber fills up. But locals and those staying elsewhere should consider snagging event passes now before they start to sell out. Tickets are available at three different price points, from $129 to $569. The top-level South Seas Pass includes access to every party and event, most symposiums, a beachside luau and Sunday brunch, unlimited cocktails and rum tastings, a limited-edition pendant, plus more! More info on tickets and passes below.
The Hukilau 2022 – June 9-12 at the Beachcomber Resort & Club in Pompano Beach. Featuring live music (The Surfrajettes, The Intoxicators, The Manakooras, King Kukulele, et al.), symposiums (Ian Burrell, David Wondrich, Rocket Betty, Spike Marble, Headhunter Ray, et al.), 16 guest bars, rum tastings, luau on the beach, pool parties, Tiki Treasures Bazaar, plus more.
* Official website | Instagram | Facebook page and group
While the venue remains small and cozy, the lineup of guests has been expanded for 2022 to include some of the top names in the Tiki, rum and cocktail world. Some old friends are returning after taking a respite during COVID, and new ones are making their first appearance. Below is our take on the most exciting news out the recent announcement, followed by a full rundown on the musical guests,symposium presenters, guest bars, special features, plus the early schedule and info on tickets and passes. You might also want to mix up the Cobra Defanged recipe below (featured at The Hukilau 2021) and enjoy while you get psyched up for 2022.
The Atomic Grog’s Top 5 highlights of The Hukilau 2022
Billed as a “four-day Tiki extravaganza celebrating the history of Polynesian Pop,” The Hukilau has always beefed up that basic premise with lots contemporary artists with a retro-inspired bent. In recent years, the event has also become a top destination for rum and tropical cocktail enthusiasts. A growing roster of bars, bartenders, industry experts and spirits companies flock to “Fort Liquordale” for the festive atmosphere and friendly fans.
In no particular order, here are the some of the unique offerings that we’re looking forward to this year:
The Mai-Kai last hosted an event during The Hukilau 2021 in September, just before the Thornton family announced the sale of the historic property to a new ownership team that will pump at least $5 million into renovations that will restore the restaurant to its vintage glory.
* Past coverage: The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening
THE MAI-KAI SNEAK PREVIEW
For those of us eagerly awaiting news on the future of the legendary Polynesian palace in Fort Lauderdale, The Hukilau will give us exclusive insights from the new ownership group. Bill Fuller and his crew from Miami’s Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality are scheduled to share the refurbishment plans in an exclusive presentation on Saturday, June 11. The 65-year-old restaurant has been closed since October 2020, when a roof collapse shut down the kitchen and back-of-house operations. Luckily, the stunning decor and dining rooms remain intact, but they’re also due for freshening up. The new owners are partnering with the founding Thornton family to keep The Mai-Kai’s rich legacy alive. Also part of the new crew are longtime managers who are hard at work ramping up the bar to serve The Mai-Kai’s famous cocktails for the first time since The Hukilau 2021 in September. Look for a pop-up bar featuring select signature drinks throughout the weekend.
DAVID WONDRICH JOINS THE PARTY
For more than 20 years, this James Beard Award winning author, cocktail historian, mixologist and educator has documented the craft cocktail movement while also becoming one of the world’s foremost authorities on drinks history. The former English professor gained national exposure as Esquire Magazine‘s drinks correspondent, along with his four acclaimed books:Esquire Drinks, Killer Cocktails, Imbibe! and Punch. His most recent gig was senior drinks columnist at The Daily Beast and co-host of the Life Behind Bars podcast. His latest achievement is serving as editor of The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails, an 860-page opus that serves as the first major reference work on the subject. Wondrich is a frequent guest lecturer and regular seminar host at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. It will be an honor to see the Brooklyn, N.Y., resident make his first appearance at The Hukilau in 2022.
* Follow Wondrich on Twitter
THE RUM AMBASSADOR RETURNS
Ian Burrell is back for his fifth appearance at The Hukilau, teaching an Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class and hosting one of his signature “$1,000 Rum Tasting” events. The self-appointed global rum ambassador, Burrell is a charismatic spokesman for the spirit, entertaining host, and all-around fun guy to hang out with. Which makes him the perfect fit for The Hukilau. He previously treated villagers to similar premium rum tastings in 2018 and 2019, offering attendees samples of four to six rums that sell at retail for a combined value in excess of $1,000.
* Related: Take 5 with Ian Burrell | More blogs featuring Ian Burrell
THE SURFRAJETTES HEADLINE STRONG MUSICAL LINEUP
Surf music fans are in for a treat as The Hukilau welcomes back The Surfrajettes, the all-female instrumental combo from Canada that has been building an ever-increasing underground following and online fanbase since making their first and only appearance at the event in 2017. The foursome’s long-awaited debut album, Roller Fink, is due out April 22 on Hi-Tide Recordings. Veteran instro surf rockers The Intoxicators will once again make the trek from Tallahassee to knock our socks off for the 16th time. (If we’re lucky, we may also see an appearance of the band’s alter ego, The Disasternauts.) Also appearing is Southern supergroup The Manakooras, featuring members of Satan’s Pilgrims, Aqualads and The Intoxicators. The band boasts a unique blend of surf music with steel guitar, ukulele and exotica-influenced percussion. Last but not least, longtime emcee King Kukulele is back where he belongs after missing The Hukilau 2021. The Southern California musician, comedian and entertainer has been a fixture at Tiki events across the country over the past two decades, including every previous Hukilau through 2019. His humor, ad libs and easy-going style are a much-needed addition.
* Full list of performers below
16 TOP TIKI BARS ON TAP
Where else can you sample world-class cocktails from Paris, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Chicago all in one place? At The Hukilau, of course, where Dirty Dick, Tonga Hut, Hidden Harbor, and Three Dots and a Dash are among the amazing number of guest bars scheduled to pop during the four-day event. Each will offer several signature and/or classic Tiki cocktails, mixed and served by the owners, managers and bartenders from these high-profile establishments. New for 2022: Look for smaller samples to keep waste to a minimum. And this all comes at no additional cost beyond your event pass, a deal that’s hard to beat. See the full list of bars below
Below is a rundown of everything we know so far. Much more will be announced in the coming weeks. Sign up for email updates at TheHukilau.com and follow the social media links above. We’ll also cover the major updates here on the blog, plus our social channels. We’re also happy to once again be posting updates on Tiki Central, the influential message board that was instrumental in the creation of The Hukilau 20 years ago. After two years of downtime for extensive renovations, it’s back up and running just in time.
MUSIC & ENTERTAINMENT
Look for bands and musicians performing day and night during the pool parties and other events at the Beachcomber. Those confirmed so far include:
The Surfrajettes (Toronto) – Fresh off a high-profile cruise with The Beach Boys, these underground instrumental surf sensations are making inroads toward broader success and appreciation. If you miss them at The Hukilau, be sure to catch them on their upcoming U.S. tour.
The Intoxicators (Tallahassee) – This hard-hitting instrumental foursome can create a racket, but their extremely tight and accomplished musicianship, memorable tunes and unbridled enthusiasm for The Hukilau create a comforting experience year after year. Check out their catalog of past releases.
After going virtual in 2020 and moving to a September weekend in 2021, The Hukilau is back on track with its traditional early June gathering of the Tiki tribe in South Florida.
The East Coast’s longest-running Tiki weekender will return to the cozy Beachcomber Resort & Club on the ocean in Pompano Beach for its 19th live event on June 9-12. The four-day format will remain similar to the Sept. 16-19 meet-up, which featured most of its activity in the many outdoor spaces at the 140-room boutique hotel. Once again, the entire resort is reserved for The Hukilau’s “villagers,” said organizer Richard Oneslager, noting that several other nearby venues will also be available for “the growing number of villagers” who continue to flock to the event each year.
Exclusive early access to reservations at the Beachcomber will be offered first to longtime villagers, Oneslager said. After “loyalty guests” have a chance to reserve rooms, the remaining inventory will be offered to the general public along with a streamlined menu of event tickets.
Oneslager promised the return of most of the event’s signature features, including a full slate of symposiums and musical guests, 15 pop-up bars from around the world, a massive vendor marketplace, plus a signature luau on the beach. Expect to see some new faces along with many popular returning entertainers and VIPs from the past, including everyone’s favorite global rum ambassador.
Unfortunately, The Hukilau 2022 will likely not include any events at The Mai-Kai, the beloved Fort Lauderdale restaurant that remains closed for a multimillion-dollar renovation expected to be completed later this year, Oneslager said. The ongoing work on the historic property will prevent it from hosting guests, he said. But he was happy to announce that The Mai-Kai will host a pop-up bar and bungalow party. In addition, the new ownership team will share the refurbishment plans in an exclusive presentation.
The Mai-Kai hosted its last outdoor cocktail party in the restaurant parking lot during The Hukilau on Sept. 18, just before announcing the partnership with Miami’s Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality that will pump more than $5 million into restoring the 64-year-old landmark. A severe storm in October 2020 caused a roof collapse over the kitchen, crippling the back-of-house operations and forcing the founding Thornton family to seek out its new partners.
In addition to The Mai-Kai pop-up featuring the restaurant’s classic tropical cocktails, villagers will have the opportunity to sample many other drinks crafted by some of the Tiki scene’s top mixologists from bars near and far. The Beachcomber’s quaint bungalows will also host parties thrown by rum sponsors and other groups every night of The Hukilau.
Event passes will cover most of the weekend activities for one price, including symposiums and unlimited cocktails. Details on tickets, entertainment and the daily schedule will be announced along with general public room reservations.